HOPE CHAPEL Sunday Service Notes
Teaching Series: “Be Different” based on 1 Corinthians
Today’s Topic: “Week 3: Defensible Leadership” (Chapters 4 + 9)
Communion and Testimonial Sunday - Mary & Morris McLean
For further study:
“Enduring Word” Commentary - https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/1-corinthians-1/
(retrieved September 9, 2020)
Bible Project - 1 Corinthians - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiHf8klCCc4
New International Biblical Commentary - 1 Corinthians - Marion L. Soards
Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians because they were getting off track. They came from and lived in the ‘sin city’ of Corinth. Word had gotten back to Paul concerning the fact that some members of the congregation were sliding back into their old way of doing things. These same individuals had begun to excuse their poor behaviour by dismissing Paul and his teaching. Today, we’re going to look at chapters 4 and 9 where Paul defends his authority and explains his leadership style. He doesn’t mince his words. We will at times hear him move from sarcastic correction to fatherly encouragement as he uses metaphors and rhetoric to solidify his points. His desire is that they follow his example–as a faithful follower of Christ–and to understand his motivations for serving them as he has done.
“So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining God’s mysteries. 2 Now, a person who is put in charge as a manager must be faithful. 3 As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. 4 My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. 5 So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.”
After clearly explaining that no servant should be held in higher esteem than another–God should get all credit for the growth of the church in Corinth–Paul further explains both his and Apollos’ role within the church. They have been acting as stewards / managers, charged with taking care of someone else’s possession. As such, he doesn’t care how others have judged his service or how they are talking about him; Paul is answerable to God. In fact, his own judgement concerning the job he has done in planting and growing the church doesn’t count. Only God is able to judge correctly; it is He who understands all things, even the motivations of an individual. Paul does not care about the Corinthian’s appraisal, whether positive or negative, because only what God thinks matters.
Paul’s words remind me of my own to my grade seven class years ago, “It would be good if we got along, but I’m not here to be your friend or for you to like me. My job is to teach and your job is to learn. And as your teacher I will do my best to make this class enjoyable, but if you choose not to like me or my class, that’s not my issue. It’s yours.” Paul’s concern was to do his job well, not make people happy.
“Dear brothers and sisters, I have used Apollos and myself to illustrate what I’ve been saying. If you pay attention to what I have quoted from the Scriptures, you won’t be proud of one of your leaders at the expense of another. 7 For what gives you the right to make such a judgment? What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?
8 You think you already have everything you need. You think you are already rich. You have begun to reign in God’s kingdom without us! I wish you really were reigning already, for then we would be reigning with you. 9 Instead, I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world—to people and angels alike.
10 Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you claim to be so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are honored, but we are ridiculed. 11 Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don’t have enough clothes to keep warm. We are often beaten and have no home. 12 We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. 13 We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash—right up to the present moment.”
Paul now tackles the issue of the Corinthian’s boasting. He challenges them, “What have you got that was not given to you?” You didn’t earn it; you didn’t create it; you are enjoying God’s free gift given to you through the work of the Apostles, who you treat as somehow inferior to yourselves. You act as though you are reigning as kings, yet have denounced the very ones who brought you the truth as though they are prisoners of war. The Corinthian church had adopted the truth of being God’s children as a means of gaining superiority, yet refused to accept the whole of the gospel message–the Christian life and ministry is about sacrifice not self.
Paul sarcastically exposes their false sense of Christian superiority in contrast to the self-denying work done by himself and the other Apostles. “Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you claim to be so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are honored, but we are ridiculed.” A life of faithful service does not necessarily or automatically result in the blessings of the world; the Corinthians are guilty of treating their spiritual leaders as inferior because of their obvious lack of material things. Paul points out that the Apostles “go hungry and thirsty, and we don’t have enough clothes to keep warm. We are often beaten and have no home. We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash—right up to the present moment.” The life of the believer is to be one of willing self-denial for the good of others and the spread of God’s good news about Jesus. Another’s sacrifice should cause us to recognize their dedication, not drop them down the ladder of ‘spiritual status’ because of the suffering they endure as a result of their service to God.
“I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children. 15 For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you. 16 So I urge you to imitate me.
17 That’s why I have sent Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord. He will remind you of how I follow Christ Jesus, just as I teach in all the churches wherever I go.
18 Some of you have become arrogant, thinking I will not visit you again. 19 But I will come—and soon—if the Lord lets me, and then I’ll find out whether these arrogant people just give pretentious speeches or whether they really have God’s power. 20 For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. 21 Which do you choose? Should I come with a rod to punish you, or should I come with love and a gentle spirit?”
Paul changes his tone when he encourages his readers to view their relationship to him as the same as that of a father to a child. Paul, as their spiritual father in Christ, is the one they should imitate. Throughout the life of the church, they will have many others to teach them (Greek paidagogos means ‘guardians’), but only one father, who is Paul. He doesn’t simply want them to mimic him as a person; he wants them to imitate him just as he imitates Christ. Paul wants them to internalize the same values he has as a result of imitating Christ.
As their father, he hasn’t been writing to them in such a harsh way to demoralize them, but to embarrass them into acknowledging the childish way in which they have been acting. Paul is assuming the position of a mentor, not a referee or law enforcement. Timothy’s example, when he arrives, will act as a reminder of how they are to behave; as Paul’s ‘faithful son in the Lord,’ his teaching and character align with Paul’s and is therefore trustworthy. Some in the church have been misbehaving, much as a child might do when his/her parents aren’t within earshot, but Paul assures them he will be making a visit and it is his desire to come with ‘love and a gentle spirit’ not with a ‘rod’ of discipline; however, their behaviour will determine his response.
“Am I not as free as anyone else? Am I not an apostle? Haven’t I seen Jesus our Lord with my own eyes? Isn’t it because of my work that you belong to the Lord? 2 Even if others think I am not an apostle, I certainly am to you. You yourselves are proof that I am the Lord’s apostle.
3 This is my answer to those who question my authority. 4 Don’t we have the right to live in your homes and share your meals? 5 Don’t we have the right to bring a believing wife with us as the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers do, and as Peter does? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have to work to support ourselves?
7 What soldier has to pay his own expenses? What farmer plants a vineyard and doesn’t have the right to eat some of its fruit? What shepherd cares for a flock of sheep and isn’t allowed to drink some of the milk? 8 Am I expressing merely a human opinion, or does the law say the same thing? 9 For the law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this? 10 Wasn’t he actually speaking to us? Yes, it was written for us, so that the one who plows and the one who threshes the grain might both expect a share of the harvest.
11 Since we have planted spiritual seed among you, aren’t we entitled to a harvest of physical food and drink? 12 If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? But we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ.
13 Don’t you realize that those who work in the temple get their meals from the offerings brought to the temple? And those who serve at the altar get a share of the sacrificial offerings. 14 In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it. 15 Yet I have never used any of these rights. And I am not writing this to suggest that I want to start now. In fact, I would rather die than lose my right to boast about preaching without charge. 16 Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News!
17 If I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment. But I have no choice, for God has given me this sacred trust. 18 What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone. That’s why I never demand my rights when I preach the Good News.”
Paul now turns his attention to another subject–that of those who question his authority as an Apostle and his right to be supported as the other Apostles and itinerant teachers are. He begins with his role as their father. Does not their existence–as a church–serve as proof of his apostleship? In this respect, maybe some of you can relate to Paul. Take myself for instance, I know I can. As the pastor of this church and other churches throughout the years, there are those in the Christian community who would deny my call as a pastor for the mere fact that I am a female. Those of you, however, who have permitted me to serve as your pastor and those who have grown spiritually are proof of my calling. You are the ones better equipped to judge whether or not God has given me the necessary gifts to do this job. And how often have missionary societies been known to reject a candidate–too old, too young, too inexperienced, too new to the faith, too single–who has felt so compelled by God that they have made their way independently and done the work others deemed them unsuitable for. The converts they foster, the schools they build, the improvements they make are the proof of their calling. God chose Paul to be an Apostle and his effectiveness in planting churches and convincing people of the truth of the Gospel was proof of his call.
As an Apostle, he then argues that he has every right to receive support from the church in Corinth. “Don’t we have the right to live in your homes and share your meals? 5 Don’t we have the right to bring a believing wife with us as the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers do, and as Peter does? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have to work to support ourselves?” We often assume that the early church leaders were all single, aside from Peter who had a mother-in-law, but that is a wrong assumption. Not only did these leaders have spouses, but they often traveled with them. Paul points out the church has no problem supporting these individuals, so why should he and Barnabas be the only exceptions. Why do they not possess the same rights?
Now, before we go on, who can tell me who Barnabas was? Barnabas was the generous man in the early church who sold his field and gave all the money to the disciples to care for the needy members of the church (Acts 4:36-37); he was the only individual not too scared to associate with Paul when he first came to faith in Jesus and he’s the one who took Paul to Jerusalem and gave him a glowing reference to the disciples (Acts 9:27); he was also Paul’s first partner as he traveled spreading the good news and planting churches (Acts 13:2-3).
Paul points out many instances of people who are permitted to benefit from their work–the soldier isn’t expected to pay his expenses; the farmer is allowed to eat some of the fruit he grows; the shepherd is entitled to milk from the herd. Even God’s law made provisions for the workers in the Temple to receive support; just as you shouldn’t prevent a working ox from enjoying some of the grain being processed, Paul argues that he and others doing the work of ministry have every right to receive support from those being ministered to.
He no sooner finishes his argument regarding his rights to receive support, then he dismisses the idea for himself. For Paul, his ministry is also his worship. He renounces his rights, in order that he might be free to reach more. He refuses to demand or ask for support as it would then become his reward and he would rather collect a heavenly one; as well he does not want it to become an obstacle in his ministry. He makes it clear that a worker deserves their wages, but Paul’s ministry is his offering to God. To be paid for his ‘offering’ would make null and void his gift of service. He has never demanded his rights not because he doesn’t deserve them; he doesn’t demand them because he is grateful for the opportunity his service provides to present God this gift.
“Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.
22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.
24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”
This chapter ends with Paul’s further explaining his motivation and why he does what he does. Paul is a free man, but he has chosen to ‘enslave’ himself to all people in order to fulfill his calling as an Apostle of Jesus. He chooses to set aside his own preferences so that he may ‘become like’ those he is ministering to–a Jew to the Jews, a gentile to the gentiles; he understands that by choosing to find common ground with others, he has a much better chance of being heard, then when he focuses on their differences. For Paul, the spread of the gospel takes precedence over all else.
He has chosen to live purposefully and encourages the Corinthian church to do likewise. The believers in Corinth are guilty of having taken the grace of God for granted. He encourages them to live the life of faith as one training for the Isthmian games–to win! Just as a runner does not run aimlessly or a boxer strike out at air, we need to live with purpose. We need to take great pains to keep ourselves in check, so that we do not find ourselves missing out on the prize we have hoped for–finishing well, our place in heaven with God secure.
Application - So what’s our take away today?
The Church is God’s and does not belong to any single person or group of individuals. Its leaders are to serve as stewards–doing their best to care for God’s most loved possession, His children. A leader’s primary motivation should be to please God, no matter what others might think. The same is true for every believer.
We mustn’t take advantage of those whose ministry it is to share in the work of teaching God’s Word by withholding support. In Luke 10:7, Jesus provided instructions concerning how the disciples would be provided for as they completed the ministry tour He was sending them on; He assured them, “a worker deserves his wages.” This is the reason that the church continues to collect tithes and offerings. Yes, it is to be used to ‘keep the lights on’ but is also intended to provide support for the work done by the church in the community and for those who serve as its ministers.
This does not mean, however, that ministers are to live in the lap of luxury either...I don’t think Paul had private jets, a padded bank account and mansions in mind when he talked of the need to support the Churches’ ministers. The life of the minister and all believers is to be one of willing self-denial for the good of others and the spread of God’s good news about Jesus. As believers, we are not promised a life of luxury...not this side of the grave. As followers of Christ, we must get out of the ‘rat race’ and join those running for the heavenly finish line–willing to do without for the sake of another and finding common ground with others from which to share the good news about Jesus . We need to imitate Christ.
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!