THE PORTRAIT OF A SERVANT
1 CORINTHIANS 4:6-13
No greater example of humility can be found than that of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who was the Lord of the universe came down from His throne in heaven to become a man. As a man, He exemplified humility. He who had every right to glorify Himself instead gave all glory to His heavenly Father. He who had the right to boast of Himself refused boasting. He who had the right to all of the wealth of the world forsook all.
He had nothing that was His own.
He was born in another manís stable.
He was laid in another manís manger.
He preached from another manís boat.
He ate His last supper in another manís upper room.
He died upon another manís cross.
He died for the sins of other men.
He was laid in another manís tomb.
And that is not all. He also said that we who are His followers are to live the same way. We are to live for others.
"For I gave you an example that you should also do as I did to you." (John 13:15).
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
In both of these passages, we are reminded that being a Christian means that we are to try to live as Christ lived.
The Corinthians had gotten away from this basic principle. Instead of being humble, they had become proud. Instead of repenting of their sins, they had become arrogant. Instead of listening to the exhortations of godly men, they had become critical of these various spiritual teachers.
And so, Paul sets out to show them where they ought to be. He does this by pointing to himself and to Apollos. He contrasts the condition of himself and Apollos with the condition of the Corinthians.
THE PURPOSE OF THE PORTRAIT
Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. (1 Corinthians 4:6).
Paul has been speaking against the divisions that were taking place in the church at Corinth. These divisions were over leadership. The Corinthians were holding to certain leaders and they were turning against others.
As such, there were some who were passing judgment upon Paul himself. It is for this reason that Paul pointed out in verses 1-5 that only God is our judge. Now, as we come to verse 6, he summarizes his teachings on this matter.
Paul did not relate his ministry experiences merely to show what a wonderful person he is. He isnít giving his resume in order to land a job. He has been using himself and Apollos as examples of what a servant ought to be so that the Corinthians might learn and apply these lessons to their own lives. He says, "You go and be like this, too."
This is directed to those who were thought of as the spiritual leaders at Corinth. Paul has not mentioned them by name. Instead he has used himself and Apollos as examples of what a spiritual leader out to be. He is to be a servant. He is not to try to exalt himself. He is not to try to win a popularity context.
Paul says, "Watch what we do and do not go beyond that example.
There was evidently a problem in the church at Corinth. The Corinthians had been setting up their own standards of what a minister of God ought to be.
A lofty theologian - Paul
A great orator - Apollos
A personal disciple of Christ - Cephas
Only Jesus Himself
Furthermore, there is no indication that this short list was exhaustive. There might have also been other parties that glorified other leaders within the church and even some who tried to elevate themselves to such a position. If this is the case, Paul chooses not to name them. Instead, he uses himself and Apollos as examples. If the Corinthians will follow this example and see themselves as servants and stewards of God, then this party spirit will cease.
How should we conduct ourselves within the church? Look at Paul and see how he conducted himself. Sometimes it is difficult to ask, "What would Jesus do?" After all, Jesus was perfect and never made mistakes. But in times like that, we can ask, "What would Paul do?"
The church has changed in many ways since the days of the New Testament. Come of those changes are good. Some are for the worse. The writings of Paul can be used as a measuring rod to tell us what the church ought to be like.
We should be able to say, "If you want to know what it means to be a Christian, then follow me around for a week and watch what I do and watch what I say." We ought to be able to make disciples by telling people to follow our example.
Do you remember what Jesus said about the Pharisees? He told the Jews to follow their teaching, but not to follow their example. Why? Because they were hypocrites. They taught one thing and they did another. Donít be a hypocrite. If you say that you believe in Christ, then live like it.
THE ARROGANT SERVANT
For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?8 You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and I would indeed that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. (1 Corinthians 4:7-8).
Paul now brings his focus upon those who would regard themselves as superior. They did not receive this outlook from the Scriptures. God did not tell them to glorify themselves. The Bible does not command for you to honor yourself.
They had developed a spiritual superiority complex. They became impatient with anyone who did not see things exactly the way they did. They became arrogant with any who disagreed with them. The reason for this is that they had lost sight of the principle of grace.
Notice the principle of grace. It states that everything you have was given to you. You did not earn it. You did not deserve it.
This truth ought to bring forth an attitude of humility. A true understanding of grace always results in humility.
There is no room for boasting in the life of the Christian. Everything you have and everything you are was given to you by God. If you are going to boast, then you can only boast about how great God is.
A bumper sticker proclaims, "There is no limit to what you can do if you donít care who gets the credit." The truth is that you can take no credit because you owe everything to the Lord. You can only give the credit to Him.
Paul lapses into a sanctified sarcasm. He makes some statements about the Corinthian believers that reflect their own opinions of themselves. He says, "You have left us mere apostles far behind in your spiritual growth. We are still only lowly servants while you have become mighty kings."
The Corinthians were so exalted in their own estimation that they had lost all sight of what it means to really be a Christian. It is for this reason that Paul contrasts himself and the other apostles with these Corinthians.
THE FAITHFUL SERVANT
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.
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.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. (1 Corinthians 4:9-13).
Paul now points to what a true servant of Christ looks like. It is not a pleasant picture. It is not a portrait of comfort. Far from being the most glorious and proud, the servant of Christ is presented as being the most despised. There is a reason for this. The world will always despise the servant of God. To be a servant goes contrary to that which is desirable in the eyes of the world. The world honors those who are noble and strong and independent. But God honors those who are weak and foolish and who trust in Him.
The word "spectacle" is translated from the Greek word
Last of all would come the captives and those who had been condemned to death. These would be paraded in chains before the entire city. They would be a spectacle to the world, open in the shame of their sufferings.
This is the imagery that Paul uses of himself and the other apostles. They are suffering for the cause of Christ. Their sufferings are open and plain for all to see. They are looked upon by the world and they are mocked and taunted.
This is what it means to be a disciple of Christ. It is not the position of a king. It is not the position of nobility. It is the position of a slave.
Paul continues with his sarcasm. He continues his contrast of himself and the other apostles over against the Corinthians.
They are kings
They are servants
They are prudent in Christ
They are fools for Christís sake
They are strong
They are weak
They are distinguished
They are without honor
The Corinthians still considered the cross of Christ to be foolish. They considered its message to be childish. They were ashamed of being Christís servant. They wanted wisdom and power and recognition and popularity.
How different is this from the Prosperity Theology that is preached from so many pulpits today. It is often taught that, if you are a child of God and are faithful, then God will give you lots of money and will meet every need and everything will go well for you. They teach that, if you are going through hardship, it is because there must be some hidden sin in your life.
This is not what Paul portrays as the lot of a servant of Christ. He pictures a servant of Christ as one who is all too familiar with such hardships.
The Corinthians saw themselves as being high-class Christians. Paul presents no such picture of the servant of Christ. He says that, in the worldís eyes, Godís servants are seen as the very lowest of the low.
Do you see what Paul has done? By presenting himself and the other servants of Christ in such a lowly manner, he has exposed the pride and the boasting and the high-mindedness of the Corinthians.
Paul recognized that the root problem of the Corinthians was their conceit. This is the root of most spiritual problems. It was seen in manís fall in the Garden of Eden. It was seen in Cainís murder of Abel. It was seen in Saulís persecution of David. It was seen in the Phariseesí rejection of Jesus.
It is still seen today. When there is a problem in a marriage between a husband and a wife, the root problem is usually that of conceit and self-will. When a conflict arises between a parent and a child, the cause of that conflict is almost always because of the high-mindedness of one or both parties. When two Christians come into conflict, it is because one has begun to think himself as more important than the other.
Are you in the midst of a conflict with another Christian? Here is the root of your problem. It is a problem of self-will. It is a problem of conceit. It is a problem caused by a lack of servanthood.
You have been called to a high calling. It is to be a servant of God. And one of the ways you can know that you are a true servant is how you act when you are treated like one.
About the Author
Return to the John Stevenson Bible Study Page
Have a Comment?