Those who follow Jesus should be characterized by humility and gratitude. These two characteristics flow freely from hearts that recognize that Jesus has intervened in our desperate situation. How desperate was our situation? Well, God’s Word tells us that we were at enmity, at war, with God. We were enemies of God. You probably wouldn’t have described yourself as an enemy of God before you came to surrender your life to Christ, but that’s what God says about you and me. We refused to humble ourselves before God. We declared ourselves to be in control of our own lives. We did what we chose to do rather than seek God’s will for our lives. We refused to honor and praise God. Instead of praising God for the life He has given us, instead of recognizing His gracious hand upon our lives, we sought recognition and praise for ourselves. How ungrateful and prideful we were before Jesus intervened in our hopeless situation. Please believe me when I tell you, we were enemies of God.
While we were God’s enemies with no desire to do anything different than what we were already doing, which was fulfilling our own selfish desires, God looked down upon us with grace and mercy, and He chose to do something about our hopeless state. Paul describes it this way in Colossians 1:21-22. Please read it with me.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation– (Colossians 1:21-22 NIV)
Once you were alienated from God, you were enemies of God, but now He has reconciled you through Jesus’ death on the cross. Once I was God’s enemy, scarred and marred by my own sinful behavior, but because of Jesus I am now holy, without blemish, and no one can accuse me before God ever again. I am most certainly a mess, but I am His mess. When someone recognizes what they were and what God has done through Jesus–there can be nothing other than gratitude and humility flow from their heart.
This is what makes the church in Corinth so confusing and frustrating to the Apostle Paul. If you will remember, Paul had founded the church in Corinth while he was on his second missionary journey, about 50 A.D. Paul didn’t just arrive in town, start a Bible study, and then head down the road. He spent 18 months sharing the gospel and discipling the people of Corinth before he set sail for Ephesus. Paul laid a strong foundation for the church in Corinth. He taught them about salvation by grace through faith in Jesus–Salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. In the second chapter of the letter we’ve been studying, Paul reminded them of this fact. Look at 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 with me.
1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2 NIV)
Humility, not pride, this is what the unbelievers living in Corinth should have recognized in Jesus’ followers, but humility was nowhere to be found. I need to remind us once again that the culture of Corinth had invaded the church instead of Jesus’ followers invading the culture with the grace and mercy of their Savior. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning found in 1 Corinthians 4:6-13.
6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. (1 Corinthians 4:6-13 ESV)
Before we get to the heart of our study for this morning let’s take a look at verse 6 just for a moment.
6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. (1 Corinthians 4:6 ESV)
The first question we have to ask is, “What things has Paul applied to himself and Apollos for the benefit of the people of Corinth?” If you will remember, the people of Corinth were elevating one teacher over another. They were boasting about who they liked the best. Paul has taken the time to describe himself, Apollos, and Peter as nothing more than farmers (3:6-9), builders (3:10-15), under-rowers, and stewards (4:1-5). All of these descriptions minimize God’s servant and exalt God. God’s servants are to be faithful and humble, not proud. God’s servants are to be stewards, trustworthy and submissive, not proud.
Paul said he has taken the time to rightly describe God’s servants for “your benefit…so you will not “go beyond what is written.” This is such an important lesson for you and me. What does it mean to not go beyond what is written? Richard Hays writes,
Paul has prominently spotlighted six Scripture quotations in the first three chapters of the letter (1:19, 31; 2:9,16; 3:19, 20). In the case of the first two and the last two, the application of the texts is explicitly spelled out: No boasting in human beings. …The cumulative force of these citations is unmistakable: the witness of Scripture places a strict limit on human pride and calls for trust in God alone. (Ciampa, Roy and Rosner, Brian. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. pg. 176)
Paul has been quoting from Old Testament texts to teach the people of Corinth. Richard Hays says all of the six quotations were for the purpose of teaching God’s people that there is no place for human pride. I want to give you one example of what he means. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 and let’s read together.
30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God– that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31 NIV)
Paul says, “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus…” I’m sorry to break the news to you, but it’s not about you, it is all about Him! Did you notice the beginning of verse 31? Paul writes, “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’” Where is that written? Well, turn with me to Jeremiah 9:23-24 and I’ll show you. Let’s read it together.
23 This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, 24 but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV)
There is no room for human pride whatsoever. Never has there been and never will there be. If you want to boast, then boast in the Lord, declare what He has done. How matchless is His mercy! How overwhelming is His grace! How great is His salvation for all who will believe!
There is one more thing we need to recognize about verse 6. Paul said that we must not go beyond what is written so “that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.” The Greek word translated, “puffed up,” is “??????” (phusioo) and it means “to inflate, blow up, to cause to swell up, to puff up, to make proud.” It’s a very descriptive word isn’t it? You know what happens when we become prideful–we stick out our chest, lift up our chin, and make ourselves bigger than we actually are. Did you know that Paul only uses this word seven times in all of his letters and six of those occurrences are found right here in his letter to the people in Corinth. They must have been a prideful bunch!
In verse 7, Paul strikes at the heart of the Corinthians pride with three questions, three stunning questions that were designed to deflate their inflated egos. These three questions should be written down, memorized, and reviewed on a regular basis by every follower of Jesus. Let’s read verse 7 together.
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? (1 Corinthians 4:7 NIV)
These are the “Who? What? and Why?” questions that were desperately needed if the brothers and sisters in Corinth were ever going to abandon their pride. The first question: “Who makes you different from anyone else?” What is really interesting about this question is that in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul goes into great detail about how we are different. Read verses 4-7 with me.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7 NIV)
We are different. We each have different gifts and abilities. We are different sizes and shapes. Some of us were born “here” and some were born “there.” Some are wealthy and some are poor. Some are highly educated and some have almost no education at all. Some are the darkest shade of black, some are the palest white, and others are some shade in between. The question isn’t “Are we different one from another?” but “Who made us?” All of the differences that make you unique are solely because God made you who you are. He didn’t make you better, He made you different.
The second question: “What do you have that you did not receive?” There’s no doubt that those in Corinth and maybe even some of us here in this sanctuary this morning would say, “I’ve worked hard for what I have.” If that is what you believe then I would ask you some more questions: “Who gave you the ability to work hard? Who gave you the mind to be able to think like you think, plan like you plan, and carry on your work in the way you do?” Everything we have is a gift from God my friend. Gordon Fee writes,
This is an invitation to experience one of those rare, unguarded moments of total honesty, where in the presence of the eternal God one recognizes that everything–absolutely everything–that one ‘has’ is a gift. All is of grace; nothing is deserved, nothing earned. Those who so experience grace also live from a posture of unbounded gratitude. (Fee, Gordon. The First Epistle to The Corinthians. pg. 186)
“All is of grace; nothing is deserved, nothing earned.” All is of grace. Do you believe that is true? Do you live every day with the awareness that even the air you are breathing right now is a gracious gift from God? We are not owners of anything, but we are debtors to our gracious God who has blessed us with such abundance.
And then Paul asks the third question: “And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” If you recognize that everything you are and everything you have is a gift from God, then why do you get puffed up with pride about anything? There is no place for pride in the heart of anyone who is a follower of Jesus. Humility and gratitude should so fill our hearts that there is no room for pride. Pastor Spurgeon wrote these powerful words.
O believer, learn to reject pride, seeing that you have no ground for it. Whatever you are, you have nothing to make you proud. The more you have, the more you are in debt to God; and you should not be proud of that which renders you a debtor.” Consider your origin; look back to what you were. Consider what you would have been if not for divine grace. Look upon yourself as you are now. Doesn’t your conscience reproach you? Don’t your thousand wanderings stand before you, and tell you that you are unworthy to be called his son or daughter? And if he has made you anything, aren’t you taught that it is grace that has made you to differ? Oh great believer, you would have been a great sinner if God had not made you to differ. O you who are valiant for truth, you would have been as valiant for error if grace had not laid hold of you. Therefore, don’t be proud, though you have a large estate–a wide domain of grace, once you did not have a single thing to call your own except your sin and misery. Oh! strange infatuation, that you, who have borrowed everything, should think of exalting yourself; (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)
The more we have the more in debt we are to God. The Corinthians desperately needed to be reminded of this and I would say that you and I are at least equally in need of this reminder. In verses 8-10, Paul is on a roll. He sarcastically pats the Corinthians on the back for having achieved the good life. Let’s read these verses together.
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! (1 Corinthians 4:8-10 NIV)
The Corinthians saw themselves as filled to the full, they are rich, and they are ruling the day–they are self-satisfied and their self-esteem is full of pride. Their estimation of themselves reminds me of the folks in Laodicea. Do you remember what Jesus said to them in Revelation 3:17?
17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17 NIV)
What I say about myself is not nearly as important as what God says about me. Even though the folks in Laodicea and Corinth thought they had arrived, they were sadly mistaken. With his sarcasm, Paul contrasts their view of themselves with his own situation. He says, “…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 area. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe…” We need a little help in understanding the point Paul was trying to make. I’m grateful for William Barclay and the insight he can give us. Listen to this.
When a Roman general won a great victory he was allowed to parade his victorious army through the streets of the city with all the trophies that he had won; the procession was called a Triumph. But at the end there came a little group of captives who were doomed to death; they were being taken to the arena to fight with the beasts and so to die. The Corinthians in their blatant pride were like the conquering general displaying the trophies of his prowess; the apostles were like the little group of captives doomed to die. To the Corinthians the Christian life meant flaunting their privileges and reckoning up their achievement; to Paul it meant humble service and a readiness to die for Christ.” (Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism William Barclay)
The apostles were entrusted with the message of the gospel. They traveled about sharing the good news and everywhere they went they were met with ridicule and scorn. They were mocked, drugged before city officials, told to stop speaking the name of Jesus, and often run out of town. How did they respond to such treatment? In Acts 5, the apostles appeared before the Sanhedrin who had them flogged before they told them to never speak the name of Jesus again. When the apostles left, we read in Acts 5:41-42.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 5:41-42 NIV)
Who were these folks that fully expected to be ridiculed and rejected, beaten and harassed at every turn? They were following the One who Himself was rejected by those He came to save. Last of all, let’s take a look at 1 Corinthians 4:10-13.
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. (1 Corinthians 4:10-13 NIV)
The Corinthians saw themselves as “so wise.” Paul saw himself as a “fool for Christ.” The Corinthians were so “strong.” Paul was so “weak.” The Corinthians were so “honored” in their own eyes. Paul was “dishonored” in the eyes of the world. The Corinthians were filled, rich, and the big man on campus. Paul went around hungry, thirsty, in raggedy clothes, brutally treated, and homeless. Are you getting the picture?
Last of all, Paul pointed out that when he and the other apostles were cursed, they blessed those who cursed them. When they were persecuted, then endured it for the glory of the Lord. When they were slandered, they refused to lash out, instead they answered kindly to their persecutors. Paul said, “We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world–right up to this moment.” The “scum of the earth” and the “garbage of the world” were one and the same thing. They referred to the scrapings of a dirty dish or pot that was to be thrown out. The words were commonly used figuratively of the lowest, most degraded criminals, who often were sacrificed in pagan ceremonies to appease their pagan gods. This is the way the world looked at Paul, Peter, Apollos, and the other servants of God.
It didn’t bother Paul in the least that this is how the world viewed him. How could he be so strong, so thick-skinned? He wasn’t, but what he was was fully aware of how God viewed him. He was dearly loved by God. God loved Paul so much that God gave His only Son so that Paul, once an enemy of God, could be reconciled and spend the rest of his life in service to God. There was no place for boasting in anything, but Paul would revel in the goodness of God.
When we lose sight of who God is, what He has done on our behalf, and that we owe Him everything–then pride begins to flourish in our hearts and spread like a cancer into our minds. This is not a unique situation that happened in the lives of the people of Corinth. It is happening in our own day and it happened long ago when those Hebrew slaves settled in the Promised Land, the land God provided for them, and began to forget. Listen to what Moses told the people of God in Deuteronomy 8:12-18.
12 When you eat and are full, and build beautiful houses to live in, 13 and your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold multiply, and everything else you have increases, 14 be careful that your heart doesn’t become proud and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. 15 He led you through the great and terrible wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, a thirsty land where there was no water. He brought water out of the flint-like rock for you. 16 He fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers had not known, in order to humble and test you, so that in the end He might cause you to prosper. 17 You may say to yourself, ‘My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me,’ 18 but remember that the LORD your God gives you the power to gain wealth, in order to confirm His covenant He swore to your fathers, as it is today. (Deuteronomy 8:12-18 CSB)
The transformation of the former slaves into the proud and arrogant people who joyfully said, “Look at what I have done! would be mind-boggling if it weren’t so pervasive among all people. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a Ph.D. in Pride. I can become so puffed up about so many things, things which I should never take pride in because it’s all from Him. How about you this morning. Has God uncovered your pride this morning? Has He shown you that you have a great need for humility and gratitude about all that He has done in your and for you? I pray He has. I want to give you and opportunity to spend a few minutes in prayer before we leave here this morning. Won’t you express your gratitude and confess your pride before the Lord?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
1 Corinthians 4:6-13