The Pursuit of God

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Applying 1 Corinthians 4: Paul is Da Man

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This is a continuation of Applying 1 Corinthians 3.

In Chapter 3, Paul shamed the Corinthians for their carnal infighting. From what Paul has heard, he and his fellow apostles are the excuse the believers in Corinth are using to break up into warring factions. Some are saying Apollos is better than Paul, others say Paul is better than Apollos. Paul is now going to go to bat for all apostles in the early Church and defend them from the nasty criticism of the Corinthian believers.

So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining Yahweh’s mysteries. (1 Cor. 4:1)

In today’s leader worshiping climate, it is vital that you do not put your trust in titles. While it’s true that God does want you to respect those who He calls to function as shepherds in the Church, you can’t trust humans to properly identify these shepherds for you. The Church today is stuffed full of rebellious shepherds and pompous prophets who are all trying to pressure you into revering them as God’s anointed untouchables. Such self-exalting egos should not be respected as God’s obedient servants, because in reality they are rebelling against God and trying to take you down at the same time.

Paul is an apostle and Paul is pompous. Paul’s ego is going to spin out of control in this chapter as he goes on and on about how tough it is to be an apostle. He’ll finally end by pulling some spiritual rank on the believers in Corinth and telling them that they should all strive to imitate him. Today you can find an endless stream of leaders in the Church who will try to sell you the same kind of baloney. They’ll order you to “sit at their feet”. They’ll say things like, “Follow me while I follow Christ.” No, no, no, you should never be trying to follow or imitate mere mortals.

Here’s how it works with God and His faithful leaders: He wants you to respect His authorized leaders and He’s going to be ticked at you if you don’t. But staying on the right side of God regarding your treatment of His leaders is a very simple thing. The key to success is to keep your focus on the Holy Spirit, and trust that He is personally guiding you in life. You should never take some human’s word for how trustworthy they are. You should never just believe someone who claims to be miles ahead of you in spiritual maturity. Your focus needs to stay on God. Whenever you come across Christian teaching, you need to be asking the Holy Spirit to show you what is truth and what is baloney. You don’t just bob your head in agreement—you always pray about it. There are only three Sources of truth that you can absolutely trust: Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. If you’re trusting Them to guide you, then you never need to worry about disrespecting God’s leaders, because the Holy Spirit will lead you.

You are not some lesser sheep in God’s flock. You have just as much Holy Spirit as any know-it-all teacher. You do not need people to guide you in life. People are just one of the countless channels that God uses to broadcast His truth in your life. When God connects you with a teacher who He says is correctly speaking for Him, then obviously you want to respect that person. But respect is just respect, it is not worship.

Realize that it is a whole lot easier to become rich, famous, and worshiped within the system of the Church than it is in the world at large. To start raking in the glory, all you have to do is anoint yourself with some holy sounding title, make up some baloney about Christ appearing in your bedroom last night, and you’ll quickly gain a following. If you’re the bold type, start telling everyone that you were magically transported to Heaven or Hell in some near-death experience, and you’ll be able to write your own ticket. Leading the flock has become a bad joke in the Church today, because most of our so-called leaders have no authorization from God to hold the positions that they do. But once they’re in office, these people will try to tell you that they’re anointed, and that means that they now have special protection from God so you’d better suck up to them and do what they say. If you’re staying focused on God, He’ll help you identify who is speaking for Him and who is just on some carnal ego trip. The key to not becoming a victim of false leaders is to realize that you don’t need them. You have the Holy Spirit to guide you, and He is more than enough.

Now, a person who is put in charge as a manager must be faithful. 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. My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is Yahweh Himself who will examine me and decide.

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 Yahweh will give to each one whatever praise is due. (1 Cor. 4:2-5)

This defensive little speech is Paul’s response to reports that the Corinthian believers have been bashing on him personally. While he claims not to care what they think, Paul also says he has a clear conscience—meaning, that he can’t think of anything he’s done to deserve their criticism. It always hurts to hear that the people are ripping on us when were not around. In Paul’s mind, he worked hard to get the church in Corinth off the ground so these reports about the believers picking on him are particularly stinging.

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. (1 Cor. 4:6)

Considering how frequently Paul intentionally mangles the meaning of Old Testament passages, he isn’t doing himself any favors to suggest that the Corinthians scrutinize his Old Testament quotations.

For what gives you the right to make such a judgment? What do you have that Yahweh hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from Yahweh, why boast as though it were not a gift? (1 Cor. 4:7)

Paul is good at pointing out why other people should be humble. It’s too bad that he doesn’t apply those same principles to himself.

You think you already have everything you need. You think you are already rich. You have begun to reign in Yahweh’s kingdom without us! I wish you really were reigning already, for then we would be reigning with you. (1 Cor. 4:8)

For a guy who supposedly doesn’t care what the believers in Corinth are saying about him, Paul is starting to sound rather bitter. He accuses the Corinthians of thinking they have surpassed their apostle leaders. But Paul argues that there’s no way the Corinthian believers will get promoted in Yahweh’s kingdom without the apostles getting to tag along. It’s always painful when Paul starts talking about humans reigning in Yahweh’s kingdom. Given that believers are Yahweh’s kingdom, what exactly are we reigning over—ourselves? Clearly we can’t all be kings, or the title becomes meaningless.

Jesus taught that there would be ranks in Heaven, but He also said that we are God’s servants, not His co-rulers. Paul used servant language at the beginning of this chapter, but he seems to think we get to trade in our servant uniforms for crowns once we get to the other side. Well, no, we really don’t. We will always be servants.

Instead, I sometimes think Yahweh 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. 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. 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. 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. (1 Cor. 4:9-13)

What happened to humility? This whine fest about how tough it is to be an apostle just isn’t appropriate for Paul to be writing down in a letter. Certainly we all get frustrated and we all need to vent. But Paul isn’t griping to his fellow apostle here, he’s writing a letter to an entire church, and he knows that his letter will probably be passed around to many different churches. This is the ancient equivalent of posting something on the internet. As leaders, we are called to a higher standard by God. When we are communicating with the general flock, we shouldn’t be blowing the horns of hardship. It isn’t very honoring to God to broadcast about how miserable it is to serve Him. This doesn’t mean we go around with plastic smiles pretending like we never have a hard day, because that’s just obnoxious hypocrisy. But we don’t need to hang out our dirty laundry for all to see, either.

Paul always needs to be in the spotlight. If he’s going to suffer as an apostle, he needs people to know that his suffering is extreme. Notice how he says that apostles are spectacles to the entire world (not just their local communities). Oh, and the whole spiritual realm is watching, also. Well, someone get out the “martyr of the month” award. These men have clearly earned it.

I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children. 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. So I urge you to imitate me. (1 Cor. 4:14-16)

Here’s more ego talking. Paul gives himself the “spiritual father” title and then claims that this title gives him some superior authority over the believers in Corinth. Notice how he says that even if the believers had 10,000 other teachers, the great Paul would still outrank them all. Now that Paul has constructed a tall pedestal for himself to stand on, he says that all the believers in Corinth ought to look up to him and strive to imitate him. What happened to not thinking some leaders were better than others? Paul is full of doubletalk in this chapter.

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. (1 Cor. 4:17)

Why is Paul sending Timothy to Corinth? To promote Paul and talk about how fabulously he follows Christ. Is there no end to this man’s ego? Paul says that this is how he operates everywhere he goes. How obnoxious.

Some of you have become arrogant, thinking I will not visit you again. 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 Yahweh’s power. For the Kingdom of Yahweh is not just a lot of talk; it is living by Yahweh’s power. Which do you choose? Should I come with a rod to punish you, or should I come with love and a gentle spirit? (1 Cor. 4:18-21)

Now that we understand what a high opinion Paul has of himself, his anger with the Corinthians takes on new meaning. Given Paul’s massive ego, no wonder he’s so mad about anyone saying he’s less than Yahweh’s gift to the world. Though he claimed to not care what the Corinthians said about him at the beginning of this chapter, he’s now threatening to come to Corinth and assault those who are daring to speak ill of him. At this point, we can’t help wondering if some of the Corinthians’ complaints against Paul were justified. Perhaps some of them think the man is a bit too pompous for his own good. And what’s this threat about some power showdown? Paul is daring his naysayers to prove that they are backed by Yahweh’s power as he clearly thinks he is. So is Paul challenging these folks to some duel of miracles? How immature.

UP NEXT: Applying 1 Corinthians 5: Remove the Rebel

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