Problems Plaguing a Local Church, Part 9

In last Sunday’s message, GOD’S KINGDOM IS IN POWER (1 Cor. 4:6-21) we looked at Paul’s conclusion to the first major problem addressed in the Corinthian church- namely party factions and divisions which had their source in pride. When a church acts like the culture it is in, our ability as Christians is hindered to effectively share the gospel, and, if uncorrected, it can even threaten the very existence of a local church itself (1 Cor. 3:17; Rev. 2:5; 1 John 1:9, etc.).

Pointing the “carnal” Christians back to Christ and also their accountability as God’s children (1 Cor. 3:1-4:5), Paul then asked them to “learn” from “Apollos” and himself as they follow Christ (1 Cor. 4:6). The word “learn” is the same word for “disciple” used in the Great Commission (1 Cor. 4:6; Matt. 28:18-20). We as His children are called to follow Christ taking on His “mind” and attitude by not going “beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 2:16; 4:6; Phil. 2:5). That is, staying in the Bible will keep us from being “puffed up” with pride which, by the way, is also the sin that led to Lucifer’s downfall long ago (1 Cor. 4:6; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Tim. 3:6; Isa. 14:12-15, etc.). A Christian is always wrong to think he or she is intrinsically superior to anyone else (1 Cor. 4:7), and it is our identity in Christ- “Christ crucified… the wisdom… and power of God” that keeps us from such lies (1 Cor. 1:23-25; 2:15-16; 1 John 1:9; Eph. 5:18, etc.). Indeed, we have nothing that was not received by grace from God and all His children should boast in Him alone (1 Cor. 4:7; Eph. 4:7-10, etc.).

But sadly, the Christians in Corinth who were “carnal” (BTW this could have been most of the assembly) foolishly thought they were “rich,” in need of nothing, and reigning now as “kings” (1 Cor. 3:18a; 4:8a). That is, instead of living for Christ, they were living for themselves (1 Cor. 3:1-4, 15, etc.). This is the key difference between a “carnal” Christian who will “suffer loss” at Jesus’ coming if he or she does not turn around and the “spiritual” Christian who is rewarded (1 Cor. 2:15-3:4; 13-15, etc.). Which kingdom are we living for? (Matt. 6:33; Heb. 12:28-29; Luke 9:48; Matt. 10:31, etc.).

It is important we understand what the Bible teaches about this age being a time primarily of suffering with the future being a time of glory for those who are Christ’s (Rom. 8:18, 23, 30; 1 Pet. 5:10 NET, etc.). The order of Jesus’ life also testifies to this truth showing us what the “attitude” of Christ is (Phil. 2:5-8 NET vs Phil. 2:9-11, etc.). Paul knew this also as he yearned for “the world to come” when Jesus returns for us (1 Cor. 4:8b; Heb. 2:5, etc.), but that time was “NOT YET” in his day and it is still “NOT YET” for us today (1 Cor. 4:8b; Heb. 2:5-8; Rom. 16:20, etc. -caps my emphasis quoting Heb. 2:8). Paul and the other “apostles” were willing to be made “a spectacle” in the world’s eyes today because they chose instead to live for God (1 Cor. 4:9-13; Rom. 1:16; 12:1-2, 9, etc.). The Greek word “spectacle” is théatron (where we get the English word theater from), and it means ‘to make a vivid picture.’ The Roman games are in view here as it was used of battles between criminals and wild beasts. “Théatron” was also used of the prisoners a victorious Roman general brought back from war who were then thrown to the wild animals in front of all to see. Nobody expected too much from this performance- much like the world does not value the things of God today… (Eph. 2:2; 1 Cor. 1:20; 3:18-20, etc.). What a picture of the Apostles of Jesus Christ as they were “reviled… defamed… [and] made… the filth of” their cultures to lift up the Gospel! (1 Cor. 4:9-10; 1 Cor. 2:9-16; Col. 3:1-3, etc.). How inappropriate it was for the “carnal” Corinthians to be living as “kings” rather than joining with the sufferings of their teachers (1 Cor. 3:1-4; 1 Pet. 1:17; Phil. 2:12; 2 Cor. 5:9-10, 20-21, etc.). They should have been hungering for the practical righteousness needed (Matt. 5:6; 6:33; Gal. 5:22-23, etc.). And all of this is written in an effort to correct them and get them to repent of their pride and seek Christ (1 Cor. 3:13, 15; 8a vs. Rev. 3:17-19; 2 Tim. 3:16-17, etc.).

Paul then emphasizes his apostolic authority given to him by God (1 Cor. 1:1, etc.). As their spiritual “father” he explains he is not trying to “shame” them here with these truths (i.e. 1 Cor. 4:8-13), but to “warn” them so they turn around (1 Cor. 4:14-15). Drop their pride, he urges, and follow Christ as Paul himself was (1 Cor. 1:10-12; 3:3-4; 4:6 vs 4:16; 11:1; Luke 9:23; Eph. 5:18, etc.). Because the apostle was not immediately able to come to them, he sent Timothy (1 Cor. 4:17), but that did not mean he would not come! (1 Cor. 4:18-19). Paul’s return here to Corinth is a picture to us also of Jesus’ return for us one day (1 Thes. 4:13-18, etc.). As Paul was giving them time to set their house in order, the Lord also is giving us time to do the same before His return (whether it be in life or death 2 Cor. 5:9-10). Paul, when he comes to Corinth, promises here he will evaluate not just the words but the actions of the Corinthians- much like Jesus will do at “the judgment seat of Christ” for “each one” of His children (1 Cor. 4:19; 2 Cor. 5:9-10, etc.). We see here that GOD’S “KINGDOM… IS not [just] in word BUT IN POWER” (1 Cor. 4:20). That is, today when we as Christians let God live through us it displays His light and power mightily in us to them as we testify of Christ (Acts 1:8; Luke 9:23; Gal. 5:16-18, 22-25; Eph. 5:18; 1 John 1:9, etc.). This is how the kingdom of God is being revealed today- through the church whom He has saved by grace through faith (Col. 1:27; Eph. 1:13-14, etc.). But it is also true this same KINGDOM of POWER will one day be revealed outwardly and literally over the face of the whole planet when Jesus comes for us and establishes His millennial reign (Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14; Zech. 14:9; Rev. 19:11-20:6; 2 Tim. 2:11-13, etc.).

In view of these heavenly realities (1 Cor. 2:9-10, etc.), Paul then asks “What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Cor. 4:21). The same question is asked of us today in the Bible, “Which kingdom are you living for, child of God?” (1 Cor. 3:1-4:5; 9:24-27; 10:12-14; Heb. 12:5-11; 1 John 2:28, etc.). Is there anything we need to set in order today? (Ps. 139:23-24; 1 Cor. 11:31-32; 1 John 1:9, etc.).