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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
(2 Timothy 2:15)
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4
Verses 6-13 contrast the proud Corinthian leaders and God’s true apostles
Please turn with me in your Bible to 1 Corinthians 4:6.
1 Corinthians 4
6: Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.
In verse 6 “these things” refer back to Paul’s statements (2:5-6, 2:12, and 4:1-5) that there should be no groups formed in the church in their names.
Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos - Paul applied two metaphors, regarding these things, to himself in chapter 3.
Figure #1: God’s Field - I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth (3:6)
Figure #2: God’s Building - …like a wise master builder I laid a foundation and another is building on it (3:10-11).
Paul had brought the gospel, a.k.a. the good news of Jesus Christ crucified to Corinth (Acts 18). He taught them only that which the risen Lord had given him as His apostle. It was this gospel that the people of Corinth had heard and believed. Later, Apollos came to Corinth and watered or continued building on the Foundation Paul had lain. But now, the Corinthians were deviating from the purity of Paul’s gospel and laying other foundations – not of Jesus Christ. This behavior would serve only to destroy God’s temple.
Paul said, and I’m paraphrasing here, I did this “for your sakes.” Paul was genuinely concerned about their spiritual well-being. After his figurative writing, he warned these carnal Corinthians about their conduct within the church: each man (or woman) must be careful how he (or she) builds on it (the Foundation which Paul had laid) – (3:10), For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (3:11), “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (3:16)?, To this Paul added, If any man (or woman) destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him (or her) (3:17).
The Corinthian leaders were introducing their own doctrines, opinions, and personal philosophies into the church and encouraging division. They weren’t building on the one true Foundation, and were destroying God’s temple. They weren’t in danger of losing their salvation. But we know God doesn’t ignore sinful behavior. God isn’t going to sit back and watch people destroy His temple (the church). God destroys them. He does this by excommunicating the troublemaker from the body, causing them to become sickly, weak, or even die. Then at the Judgment Seat of Christ they suffer loss of rewards.
Paul was giving them a “heads-up:” so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.
Paul called the Corinthians arrogant because of their attitude concerning what God had said or as he put it, “what is written.” Paul quoted 5 Old Testament Scriptures in the previous 3 chapters because these Bible passages speak of limiting human pride and for trusting in God alone. These folks are arrogant because instead of trusting in God and what had been written they put their trust in certain men and their words.
Paul wanted the brethren at Corinth to know that they were not to exceed what is written. The things written refer to the revelation of God. All the Truths contained in His Word that He wanted us to know, understand, and obey. As soon as these inspired truths or messages were written down they were trustworthy and viewed as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). To live by faith was to live according to the revealed message of God, whether by the spoken words of God’s apostles or by their written teachings (letters).
A verse just came to mind, so you know we’re going to track it down. Please follow me to Matthew 15. What we’ll find is something similar to the situation in Corinth. To set the scene for you, the Pharisee’s had invented their own religious system of law. Their characteristic teachings included belief in oral as well as the written Law; expanding on the Law of Moses, putting themselves in his seat if you will. Their laws became priority over the Law written in Scripture, or God’s commandments, and they considered themselves as righteous because of their obedience to their own man-made laws. Of course Jesus rebuked this behavior saying, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? (Matthew 15:1-9) Jesus explained that they had replaced Moses Law (God’s commandments) by their traditions enforcing people to obey the traditions of men, specifically the elders (Mark 7).
Our Apostle Paul explains in Romans 9:30-32 that even the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why not? Because they did not seek it by believing in what God had said – they sought it through the works of the law instead (Romans 10:3-4).
In so doing, They stumbled over the stumbling stone (v32). Just as it is written, “BEHOLD, I LAW IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” (v33) Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). As Believers, our righteousness comes from Jesus Christ; it is imputed to us by what He accomplished on the cross.
To exceed what is written demonstrates faithless arrogance in light of the truths God has caused to be written i.e. Scripture (Hebrews 11:6).
A phrase well worth remembering is this, “We speak where the Bible speaks, and we are silent where the Bible is silent.” In short, this means we say and teach only those things authorized by the Scriptures. We accept the Bible as accurate, complete, and true. We do not add to it and we do not remove anything from it (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
So that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. The prideful Corinthians disrespected Paul’s apostleship and his doctrine. Paul wanted them to know, if they would only “keep it between the lines,” i.e. God’s predetermined boundaries, and discard the human wisdom which they loved, reign in their run-a-way pride, and fully embrace his teachings the divisions would no longer exist; there would be true unity in Christ Jesus, and God’s Church would be built according to His design.
Let’s go to verse 7.
These Corinthian Believers “felt” puffed-up because they had chosen to follow a particular leader, Apollos, Paul, or Cephas, whichever the case may be, and because of their choice this marked them as particularly intellectual or more spiritual than someone else in the church. Paul’s response to this behavior was: who regards you as superior?
1 Corinthians 4
7: For who regards you as superior (to another)? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
Here Paul asks three rhetorical questions which contain the word receive; all three questions are intended to shrink their elevated egos. In effect Paul is saying all that they are, all that they possess, is God-given. So, Paul says, and again I’m paraphrasing, “You obviously feel that your brains are superior as are your powers of perception. But, who made your brain and keeps it healthy? Who gave you these powers of perception? Everything you boast about you received from the Creator God. Why then are you robbing God of His glory?”
Paul wants these folks to understand that the reason why one person differs from another can be traced to God’s good Grace; He is the source of all blessings.
Let’s go to verse 8.
1 Corinthians 4
8: You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish (the word wish expresses doubt that the following comment is true; Paul knows these folks need to make some changes) that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you.
You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us - Paul drives his point home with more than a little bit of sarcasm. Sarcasm appears in Scripture and shows us that there may be occasions when irony is proper and useful, but it is rare. One example comes quickly to mind concerning the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:27). In contrasting the factious leaders with God’s apostles, Paul is saying you have all you need, and are great leaders. You don’t need our advice. You alone are capable of managing the affairs of the Corinthian Church… not!
But then his attitude changes abruptly and he addresses them in a sincere manner: and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. Here Paul is saying, “I wish you were as noble and as righteous as you imagine yourselves to be. I wish you had matured so much spiritually that you could truly be represented as full, as rich, and as princes in God’s kingdom, that we might share this joy with you.”
Paul had a heart for every Believer in every church he planted.
Let’s move on to verses 9-10.
1 Corinthians 4
9: For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.
Our Apostle Paul was evidently alluding to the great Roman victory marches in which the conquering general returned victorious from a war, entering the city of Rome leading a triumphant procession. His soldiers came carrying the riches and wealth of the conquered kingdom, the captives followed after for the public witnesses to gawk at, and trailing far behind, paraded in chains before the entire city, came the criminals who had been condemned to death - to indulge the brutal passions of the populace in the Coliseum. They would be a spectacle to the world. Thus, he, Apollos, and Cephas were made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.
10: We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor.
Verse 10 is meant to be ironical. The Corinthian Church (or the world) considered Apollos, Cephas, and Paul as fools, weak, and without honor; while it viewed their leaders as prudent, strong, and distinguished.
Paul was used to being rejected, ridiculed, and stereotyped. If you’ll turn with me to Acts chapter 17, I’ll show you an example of this behavior. This is the account of Paul’s visit to Athens, Greece during his second missionary journey. This scene takes place on Mars Hill, an important meeting place where philosophy, religion and the law were discussed by prominent men. Let’s begin at verse 16: Now while Paul was waiting for them (Silas and Timothy) at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. (Read verses 17-21 on your own; for the sake of time we’re going to drop down to verse 22). So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus (Mars Hill) and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you…
Paul goes on to present one of his most important gospel presentations in the N.T. It is a classic example of apologetics in action. Paul began his message by addressing the false beliefs of those gathered there that day and then used those beliefs as a way of presenting God’s Gospel to them. Paul received varied responses from those in attendance. Some believed and were saved. Many mocked him, called him a “babbler,” and rejected both him and his message, while others were open-minded desiring to hear more (v23-34).
The faithful followers of Jesus Christ will often bear dishonor, while the unfaithful and the unbelieving shine as stars in the heavens, before the unthinking multitudes…
Let’s move on to verses 11-13 where Paul continues to contrast himself and the other apostles with the Corinthians who were so filled with pride that they had lost sight of what it really meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 4
11: To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless;
12: and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure;
13: when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.
Looking at verses 11-12a first of all, Paul reminds these Corinthians, “Do you not remember the days when I first came to you and the persecution was great; that I labored among you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, my life in jeopardy daily (1 Corinthians 2:3); and that I worked at making tents “with my own hands” to make ends meet (Acts 18)? The Corinthians should have supported him financially out of love and respect during that time period. But to their shame, while he labored and suffered for the gospel, they boasted. While he was roughly treated and considered the scum of the earth by far too many, even until now, the Corinthians lived the life of the privileged and were not the least bit ashamed, in fact they boasted.
Paul wanted them to remember because the life of a servant of Christ is not that of the privileged class; far be it. In the world’s eyes, God’s servants are the lowest of the low, i.e. scum. There is a reason for this of course. To be counted as a servant of Christ or a Believer for that matter “goes against the grain;” it runs contrary to all that which the world holds desirable. The world honors those who are independent, noble, and strong. But this book says that God honors the foolish, the nobodies, and the weak things of the world – all those who trust in Him.
Paul’s motivation for presenting himself and the others in such a lowly manner was to expose the manner in which the Corinthians had lifted themselves up or their boasting. Because of this, Paul gets right to the root of the problem, which is pride. Conceit is the root of most spiritual problems in the church and in the world. It was pride that caused sin to enter God’s perfect Garden of Eden. It caused Cain to murder his brother Abel. It was evident in Saul’s persecution of David. It was also discernible in the Pharisees’ hatred and rejection of Jesus Christ… the Bible is filled with parallel examples.
In verses 12b-13, Paul is saying one of the ways you can know that you are a true servant of Christ, a Believer, is how you respond when you are treated like one: when we are reviled (despised), we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate (make peace)…
The apostles were treated as scum, the refuse that remained after a black pot was thoroughly cleansed, and like filth (KJV) by this world (this is the same thing your vacuum cleaner picks up or your broom sweeps into the dust bin and then is thrown away). But they didn’t mimic their attackers or the world. They rose above the situation, remembering who they were, His servants, stewards of the mysteries (secrets) of God; and ultimately they were serving Him. (Colossians 3:23)
(To be continued)
[Published weekly on Friday]
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