Already, Not Yet

Series: Rewire

Sermon by David Strain on May 14, 2017

1 Corinthians 4:8-21

Well before we begin, let me once again wish all the moms in the congregation a very happy Mother’s Day. At a time when families are under so many pressures from our culture, the calling of a mother demands sacrifice and courage and perseverance. We’re right to celebrate the great gift you all are to our families and to our church. We are very thankful for you. It may be that you are visiting with us today to celebrate with your family for the weekend. And if that’s true, we are especially glad to welcome you. We do want to be good hosts, as I said earlier, so if we can serve you in any way we would love for you to let us know how we can do that.

So most of us today are celebrating; there are some of us for whom today is poignant and painful. Some of us are mourning the loss of a child or the loss of a mother. Some of us have longed to be parents and have been unable to have children of our own. So for some of us, Mother’s Day today is hard. Let me simply say, if that describes, you that we love you, that we are praying for you, and we are praying particularly today that the Lord would comfort your hearts.

If you are new to First Presbyterian Church, you will have noticed our ordinary pattern when it comes to preaching is to work through large chunks of the Biblical text, portion by portion, verse by verse. We do that because we want to try to submit to, to put ourselves under the authority of the Bible rather than pick and choose as we please. And that means that as we’ve been working our way through the letter of Paul to 1 Corinthians, this morning we’ve come to 1 Corinthians chapter 4, verses 8 to the end of the chapter. So do go ahead now, if you would please, and take a copy of the Scriptures from the pews in front of you and turn there with me; page 954 in the church Bibles. 1 Corinthians chapter 4 at verse 8, through to the end of the chapter.

Before we read, let me remind you a little of where we’ve been so far in Paul’s letter. The Corinthian churches have descended into factionalism and judgmentalism and divisiveness and that has been driven and fueled by the sin of pride. They have been boasting in themselves. And Paul is writing to the Corinthians to address those issues. And that has occupied his attention really since the second half of chapter 1 until now. And as we consider the last part of chapter 4, we’re seeing Paul bring his discussion of those issues – of pride and division and judgmentalism at Corinth – to a conclusion. We began looking at chapter 4 two weeks ago. Verses 1 to 5 we saw teach us or Paul is teaching us there, how to deal with pride and judgmentalism when we are on the receiving end of other people’s prejudices when they judge us. There in verses 6 and 7, we saw last time, Paul helps us deal with pride and judgmentalism and the divisiveness that it can cause when we find that pride lurking and festering in our own hearts.

And now this morning Paul makes two final points about pride and division at Corinth. In verses 8 to 13 he will deal with the Corinthians faulty expectations; their faulty expectations. And then in verses 14 to 21, he has a concluding family exhortation. Faulty expectations and a family exhortation. Those are the two big themes, the headings under which we will consider Paul’s teaching here – faulty expectations and family exhortation. Before we turn our attention to hear the Word of God read and preached, however, let’s pause briefly and ask for God to help us as we pray. Would you pray with me?

Our Father, we love You and we hunger and thirst for righteousness. We remember the promise of our Savior that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. And so as Your children, we come, praying that You would fulfill that promise in our experience this morning. And by the work of the Holy Spirit, nourish our hearts by Your Holy Word, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

1 Corinthians chapter 4 at the eighth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us, you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

 

I do not write these things to make you ashamed but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?”

Amen, and we give thanks to God that He has spoken to us in His holy Word.

Faulty Expectations

As I said then, the first thing I want you to see here is Paul’s reaction to the Corinthians’ faulty expectations. They had faulty expectations about the Christian life. When I have the occasional privilege of doing pre-marital counseling, I will talk with a couple about the four fault lines that tend to run through every marriage. Almost every fight you’ll ever have, I’ll tell them, relates to one of these four things in one way or another. Are you ready? I wonder if you can guess them. Four fault lines – money, sex, in-laws, and children. The four fault lines. Most of you have fights about all of these things I know. We all tend to. Most of our frustrations and problems in marriage relate to one of these. And the reason they are so often sources of friction has to do with something else that runs through them all and makes them so fraught. And that is faulty expectations. We expect too much. We are unrealistic about how things will be or unrealistic about our spouse's needs or our own abilities. We make all kinds of assumptions that we don’t properly communicate or negotiate. And so our faulty expectations make money, sex, in-laws, and children not sources of joy and strength in our marriage as they ought to be, but so often points of tension and sources of friction. Faulty expectations can steal the joy out of almost anything. And if we’re not careful, faulty expectations can even fracture relationships.

That was certainly what was happening in the fellowships at Corinth – faulty expectations had begun to fracture relationships and cause division. They had wrong expectations about the nature of the Christian life. Look at verses 8 to 13 with me. These are the things the Corinthians were saying about themselves. Paul is reflecting them back to his readers with more than just a touch of biting irony, even sarcasm. Do you see it in the passage? Look at verse 8. He says, “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings!” You could translate that, “You’ve begun to reign!” Would be that, “You had begun to reign,” he says, “that I could reign with you. You think that the glories to come have already dawned upon you in their fullness. If only it was true!” Paul says. Or look down at verse 10. “You are wise in Christ. You are strong. You are held in honor.” That is how the Corinthians saw themselves. You remember they have been boasting in their spiritual superiority. They boasted in their supernatural gifts, as we’ll see as the letter unfolds. They boasted in their special wisdom and insight. After all, they were saying, “Hasn’t Jesus died and risen again? The end of the ages has come! The Scriptures have been fulfilled. The new world is already here!”

We’ve Got It All Already!

Their problem, you see, is that they looked at all the wonderful realities of the Gospel into which they had been swept by the work of the Holy Spirit when they believed in Jesus, and they said, “We’ve got it all already! It’s all here already. There’s nothing more!” They concluded that Christians ought to expect their fullest joys here, their highest blessings here, their sweetest experiences of grace here. There ought to be no suffering, no sadness, no poverty, no pain here. “That’s what we have in Christ,” they were saying. “We have all we want. We are rich! We’ve already begun to reign. We are wise, we are strong, we are honorable!” The key word in the text that I think sums up their view of the fullness of Christian blessing in this world is that word, “already,” repeated twice in verse 8. “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich!” As though they were claiming in advance, already, right now, they have something that really ought to wait for the end. You see, they were saying if you are really living a faithful Christian life, if you’re really spiritual if you really have faith, well then this is what we expect to see in your life – heaven on earth already; the new creation already. Victory over sin and suffering and sorrow already. Your best life now, already.

The Problem of Pride

No wonder they had a pride problem. No wonder they looked down on others in their churches that did not quite measure up, whose sufferings obviously thought identified them as less spiritual, whose battle with remaining sin they considered to demonstrate that they are second-rate. But Paul won’t stand for it at all. Will he? While the Corinthians think you can get the fullness of Christian blessing already, if only you’d believe enough or are spiritual enough, the apostle Paul knows better. Look how he contrasts himself with them in verse 9. “For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake. But you are wise in Christ. We are weak but you are strong. You are held in honor but we in disrepute.” They were claiming that the truly spiritual Christian lives in the heights of victory, but here’s the mighty apostle Paul himself, a public spectacle, like a man sentenced to death, counted a fool for Christ’s sake, weak and held in general disrepute.

Live In The Present Hour

And if the keyword that sums up the Corinthians’ mistaken and faulty expectations is the word, “already,” the world to come is ours, “already,” notice Paul’s alternative in verse 11. “To the present hour, we hunger and thirst. We are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless and so on.” Paul isn’t living in the world to come; he lives in the present hour. The Corinthians claimed that what was still not yet had come to them already. But Paul models a different approach entirely – one that recognizes that while glory is promised to us, it remains not yet. And so he lives now, in the present hour, in a world where to follow Jesus will mean for him, hunger and deprivation. He does manual labor, he says, to eke out a living. He is reviled, although he blesses in return. He is persecuted and he endures. He is slandered and he entreats and pleads with sinners through the Gospel to be reconciled to God. He has become, he says, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. “That,” Paul says, “is my normal Christian life. Won’t you get your expectations right, Corinthians? If you’re looking for daily triumph, if you expect to ride the heights and rise above sin and suffering, if you think to yourself, ‘If only I had enough faith things would all be better,’ your expectations of the Christian life are all wrong.”

The Results of the Corinthian Mistake

And one of two things will happen if you buy into the Corinthians’ mistake. First, you will either deceive yourself into thinking you are, in fact, a cut above the rest. You’ll begin to boast, as they were doing, in their spiritual superiority, and look down on others. Or, you will conclude that your failure to reach your “best life now” is all your fault. What a wretched failure you are! That’s why you’re suffering! What weak faith you have! That’s why you struggle to make ends meet! What a devastating lie of the devil the prosperity gospel really is. But how easily it still creeps into the thinking of the very best among us. Haven’t you heard even mature Christians saying, “For what sin of mine is God punishing me that life should be so hard for so long?” Maybe you have even said it yourself? “Why is this happening to me? Maybe I’ve missed something? Maybe there’s something I should do, some level to which I must yet attain in my Christian life that will make it all okay? This is happening because it’s my fault!” Do you recognize that? I’ve heard it often as a pastor.

Learn To Understand The Times

But Paul says, “No, no! That’s not it at all!” No, you must learn to understand the times. This is where we live now. We don’t live in the world to come; that’s not yet, whatever the Corinthians’ claimed. The glories to follow where sin has gone, where tears will all be wiped away, where regret will never again trouble us and suffering will never again intrude. The glories to follow will come soon, one day, but not yet. To the present hour, to follow Jesus, Paul says, means joy, wonderfully. It does mean joy, but it will be joy, oftentimes, through tears. It means progress in holiness – praise God! Progress in holiness. Today I am not who I was yesterday, and tomorrow, by the grace of God, I will not be who I am today. Progress. But it will be slow progress, hard-won progress, and imperfect progress till we go to be with Jesus one day at last. It does mean supernatural power flooding our lives, enabling us to say, “Yes, Lord,” when He calls us even to do hard things. But it will be power displayed in the midst of weakness. It will be the power of the cross. Faulty expectations, you see, are a fertile seedbed for pride. Get your expectations of the normal Christian life right, Paul is saying to us. Live in the present hour; not in the world to come. That is still not yet. Faulty expectations.

A Family Exhortation

Then secondly, Paul offers a family exhortation. You can see the warm family language all over the last part of the chapter. Look at verses 14 and 15 for example. “I do not write these things to make you ashamed but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Paul, you will remember, planted the church at Corinth; he led many of them to faith in Christ. He is like a spiritual father; a parent to them through the Gospel. And he has adopted a rather biting tone in verses 8 to 13. But now as a parent towards his children, he softens. “I’m not trying to shame you,” he says. “I’m trying to parent you, to admonish you as my beloved children.”

Now it’s Mother’s Day, and moms, you get this – don’t you? You’ll use all the tools at your disposal to reach your kids and get through to them, especially if you see them taking wrong turns and going astray. That’s why we celebrate our mothers today, isn’t it? They’ve admonished us as beloved children, and it stings sometimes, but it’s love that drives it and we’re the better for it. That is precisely what Paul is up to here. His children in the faith, who he loves to deeply, they’re about to drive off the cliff and he’s trying to steer them back into the middle of the road. Their boasting is out of control, and so because he loves them with a parent’s love, he admonishes them.

Imitate Me!

And he uses, if I can extend the parenting metaphor just a little, hopefully not to the breaking point, he uses three parental tools, three parenting tools to try and drive his admonition home. I dare say that every mom in the room, maybe even every dad, has used these tools from time to time. First of all, in verse 16 notice, he models the right course for his children in the faith. “I urge you then, be imitators of me!” We talked about this, if you were here last week, instead of the triumphalism that marked the Corinthians, he wants to show them what the normal Christian life really looks like. And so he calls them to “imitate me in all the struggling and suffering and demands for perseverance that is the normal Christian life.” He says, “Imitate me!”

Deploy Big Brother!

Then the second parenting tool he uses on the Corinthians is to deploy big brother. See that in verse 17? “That’s why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ as I teach them everywhere in every church.” Sometimes big brother can get through when mom or dad can’t. Paul sends them Timothy who reminds them of Paul, both by the way he lives and by his teaching.

Don’t Make Me Come Up There!

And then Paul’s third parenting strategy maybe can be summarized in this phrase. See if you recognize this phrase, parents? Verses 18 to 21, “Don’t make me come up there! I’m coming up there!” That’s what he says! You see verse 18? “Some are arrogant as though I were not coming to you, but I will come to you soon if the Lord wills. And I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist of talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” He’s pursuing them. He’s using every parental tool in his tool bag to try and bring them back from their pride to repentance and humility. He even is prepared to bring discipline to them. You see that in verse 21. He very much wants to come to them with love and in a spirit of gentleness, but if he has to exercise discipline among them when he comes, he’s prepared to do so. How they respond to the family admonition will determine which route he takes. But his agenda is to call them back to repentance; to win them, not to dismiss them, much less to shame them or to wound them.

And so he says, “When I come, I’m going to shine a spotlight on the spiritual authenticity of those arrogant leaders at Corinth who are causing so much division and trouble among you.” In other words, he’s saying, “I want to see if they are all talk or whether they know anything about the reality of supernatural power that is the essential characteristic of the kingdom of God. Not talk,” he says, “but power – reality, spiritual reality. Do they know anything about spiritual reality?” That’s the question he wants them to be asking themselves in advance of his coming. It’s really the question he wants us to be asking ourselves as we read his words. Is my Christian life a matter of talk or do I know spiritual reality? Is it mere words and outward show, or do I know anything of the power of the cross, the power of grace, the power and work of the Holy Spirit in my heart? That’s what he’s after! To call us to assess our hearts, to challenge us to get real at last.  He wants to call them, these Corinthians who prized oratory and rhetoric and who dismissed Paul as an inferior speaker, to understand that mere talk is so much irrelevance and life and power are what we need.

So let me close with this. Suppose as you interrogate your own Christian life, you discover that it has in fact been mere head knowledge and talk for far too long now. Suppose you’ve been led by God, under the ministry of His Word, to confess that in fact, it’s all show. Well, what now? What do you do if you make that discovery this morning? I think there are clues for us in the passage. One of them comes out if you look back at the portion where we read that Paul is going to send them Timothy. You see that in verse 17? “That’s why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ.” He’s called them to imitate him. He wants to model for them spiritual reality. He’s sent Timothy to them to remind them of what that should look like. His ways in Christ. Spiritual reality, the life that is real in Christ. What do you do if you find that your Christianity is an outward form, not an inner reality? What do you do if it’s mere talk but none of the power? You need to run to Jesus Christ. You need to get into Christ. Today, now, no more excuses, no more delay. Don’t bring your pedigree; don’t plead your religious credentials. It’s time to come clean. That’s what Paul is after amongst the Corinthians. Time to get real. Time to confess your sin and need and cry out to the Lord Jesus Christ for reality and not mere religious performance. Not externals, not a form of words that denies its power. Jesus Christ will break into your life and begin that glorious, though slow and often hard renovation project in your heart if you will but humble yourself and come to Him. That’s what he’s calling the Corinthians to; that’s what he’s calling us to as we interrogate our hearts. Is my Christianity mere talk, or do I know the power in which consists the Kingdom of God?

And so there’s a call here to get our expectations right about the nature of the Christian life. This world, Jesus says, “In this world, you will have trouble. I will be with you to strengthen and sustain you every step of the way. But it will be hard. There’s glory to come, but right now it’s not yet.” And we’re called to search our hearts in the light of Paul’s family exhortation. Are you for real? Are you for real? Or is it all mere talk? Come and bend the knee to King Jesus and get real at last. Let’s pray together!

Our Father, as we bow before You, we confess how skilled we can be at faking it, at being about mere talk, having a form of godliness but denying its power. Please, will You forgive us? And as we humble ourselves together before You, we pray, we pray, O Lord, that You would plant us, all of us, into Christ. Bring us to Christ to bend our knees under Him, before Him, and acknowledge Him alone to be Lord and King and hope and joy and rest and refuge. Help us, O Lord, today to get real and to find as we do that amazing Gospel invasion taking place in our hearts as You break in and begin to renovate us to make us a reflection of Your Son. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

© 2017 First Presbyterian Church.

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