Now if you would please take your copies of the Scriptures in your hands and turn with me to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 4. 1 Corinthians chapter 4. Paul, you will remember, is drawing this first part of the letter to a close here in chapter 4. He has been dealing with the problem of pride and divisions in the churches of Corinth. And last time, in the first five verses of chapter 4, we saw him address one of the truly ugly fruits of pride and division in the church – the sin of judgmentalism. Prideful people, Paul showed us, are quick to pass judgment on others, and Paul himself had been on the receiving end of that in Corinth. And last time, he taught us how to deal with judgmentalism when we’re on the receiving end of judgmentalism. He taught us how to live free from the tyranny of other people’s opinions by remembering the only opinion that really matters, which is the opinion of Almighty God Himself. When we get that clear in our thinking, we begin to live free from the court of public opinion, even free from the court of our own private judgment. The only court that matters, the only verdict about which we care, is the, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” of our heavenly Master. We are to live for the commendation of God. That was last time.
Now today in verses 6 and 7 of 1 Corinthians chapter 4, he looks at the other side of the question, of judgmentalism and pride. Last time he showed us how to deal with it when we’re on the receiving end of other people’s prideful, judgmental, divisive spirit. This time, he goes after prideful, judgmental spirits festering in our own hearts. Pride, you know, is a persistent weed. Imagine a dandelion in the middle of your lawn. How do you deal with it? If you simply mow the lawn, it looks good for a while I guess, but what happens eventually? Well, the weed grows right back. We have to do more than just lop its head off. You need to spray some Round-Up on the thing and get down to the roots and kill it dead or it’s just going to keep reappearing. Right? Pride is like a perennial week. And certainly we can make behavior adjustments and appear humble when we need to, but unless we go after the root of the issue, then our humility will only ever be superficial. And what Paul wants is radical, that is, root, change. And so in these two verses, he is going to offer us four strategies to kill pride.
Before we read the passage together, would you bow your heads with me, first of all, as we pray?
Our Father, we do need the ministry of the Holy Spirit now so very desperately. And so we cry to You, to come to us and give light to our understanding, give food to Your hungry children, and give the Holy Spirit to those who ask, just as You promised. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
1 Corinthians chapter 4 at verse 6. This is the inerrant Word of Almighty God:
“I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy and authoritative Word.
So as I say, Paul wants to deal with the sin of pride. That has been his theme, in one way or another, hasn’t it, since the second half of chapter 1. It really has dominated this whole opening section of 1 Corinthians. You can see it clearly enough in the passage before us this morning if you look at the end of verse 6. He says he is writing, “That none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.” So there it is the sin of pride, leading to division and judgmentalism. That’s the big theme of this whole first part of the letter. There’s this ugly, self-exalting culture thriving in the congregations at Corinth and it’s tearing them apart, becoming a toxic situation.
And so with some urgency, in our text this morning, Paul offers these four strategies designed to help deal with the root of the persistent weed of pride in our hearts and in our fellowship. Four strategies. Look at the passage! Let me just list them first, then we’ll come back and work through them one at a time. Four pride-killing strategies; Strategy number one – he says we are to study the example of others who model Christian humility. Do you see that in verse 6? Paul says, “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos, for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us.” Study the example of godly leaders. Then strategy number two – we need to submit to the rule of the Word of God. Verse 6 again, “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos, brothers, that you may learn by us” – here’s the particular lesson he wants us to learn – “not to go beyond what is written.” Study the example of others, submit to the rule of the Word, then strategy number three – we need to remember there are no special cases. We need to remember there are no special cases. Look at the rhetorical question in verse 7. “Who sees anything different in you?” You see the point? There are no special cases, he is saying. “You’re not different than anyone else.” That will really help our pride along. Won’t it? Understanding that the ground is level and that we are not a special case after all. And then finally, strategy number four – we must embrace the extravagance of grace. Embrace the extravagance of grace. “What do you have,” he asks, “that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”
Alright, so there’s our outline. That’s where we’re going! Paul wants none of us to be puffed up in favor of one against another. He’s going after the sin of pride and he offers these four strategies to kill it. Study the example of others, submit to the rule of the Word, remember there are no special cases, and embrace the extravagance of grace.
Study the Example of Others
Let’s think about strategy number one, first of all. We need to study the example of others. Verse 6, “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos, for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us.” If you’re like me, those of you who are parents have had the rather disconcerting experience of suddenly realizing in the middle of one of those teachable moments – you know the ones – those teachable moments with your kids, that you are standing in the same pose, speaking with the same tone, using the same vocabulary that your mother or your father did with you twenty years or more before. You know how it goes. You’re in mid-flow. You know, “You listen to me, young man!” and then you sort of wake up! And you realize you can hear your dad’s tone or your mom’s favorite phrases escaping your own lips. It’s a strange experience as you realize you are becoming your parents, isn’t it? For good or ill, it turns out their influence, their example has left its mark, sometimes in ways you didn’t expect until you found yourself imitating them. We are, you see, we are hardwired to learn from the example of others, particularly of our parents.
Paul’s Relationship to the Corinthians
In chapter 4 and a few verses down from where we are this morning, Paul himself will use precisely that metaphor to describe his relationship to the Corinthians. He is their father; they are his children in the Lord. And so, like children learning from a parent here, he wants them to learn how to live the Christian life from him and the other faithful leaders like Apollos, whom the Lord had set over them. Now you remember the kind of things he’s been telling us about his ministry so far in these opening chapters of the book. He said when he came to them, chapter 2:4-5, his preaching was not at all impressive like the great orators with which they were so familiar at Corinth. Rather, he came to them without lofty speech or wisdom, in weakness and in fear, and in much trembling. He calls himself, chapter 2 verse 6, a mere farmhand, planting the seeds of the Gospel. Or a construction worker laboring on God’s building site as the church arises on the foundation of Jesus Christ in chapter 2 verse 10. In chapter 4 verse 1, he is a galley slave, an under-rower, pulling his oar to the beat of the Master’s drum. And he is a household steward, a slave in a great estate, dispensing the riches of the master’s household.
A Model in Life and Truth
So the Corinthians, remember, they want rock stars and celebrities, but Paul has been insisting repeatedly that a Gospel minister that God will bless embraces the cross, both as the burden of his message and as the template for his ministry. Lowly, often unimpressive, apparently foolish, yet submitted to the will of God. And now he tells the Corinthians why he’s been laboring that point for all these chapters. What ought to be true of Gospel ministers, he says, ought also to be true of every Christian believer. As Hebrews 13:7 puts it, we are to remember our leaders, those who spoke the Word of God to us, consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. A minister’s teaching ministry is only half done when he preaches the Word of God faithfully. The other half of his ministry requires that he live the Word faithfully too. He is to be a model in his own life of the truth he proclaims.
Now that is, that’s a searching thing to be called to, those of us who are leaders in the church. Paul will say in verse 16 of chapter 4, “Imitate me.” Or in chapter 11 verse 1, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” It’s a searching thing to be called to. Those of us who teach Sunday School classes or D-groups on a Wednesday night or are involved in teaching the Bible in a small group or in a MOMS Bible study, or those of us who minister the Word from the pulpit, Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day, to be able to say that, “The truth I proclaim I also seek, by God’s grace, to live, so that you are to imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Can you say that in your Sunday School class, “Follow my example as I seek to follow Jesus”? “Let me be a living illustration of the truth that I proclaim?” It’s a searching thing for church leaders and teachers of the Bible to be called to, isn’t it?
The Revolutionary Nature of Truth
But I think it’s also searching for those of us who listen and receive the ministry of the Word for this reason – if you see the lives of those who teach the Bible transformed before your eyes by the truth they teach, then you have to reckon with the truth that this message they proclaim is more than words. It demands more from me than simply the accumulation of data in my brain. But rather, this truth revolutionizes lives. And so, Paul calls the Corinthians to examine his life and the life of Apollos and the other faithful leaders the Lord had given to him as he seeks to model Gospel humility before them that they might follow his example also. And so he says to kill pride we need to foster a culture of humble service, imitating spiritual leaders who embody it for us.
Submit to the Rule of the Word of God
But then secondly he says, the second strategy to kill pride that he offers, is that we are to submit to the rule of the Word of God. We need the example of others who do precisely that, but then as we seek to follow their example we ourselves must submit to the rule of the Word of God. He says, “I have applied these things,” verse 6, “to myself and Apollos, for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us.” And here’s the lesson that he wants us to learn. “That you may learn from us not to go beyond what is written.” Here’s what Paul’s constant teaching about true, humble Gospel ministry has really been about. He wants them to understand that true humility means that we topple self from the throne. Self is ejected from the driver’s seat of our own lives and instead, Jesus Christ is set up behind the wheel. He drives the engine of our lives by His Word. We are not to go beyond what is written.
Calvin somewhere says that “Jesus Christ rules His Church by the royal scepter of His Word.” The Word of God, you see, is not pious advice that offers fuzzy generalities to be applied as taste and mood dictate. No, the Word of God, rather, regulates and directs our lives. You remember the catechism question that makes precisely that point when it asks, “What is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God?” And the answer, “The Word of God, contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.” The Word of God is our rule. Jesus rules us by His Word. We are not to go beyond what is written. Incidentally, that’s why the elder board in a Presbyterian church is called a church court. Did you know that? What do courts do with the law? They don’t make law; at least they’re not supposed to. That was not a comment, by the way, on anything that you might see on your television screens! Courts are not supposed to make law. What are they meant to do with the law? They receive the law, the exist under the law, they administer the law. They rule according to the law. The government of the church is done under the law given to us by King Jesus, Holy Scripture. Elders are not to make rules, make laws, but merely to administer the Word of Jesus Christ. That’s why it’s called a church court. We are not to go beyond what is written in the government of the church, in the worship of the church. And in our lives, in the moral and spiritual dimensions of our lives as Christian people, our consciences are to be captive to the Word of God. Topple self from the throne and set apart Christ as Lord by bending the knee under the rule of the Word, Paul is saying.
The Importance of Reading and Studying God’s Word
The implications of that are pretty clear, aren’t they? There really is no way to live under the Word if we do not read the Word and study the Word and regularly sit under the preaching of the Word. Or to put it more directly, hopefully more clearly, if the Word of God, the Bible, has no functional presence in our lives – in our thinking, in our hearts, in our minds, in our daily routines – if the Word of God has no functional presence in our lives, it will not likely bear fruit in our lives either. Those who resolve not to go beyond what is written, who topple self from the throne and submit to the rule of the Word, the rule of Christ through the Scriptures, instead of finding it restrictive and constraining and joy-killing, here’s what they can say with the psalmist in Psalm 19. They can say, “The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” They can say, “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandments of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever. The rules of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold, sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is your servant warned and in keeping them there is great reward.” A life under the Word is a satisfied life of joy in obedience to King Jesus who knows what is best for me and for you.
There Are No Special Cases
So Paul calls them first to study the example of others, then secondly to live under, to submit to the rule of the Word. Then thirdly, he says the third pride-killing strategy he offers is to remember there are no special cases. There are no special cases. Look at verse 7. “Who sees anything different in you?” he asks. Or we might paraphrase it, “What makes you so special? Who do you think you are?” Now the Corinthians did think they were pretty special, didn’t they? They boasted in their own wisdom, they boasted in their own leaders, they boasted in their own spirituality. They boasted in their own gifts, as we’ll see as the letter unfolds. They thought themselves a cut above the average sort. And Paul has had to remind them already, if you remember back in chapter 1 verse 26, of the truth concerning them and who they were when they were called to faith in Jesus. You remember verse 26 of chapter 1? “Not many of you were wise according to the standards of this world. Do you remember that, Corinthians? Not many of you were powerful; not many of you were of noble birth. You are not nearly so impressive as you think you are.”
God Sees Right Through Us
No, the fact is, while we’re often busy finding whatever’s so special about us, God sees right through it all. Doesn’t He? God does not generally believe our publicity. While we’re busy trying to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the pack, so often that very desire to be somebody is the thing that confirms just how like everybody else we still remain. “Who sees anything different in you?” Paul asks. “Are you any better than anybody else?” Here’s the bad news for us in a self-esteem culture that has trained us all since kindergarten to believe that we’re all superstars just waiting to be discovered. Here’s the bad news for us! Before the gaze of God, there is nothing distinguishing in you or me to make Him value us at all. He doesn’t love us or cherish us or affirm us because He sees something inherent in us to set us apart from the people sitting right next to us. In fact, let to ourselves, the truth is we’re in big trouble. Isn’t that so? If on the last day we saunter into the heavenly courtroom, cocksure and confident in our own innate charm and loveliness and lovability, we will likely receive a shock from which we will spend eternity trying and failing to recover. If we’re really going to deal with our pride problem, if I’m going to deal with my pride problem, then I do need to put to bed once and for all the persistent idea that God somehow owes me because I am something special. There are no special cases.
Paul says, first of all, we must study the lives of others, learn from their example of humility. Then as we seek to imitate them, like them, we must secondly submit to the rule of the Word of God in our lives. Then thirdly, while we do not go beyond what is written, we are to recognize the truth about ourselves that there are no special cases. We’re not nearly so hot after all.
Embrace the Extravagance of Grace
And then finally he says we are to embrace the extravagance of grace. Look at the end of verse 7. “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Of all the things you value, name one that is not, in fact, a gift from the hand of God. Name one that is not a donation of sheer, extravagant grace. But if it’s all grace, Paul asks us, if it’s all gift, why are you taking the credit. You didn’t earn them! You don’t deserve them. Your privileges from the material blessings you enjoy every day to your new life in Christ, your adoption into His family, the endowment of the Holy Spirit, the riches of Christian fellowship, access to life-transforming truth, and a thousand other privileges besides, what are they but sheer gifts of extravagant grace!
Boast in the Lord!
Now let me back up and ask if you got maybe just a little offended when Paul reminded us that we are nothing special after all? I mean, we are First Presbyterian Church Jackson, right? Who says we are not special! Didn’t you struggle just a bit with being told that you’re not so hot after all? But here’s the thing. We never really will grasp how rich and sweet grace is. We will miss the extravagant wonder of it if we’re constantly arguing with God about how great we are. Amazing grace is only amazing when we understand that it saves a wretch like me! If you claim the credit, you’re minimizing grace, you’re minimizing sin, and you’re robbing God of the glory. He gets the credit. He gets the credit! But if you know, “Yes indeed, my Savior bled and my Sovereign died. Yes indeed, He did devote that sacred head for such a worm as I. When you see that everything I have, I have by grace, I have because of the cross, I have because I was loved in my unloveliness and I’m loved still despite my persistent unloveliness, when you see all of that, the extravagant wonder of grace, now what happens to your pride and your boasting? Doesn’t it begin to shrivel and die as you understand that the glory, the credit, the boast, the praise ought not to come your way? It belongs entirely to the Lord who redeemed you.
So let’s study, Paul says, the example of others, imperfect as that example inevitably must be, because in them we’ll get to see what humility looks like, at least the pursuit of humility looks like. And then he says let’s be sure to submit to the rule of the Word, not go beyond what is written. Be sure that Jesus is in the driving seat of our lives by being people whose consciences are captive to the Word of God. Then he says remember there are no special cases. We must ruthlessly root out all the secret boasts of our hearts where we are claiming the credit and taking the praise. “Who has ever given to God that God should repay Him?” You can’t put God in your debt! No, we are debtors to mercy alone. Aren’t we? And then finally and above all, he says we need more than anything else to embrace the extravagance of grace. Nothing kills boasting like seeing we deserve only the wrath and curse of God but receive instead love, adopting love, sanctifying love, love that will keep us and preserve us and one day bring us home to glory. Love that is demonstrated in the life-blood, the cross of Jesus Christ. Love out of the embrace of which we can never be plucked. When we see that grace upon grace has been lavished upon us, where does that put our egos in the end? Not on the throne, but in the dust of humility, even while, at the same time, our hearts soar and mount up to the throne of glory to give praise and honor to the One who has loved us with an everlasting love.
So there are four strategies here to help us kill our pride. May the Lord give us the grace to apply them like a good dose of Round-Up to the persistent weed of pride festering in our hearts that all the glory might be His. Let’s pray together!
Father, how we praise You that You do not leave us in our sin, but by Your Word and Spirit You are at work among us to make us more like Jesus. And so we pray first for forgiveness, for only cutting the head off the weed of pride in our hearts so that we appear humble while the root continues to fester. And we pray now for grace to apply the Scriptural remedies that will put us where we belong in the dust and give all the glory and praise to Christ on His throne. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
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