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1 Corinthians 4:1-21
1. The names surrounding discipleship. Our chapter presents before us several statements which remind us of the responsibility and privileges which belong to us as Christians. There are many names given to our Lord Jesus Christ, hundreds of them, and none of them is without significance.
The Christian, also, is designated by various names, names which suggest not only spiritual characteristics, but also Divine service. Our part, as believers, is to walk worthy of our Lord, first of all, and then to walk worthy of the names by which we are called.
We should not bear our names as a mere cognomen by which we are to be called, but we should bear our names in a way worthy of Him who named us, and of the names we bear.
2. The name, "Ministers of Christ." The word "minister" (1 Corinthians 4:1 ) means one who serves. Until this day preachers are called ministers because they are supposed to bear the responsibility of serving their people.
We believe that all saints, however, should be ministers of Christ, and in behalf of the people. There is a verse which says that Apostles and Prophets and Pastors are appointed for "the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ." Certainly, the pastors should not be the only ministers.
There is another verse which says: "In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses," etc. Surely, the work of the minister is a work accompanied with many testings, and therefore needs many qualifications.
There is still another verse which says, "He that ministereth let him wait on his ministering." One who ministers has no place for idleness. He must be up and about the Master's work. He must be bearing the burdens of his brethren, meeting their needs, and strengthening their hands.
3. The name "Stewards of the mysteries of God." A "steward" is one who has charge over certain responsibilities. In this instance, he is one to whom is given the task of keeping and guarding the things which belong to righteousness. The verse before us, is the 1st verse of our study. It describes us as "stewards of the mysteries of God." How wonderful it is that we are put in charge of so priceless a treasure. The mysteries of God are the secrets of God, which have been delivered unto saints, and which none of the men of this world have known.
There is the mystery of Godliness; there is the mystery of the Rapture of the saints, both of the dead and of the living; there is the mystery of iniquity which doth already work; there is the mystery of Israel, her present partial blindness, and her ultimate restoration to the land; there is the mystery of the Church, the Body, which was not known to the saints of the ages past, but is now revealed unto us by the Spirit, through Paul.
All of these wonderful truths which reveal the eternal purposes of the Most High, are committed to Christians.
There is a verse which says: "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust."
The second verse of our lesson says: "It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful." We must be faithful lest the mysteries of God be lost or neglected. The Church of the Living God is the pillar and ground of the truth. Unto that Church, God has committed the oracles of God. Oh, that we might be faithful to our trust!
I. THE JUDGE OF OUR STEWARDSHIP IS GOD (1 Corinthians 4:3-4 )
1. Paul despises human judgeship. He says: "It is a small thing that I should be judged of you." We wonder if the average Christian is not more concerned with what men may say or think of his stewardship than he is with what God may say or think. There are those who care only for the praise and plaudits of men. Whether they are right or wrong in the sight of God, means but little to them. Their concern is that they may pass acceptably before the rulers of the synagogue, and the men who are over them in the church.
There are some who even care more for the praise of men, of worldly men, and of carnal men, than they do for the praise of God.
2. Paul does not even dare to judge himself. He said: "It is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self." And how can we judge ourselves, for we know not anything as we ought to know, save as the Spirit of God teaches and guides us.
Suppose that one can say, "I know nothing against myself" is he therein justified?
Suppose he is living up to the light of his own eyes, and fulfilling the dictations of his own conscience is he therefore to be accepted of God?
Can saints do more than see through a glass darkly? Can they, in themselves, dare to direct their own steps, and judge their own lives?
What folly, therefore, it is for us to boast our own righteousness or goodness. The Apostle Paul sought always to live with a conscience void of offense toward God and toward men. It was for this cause that he knew nothing by himself. The Apostle, however, did not even dare to say that he was sinless; nor did he dare to say that he was completely fulfilling his stewardship.
3. The judge of all believers, in all things, is Christ. It is before Him we must stand. It is to Him we must give our account of all things done in the body. We do not expect to stand before God, in our human perfectness. We do expect to stand before Him, as one under the Blood, and as one who has sought to faithfully fulfill the things committed to our trust. We do at least hope to hear from His blessed lips, "Thou hast been faithful over a few things, * * enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
II. A DESIGNATED TIME OF JUDGMENT (1 Corinthians 4:5 )
1. We are told to judge nothing before the time of the Lord's Coming. One reason for this admonition is that there are so many hidden things which are altogether unknown to us, that we cannot judge rightly. It is not until we stand before the Lord, that God will bring everything to the light. It is not until then, that the counsels of the hearts of men will be made manifest.
It seems absurd that one brother should sit in judgment upon another brother, and harshly condemn him when he knows so little about him, Men look on the outward appearance. They judge by the sight of their eyes. The tendency of all of us is to judge another by some wrong step, whereas we know nothing of the inner struggles of that life; nor do we know the deep devotion which may control his spirit.
"We only saw the slips she made,
As she through life the pathway trod,
But how she struggled, fought, and prayed
Were known, and only known to God."
2. We are told that the Coming of the Lord is the time of judgment. The truth is that God Himself cannot judge our ministry, nor our stewardship, until its full sweep is reached. Every life starts waves of bane or of blessing in motion which will go on and on until they strike the shores of glory.
So far as rewards are concerned God must wait until the harvest is fully reaped, until the sheaves are all gathered in, until the life task is completed.
3. We are told that every man shall have praise of God. This is a most quickening, and comforting statement. There is no believer who shall not find, when he stands before God, something in which God may commend him. We delight in reading the messages to the churches, as found in Revelation 2:1-29 and Revelation 3:1-22 . In none of them was there human perfection. In most of them there were strong statements of infidelity and failure, but in all of them there was found something from the lips of their Lord by way of commendation.
The ambition, therefore, of the saint should be that when he appears before the judgment seat of Christ at His Coming, to receive for the things done in his body, he may stand accepted in Him.
III. THE SIN OF THINKING TOO HIGHLY OF SELF OR OF ANOTHER (1 Corinthians 4:6 )
In the light of our Divine stewardship and our service to Christ, there is a method of judgment which is now set forth.
1. We may judge men above that which is written. In other words, we may glory in men, more than we should. The Apostle wrote, "That ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another."
According to this, while we may judge one to his hurt, and in this wrongly judge; we may judge another to his glorying, and in this wrongly glory. Apollos, whose name is mentioned in our key verse, was an orator. It is easy to applaud and to laud such a one above his due.
Here is an angle in judging one another, that needs to be safeguarded. It is a judgment which endangers our pride, and causes us to exalt one, while we humble another. This is altogether contrary to the Spirit of Christ, who made Himself of no reputation.
2. In judging we should remember that all gifts are received from God. 1 Corinthians 4:7 says: "Who maketh thee to differ from another?" It also says: "What hast thou that thou didst not receive?" If, therefore, our achievements are accomplished only by His Divine investment, why should we glory? If saints wrought apart from God it would be different. If it is by their own might, or power, or wisdom, that they accomplish for God, then they may glory. If, however, they are working, endued with power from on high, and under a grace received from above, where is the place for self-glorying as if they had not received it? The truth is that God has written, "Let no man glory in men."
IV. A HOLY SARCASM (1 Corinthians 4:8-10 )
1. The Spirit, with sarcasm, rebukes self-boast fulness. 1 Corinthians 4:8 reads: "Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us." This was the spirit that dominated the carnal saints at Corinth. The Holy Ghost takes out of their own lips, the words with which they have boasted in themselves. Then He adds: "I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you." Here the Apostle turns from the temporal, to the eternal; from his own day, to the day of the Reign of Christ among men.
2. The true spirit of Apostleship. 1 Corinthians 4:9 says: "I think that God hath set forth us the Apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men." Here you begin to grasp the Scriptural status of the Christian. It is suffering; it is being made a spectacle before the world and angels and men. Has God not said: "In the world ye shall have tribulation"? Has He not said; "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake"?
3. A comparison between the true and the false. The Holy Spirit now, through Paul, rebukes the folly of the Corinthians by placing before them the ignominy of the Church's greatest man. He gives this rebuke in contrast:
1. "We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise."
2. "We are weak, but ye are strong."
3. "Ye are honourable, but we are despised."
Paul wrote these words to shame them. Beloved, have you ever seen those who desired the high places in the synagogue; those who desired to be called of men, "Rabbi"? Have you ever seen the church fawning at the feet of some great religious potentate, and giving him honor?
To such a one, these words are addressed: Our Lord was despised and rejected of men. Shall we, His servants, faithful to His message and methods, seek to be applauded and honored of men?
V. THE COST OF FAITHFUL STEWARDSHIP (1 Corinthians 4:11 )
1. An inside view of Paul's stewardship. Here is the way it is stated: "Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; and labour, working with our own hands."
How many of us, as we have followed the journeys of the Apostle Paul and considered the great sweep of his testimony, have not thought of how wonderful it would be to be reckoned in his class? Have we, however, as we half way desired to follow in his steps, ever considered how often he was hungry, and thirsty, and naked, and buffeted? He knew no place that he could call home. He had no church board to supply his wants. To meet his needs, he labored and wrought with his own hands.
How many preachers there are who demand a salary, who demand every comfort of this present age before they will go out in the service of their Lord!
2. An inside view of Paul's sufferings and conduct. Here is a contrast worthy of deep thought.
(1) Paul was reviled, but he only blessed his revilers.
(2) Paul was persecuted, but he only suffered it, and in no sense fought back.
(3) Paul was defamed, but he only entreated.
God grant that we as His ministers and stewards, may learn the lesson which Paul's life proclaims.
3. An inside view of the world's attitude to Paul. Paul was made as the filth of the world, and as the offscouring of all things. We who delight in honoring the memory of the great Apostle to the Gentiles, perhaps forget that there was a time when he was reckoned as nothing but the off-scouring of a dirty world.
VI. THE TRUE SPIRIT OF REPROOF (1 Corinthians 4:14-18 )
1. The inner heart of the Apostle as the Spirit, through him, addressed the Corinthians. The Apostle said: "I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you." When we, as ministers of Christ, have ought to speak by way of rebuke, let us learn to speak unto our people, as we would to our own beloved children. Before ever we utter a word of warning, let us assure them of our heart of love.
Paul loved the Corinthians because they were begotten in Christ Jesus through the Gospel which he preached unto them. He loved them as a father.
2. The Apostle Paul did not ask of others what he himself did not do. In 1 Corinthians 4:16 he said: "Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me." In 1 Corinthians 4:17 he told them that he had sent Timothy unto them that he might bring into their remembrance his ways in Christ, and of how he taught everywhere in every church.
Some may think at first that the Apostle was now boasting his own righteousness. Not so! He did say: "Be ye followers of me," but the "me" of whom he spoke was the One who was "in the Lord," "in Christ." He even said that his ways were in Christ, thus he made no claim to any personal piety or purity.
To the Thessalonians, Paul said: "Ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord," When the saints at Thessalonica became followers of Christ, they followed in the way of His suffering, and in the way of His being shamefully treated.
3. The Apostle Paul acknowledged not his own power, but the power of the Gospel. In 1 Corinthians 4:15 he said, "I have begotten you through the Gospel." In 1 Corinthians 4:17 he said: "For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son." Thus did Paul set forth the message of regeneration. First, he acknowledged that the saints in Corinth (some of whom were puffed up; most of whom were carnal), were children of God, begotten through the Gospel.
Secondly, he acknowledged that Timothy, who was faithful in the Lord, was a son by regeneration, through the Gospel.
VII. THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL (1 Corinthians 4:19-21 )
1. Paul desired to know not the speech but the power of the saints at Corinth. There are many of us who may talk much, who may say many things, but who have no real touch of the Holy Ghost in our ministry. With what carefulness did the Apostle set aside all words and all speech which tended to pride and to self-exaltation, as he emphasized the power of the Gospel.
Our mind goes to that marvelous statement in the opening chapters to the Corinthians, where Paul said: "My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power."
Let us, as Christians, from this day seek to judge our ministry and our stewardship not in words but in the Holy Ghost and in power.
2. God's promise to the Church, was, "Ye shall receive power." 1 Corinthians 4:20 says: "For the Kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." From our pulpit, in our prayer meetings, and in our Young People's gatherings, we may have much of words, and little of power. We may have not only much of word, but much of the Word of truth. We may even preach or testify to a full gospel message, and yet be absolutely impotent in the hand of God. What we should seek is the Word of God and the truth of God, proclaimed in the power of God. A ministry, a stewardship is worth the while, only as it is clothed with the Holy Ghost.
Let us remember the order of Acts 1:8 , "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me." There is here nothing of being witnesses, without power. The fact is the disciples were commanded to tarry in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high. They had been taught in the Word of God, and their doctrine was true; but Christ did not want them to preach a spineless, inert truth. He wanted them to preach a Spirit-enforced truth.
Here is a lesson we dare not overlook. No ministry is prepared, no missionary is panoplied to preach Christ, until he or she is anointed with the power of God.
There is a certain fish known as the blowfish or toadfish. It has no particular value unless it be to cultivate the patience of the fisherman, for commonly it seizes the bait intended for its betters. It is an unattractive fish, with a great mouth and a mottled, wrinkled body that looks like worn-out leather; but turn it over and tickle it a little and the flabby creature will puff up until it is swollen to the appearance of a globe. Did you ever meet people like that? Upon occasion, with only a slight stimulus, they swell up until they bear the semblance of greatness and beauty, but there's nothing substantial about it; it's all air. A little flattery, a little tickling of vanity, and they "swell with pride," as we say. So they do; but pride is about as unsubstantial a thing as that which puffs up the blowfish. Our business is to grow; not to swell, to be built up in Christ; not to be puffed up with pride. In this connection it is well to remember Paul's words, "Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth."
An organ-blower in a country parish, who was worried during service because a new hymn was given out, inquired after church of different members of the congregation how the hymn went, adding this apologetic explanation, "I never blowed that hymn before!" There are other men in the world who think that their "blowing" is the chief feature of any achievement.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13