1 CORINTHIANS – SERIES : NR 10
Theme : Pauline Christianity
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 4: 1 – 5
We have seen that there was discord in the Corinthian churches – factions – some members formed cliques to follow either Cephas or Apollos or Paul or Christ.
The motive behind this was an attack specifically against Paul himself. Some anonymous preachers incited the church against Paul. The aim of these factions was specifically aimed to rid the church of Paul’s theology. To put something else in its place. They purposed to move forward without the obstacles of Paul’s theology. Just the way Paul is still today an obstacle and offence to many.
God chose Paul not only as the instrument to lay the foundation of the church of all the centuries – that is the crucified Christ. He was also the instrument chosen by God to show HOW the foundation is to be built upon. He had to indicate what the implication is of the crucified Jesus. And to equip him thereto he had unique experiences, such as his unique conversion and calling as an apostle, the three days of blindness, the years of total isolation in Arabia, and the vision of the third heaven. And add to that the 13 Spirit-inspired letters in the NT.
All heresy throughout the past 2000 years of church history, is ALWAYS connected to the misunderstanding of Paul’s theology. Even today people become enraged and bitterly offended about what Paul teaches. Which actually shows how correctly he was led by the Holy Spirit.
Some churches act as if Paul is not in the Scriptures. One preacher says from the pulpit that he thinks Paul had psychological problems. Deviate from Paul and you fall yourself to death. The Corinthians were heading that way.
Without Paul, we would not have known nor understood anything. Deviate one millimetre away from him and you are stumbling around in the dark. All apostasy – name them: theological liberalism and liberality, moral liberalism, error about this and misconception about that – EVERYTHING – is the result of train wrecks. Trains who left the rails. The Pauline train.
So, who and what was this man – Paul?
READ VERSES 1-2 AGAIN
The Apostle Paul’s focus now moves away from the CHURCH to the PREACHERS OF THE WORD. That is particularly himself, Apollos and Cephas. He mentions US (which includes the apostles), but he actually means only HIMSELF! Pastoral humility!
And he particularly wants to emphasise ONE THING namely that PEOPLE’S judgment of preachers of the Word is of no consequence whatsoever. They are accountable to God only, and only God can give the true judgment.
They were given as a gift to the church by Christ – to the ENTIRE church – not only to a group within the church.
Everything, everything revolves around the Lord Jesus Christ and everything is centred in Him.
Just look at this wonderful verse 1.
Preachers of the Word are in Christ’s service AS servants of Christ. Period. Indisputable!
Yes, they are indeed put at the disposal of the church by Christ, but not to bow down to the wishes and instructions of the church and to be accountable to them. They are subject and obedient to only Christ. And their work is judged only by God.
And that is an enormous responsibility. Huge. Unthinkable.
As a result, ONE specific characteristic is continuously looked for from them, namely, FAITHFULNESS, says the Apostle. Faithful performance of their instructions/duties and reliable in everything and accountable to the living God.
Concerning the preaching of the Word, it not only concerns the way/manner of preaching but especially the content of the preaching of God’s holy Word.
It must proclaim the Scriptures and the meaning of the ACTUAL author of the Scriptures – namely the Holy Spirit – as accurately as possible.
As such the church should regard the preachers.
SERVANTS and STEWARDS. That is all.
The Greek word used in verse 1 translated with servants, originally referred to the team of oarsmen at the bottom of a ship. That is indicative of the kind of service that is delivered – something like hard work.
The preacher of the Word is a servant that is entrusted with the secret things of God. The Greek word for servant/steward refers to a custodian/manager/overseer who is accountable to his lord. His master has entrusted him with his wealth and he must manage it as well as possible. And we know from chapter 2 that these secret things of God, which the steward must manage, refer to the message of the cross. It is Jesus as the crucified Lord. He is the secret things/mystery of God. It is not something, it is Someone!
The preachers of the Word are therefore low class servants who, as overseers/managers/stewards, must deliver the message of the cross accountable to Christ himself. As eager and surrendered and devoted and faithful and reliable as it is possible.
And how imperative is it not for the church to carry these servants in prayer and make it easy for them to get the work done?
READ VERSES 3-4 AGAIN
A preacher of the Word, called by Christ and servant of Christ, is a strange phenomenon. Look at the astonishing things the Spirit is saying here.
He asks: WHO have the right to judge the servant of the Lord?
The Corinthian church did exactly that and joined the ranks of the preacher they liked best – whom they chose as their group leader.
And particularly he refers here to the anonymous preacher(s) who wanted to undermine Paul’s influence and discredit him. Paul was constantly watched and disparaged.
And what is his reaction to all that? He says: It does not worry me. I care very little if I am judged by you. I fear only the Lord God.
He says the church’s behaviour is the behaviour of the flesh. To him personally, he says, it is of no consequence whether he is judged by the church or by any human court. He is not accountable to any such authorities because he is not in their service.
Suppose for example he is faithful in his services/duties that he received from the Lord, but PEOPLE judge differently? Then they are wrong and guilty. At the end of the day, he is accountable only to the Lord – in such an absolute sense, that his judgment of himself does not even have any value.
What a surprising statement to make! He is SO steeped in service to Christ that his opinion of himself does not carry any weight. And the Corinthians’ opinion of him does not matter.
The Greek word translated here with JUDGE does not refer to what happens at the final Great Day but means something like critical examination.
Judging the preachers of the Word before the appointed time is pointless and of no value, says the Apostle. The best thing to do is to wait until the Lord comes. That is Christ Jesus himself.
How easily can his ideas about himself, his spirituality, and his ministry, be mistaken and misleading. The heart is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9). Introspection can lead to depression. One can form an opinion of oneself which does not correlate with what the Lord thinks of you.
The best is to just continue with the service to the Lord. Focus fully on Christ and His promises. A Christian cannot trust his/her own or someone else’s judgment about himself. Even though your conscience does not accuse you at any stage, as the Apostle said about himself at that moment, when he says that he is not aware of anything against him – then he refers to his conscience before God. There was no unconfessed sin or wilful faults in his service to the Lord. BUT: His trust is not ON THAT, that it is on the way the LORD judges. No, his trust is only in the Lord’s judgment. And what is that? Because CHRIST is his (Paul’s) righteousness and holiness (1 Cor 1:30). Because Christ’s full marks apply to him, he knows that there is no longer condemnation for someone who is in Christ (Rom 8:1).
In verses 3-4 we see a summary of Paulinian Christianity. He had a very slight opinion of himself. All he cared about was being a faithful servant and steward of Christ. Therefore he does not look for approval from people. Not even his approval of himself! Only the Lord’s. He does not please people. He pleases God. He does not compromise for the sake of people. He looks for the glory of God above all else. THAT = IN A NUTSHELL = IS PAUL.
READ VERSE 5 AGAIN
Briefly, a summary:
The church in Corinth examined and judged the preachers of the Word, and factions formed among the preachers, and internal divisions were the result. And they were encouraged by certain preachers who in reality incited opposition against Paul.
That is what happens when true Christians – who are in principle included in Christ and therefore in God’s wisdom – run matters according to human/worldly wisdom. Think about it: In principle, you share in the wisdom of God, but you live out of human wisdom.
The Apostle completely condemns it.
The judging of the preachers of the Word rests with the Lord only. The church cannot pre-empt the Lord. They should rather keep their opinions to themselves until the Judge appears. Judging before the appointed time does not work.
From the Greek, it appears as if the Corinthians were continuously busy with this. It was not something of the moment. STOP DOING IT, says the Apostle. STOP IT! Because the Lord will definitely come, although the time of His coming is unsure. The uncertainty is not IF He is coming – no, that is certain – what is unsure is WHEN He will come!
Therefore: Get your house in order!
But, there is more to be said, according to Paul: The judgment of the Lord shall be completely perfect. Then ALL things shall come to light, even the hidden darkness and the deepest motives of the heart shall be exposed, and therefore everything shall be judged according to the truth. Preachers of the Word shall then know whether they were faithful stewards of the Gospel message. And everyone shall accordingly receive praise from God himself. The praise which everyone deserves.
If the Corinthians want to glorify one above the other, it is better to wait UNTIL the truth is revealed. The only praise that really matters is the praise from the Lord – which will come from His mouth.
The notions HIDDEN IN DARKNESS and MOTIVES OF THE HEART referred to in this context, do not necessarily refer to sin and evil, but it speaks of the secret desires and motives and reasons present inside the Christian person – particularly in the preachers of the Word – including the good and noble things. The things which one Christian can’t see in another Christian. Only God knows it and He shall reveal it on the Great Day and praise will result. The praise that the Christian shall receive (and referring here, particularly to the preachers of the Word) SHALL be received – from the Almighty himself.
What kind of examination was the Apostle concerned about? Answer: To stand before the Lord one day.
And that is the only thing anyone should be concerned about.
And guess what? It SHALL happen! It is not a fairytale. It is our certain hope. There shall be a Great Day. Hallelujah!
Translated by Marthie Wilson