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Apostles of Christ July 6, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Corinthians 4.

Summary: Paul begins by inferring from the preceding discussion that everyone should view ministers as mere servants of Christ who are empowered to communicate the truths that God has revealed to them. In this matter, ministers are to be faithful to Christ and to those whom they are serving. Now to Paul, the Corinthians’ opinions of his faithfulness mean nothing, and the judgment of any human judges in this regard also means nothing; in fact, what his conscience tells him regarding his faithfulness is also unimportant. Although his conscience does not accuse him of a lack of faithfulness, it does not have the final say in this matter – that is the Lord’s prerogative. The Lord will only exercise His prerogative at the second coming of Christ, when He will reveal all secret acts and hidden motives; only then will each faithful minister – including Paul – receive his praise from God. Paul then tells the Corinthians that in the preceding discussion, he has clearly established that he and Apollos are mere servants of Christ – in order that they would understand the Old Testament teachings regarding ministers and apply them correctly to their lives, removing the feelings of conceit and hostility that existed between them. Moreover, Paul regards their party factions as being ridiculous and inconsistent with their true standing in Christ. To drive home this point, Paul uses sarcasm, noting that the Corinthians have already achieved spiritual perfection, while the apostles have not attained this goal; of course, Paul genuinely wishes that this were reality, since the apostles would also be perfect. Paul longs for perfection, since God has made the apostles conspicuous due to their afflictions, and they are regarded as convicts who are condemned to die; their sufferings are so pronounced that men and good angels are compelled to stare at them. The apostles are regarded by the Corinthians (and others) as fools, weaklings and worthy of contempt – while the Corinthians are regarded by others (and by themselves) as being wise, strong and worthy of respect. The world regards the apostles as being foolish for subjecting themselves to hunger, thirst, nakedness, harsh opposition and homelessness for the sake of spreading the Gospel message. In light of all this, it is remarkable that the apostles are

  • self-sufficient
  • able to respond to verbal abuse with kind words
  • able to respond to physical abuse with patient submission
  • able to respond to accusations of impropriety with kindness

and yet they are still regarded as the trash of the world. This rather ironic passage is not meant to put the Corinthians to shame; instead, Paul – as a parent – wants to admonish them. Even though as Christians they will have many teachers, they only have one spiritual father who has led them to a saving faith via the Gospel message – Paul. In light of this, Paul desires the Corinthians to emulate his humility and self-denial. To this end, Paul is going to send Timothy to them, as Paul is Timothy’s spiritual father, and Timothy has been faithful in his Christian service; Timothy will remind them that contrary to the accusations of his opponents, Paul has been consistent throughout his far-flung missionary journeys in terms of his character and conduct as a teacher and apostle. Now the false teachers in Corinth have been attempting to undermine Paul’s authority, and they claim that Paul is afraid to confront them. Yet Paul asserts that if it is Christ’s will, he will soon come to Corinth and test the true character and effectiveness of his opponents. Paul plans to adopt this course of action, as the dominion of Christ consists not of outward acts – but of inner realities. Paul concludes by asking the Corinthians if he should arrive in Corinth as a disciplinarian, or if he should arrive meekly as led by the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: Verses 8-13 illustrate the unfathomable difficulties that Paul and the other apostles endured for the sake of spreading the Gospel message. Hodge offers some interesting thoughts in his commentary on verse 13:

This and other passages of Paul’s writings (compare 2 Corinthians 11:23-27) present in a very strong light the indignities and sufferings that he endured in Christ’s service. These may well put us to shame, as much as the self-satisfied and self-indulgent Corinthians. What are we doing for him for whom Paul did and suffered so much?

It should be noted that I do not believe that all Christians are called to endure the sufferings that are listed in this passage (which may appear to be rather self-serving). If that were the case, there would be no need for a local church body where believers could be educated and built up in their faith. To me, this passage is a strong reminder for all Christians to conduct regular self-examinations – are we slipping into complacency in our faith? If so, we need to see how we can stretch our faith and honor God in the process; by taking risks for God, we can identify more closely with Jesus and His sufferings in the context of our primary calling – wherever that happens to be.

Verse 15 indicates that a Christian should enjoy a special relationship with their spiritual father. This reminds me that I have never led anybody to Christ; by God’s grace I hope to rectify that at some point. Indeed, the process of becoming a spiritual father is definitely a sterling example of God’s grace in action. Consider the following hypothetical scenario: God ordains events so that a Christian college student ends up with a non-believing roommate. Through many late nights spent hacking away at problem sets, playing the latest video games, and dashing to/from the local drive-thru, they forge a very strong bond. They end up discussing open-ended issues including the meaning of human existence, the problem of evil and suffering, and where one can find true peace and happiness in this life. One day the Christian student is able to pray the sinners’ prayer with his non-believing roommate, completing the process of becoming a spiritual father. What an awe-inspiring sequence of events!

Verses 18-21 show that Paul intended to visit Corinth and confront the false teachers who were making false claims about him. In his commentary on verse 19, Hodge notes:

Paul meant to put to the test not what these people could say, but what they really were and did – that is, their true character and efficiency.

After reading this passage, I thought about how Paul was planning on evaluating the false teachers. Clearly they appeared to be quite spiritual and holy based on their words and actions – which is how the Corinthians ended up following them in the first place. In this case, what “metrics” would Paul use to show that the false teachers had not been sent by God to build up the Corinthian church? Eventually I figured that God would give Paul – as an apostle – supernatural insight into the hearts and minds of the false teachers. This, then, would enable Paul to properly judge them – especially in light of his comments in verses 1-5.

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