Study 6 – 1 Corinthians 4:1-21

Leading Believers

Discussion Question

Who would you say is or was the boss in your family growing up? Discuss your answer and reflect what that meant to you.

This question is set to bring out the link between relationship and authority. Our families are not perfect and yet they shape us so profoundly.

Background

From Chapter 1 Paul has been talking to the church of God in Corinth who are called by God to be his holy people. They already have every spiritual blessing and have heard and received the grace of God through Jesus Christ. And yet, they were a church divided because they celebrated and boasted about particular church leaders. Paul has reminded his readers that there is no wisdom on earth that compares to the wisdom of God and that wisdom, although it looks weak and foolish, is the cross of Christ. Paul was resolved to know nothing except that message. Now, Paul gives his final words on the topic of wisdom and of Christian teachers and preachers.

Read 1 Corinthians 4:1-21

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

6 Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. 7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. 15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?

What did you see?

Structure

  • Judge me like this – as entrusted to pass on God’s wisdom (1)
  • Is the preacher/teacher trustworthy? (2-5)
  • Is it God’s message that they carry? (6-7)
  • It is not a glamorous job to be a slave to God’s message (8-13)
  • Not your warrior but your Father in Christ (14-21)

Judge me like this – as entrusted to pass on God’s wisdom (1)

“This, then, is how you ought to regard us…” I’ve placed Verse 1 on it’s own in the chapter as it appears to hold all the ingredients of what Paul wishes to expand on. He begins with instructing how they ought to regard or consider him and Apollos (the immediate context suggests Paul and Apollos (see Verse 6) but it could instead refer to Paul and Sosthenes who co-authored this letter) and will change his word to judge as the paragraph continues. We all judge things throughout our day and we judge people in the sense that we see them in certain ways. So, if we are not to regard Paul or Apollos as in competition with one another, how ought we regard them? Are they nothing? Are they nobodies? If we all have access to the Spirit of God and therefore the wisdom of God, what is the point of the apostles and of the church preachers and teachers?

“…as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.” Paul will go on to expand on these three elements further: being entrusted by God, that it is God’s message that he carries and that of being a servant of Christ. The Greek word used for servant is that of an assistant and not the word for slave. That said, I find that the context Paul gives us introduces the whole concept of someone who works on behalf of someone else’s household or kingdom. Paul is not building his own church but working for Christ and his church. So, let’s hear Paul first of all talk about being entrusted with the mysteries of God before he returns to the topic of being a servant, steward and assistant in God’s work.

Is the preacher/teacher trustworthy? (2-5)

“Now it is required that those who have been give a trust must prove faithful.” This makes sense – common sense. If you are asked to do something then you need to prove yourself able to do it. The NIV seems to play with the english word entrust and so includes the word trust in Verse 2. Compare with other translations you’ll find the word steward which was used in Verse 1. So, if you are given a job to do, to take care of something, then you need to be able to take care of it!

“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court…I do not even judge myself.” The weight of Paul’s duty is not to please, satisfy or be approved by people – not even himself! There is a higher responsibility. He is a servant of the gospel which does not mean that he is a servant to the body of Christ but to Christ himself. It takes a high level of maturity to be able to say in truth that you do not care what others think of you but you care very much what God thinks!

“My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.” When Paul says that he doesn’t even judge himself, he knows that even he is not who he is serving in his ministry of preaching God’s word. We live in the age of justify yourself  and that is all that matters. As long as you are true to yourself then you go for it! But Paul is not satisfied with that. Being right in our own eyes only matters for earthly things. But being right in God’s eyes is another matter. What an amazing sentence in the bible that is probably rarely or ever a memory verse.

“It is the Lord who judges me.” A word of dread and joy. The former because who can stand before God and live? The latter because, in Jesus we can! But the context is about preaching and teaching. Paul wants to know whether God is pleased with his messages because it is God who has entrusted Paul with the message. Paul does not primarily want churches to love him (that would be a bonus) but for God to be pleased that he is carrying the gospel in truth.

“Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes.” A person’s ministry may not be truly understood as valuable until we all reach glory and see what difference it made. Likewise, the damage a person does in their ministry may not be apparent until the last day. Either way, the end of times is the timeline we need to work towards. The ministry of preaching the word does not depend on each individual sermon but on the work overall that is being done. Note well that we are reminded of the Lord’s coming in this verse.

“He will bring to light…expose the motives of the heart.” Whether a preacher is trying to build up their kingdom or God’s will be plain to see at the last day. Teachers in the church will either be trustworthy servants of God or they will be teaching with a selfish motive.

“At that time each will receive their praise from God.” There’s almost a double meaning here. Once the true motives are revealed, judgment will fall and if a preacher is to be praised, then let God sing praises on the last day. If a preacher/teacher is seeking praises now, then their motives are skewed.

So, Paul firstly teaches us that people in teaching positions in the church must take their role seriously and know that this is a task given to them by God and so they are to treat God as their boss and not the church whom they teach. A good and faithful servant will get this balance right and will not abuse their power or place but humbly pass on the message that one day they will be judged for.

Is it God’s message that they carry? (6-7)

“I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit…” It sounds like Verses 1-5 are aimed at warning the teachers but Paul says this is for the hearer’s benefit that he says this. Paul and Apollos were both responsible for the planting and growing of the message of the gospel in Corinth. Paul is saying that he and Apollos both see themselves as servants of Christ entrusted with God’s message.

“…so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.”” Paul and Apollos shaped their message to not go beyond what is written (in Scripture). This must mean going beyond the meaning of what is written rather than the exact words that are written otherwise they would stop being teachers and be simply bible readers. Paul is not quoting Scripture here but using a well known saying – this is either very ironic or it expands on what he means when he says don’t go beyond what is written. There is a message of God which Paul refers to as the mysteries of God. This is the message that he teaches to us and the church in Corinth. But he is not going off-book to bring in more to the gospel or another gospel or a greater wisdom etc. God has given him a message to preach and that is what he will preach. Using all the language at his disposal without modifying the message.

“…a follower of one of us over against the other.” This traces Paul’s discussion back to Chapter One when he talked about division in the church because each followed a different teacher. They are both preaching the same message from God.

“…puffed up…what makes you different…what do you have that you did not receive…why do you boast…” A person can boast about being muscly but they can’t boast about being big and muscly as if they had anything to do with their height. A person can’t boast about the music of their favourite artist as if they wrote the music and performed it themselves. A Christian cannot boast about their knowledge about Jesus and the gospel as though they invented it or forged it or whatever. An amazing preacher may have been able to formulate a brilliant phrase or illustration that encapsulates the gospel, but they cannot claim to have invented the gospel. The church in Corinth is the church of God because God called them and saved them and sent his message to them and put his Spirit in them. It is God who grows and saves. No church on earth can boast as if they have a monopoly on the gospel.

So, Paul says that this message that he teaches is not from himself but he is sticking to the gospel that God has passed on to him and he encourages the church in Corinth to think the same way. Their faith is no greater than any of the other churches scattered around the globe.

It is not a glamorous job to be a slave to God’s message (8-13)

“How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!” Paul’s sarcasm in Verse 8a is popped by the reality that if the church was really a shining light of wisdom in this world (instead of holders of the foolishness of the cross) then Paul would be able to walk tall and without fear in this world too. But instead, he carries the mystery of God to preach and teach which is the foolishness of the cross. He has to hold back his glory for a later date.

“…God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession…” There are a few ways to interpret this verse but I believe it refers to the unique and called apostles of God who saw the risen Jesus and declare him to the world to be the living word of God, Lord and Saviour. The word apostle simply means ‘sent one’ and can be used in many contexts. The NT points to the living disciples plus Paul and perhaps Matthias as the apostles who were specifically called to testify to the world about Jesus. They have come on the world stage at the end of the line of prophets and wise men and Paul paints a picture of them trailing at the back as if they are not important at all. Rather than thinking of them as influential or of noble birth (1:26) or wise in the world’s eyes, the apostles, like Paul and Peter and John, are a laughing stock to the world and even sometimes in the churches.

“…a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.” On the scale of great things, angels seem more impressive and important that Paul feels. It seems to Paul that when he took on the gig of being an apostle – sent by God to proclaim the great mysteries of God – he didn’t get an impressive car or private jet or endless financial support from around the world, nor even an angelic security team to guard and watch over him – he gets the same sandals and all sorts of receptions from towns. His job is to proclaim a message that most people perceive as foolish.

“We are…but you are…” In the list of examples in Verses 10-13, Paul illustrates what it is like to be an apostle. His job is humiliating and his strength and response to everything thrown at him is to love and grow in the power of the gospel. He is trying to shame the Corinthians for thinking that their church and faith ought to look impressive because the apostles have not shown them or taught them to think like that! The world wants flashy buildings and awesome speeches that influence and make change – we preach Christ crucified.

I will not step through Verses 10-13 as there is nothing difficult to understand but putting these things into practice and learning from Paul’s attitude is hard and worth time to consider. Although I do not take space talking about it here, it would be worthwhile talking about them and fleshing them out in any Growth Group study. What does your heart desire? To live comfortably and be important? Or to serve the message of the gospel and live for the kingdom of God?

Not your warrior but your Father in Christ (14-21)

“I am writing this not to shame you…” Paul’s sarcasm in Verse 10 has the potential to offend his readers and ignite anger in their hearts toward him.

“…but to warn you as my dear children.” Despite being disappointed in their division and quarrelling and misguided love, Paul really cares for this church and this is the reason he writes to them. If he didn’t care he would not have written the letter. The key here is to observe the relationship at work and not apply this as “tough love is always fine”. We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

“…ten thousand guardians in Christ…I became your father through the gospel.” Remember that Chapters 1-4 is about WISDOM and is addressing the issue of division over whose leader is best. Even, says Paul, if there were a billion legends to listen to out there, not many return the love and affection. It’s one thing to have gurus who you listen to but quite another to have a relationship with a father in the faith. Paul reminds them that he has a heart for them.

“…imitate me.” How can Paul say on the one hand “who is Paul” but now say “imitate me”? These are not contradictory statements, they are simply two different things to say for two different reasons. The reason to imitate Paul is because Paul is for them and points them to the cross and to God the Father. He does not say imitate me because I am the Messiah!

“For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord.” Again, the application of Paul’s argument in these chapters is not for us to go it alone in the faith but to see the relationships that are made and that are forged on the gospel. We do not build a church so that the church be great. Jesus has established the church and brought together sinners redeemed by his blood and created a church family. Paul calls them brothers and sisters and dear children and he has a son in the faith named Timothy and he can commend that young man to them and say, listen to him because he has the same heart for the gospel as should be evident in Christian men.

“He will remind you…” Timothy will testify that what Paul preaches in his letter is exactly how he lives.

“Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you…how these arrogant people are talking…” Paul has been hearing reports about the happenings in the church (1:11). With Paul absent, people have stepped up and perhaps leading others away from the teachings of Paul. The letter has told us about the quarreling over which leader is better and of the importance in Corinth for influential and noble leaders.  It’s like the dominant leader has left and there’s a vacuum that needs filling.

“…but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” This refers to the powerful message of the gospel and not of some supernatural power. The gospel changes lives so that we stop behaving and thinking like mere humans (3:3) and we learn to think like a person who has the Spirit of God within them and like someone who has the mind of Christ (2:16).

“Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?” This is a rhetorical question because the answer is obvious. I think this speaks a little into the area of accountability though. Sometimes Christians want some sort of accountability and, often young men, want to have a space where they can be forced to air their sins and temptations and have someone be stern with them. Although accountability is a good thing (the scriptures tell us to spur one another on and to lead one another away from sin) but the style and approach seems immature. A gentle word is good and helpful. A strong arm only makes sense when we speak of a parent guiding a very young child in the world. But we are meant to grow up and learn to distinguish the difference between right and wrong. Our church family are for the support of gentle spirits to guide us, support us and grow us (and mutually the other way too!) and we don’t cultivate a culture of strong arming people to do what is right.

What did we learn?

The work of the preacher/teacher is not nothing. Rather than being superior and the reason we go to church, our leaders are gifted by God to teach the message of God and not depart from what is written. They ought not to be leaders who we only relate with via Podcast but to have a vested interest in the church community that it speaks into. They are workers for Christ, entrusted with the gospel of Jesus Christ and labouring for his glory and not their own. Church leaders did not die for the church but they are given to the church for the benefit of its people. We see a love from Paul to the church and a desire from Paul that the church regard him with love and respect also – as one worth imitating.

Now what?

Topic A: Being entrusted with the mysteries of God. By now, we should be aware that the power of God is not seen in great preaching or supernatural gifts or huge emotional experiences but in the message of the gospel being revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. That is, if you understand the gospel and truly understand the grace of God then you have the Spirit living in you and you hold the key to eternal life! As part of a bible believing, Christ centred church, this can get treated like common sense. We ought to stop and praise God for showing himself to us and also ask God to help us to be trustworthy with the gospel.

Topic B: The message comes with a messenger. We see the message at work when we know the messenger. Paul is able to say “imitate me” and he is able to say “find out not only how […] people are talking, but what power they have.” It’s not just in a message but it is in what the message is doing in the messenger. What is the message of the gospel doing in your life? Would people frown at you when you tell them that you are a Christian?

Topic C: Fools for Christ. Go through the list in Verses 10-13. This list is a description of Paul’s experience and so not everything will apply to every reader. That said, how does the list challenge you?

Study 5 – 1 Corinthians 3:1-22

Building Believers

Discussion Question

If you could build anything in your backyard, what would you build and why?

The connection here is to the building of the church by Paul.

Background

In Chapter 3 Paul returns to his concerns in 1:10-17 about quarrels and divisions. He seeks to provide a solid theological understanding of WHO they are and WHOSE they are so they might put off their worldly and immature ways of thinking and grow up in Christ. He will implore them not to abandon or ignore the human leaders they have followed but to recognise that human leaders build on God’s work, according to God’s plans towards God’s goals.  The key urging from this chapter is really in 3.21 – no more boasting about human leaders! God is central to your life, death and every breath.

Talk of the temple in 3:16-17 requires some careful consideration. The temple/ tabernacle was the place where God dwelt in the midst of Israel and at which God related to his people (remember our study in Leviticus!). It was a mobile tent until the days of Solomon when he built a glorious and enormous temple in which God’s people could worship God. But as Israel forgot God the temple was overrun by injustice and idolatry. After the glory days of Solomon, evil godless kings closed the doors, destroyed the altars and killed the priests; eventually it was destroyed. In the later OT (cf Haggai) people long for a new temple to be built of greater glory than the first. As the NT opens, Jesus says he is that temple (John 2:13-25). Jesus is the place where God reveals himself, through whom God relates with his people and in whom his people worship. Now Paul takes this a step further and says “you yourselves are God’s temple”. In light of the background, that is a pretty incredible thought.

Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-22

3 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?

5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,

What did you see?

Structure

  • God’s servants do God’s work among God’s people (3.1-9)
  • The builders and their building (3.10-15)
  • The temple and a warning (3.16-17)
  • Lift your eyes to God (3.18-23)

God’s Servants do God’s Work among God’s People (3.1-9)

“Brothers and Sisters…” Paul is addressing the Corinthian Christians but he is getting them to recall his former ministry among them when he addressed them. There is a softness to his rebuke – you’re brothers and sisters but you’re being idiotic!  

“…people who live by the Spirit…” This is a great little description of Christian people (who have the Spirit of God in them (2:12) and who keep in step with the spirit (Eph 5:16)) connects into the end of chapter 2 where Paul contrasted Spirit-filled judgements and worldly judgements. The end of chapter 2 prepared us for Paul’s stinging rebuke here in 3:1-4)

“I gave you milk, not solid food”  Sometimes people have tried to be definitive about what milk content is vs solid (meaty) content. Is it plain gospel vs difficult doctrinal issues (like election or the Trinity?). In my experience this has happened so people can make a judgement about the content of this or that sermon, or church or the ability of a preacher. “He preaches milk!” This thinking is just the Corinthian error in another form. I don’t think it is helpful (or the point of this passage) for us to try and work out what teaching is milk and what is meat.  Rather, the issue is, are we still worldly like the Corinthians or walking in the Spirit?

“…mere humans…” Get your group to recall the discussion you had on 2:13, 15-6.

“…servants through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task…” Here is the introduction of Paul’s argument. Humans are but tools in the hands of God, servants assigned a task by the master, the Lord. They don’t decide on their work, the Lord gives them a ministry to do (2 Corinthians 5:16-20). There is no indication of anything mystical or miraculous here, just that they are preachers of God’s gospel. Therefore they should not be exalted but the Lord should be. The servant word here is the word used of deacons in 1 Tim 3:8 and not the “slave” word.

“…God has been making it grow…only God who makes things grow.” Always pause and look carefully when you see repeated ideas close together. Often this will be the key point of teaching the author wants you to grasp. In this case, the power in ministry is not in the preacher or personality or persuasive power of the person but in God who makes things grow. God makes Christians. God grows Christians. God saves Christian. He just uses people to do the preaching and teaching work.  Our attention should not be fastened on people but on the Lord they serve.

“…each be rewarded according to their own labour…” There are several passages in the NT that indicate a specific reward for those who labour for Christ. But the reward is never clearly stated; of course this has not stopped people from guessing! Some say a better place in heaven, some say a better experience of heaven, some say something else. I say, wait until you get there and see. Note though that the issue is not fruitfulness or success but reward is for labour. This makes sense as it is God who makes things grow and human ministry is done in God’s strength for God’s purposes according to God’s plans for God’s glory.

“…co-workers…” The translation of this verse in the NIV hides a profound reality that God is mentioned three times emphatically. It might read “God’s co-workers are we, God’s field, God’s building you are.” Humans are put at the end of the sentence to emphasise strongly that human instruments do not matter but God is all in all. The field/ building language prepares us for what comes next.

The Builders and their Building (3.10-15)

“builder…building…builds…”  The big question in this section is what is being built and thus what is this building. Some think it refers to a body of doctrine or understanding (linked to the milk/meat point); others think it is the church itself. Likely, neither are out of view for the church is built through right teaching both numerically and in maturity. That building takes place by the proclamation of the Gospel and the Word of God which Paul and others are doing. All this is founded on Jesus Christ who was first preached by Paul – thus he is the one who laid a foundation!

“gold, sliver, stones, wood, hay, straw…” Again, people like to try to identify all the different component parts here and define what is a good building material and what is bad. I think this misses the point. Paul is listing a variety of building materials (in two groups – flammable and inflammable) in order to point out that quality of building will be shown up on the Day. Leaders with Jesus as the foundation can still do a bad job.

“Day…” The day of judgement when Christ returns. When he comes the true character of the building work will be revealed and the efforts of the builder revealed for what they are. Again quality not quantity is what counts. Faithfulness to the foundations is key.

“Reward… burned… saved… flames.” All those being addressed here are Christian and will be saved. But the reality is that some builders do dodgy work. Some will receive a reward (see previous discussion) and some will not. The quality of ministry is what is key. People should not engage as a co-worker of God without ensuring they build carefully, wisely and in accordance with God’s plans. (It is possible that Paul is laying the ground work for future rebuke of leaders who will not deal with sin in the community [cf. 1 Corinthians 5]) Note that there is no inkling here that purgatory is being referred to. Purgatory is a late invention of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Temple and a Warning (3.16-17)

“Temple… Spirit…”  See the Background for an initial discussion of temple. If Paul had teachers and preachers in view, he now ensures the whole church is engaged in this discussion and that they see themselves as being at least somewhat responsible for the sort of teaching (building etc) going on among them. They can’t just blame others for their errors but they need to ensure that they as God’s temple are being built well. (Again, this may prepare for the future rebuke in chapter 5).

…God will destroy that person.” Here Paul’s attention is also turned to unbelievers who may come into the church and seek to do it damage. Some teachers are false teachers who do not know the Gospel or the God who owns the Gospel or the God who works in the midst of his people.

“You together are that temple”  No Christian is an island and no Christian can claim to be the place where God dwells but it is the church that Paul is referring to. The church is the dwelling place of God by his Spirit in his Word. This elevates the importance of the building, the importance of protecting the building, the importance of building well and the importance of carefully receiving good building as the church.  It is God’s work but we are all held responsible for our own actions.

Lift your eyes to God (3.18-23)

“Do not deceive yourselves.”  Paul now clearly is addressing the church and calling on them to see clearly who they are and whose they are and who it is who is working in their midst. They ought not think they are wise for the decisions they have made about how to do church but their wisdom comes only through Christ as they are built on the foundation that is Christ.

“He catches the wise…. The Lord knows that the thoughts…”  It is worth looking up Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 to see the broader context of these verses. They underline the reality that no human leader has ever been wiser or better than God. Humanity is characterised by foolishness. God is characterised by wisdom.

“No more boasting…”  This is Paul at both his elegant and furious best. Simple language making a profound point.

“All things are yours…”  This seems like a strange way to conclude this section. You might expect Paul to say “Glory only in God!” But he actually does something more profound – he points out how the Corinthians are ripping themselves off by lining up behind only one teacher when in fact all things (not just all teachers) but everything is theirs in Christ! This may hark back to 1:7. Either way, far from making themselves wiser by choosing one teacher they are impoverishing themselves.  For when you are in Christ you have conquered all that assails you and possess all that is needed for wisdom and life.

“…you are of Christ, and Christ is of God!”  The story does not end with the great possessions we have by faith in Christ but with the reality that we belong to Christ! Wow! You are not your own master stumbling in weakness, you belong to the Lord of the universe and have his strength and power and wisdom as yours. And as one who is in Christ, you are connected ultimately with God. Perhaps this is the great final rebuke or the great final encouragement – either way – STOP lining up behind human leaders and line up with the one who owns you! God in Christ!

 

What did we learn?

You have been saved by Christ. You belong to Christ. Human leaders lead for Christ and lead you toward Christ. Stop focussing on human leaders and start being who you are – God’s building and temple – and live in all he has given you which is much more than any human can give you!

Now what?

Topic A: Are you Spiritual or Worldly? You could have a discussion about this or spend some time sharing with each other about whether you are growing as a Christian and pursuing godliness or not and if not, why not. What is holding you back? How might you change where you are? What needs to happen that you might say you are ready for the meat and living by the Spirit?

Topic B: What is the danger of treating preachers as celebrities and do you do that? How do we see this danger in our context in Sydney, in Campbelltown, in our church? How do we protect against it? How can we encourage our ministers not to take on celebrity status and enable them to keep viewing themselves as Paul views himself?  

Topic C: Living with the reality that all things are yours. Are you short-changing yourself and not living life fully focussed on Christ? The world and life and death are all yours in Christ. Are you living like that is the case? Are you seeking satisfaction in other things in the world? Are you treating Jesus as someone to be tacked onto your life or as the one who is the centre of your life and who is your life?

Study 4 – 1 Corinthians 2:4-16

Words, Spirit and the Mind of Christ

Discussion Question

What would you say are the benefits of being a Christian?

Background

Paul opened his letter to the Corinthians with praise to God because they lack no spiritual gift from Him. They were called into His kingdom by grace and are therefore holy people. The first issue raised, however, is the issue of division in the church which Paul is addressing with them. They are not behaving like the holy people of God, united in mind and thought, but like people of this world. They judge their preachers on the basis of eloquence and persuasion but Paul explains to them that the cross of Christ is all the power that they need. We do not believe the gospel because of beautiful language, but because of the extraordinary God who has revealed the truth to us. Paul is not speaking about human wisdom that they should have confidence in but the truth about God – namely Jesus Christ and him crucified.

We reflected on how the message of the cross is the wisdom of God and also the power of God. The gospel is somehow described as the Spirit’s power.

Read 1 Corinthians 2:4-16

4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him—

10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

What did you see?

Structure

  • The Spirit’s power at work in the gospel (4-5)
  • God has revealed his age old mystery to us by his Spirit (6-10a)
  • Who can know the mind of God but God himself?! (10b-12)
  • Who can understand the mind of God but those who have been given the Spirit (13-16)

In this section, Paul says one simple thing in four different ways: the gospel is brought to us and taught to us by the Spirit of God and no human can claim to have discovered it by their own intelligence. It’s as if he’s saying: no person is a mind reader and if you want to know the mind of God then you need the Spirit of God. If you know the mind of God, it’s because you have been given the Spirit of God.

The Spirit’s power at work in the gospel (4-5)

“My message and my preaching…a demonstration of the Spirit’s power…” Paul lands his previous section on the point that the message of God, (the message of the cross, the testimony about God), originates with God and not man. To further make this point, he shows how it is even delivered to us by God himself. So, when Paul preaches, he is not making up words of wisdom on his own but he is recounting the message of the cross of Christ. I do wonder what people mean when they say “that guy can really preach!” It’s likely that it points to a charismatic and persuasive word of intelligence rather than an exclamation that they heard the word of God through that guy.

“…the Spirit’s power…” Colossians 1:3-9 helps to understand what Paul means here. In that passage, Paul praises God because he can see the results of the gospel working out in the lives of the Colossian church. They received the message of the cross taught properly and they truly understood the grace of God and so understood the hope of eternity. What flowed from that was a life of faith and love. Paul attributes all of that to the work of the Spirit because that is the power of the gospel!

“…so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” No single church, preacher or theological movement ought to take central stage to your faith. When we grow in maturity and when we turn to God in faith, that is the work of God. A healthy church, a faithful preacher, a godly Growth Group are all means of grace but not the authority or master of it. The flip side of this coin is that you must listen for the wisdom of God in your life. This, as Paul has argued, comes from hearing the true gospel and truly understanding the cross of Christ. Flee from gurus and run to the power of the cross.

Now, it’s good to just pause and recognise that there is plenty of wisdom and value in what humans say. It’s good to have doctors and financial advisors and counselors of all sorts but none of them will lead you to salvation and the cure of sin. Self-help books can contain plenty of useful things; psychologists and psychology books are very useful for helping us move forward in our maturity but they will only give us scaffolding for the immediate. Our faith must stand on the power of God.

God has revealed his age old mystery to us by his Spirit (6-10a)

“We do, however, speak a message…” Just because the gospel is the revelation of God from God, it is also something that we hear because people speak it! Hebrews 1:1 says that in the past, God spoke to the human race in many and various ways, but now, he has spoken to us by his Son. We preach Jesus Christ and the cross of Christ and this is the message that we speak.

“…a message of wisdom among the mature…” This word, mature, is about reaching the goal we were meant or designed for. It’s like declaring that those who are not growing in Christ have a stunted growth! Check out these references for a similar use of the word mature: Eph 4:13; Php 3:15; Col 4:12; Heb 5:14; 6:1; Jas 1:4. The mature are those who are hearing the gospel of God and responding in faith.

“…but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.” To not mature, it is to not pursuing Christ. The air and flavour of this world is not to pursue Christ and they will not mature in the way that the New Testament describes it. If anyone is offended by this definition of maturity, it must be remembered that Paul is talking about hearing the wisdom of God and that maturity is describing the intention for which God designed the human race! It follows, therefore, that if we seek to mature ourselves apart from the way that God has designed us then we can call it maturity but it is not! It would be like a plant trying to convince you that it would mature far better if it were taken out of the pot and placed on the sandy beach in the sun.

“…God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” God had a plan from the beginning but it was kept secret until the proper time. The word mystery does not refer to something mysterious or mystical, but to something that is a secret. Clues have been handed from God to this earth via the prophets but when Jesus Christ was revealed, God’s great plan was also made known. Ephesians 1:9-10; Romans 16:25. God is patient with his plans. His view of history and human destiny is both authoritative and complete. Our view is so micro and self absorbed. His plans are to include us in glory. This is part of the maturity that God speaks of. Our lives are not to be in pursuit of joy but in pursuit of maturity found only in Christ which is for our own glory.

“None of the rulers of this age…” 1 Cor 1:20; and 1:6 give us the context of what this age refers to. It is humanity this side of heaven. Paul can talk of the people at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and the people in his time as the same age that you and I live in right now. It is the age where many are perishing but those who God has called, who believe in the cross of Christ as the wisdom of God who are being saved.

“None… understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” It’s ironic that we needed to be blind to the plans of God (the mystery) for us to put Jesus to death. If we had seen the plan clearly, we would treat Jesus as God and not crucify him. But then, that would indicate that we could reach holiness and wisdom without the cross.

“What no eye has seen…heard…conceived…God has prepared for those who love him.” Paul alludes to Isaiah 64:4 and reuses the message there to apply it to the post-cross age. Although he doesn’t directly quote from Isaiah, the message is the same. We are not talking about human philosophy when we talk about God and his message of the cross. We are talking about the real and living God who made everything. The revelation of God has not evolved over time through the subconsciousness of the human race. Paul couldn’t get any clearer about this. No person could have made up this stuff! But God has been plotting away since the beginning of time to bring us salvation through the death of Christ and the promise of eternal glory.

PS – I have heard verse 9 used as a kind of whisper about heaven to come. That is, no-one has seen it or can possibly imagine what heaven will be like – but God knows and it will be beautiful. What spoils this narrow interpretation is the way that Verse 10 begins…

“These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.” God is not talking about a secret that is still a secret. He is talking about the mystery of how he is going to make his church holy, righteous and wise. All is done in Christ.

 

Who can know the mind of God but God himself?! (10b-12)

“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” Verse 11 makes it clear that this is the Spirit of God AKA the Holy Spirit. Nobody can know the deep things of God apart from God himself. The Holy Spirit is therefore God.

“For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them?” Who do you really know apart from yourself. Now you might say that you don’t know yourself very well and would love someone to figure you out and let you know! True. But, look at or think about your closest and dearest friend(s). How much do you know them? You never know their thoughts until they speak them or write them! Nobody can ever know me truly like I know me. I will continue to value other people’s insights into my psyche – but my thoughts are my thoughts. My pains are my pains. My emotions are my emotions. Don’t get me started on the things that come to our minds when we are asleep! How to begin to explain what your mind conjured up as a believable story during the night. And then when we speak our mind, is it often only a fraction of what went on inside our brain?

“In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” Again, we cannot begin to guess what God is thinking. But what if he revealed to us his thoughts and plans by his Spirit?

“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.” We have been given access to the plans and thoughts of God. Notice how Paul explains that the message of the cross is a window into the mind of God. No person has conceived this. The Spirit has revealed that Jesus death on the cross was our substitutionary atonement.

 

Who can understand the mind of God but those who have been given the Spirit (13-16)

“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” You could take this sentence out of context in order to show that God gives Spirit words that no person could have invented or understood and therefore show that speaking in tongues of angels is promoted here. But let’s not take it out of context hey? Paul has been talking about audible and understandable words which make up the message of the gospel but that reveal the secret plans of God from eternity. In other words, Paul is saying that this gospel message is not made up but has been give to us by God. The message of 2:4-2:16 is quite repetitive. What’s being challenged by Paul is human wisdom, not human language.

“The person without the Spirit does not accept…cannot understand…because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” Recall that in 1 Corinthians 1:2 the church was described as called. And in 1:26-31 we were reminded that God chose who he would reveal his will to and include in his church. Understanding the gospel with acceptance is a work of the Holy Spirit. That’s why Jesus described to Nichodemus (John 3) that the Spirit can’t be seen but His work is plain to see. And in Colossians 1:3-9, Paul can tell that the Spirit of God has been at work because they have responded to the gospel. That is why the gospel is described as the power of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:5).

“The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments…” This is a verse to keep in your pocket for good theological discussion! When we come to understand the gospel, we can say that it is we who considered the words, weighed up the evidence and the options and made a judgment call on what to do next BUT only a person with the Spirit can make such a judgment call because only they can consider it as wisdom from God.

“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” The rhetorical answer is no one, correct? Paul has already concluded that nobody can know the mind of God except God himself. Well…

“But we have the mind of Christ.” Boom! The gift of the Holy Spirit is such an important one that gives us the knowledge of God. Without the gift of the Spirit, we would be blind and stupid fools. Unable to discern the mind of God. But with the Spirit in us, we have the mind of Christ. That is, we are able to be wise and grow in wisdom. The fruit of this is character. The Spirit brings us the gospel of grace, allows us to understand it and conclude that this is right. The Spirit of God then transforms our minds to know the mind of God more and more. And the Spirit of God enables us to discern between right and wrong. This is called maturing in Christ.

What did we learn?

The Spirit of God is like a conduit to the mind of God. He opens our eyes to behold the beauty in the cross and the wisdom in the gospel. No human can possibly conceive the things that God has known and thought for all time. But the Spirit of God is God’s gift to those who love him – indeed the means to loving him. A preacher’s words are no mere words since they uncover, discuss, persuade and exhort the people of God to know the mind of God.

Now what?

Topic A: Turn sermons and daily bible readings into an act of worship. This passage is reminding us about the great privilege we are given when we receive the Spirit of God. We ought to regard the bible and times spent listening to Spirit-filled preachers as moments of the wisdom of God being revealed to us. How often have you skipped reading the bible this week? Are you conscious that you are skipping time spent listening to God?

Topic B: Being thankful for the Holy Spirit. Proof of the Spirit dwelling in you is that you truly understand the grace of God and are growing in maturity. Those who have the Spirit of God living in them have the mind of Christ, are holy and chosen by God to be his people. You are a child of God with God’s commitment to grow you. The Spirit of God is teaching you.

Topic C: Conscious of the foreign nature of this world/age. If it is only those who have the Spirit who can know the mind of God, then everybody else does not and cannot know the mind of God. Yet the majority of people, especially the rulers of this age, do not know God’s mind and will regard the gospel, the church and the cross as foolish. It is important to be aware of this chasm we are living amongst. When interacting with the people of this world, be aware that many do not have the mind of Christ. Knowing this does not make us superior. Knowing this gives us an alert mind to the dangers of thought we live with.