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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
BRIEF OUTLINE OF CHAPTER 4
Verses 1-5 deal with Believers judging and being judged
Verses 6-13 contrast the proud Corinthian leaders and true apostles
Verses 14-21 Paul asserts his apostolic authority and speaks of coming to Corinth
In the 4th chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul wraps up his argument on Godly wisdom and church division. He tells the Corinthians that he, Apollos, and Cephas are merely servants of Christ, and all of them are modeling their life after their Savior, Jesus Christ. He appeals to them to imitate himself, as he imitates Christ, and writes that he will be coming to the Corinthians, if the Lord wills. He asks the Corinthians whether they want him coming with a rod to discipline them or with love and a spirit of gentleness.
Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 4:1 and we’ll take each verse as it comes.
1 Corinthians 4
1: Let a man (or every Believer) regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries (secrets) of God. (Deuteronomy 29:29)
Let a man (or woman) regard us in this manner (v1) – Paul asks the Corinthians to repent; to “change” the way they are presently acting and thinking because, first and foremost, leadership in the kingdom of God is servanthood and stewardship. I am reminded that Jesus Christ “set the bar” for Believers regarding servanthood, so let’s all turn to Mark 10:42-45 in our Bibles to see what He has to say on the subject: “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Paul’s school of thought follows Jesus’ words. The Greek word for steward is Oikonomos (pronounced: oy-kon-om’-os), a noun, and means – the manager of a household or of household affairs; esp. a steward, manager, superintendent (whether free-born or as was usually the case, a freed-man or a slave) to whom the head of a household had entrusted the management of his affairs; the care of receipts and expenditures, etc.) Paul uses this word as a metaphor to emphasize the responsibility and trust God has given to each one of His servants in dispensing God’s Gospel.
In or about 66 AD our Apostle Paul wrote a letter to Titus advising him of qualities to look for in individuals who may qualify as stewards of God’s Word; you could call this a job description: For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict (Titus 1:7-9).
As for the word mysteries, this is one of the most unfortunate word translations in the Bible because of the confusion it has caused. The Greek word mysteries is Musterion (pronounced: moos-tay’-ree-on); a noun. Musterion doesn’t mean mystery as we usually think of the term as in an Agatha Christie novel, an enigma, strange, or weird. It means a hidden thing, a secret thing; something previously unrevealed. Paul uses the word to describe the body of doctrine the risen, ascended, Lord Jesus Christ revealed to him. Only God can keep a secret (Deuteronomy 29:29) and He kept these revelations hidden until He decided to disclose them to Paul. Paul called these revelations (doctrines) “secrets” because that’s what they were.
God revealed 9 mysteries to Paul in total. I thought we’d take the time to visit a few of them because they are still a secret to many church-goers today and this is a shame. Paul strove mightily “to teach people the manifold wisdom of God” (Colossians 1:29), yet people live their entire lives today without knowing anything about these mysteries or revelations.
1. Our first stop is at Romans 16:25: Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past.
The Old Testament reveals that once the LORD God called Abram to be the father of a great nation, etc. and Abram “took Him at His Word,” (believed God) it is understood that God intended to save the lost gentiles, but no one had any idea this would happen without the nation of Israel’s intervention (Genesis 12, 15; Isaiah 42:6, 49:6, 60:1-3; Zechariah 8:22-23). God had purposed the nation of Israel to be a “nation of priests;” they would be salt and a light to the pagan nations, once their King and the kingdom were realized. Of course, we know this hasn’t happened, yet. Israel rejected their Messiah, crucified Him, and then later rejected the testimony of Stephen, who was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and murdered him (Acts 7). God said that’s enough, if I may be succinct, and called the most unlikely Jew of all, Saul of Tarsus, to be the apostle to the gentiles; and this changed everything as the world knew it (Acts 9).
2. Our next stop is back a few pages at Romans 11:25: For I do not want you, brethren, to be uniformed of this (what) mystery – so that you will not be wise in your own estimation – that a partial hardening has happened to (the nation of) Israel until (this is a “time” related word – it means at some point in the future when) the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;
Paul is informing his readers (and us) that God is not through with Israel. There are a lot of people saying He is, but this book says He is not. If you choose to go with what God has said, you’ll always be on safe ground. God will fulfill every promise He made to Israel and you can bank on that.
3. Now, if you will, please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15:51-53: Behold, I tell you a mystery, we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the (single) trumpet will sound, and the dead (in Christ Jesus) will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal (body) must put on immortality.
Paul called this church-related event “the fullness of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:25), since God’s Church is composed primarily of Gentile Believers. When the Lord Jesus Christ comes for His Church at the Rapture, there will be two groups of Believers, those who are sleeping (have died) and those who are still alive. But Paul informs us: we will all be changed, which means we’re not going up to meet the Lord Jesus Christ in the clouds in these corruptible, mortal, bodies. We’re all going to receive a body just like our resurrected Savior’s. (Paul elaborates on this event at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.)
4. The next mystery is the secret of the one body at 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. Only Paul taught the Body of Christ doctrine. The Lord didn’t reveal this truth to Peter or the other eleven apostles. You can search the Scriptures on your own for this information, but trust me. I just saved you some time. (Ephesians 1:22-23, 3:1-9; Colossians 1:18, 24; Galatians 3:26-29).
5. The next mystery revealed to Paul was the secret of Heavenly Citizenship. Paul informs the Believer that they now have both a heavenly position and a heavenly citizenship. Peter and the eleven apostles look forward to an earthly position, not a heavenly one. The Jew knew nothing of a heavenly blessing. He looked forward to the kingdom on earth. This is why Jesus told His disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) See also Jesus’ response to Peter’s question regarding, “What then will there be for us who have left everything to follow You?” (Matthew 19:27-28)
6. Next on this list is the secret (or mystery) of God’s will. This is God’s plan to gather together in one all things in Christ Jesus and, once again, only Paul reveals this truth. Paul wrote: He (God) made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him (Jesus Christ) with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth in Him (Ephesians 1:9-10). A companion passage is found at Colossians 1:19-20.
7. The next mystery revealed to Paul alone is the secret of the Grace of God. Paul revealed that grace, not Law, is the realm in which the Believer in Jesus Christ is saved in this dispensation. To remind people of this truth, he begins each one of his letters with a grace salutation. No word more clearly defines Paul’s ministry then the word grace. It means undeserved favor. God gives us what we do not deserve; His grace (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). When we receive God’s grace, by believing the gospel, God begins His transformative work in us with the ultimate goal that we become transformed, conformed, to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29; Philippians 1:6). For those of you out there who “feel” you have crossed the line and gone too far, you’ve committed terrible acts, too terrible to be forgiven by God; please consider this. Paul was the epitome of God’s grace. Paul was the chief destroyer of God’s church. He sought out those who believed in Jesus’ name and either put them in prison or saw them put to death (Acts 8:1). Yet, God did not destroy him, He saved him. Paul became the first person to be saved by God’s grace in the Dispensation of Grace (1 Timothy 1:15).
The word grace appears 156 times in 147 Bible verses in the New Testament. Paul’s usage accounts for about 70% of these.
8. The next mystery on our list is the secret of Identification with Jesus Christ. All who believe the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) have been identified with Christ.
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him (Romans 6:3-9).
When you believe the gospel you are baptized into the Body of Christ. Paul’s spoke of this as being buried with Christ. This is a metaphor for God viewing us having died with Christ and being identified with His death. As we have been united to Christ in His death we have also been united with Him in His resurrection (Galatians 2:20).
9. Then we have the secret of lawlessness which Paul revealed to the Thessalonians.
(2 Thessalonians 2:3-12) Paul wrote the secret of iniquity (KJV) or lawlessness was already at work. Paul uses it in a generic sense for all that is opposed to God and godliness. The embodiment of this “secret” is the lawless one, the son of perdition (KJV), the person who will be empowered by Satan, i.e. the Anti-Christ.
The Apostle John writes about this individual in Revelation. The prophet Daniel in interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream predicted that there would be five human kingdoms. All of these have appeared and disappeared just as he said they would except for one, the Revived Roman Empire (Daniel 2:38-43). The last empire on earth, symbolized by the feet and toes of iron and clay, will one day represent the first global dictatorship in nature economically, politically, and religiously (Revelation 13:16-17, 7, 4). The vision of Daniel 7, from God, is rich in symbolism and reiterates Daniel 2 and identifies the man of sin.
Let’s move on to verse 2.
1 Corinthians 4
2: In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.
One of the requirements for stewardship is to be found trustworthy (presumably when the master returns unannounced). To get the proper perspective on this let’s all turn to Luke 12:42-44 to see what Jesus Christ had to say about being a “faithful steward:” “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”
Luke 16:1-2 teaches the same lesson. Both of these Bible passages explain why Paul declared himself a servant of Christ and a steward (dispenser) of the mysteries of God.
Apollos, Cephas, and Paul were faithful stewards of God’s Word. This is why Paul used this office as an analogy for church leadership because both dispensed the secret things of God faithfully.
The steward in Paul’s day had be faithful to his master in all things, in so doing, he probably didn’t please every member of the household; he may not have made some of the other servants happy all the time, but if he pleased his master he was a faithful steward.
Paul uses this metaphor to inform the Corinthians that they (Apollos, Cephas, and Paul) are answerable to God for their trustworthiness. So, the issue here isn’t who’s the most popular or who preaches better. The main issue is, and will always be, will they be found trustworthy in doing the work God assigned to each of them?
Jesus Christ considers how we handle the “little things” to be important… (Luke 16:10).
Verses 3 and 4 are next.
1 Corinthians 4
3: But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.
4: For I am conscience of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.
I pointed out earlier in this study that Paul had to defend his apostleship no matter where he went and it wasn’t any different in the city of Corinth. If you read these verses carefully, you’ll see what I mean. These Corinthians questioned Paul’s calling as an apostle and his teachings as well (Romans 1:1).
The Corinthian Believers had been measuring Paul by human standards in comparing him with other teachers. When Paul responds to this, he doesn’t do so arrogantly or with bitterness but with true humility saying, “it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you.” Paul wasn’t seeking the praise of men; he wasn’t trying to win a popularity contest. His chief concern was how they viewed the gospel and God’s Church (1 Corinthians 8:13, 9:19-23, 10:23, 33; 2 Corinthians 4:1-2).
Paul goes on to say it’s a very small thing that I be examined by any human court.
There’s an old expression that goes, “One shouldn’t be so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good.” This is a clever and catchy phrase but you won’t find it in your Bible. In fact, it’s unbiblical. Scripture says: Set your mind on the things above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:2). Contrary to popular opinion, being heavenly-minded, or “setting your eyes on Jesus” always inspires us to be more earthly good. Setting your mind on earthly things produces the opposite effect. When Believers opt to set their minds on things above, they are more likely to commit themselves to serve the Lord faithfully (Romans 12:1-3).
In verses 4:3-4, Paul states he’s not too concerned about the judgments of others or even his own personal self-evaluation. He is supremely concerned about what Jesus Christ will have to say about him and his stewardship at the Bema Seat Judgment. Jesus gets the last word! We know this because of what he said: but the one who examines me is the Lord.
It mattered little to Paul how the Corinthians, or anyone else for that matter, thought he was carrying out his assigned tasks as God’s steward. This was his comment to the Galatians: For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10 – ESV).
Paul had a similar comment for the Corinthians: For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this (from the heart) of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship (ESV).
Paul concentrated on performing the work God had put before him to the best of his ability, knowing that only the Lord Jesus Christ could judge him (2 Corinthians 5:10-11). No other judgment mattered to Paul, in the long run (no pun intended): I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).
Let’s go to verse 5.
1 Corinthians 4
5: Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the (appointed) time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s (or individual’s) praise will come to him from (who) God.
Paul is saying, “Let there be no pre-Judgment Seat judging.” The Scriptures say no Believer should judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). Only God alone knows the secrets of the heart (Psalm 44:21). He alone can weigh the motives (Proverbs 16:2), and He alone will judge the secrets of men and women (Romans 2:16).
Paul’s intentions and motives in serving the Lord weren’t guided by whether or not he could please men but rather that the Lord Himself would be pleased with how he dispensed the mysteries of God. Another way of saying this is, Paul had his mind set on things above so that he could be of some earthly good, looking to that day when each man’s (or individual’s) praise will come to him (or her) from God.
Food for Thought
Members of the Corinthian church were judging Paul hypocritically; holding him to a higher standard than they were willing to live by and Scripture forbids this (Matthew 7:2-5).
It goes without saying that we have to make rational judgments each and every day concerning right and wrong, good vs evil; truth and error. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “…judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
In support of this Truth our Apostle Paul wrote this to the Corinthians: I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say (1 Corinthians 10:15).
To the Thessalonians he wrote: But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
The word carefully was added to the Bible text by the translators to make it clearer.
The word examine in the Greek language is Dokimazo (pronounced: dok-im-ad’-zo) and means – analyze, test, or prove. Literally, it means to test something to reveal its genuineness, such as the testing of precious metals. Paul uses the word here to teach Believers that they should scrutinize everything they hear (or read) to determine if it is genuine, to distinguish between what is true and what is false, to separate the good from the evil. In brief, he says examine everything with a critical eye and ear – judge everything; then hold fast to that which is good. All things are to be sifted through God’s Word.
John Wesley said, “In all cases, the church is to be judged by the Scriptures not the Scriptures by the church.” The Bible is and will always be the supreme authority for Believers in all matters. It is not what we think Jesus would do or how we feel He would interpret the Scriptures considering the present age, but “This is what the Scriptures say.” God has spoken to us through His Word; therefore, it is the final authority in all matters.
I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not fasten its grip on me. Psalm 101:3
Ask yourself, would Jesus approve of what you're reading, would He sit down and watch the T.V. programs you’re currently viewing, would the internet code “CDJ” – “Jesus is around” interrupt your online activity; would Jesus enjoy hanging out with you on the week-ends, would you lend your MP-3 player to Jesus? If you’re a Believer, Jesus is with you 24/7/365, and He’s sharing every experience with you (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)?
(To be continued)
[Published weekly on Friday]
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