For eight weeks our study of 1 Corinthians has focused on the same problem: conflict in the church. We have looked at it from different angles but the theme has been the same. Why take so much time on this subject? It’s because the Bible takes so much time on the subject. I believe the Word of God speaks so forcefully on this subject because it is important. Division in the church always weakens our witness and tarnishes God’s glory.
In our text this morning Paul underscores the core problem in almost every conflict situation: Arrogance. It is arrogance that leads us to view every issue as a contest that must be determined by a “winner” and a “loser”. It is arrogance that leads us to conclude that we know better or that our experience is more significant or our understanding is superior to that of another. It is arrogance that concludes that the other guy’ problem is arrogance.
C.S. Lewis has written,
There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty of themselves . . . .The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.
THE DELUSION OF ARROGANCE (8-9)
If you just picked up 1 Corinthians 4 and just started reading at verse 8 it would be easy to miss what the Apostle Paul was trying to communicate,
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings—and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you!
You might conclude that the Corinthians were some kind of super-church. The text sounds like this church had tapped into God’s storehouse of blessing in a way that made even the Apostle Paul envious. However, to draw that conclusion would be to miss what Paul was saying entirely! If the passage is read in context it is obvious that Paul was actually speaking sarcastically! In verse 7 he had challenged the church to adopt an attitude of humility. In verse 8 he shows them how much they need to change. They were arrogant.
The truth is, we’ve all met these kinds of arrogant people, haven’t we?
- It is the religious huckster that feels he is above the law
- It is the person with the boney finger constantly telling us how things “really are”
- It is the foreman who puts up a suggestion box but never reads any of the suggestions.
- It is that person who responds to every honest question with a put down
- It is that person who insists on telling you what YOU are thinking
- It is that person who trumps your every story with something that was greater, bigger, or more remarkable.
Frankly, most of the time, we can’t stand these people. We avoid them but they always seem to find us. Our culture seems to encourage and even exalt the arrogant. The news is dominated by stories of spoiled rich people who think the world revolves around them. We applaud such people and too often we want to become such people.
We need to take a hard look at our own lives. As we talk about arrogance the tendency will be for you to think of all the people you wish were hearing this. Confront that tendency! Look at YOUR life. The Bible tells us that “pride comes before the fall”. Let’s work hard to try to prevent ourselves from falling.
It puts the focus on the wrong person. Paul has encouraged the Corinthians to remember that everything they have received has been received as a gift. They were not part of God’s family because of their superior conduct, intellect, or ability. They were children of God because of God’s incredible gift!
Suppose you were invited to speak at a testimonial dinner in honor of one of the people who works with you. Would it be appropriate to get up and tell stories about your life and recount your accomplishments? No! The night is not about you. The focus is supposed to be on your co-worker. That’s who you should talk about.
God is the One who has reached out to us in love. He is the One who is the giver of every good and perfect gift. He is the one we should be focusing on. Paul said, “he who boasts should boast in the Lord”. In other words, if we are going to brag, we should brag about the greatness of God. When arrogance takes hold of our lives we rob God of His glory and erect a barrier to intimacy with God.
It gives People a Warped View of Themselves. In The book of Revelation, John was given messages to seven churches. To the church in Laodicea the Lord said,
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. [Rev. 3:17]
Have you ever been in one of those carnival fun houses? You look at yourself in the mirrors and it distorts your image. You become tall and thin or short and wide. It is not a true image; it is distorted. The same thing happens with arrogance. We believe we are spiritually strong but we are really disconnected. We think we don’t need any help and find it hard to turn to the Savior.
It Leads us to Overlook Others. Suppose you are talking with someone who is obviously quite enamored with their own voice. They talk non-stop to the point where you get very uncomfortable. You want to leave (before you scream, or fall fast asleep) but you can’t find an opening to say, “Well, I’ve got to go”. As an alternative you try all kinds of non-verbal cues: you look at your watch, you look out the window, you fidget in your chair, you start moving toward the door, you take a nap, but nothing works! [Many of the same clues you are sending this morning!] Unfortunately, the other person often remains oblivious. Why? Because they are so wrapped up in themselves that they don’t see what’s going on around them.
Arrogance makes us oblivious to those around us. It means we don’t see,
- The tear in the eye
- The grimace of pain
- The look of fear
- The worn out look of exhaustion
- The cry for help
- Or even the bursting at the seams look of enthusiasm
If we don’t see these verbal clues we will have trouble truly caring for people. Arrogant people have a hard time seeing beyond themselves.
It Makes us Superficial in our Commitment. Paul drew several contrasts between the attitude of the Corinthians and the reality of his own life,
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. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
There is a stark contrast between the Corinthians and the apostles. The Corinthians were exalted, satisfied, and pampered. The apostles were working hard, sacrificing, and facing abuse. The Corinthians reflected the world. The apostles were living like Jesus.
Jesus told us that we needed to count the cost before enlisting in his army. Jesus never promised the easy road. He promised that we would have tribulation, that people would reject us and that we might have to suffer in His name. Following Christ often means living differently than the accepted norms. For some believers, following Christ lands them in jail and for others it will cost them their lives! Arrogance leads us to believe that what is best for Me is what is best for me. In truth, what is best for us is not always what is easiest or most pleasant.
The positive counterpart to arrogance is humility. Let me paraphrase Pastor John Piper’s descriptions of humility.
- Humility is anchored to a profound sense of God’s greatness. We see how small and dependent we are.
- Humility recognizes that we should not expect to be treated any better than Jesus was treated
- Humility leads us to be open and teachable. We know we are fallible so we are willing to learn from others even as we stand on God’s unshakeable truth
- Humility makes us soft rather than hard. The humble person shares the truth without that “edge” that so often closes people to the truth. We share the truth of Scripture not from a superior position but from the position of service to Christ and love for the person we are speaking to.
- Humility makes us willing. The humble person is willing to do what God wants them to do and go where God wants us to go. The humble person is one who realizes that even the seemingly most ridiculous command from God is still to be trusted over that which seems most wise to us.
Once again, we need to resist the tendency to apply these words to others. The question for us is this: If you had a scale with humility on one end of the scale and pride and arrogance on the other, where would you fall? No matter where you see yourself on this scale, the odds are we are being overly generous to ourselves.
THE HEART OF A HUMBLE SERVANT (14-21)
As Paul concludes this focused discussion on division in the church Paul gives us a wonderful glimpse at the heart of a true servant of God.
14 I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. 15 Even though you have 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 am sending 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.
It is filled with love. Paul loved the Corinthians. He had been direct and at times harsh with them because he wanted to help them. Paul said he thought of himself as their spiritual “father”. Any good parent will tell you that no matter how many people they love and respect, the love they have for their children is superior to them all. Paul spoke to the Corinthians as a parent. He wasn’t trying to beat them up . . . he wanted to wake them up.
In the gospel of Luke we read the record of the disciples arguing about which one of them was the greatest (Luke 9:46-48). One commentator summarized Jesus’ response this way, “Those who are truly greatest don’t know and don’t care. They are too busy serving others to give much thought to rank.” Good words aren’t they?
Too often Christians come across as cranky and judgmental. The world needs to understand that we speak as we do because we care what happens to them. They need to know we love them.
It Seeks to Lead by Example. Paul told the Corinthians, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” The word for imitate is the word mimic. Paul is telling the Corinthians to follow his example.
Like it or not, if people look up to us, they will follow our example. We see this with children and their parents. Our kids watch what we do. They copy many of our vices, they take on our mannerisms, they respond to situations the way we have responded before them. Many times, we are embarrassed and horrified that our kids are behaving just like us. They will imitate us.
Paul wasn’t saying “imitate me because I’m doing a great job or because I’m a great person”. He was telling them to follow his example as he followed Christ rather than the example of the world. Paul was encouraging the people to
- imitate his openness about his own struggles (rather than deny them).
- imitate his willingness to sacrifice to follow Christ (rather than trying to please the world).
- imitate his willingness to do whatever was necessary to effectively communicate the gospel to others.
- Imitate his willingness to be unpopular and even at times imprisoned, if that is what it would take to remain faithful to the Lord (rather than being politically correct).
- follow his example by loving enemies rather than pushing them away
What is needed most in the church today is for the church to get back to doing what God has called us to do. We must adopt the role of the servant rather than that of the power-broker. We must demonstrate the love of God rather than trying to legislate it.
The servant heart is willing to do what is difficult. Paul said he was going to send Timothy to help them. He also told them that if they didn’t shape up he was going to come to them with a greater rebuke.
Sometimes love requires that we say “No”. When we simply look away at the sin of others we are not being open-minded . . . we are actually being selfish! We are choosing to protect ourselves from possible unpleasant personal repercussions rather than caring enough to tell another person the truth about their sin. Instead of trying to rescue the one who is drowning in sin; we turn away and ignore the cries for help. Sometimes, if we are truly loving we need to be willing to be the “bad guy”.
Parents know this. If you never say “No” to your children they will never learn how to control their desires and make wise choices. If we continue to “bail them out” they will never learn to live with the consequences of their choices. Sometimes we need to be willing to do the hard things (even though it is more painful for us) because it is what the other person needs most.
I find that I constantly struggle to find balance between being confident (because of my relationship with Christ) and being arrogant (seeming to feel that I have deserved what I have received). I admit that sometimes I want people to like me so much that I compromise with truth and discipleship. Sometimes I lack compassion because there is “nothing in it for me”. I don’t like this fact. However, we need to see the problem before we can address it.
Arrogance divides churches, hinders relationships, and stifles spiritual growth. To overcome arrogance we will need God’s help. We need to confess our sin and seek His transformation. Humility is cultivated by getting to know God’s greatness. He must overshadow our own visions of grandeur.
Paul told the Corinthians “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (v.20) It is easy for the Bible-believing segment of the church to forget this. We can become so concerned about our doctrine (and we should be concerned about doctrine); or so focused on people believing the right stuff (and that is important); that we forget that true faith is not ultimately about passing an exam. True faith is living in vital relationship with the true and living God through the work of Jesus Christ.
The gospel points to the reality of our weakness and directs us to the strength and sufficiency of Christ. The gospel says: If we will seek Him, He will live His life in and through us. He will forgive our sin and make us new. He will fulfill His promise of forgiveness and new life in us. True faith results in a new way of living. It is the power of God living in and through us.
We will have bad days. There will be times when we become self-absorbed (woe is me!). But the goal is to have these times happen less and less. And as we learn to live as His followers, as we learn to live as willing servants of His will, we will be used by God and we will witness His transforming power in and through us. We will rejoice when we suffer in His name and we will discover a fellowship and unity with each other that is uncommon. In short, we will realize that life is truly best when God is on the throne and we aren’t.