July 27, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (1 Corinthians 4)

 Submitted by Greg D. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

1 Corinthians 4:8-13

  • What is the relevance of Apostle Paul’s description of the suffering and sacrificial life of the apostles to the Corinthians’ worldly evaluations of people, and prideful boasting?

The relevance of Paul’s description of the suffering and sacrificial life of the apostles is to show the correct standard to judge spiritual maturity, which is contrary to what the Corinthians evaluated Christians.

  • Compare and contrast the life of the apostles to that of the Corinthians described here.  Which one better describes what I expect of Christian life?

The Corinthians valued being wise and well thought of, being strong and honorable, doing little work, being comfortable, and avoiding suffering.  In many ways, what the Corinthians strove for and evaluated people on is the American dream I grew up with.  This notion of being rich with plenty of extra money in the bank, able to retire early and enjoy life, always being thought of as very wise in respectable in every circle of relationships, and certainly not coming across as foolish or awkward.  And to always have the last word, to pay people back for ways they have wronged you and never be taken advantage of.  This is what I grew up with and strove for wholeheartedly my first 20 years of life.

But the life Paul describes and he himself lived has very little to do with this American dream.  Paul describes a life full of discomfort and suffering for the sake of the gospel, full of trying to love people but being misinterpreted, persecuted, and disrespected.  The Corinthians themselves are a prime example of that, they just don’t understand the ways Paul is trying to model Christ for them and look down on him for it.  It is a life of forgiving, of blessing those who attack you, of not firing back and getting that last word in when challenged or mocked.

Which one of those two best describe what I expect of Christian life?  At head level, I am in full agreement it is the latter. Of course Christian life should be difficult, persecution should be the norm, that we should be generous and not known as rich, forgiving and not vituperative.  But again and again I find myself at a heart and gut level getting surprised how much in my heart I still desire to be wise, well thought of, strong, and honorable.  Or when the difficulties and discomforts Paul describes actually take place.

After being Christian for almost ten years, I have this notion that sin should be easier to struggle with and less frequent, that I should sort of have this Christian life figured out.  But when something new comes up, I find myself shocked and ask my self, “I am this way, too?”   I am unloving in this way, too?  My careless joking around has injured that person whom I care about?  My first reaction is this should not be an issue for me, I don’t want to feel weak and immature, I want to be strong and well thought of.  But the clear truth is right in front of me, I am still a sinner and this too now needs repentance and work to overcome.   Furthermore, being a sinner by nature I should expect new sins and old sins to come up and need forgiveness and struggle against my whole life.

I also get surprised at the reaction of others when I don’t pursue my career with the same overriding zeal that they do.  I do work hard and perform well at work, but when I try to minimize business trips because I want to be available for ministry and to spend time with people in Riverside, I am surprised at the pushback and criticism of others who say, “You’re a single guy, you should love this, your chance to really impress and get ahead.”

The reason for this must be the American dream of comfort, selfish individualism, and pride must still be deeply rooted in my heart as well as in the world around me.  I know at a gut level I do just want to be liked and be comfortable.  But this view of life is incompatible with the cross.  Jesus, though perfect Himself, showed us a life of being hated, reviled, suffering and dying for those he loved.  His actions perplexed many–his staunch refusal to just accept sin and human pride got so many different groups angry at him.  The religious leaders and Pharisees had a very clear plan for Jesus’ life, the Jews had a clear picture of the kind of political deliverer he should be, but Jesus refused to be swayed or do anything except what His Father commanded.  So I must be the same, I cannot give into the whims of my heart, I cannot give into the expectations for life that our culture is saturated in, but must cling to the tried and true example of the apostles and saints throughout the ages, of those more spiritually mature around me.  I must always weigh advice and input I receive against the demands of the Bible and lives of godly Christians.

1 Corinthians 4:14-21

  • What is the difference between a guardian and a father, and what lesson is there here about what true Christian discipleship looks like?

In the context of Paul’s larger discussion about the Corinthians being divided over different teachers (I follow Paul, I follow Cephas, etc.) I think “guides in Christ” refers to anyone trying to teach on the Christian faith.  In that sense, the Corinthians have many guides, visiting preachers, leaders, etc.  There were many people trying to teach impart to them a certain wisdom and way of living.  But these guides are in it for the short term, they don’t have much to lose, and they plan to move on to the next person or place soon enough.

But a father in Christ is something very different, it is someone not just there for a short time, but someone who labored and sacrificed for another.  The image is of an earthly dad, caring from birth for this child, knowing for years the child cannot even express love back but is just a constant drain and difficulty.  I think back often to my own earthly dad, he set a very high bar for me of what it means to sacrifice for your family after he got his lung transplant.  For 10 years after, the kind of medical complications he fought, the daily and ever increasing suffering, the clear reminders from his doctors that he was not going to live long, the ever increasing pile of medications he had to take to stay alive and fight side effects and side effects of side effects.  All was done without a single complaint I can ever remember, all for his family to have more normal life.  But I doubt he ever really considered it loss or sacrifice at all, so basic and deep was his commitment to his family.  I think after my dad got his transplant and began that 10 year struggle to keep alive, he largely stopped caring about himself and his life simply became about his family and what was best and showed love to them.

These days, there are countless “guides in Christ” whether it is sermon MP3’s, the latest Christian living book, other famous pastors, etc.  And not to denigrate these Christian guides, they are often very well meaning, but not in it for the long haul.  They are not fathers interested in seeing your life in all its defeats as well as victories.  These guides are not willing or simply not in a position to let a piece of themselves die to see you flourish and grow.  They are often just there for a brief time to get a message across and be gone.  They serve a purpose, but are not fathers.

So Christian life must be carried by the spiritual fathers as Paul points out and the Scripture uniformly testifies too.  This is the primary means of discipleship.  It is lives of sacrifice and slogging through difficult times with another in which the essence of the gospel is most clearly represented.  Jesus’ ministry was primarily focused on those 12 apostles, one of which would betray and all of which would make countless blunders.  His ministry was not focused on the exciting sermons to hundreds and thousands that gathered or the miraculous healings.  He was much more interested in being a father to those 12 than a teacher to many.

This true discipleship through spiritual fathers first means I must really respect and value the work that those spiritual fathers have been doing and done in my life these past ten years, recalling the concrete acts of love, generosity, and shaping.  Whether it was home cooked meals to bring down barriers or words of challenge and correction, or the example of a life passionately committed to Jesus, I must strive to live this kind of sacrifice, fatherly care for younger ones I minister to.  I cannot see those I minister to as just projects or people to call each week for Bible study, but as people I am deeply committed to love as Paul exemplified.  Lastly, I must remember the sacrificial example of my own dad and let those memories be a reminder that I have yet to love anyone enough.

 ·     What context will ensure that the kingdom of God does not remain “a matter of talk but of power?”  Have I placed myself in such a context?

When does the kingdom of God remain a matter of talk?  It is when we insulate ourselves and merely talk and pontificate to other Christians. Or when we simply compromise with the world, relegating Christianity to a couple hours on Sunday and maybe one hour midweek, while living indistinguishable from the rest of the world the other 97% of our week.  In those contexts Christianity is just words.

But a context that will ensure the kingdom of God does not remain a matter of talk is one of active ministry and reaching out.  One of daily going against the grain of the world around us and trying to advance the gospel to others, whether students on campus or co-workers, or family.  Daily trying to reflect on the Bible, work on my own character and life to show Jesus to others.  A life of not being content with my maturity and love for others, not being content with the place my non-Christian friends are at is one where the kingdom of God becomes realized power.

And yes, I have placed myself in one of those contexts by God’s grace.  One of the things I value most about being at a church plant or on mission is the clear focus it gives.  There are such frequent reminders that I live here, picked up and left everything for one purpose that it makes it hard to settle down and grow complacent.

My time serving in Taiwan was so memorable because of the clear focus it brought to each team member.  Every morning, from the first second I awoke, the humidity of the air, the language on all the signs around me, the temple down at the first floor I walked by each day made it impossible to forget where I was and why I was there.  Everyone had such a clear and unhesitating focus to spread the gospel, to love those Taiwanese students and each other every day that it gave such great strength to everyone.  It was that clear focus, that contagious zeal, as well as the type of people we met that made that greatest months of my life as I look back.

And now in Riverside, I still often marvel at the fact I live in southern California because throughout college I mocked by SoCal friends for their inability to weather the cold and rain.  And now I am one.  I still remember the friends I left behind for a much smaller church here, the green and scenery that I grew up with.  Walking around campus I am reminded how little the gospel has broken through this place, how small the Christian groups are and how much work there is to be done, how much partying and gaming have penetrated and take over each new class of freshman and leave them filled with regrets and loneliness in their later years.

I still have to fight the many voices that clamor to cool down in my commitment, take things easy, but being in this context of ministry and church plant, of sharing lives with people all trying to run after the same commitments is hugely strengthening and I know largely responsible for my growth in maturity and experiencing of God.

Submitted by Linda K. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

1 Corinthians 4:8-13

  • What is the relevance of Apostle Paul’s description of the suffering and sacrificial life of the apostles to the Corinthians’ worldly evaluations of people, and prideful boasting? 

The relevance of Apostle Paul’s description of the suffering and sacrificial life of the apostles to the Corinthians’ worldly evaluations of people, and prideful boasting was to help them see that there is more to Christian life than what they currently know and have experienced. He sarcastically says, “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings!” to point out how their pride has caused them to be content with their level of knowledge of Christian discipleship compared to that of the apostles who have endured much more for the sake of Christ. To give them insight in the life of an apostle, Paul goes on to describe what it looks like to live for Christ. While the Corinthians are busy boasting in themselves against others and comparing the apostles to one another, the apostles “have become a spectacle to the world,” “fools for Christ sake,” and “like the scum of the world.” And even though the apostles are those who are “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” the description of their life is to contrast their way of life as those who are faithfully serving God through all kinds of circumstances against the Corinthian’s view of life. Paul begins with sarcasm but ends with a desire for the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitates Christ.

  • Compare and contrast the life of the apostles to that of the Corinthians described here.  Which one better describes what I expect of Christian life?

It is clear that life of an apostle was not an easy one. Paul describes their life with the following:

–        Like men sentenced to death because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men

–        Fools for Christ’s sake

–        Weak

–        Held in disrepute

–        Hunger and thirst, poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless

–        Labor, working with our own hands

–        Reviled

–        Persecuted

–        Slandered

–        Scum of the world, the refuse of all things

This is in contrast to the Corinthians who have all that they want and live a life void of weakness and hardship in their commitment to Christ. Though they have received instruction from the apostles the focus on themselves causes them to be devoid of Christ discipleship in their life.

The life of an apostle is what I ought to expect in Christian life. Though I cannot say that I have experienced nearly the level of sacrifice the apostles lived, from what I have experienced and through other Christians, I know that these are the things that I can expect as I imitate Christ and share the Gospel with people. And I can expect the kind of reception the apostles received as they did God’s work because people are resistant and even hostile towards the Gospel. Of the things listed, one thing I can claim for myself is the way I may look like a “fool for Christ.” When I first came down to Riverside and applying for jobs the first thing people would mention on my resume would be why I left Google to come down to Riverside and I would respond by telling them it was to help start a church. They must have been bewildered that I would leave a company like Google for Riverside, but it gave me an opportunity to show the level of my commitment to Christ. I think about my other co-laborers in Christ in how they quit jobs, put their career on hold, and care for college students–how all of this would look foolish to the world and to others in the world. Yet we have done all this for the glory of God so that the students on these campuses may know Christ and be saved. So in the end all of the ways we may be foolish in the eyes of the world is worth for the salvation of souls. I pray that as I grow in my walk with Christ that I may experience more and more of the items listed by Paul so that I may share in Christ’s suffering and share in his glory.

1 Corinthians 4:14-21

  • ·     What is the difference between a guardian and a father, and what lesson is there here about what true Christian discipleship looks like? 

While a guardian may have legitimate authority over a child, the authority of a father is not like that of a guardian since the father has a special relationship to a child as he takes full ownership of the child. In this case while the Corinthians had many guides, it was Apostle Paul who founded the church and in him they received the Gospel and have all that they received in Christ.

Just as a father models how to live life for their children, Apostle Paul models Christian life for the Corinthians. He calls them to imitate him as he imitates Christ. This is the true picture of discipleship. Consequently, we ought to model our lives after those who are more mature in their walk with God. I’m thankful that close to the 10 years I’ve been at our church I have seen Christian life and discipleship modeled by my spiritual leaders whose commitment to Christ have showed me how to grow in my zeal and passion to serve Christ. Their devotion to the Word, to people and to God is a life worth imitating especially as I seen the result of their way of life that has blessed so many and helped them to grow in the knowledge and relationship with God. I know that imitating them is only possible if I am teachable and open to the areas that do not reflect Christ. I’m thankful that as we do life on life ministry that I can see how my discipleship to Christ ought to manifest in all areas of my life. As I continue to imitate their way of life I am confident that I too can experience a deeper walk with Christ and others. It is also my hope that those who come after me can imitate my way of life.

 ·     What context will ensure that the kingdom of God does not remain “a matter of talk but of power?”  Have I placed myself in such a context?

The context that will ensure that the kingdom of God does not remain “a matter of talk but of power” is one where people take the word of God seriously. Just as the saying goes “You can’t talk the talk, if you don’t walk the walk,” as Christians we cannot say we believe the word of God and not allow it to manifest in our lives. Thankfully, I find myself in a body of Christ that takes the word of God seriously where daily we are feeding ourselves the word and living it out as we serve God in our various ministries. And as we live out the word together, I have seen the kingdom of God through the salvation of many because collectively our obedience to him has resulted in the manifestation of Christ’s power through us.

Submitted by Brian W. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

1 Corinthians 4:8-13

  • What is the relevance of Apostle Paul’s description of the suffering and sacrificial life of the apostles to the Corinthians’ worldly evaluations of people, and prideful boasting? 

Apostle Paul wanted to remind the Corinthian people, what kind of lives the apostles lived–lives worthy of imitation, to compare to the kind of boasting that they exhibited to point to the   inappropriateness of what they held in high regard.  Through his sarcasm, he points out how lowly the Apostles lives were.  In building his case he reveals that, in reality, it isn’t the things the world considers worthy of repute: degrees, eloquence, money, or even dress, that made them effective, in reality it was the opposite.  When they were reviled, they were still able to bless people.  Their endurance through persecution most likely encouraged more to do the same.  When they were slandered they still did the hard work of preaching and continued to entreat to people.  And even today, the people we will often find inspirational in Christian life will not necessarily be those who have higher degrees, or higher social standing.  It’s not even people with “celebrity” status in the Christian world.  We look at those who’ve given up things in their lives (which often does include those in the previous category), sacrificed in their lives to go to the mission field rather than pursing a comfortable, predictable life.  It’s people who endure a lot of criticism, yet stay firm to their convictions to live a life fully for God, even if it means sacrificing in terms of their careers, their families, or not buckling to some sort of compromise.  And just appealing to that, Apostle Paul is reminding the Corinthians again, this is what Christian life looks life.  It’s a reminder to me that it’s not the things that I can boast about myself that makes be a Christ-follower.   Being a Christ follower is imitating the kind of weakness and humility that Christ did when He died for our sake when He didn’t have to.

  • Compare and contrast the life of the apostles to that of the Corinthians described here.  Which one better describes what I expect of Christian life?

Looking at Paul’s intent, it seems then clear that a Christian life then is someone who most exemplifies Christ.  After all Jesus was someone who had become weak for our sake, did not have the credentials that the world would regard, didn’t own much, worked hard with his hands and in the end was sentenced to death.  This is our greatest role model and the Apostles lived it out so aptly, and this is what I am to expect Christian life to look like, which is quite different from the Corinthians who found different criteria to boast in.

And for me it’s a reminder the more that I am trying to give up the more I can experience this.  As twenty-something year old there are still things that I want to hold that I can boast in.  And even in the context of ministry it could be things like being able to organize an event, run a small group, or carry out a responsibility well.  But to be satisfied there, resting on my laurels and what I already have, would be like Paul saying to me “Already you have all you want!  Already you have become rich!  Without us you have become kings!”  Because the apostles pushed themselves to become weak for people, there are still hundreds of examples of even people living today of people becoming even less for the sake of other–and that is what it means to be a Christ follower.  And it’s something that I constantly should live out, filling my schedule full of people so I do feel weak, pushing myself to do thing outside my comfort zone from planning larger events, trying new ministry ideas, giving messages–things that I would afford myself no room to boast in what I already have.

1 Corinthians 4:14-21

  • What is the difference between a guardian and a father, and what lesson is there here about what true Christian discipleship looks like? 

A guardian only has limited legal responsibilities just to make sure the person is fed, has all their needs met, and only limited to just what needs to get done basically to ensure a livable life for the person.  But a father does these things and more.  The paternal relationship has built in desires for wanting their children to flourish, to take on hopes and dreams that the father has for his kids.  A father actually cares about if the person gets in trouble not because simply of legal reasons, but he has higher standard that he would want that person to attain or live up to.  A guardian possesses limited approach to taking care of someone: feed them, wash them, put them to sleep, but a father takes the time and effort, because he wants to know what each of his kids is going through different phases in life and makes the effort for each child with a different degree of care.  Ultimately the difference is love.

This makes it very clear that as ministers we aren’t just guardians or guides, that we’re not just doing the minimal by pulling them through this thing called “church,” “discipleship,” or “Christian life,” but we are fathers after all, thinking about what each person is going through, how to love and care for each person depending on what each person is going through, and desiring for the person’s relationship with God to flourish.  To the non-Christian who is struggling with the truth, it behooves me to find out is there something in his past that is causing him to question and for the one about to fall into sin, I would want to be able to pray and convince them otherwise.  To be a spiritual father would require deep emotional effort to care to think about each person.  The consequence of not loving people as a father would love his child would be that people would not experience the full Gospel, but experience simply rhetoric.

  • What context will ensure that the kingdom of God does not remain “a matter of talk but of power?”  Have I placed myself in such a context?

Apostle Paul ends with basically the sentiment that “talk is cheap.”  And a step and notch up from that Paul applies that not only to the Corinthians regarding the kind of lives they live, but also he puts that pressure on himself as someone responsible for them, that even his own talk basically about reforming them will not be rendered cheap, that if it comes down to it he will come down to them if necessary to make things right.

And this is a reminder that it’s easy to get just caught up in Christian rhetoric and that becoming emptying of all power of what Christian life should look like.  If I’m someone who preaches living a simple life, yet I am constantly betraying that sentiment by getting nicer gadgets, better furniture, a nicer car.  I can’t live a life contrary to the Gospel and expect people to believe it.  If I preach that people’s souls are eternal, yet I just live day to day life so consumed by my job and career, who then am I kidding that I could say something like that because obviously it seems that by job is then more important than eternal lives.  In all these subtle ways I’ve come to recognize that my actions will serve much more powerfully than my rhetoric, and like Paul I too need to realize this in not only myself, but also in the people that to the Christians that I minister to, because after all they do represent Christ and the kind of privilege as well as burden does not lessen as affect.

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