And this brings us to the final day of the Resolved Conference. For his text he took 1 Corinthians 4:6-13 with the title “Deflating the Puffed Up Church.”
After reading the text he said that it is possible that the Corinthians did not understand Paul’s intent in these verses. This was a proud church and their pride was pronounced and not at all subtle. They were proud of their spirituality and their gifting but they also had a pride in their leaders, dividing into camps around Paul and Peter and Apollos. There was some level of pride in the identification with a particular leader in exclusion to the other legitimate leaders. Paul describes people in this church as being puffed up. In these verses he confronts their arrogance directly and passionately. His words were designed to have a soul deflating effect on their puffed up hearts. As we look at this, we may be surprised to see how much we look like these Corinthians. As we read what Paul wrote to them we’ll realize that God is speaking to us.
The Corinthians were largely converted but the gospel was no longer central in their lives. They were attracted to human wisdom and desired the approval and applause of the culture. Their lives contradicted the gospel so in this passage Paul informs them that the gospel should and must have a discernible and observable effect on their lives. Paul reveals two effects of grace:
First, grace produces humility (verses 6,7). Human wisdom was taking these people beyond what was written and Paul expects them to stay within the limits prescribed in Scripture. He wanted this so none of them would be puffed up in favor of one against the other. He was addressing their arrogance and here he deploys a series of questions in order to deflate a puffed up church. He asks a series of theologically-informed rhetorical questions. We discover that the right question can make all the difference. Beginning in verse seven we have a divinely inspired string of words with a divinely inspired question mark at the end provided with the divine intention of changing everything for everyone present in this room at this time. How kind of God to provide us with these! Here are the questions:
Who sees anything different in you? Their proud identification with a leader and their proud assessment of their own spirituality shows a poor assessment of how they became believers. Paul asks them who made them different than any other Christian or even any unbeliever. Throughout the early chapters of this letter he has already drawn their attention to God and His saving work in and for them. Everything distinctive about this church is owing to God alone. He is the one who has saved and gifted them. If you are a Christian, what explanation is there for your conversion, for your love for the Savior, for the presence of godly character in your life, for your love for the local church, for the transformation that has taken place in your life? Why are you different? For every Christian the answer is simply the Savior. What makes me different is simply that God chose me, saved me, revealed the gospel to me. This should have a humbling effect on the soul of any Christian.
What do you have that you did not receive? The obvious answer that was not obvious to the Corinthians is “nothing!” Paul’s question is an expression of God’s kindness for it should draw them to the grace they have received through the cross. They are being reminded of grace. The question addresses the root cause of their pride and the appropriate response should be heart and mind altering for them. “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” (Gordon Fee). “Let’s experience one of those rare moments together where in the presence of the eternal God one recognizes that absolutely everything that one has is a gift.” It is a gift that is an expression of God’s amazing grace towards those who are undeserving and ill-deserving. And yet these gifts are everywhere and seemingly endless and they are all because of the cross. Whatever your skill or gifting or ability, it has been given as a gift from God. There is nothing that has not been received as a gift from God. This should have a humbling effect on our souls.
C.J. then told us a portion of his testimony emphasizing that there was absolutely nothing he has that he did not receive and the humbling effect this has on his soul. He taught that this knowledge should give a boldness, a humble boldness to evangelize and share the gospel.
If you received it why do you boast as if you did not receive it? Once you know that you have received everything because of grace there is no cause to boast. How can you boast about what you did not earn and were not worthy to receive? One cannot boast about being a worthy recipient of grace. There must be an absence of boasting in our lives except about the God who has been so gracious to us. If you understand grace, grace produces humility.
Running out of time, C.J. went into warp speed for the second point of this message. Grace, he said, prepares us for suffering (verses 8-13). The Corinthians were not prepared for this paradox. They considered themselves as already having arrived spiritually (see the two repetitions of “already”). Paul was going to introduce them to a new category: the “not yet.” The nature of the Christian life takes into account “the already” but also the “not yet.” Already there is regeneration, forgiveness and so on, but there is also the category of the “not yet” for the reality of sin and suffering and death remains. The Corinthians only had one category: “the already.” They felt they already had what they needed and all they would have. Paul, though, redefines spirituality for them. He informs them of the harsh reality of suffering. Paul intentionally draws their attention to his suffering as a more reliable measure of true spirituality. He insists that hardship and suffering cannot be avoided and thus contrasts their suffering with his hardships for their spirituality did not include these things. The Corinthians would have despised his description of himself and his view of the Christian life. All the things he identifies with are things they despise but things they should aspire to, for if we identify with the gospel we will appear weak and stupid to the world and will suffer before the world. We will all suffer as part of God’s plan and purpose for our lives. People who are genuinely humble are not surprised when they suffer but are surprised that they do not suffer more. They have an understanding of the genuine purpose of suffering. Paul could have shared “I have been caught up into the third heaven.” He could have talked experience and spirituality. Instead he restrains himself and redefines spirituality. Grace prepares us for suffering so we are not caught off guard by hardship.
With time all but expired, C.J. had just a moment for two quick applications. This text address us on two levels:
Ambitions (7) - What are your ambitions? Would the cultivation of humility before God be your ambition? If not, you may be puffed up and caught up in this world.
Expectations (8-12) - Do you expect hardship and suffering in service of the gospel or simply as part of God’s plan and purpose for your life? Your expectations will be adjusted by verses eight through twelve.
Unfortunately, C.J. had a plane to catch, so quickly made his exit and headed home. And that left us with just one session to go.