Evaluating from a False Perspective

It is well said that a little knowledge is dangerous. Some of the saints in Corinth had become arrogant as fairly new Christians, and assayed to evaluate the respective strengths and weaknesses of Paul and Apollos. This type of thinking led to comparison mentioned earlier in the epistle, dragging the names of Peter and even Jesus Himself into the discussion. The final result of all this counterproductive talk led to schisms in the body of Christ at Corinth, and the apostle Paul is working hard to put things back on track. "If any man destroys the temple of God," is his statement, in reference to the local congregation, "God will destroy him." And no one in Corinth is going to be smart enough to out-maneuver God, as it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness."

Paul, the wise master builder, laid the proper foundation of Christ for the church in Corinth. He was the one who was concerned about the quality of the work of those who followed him, and who was exhibiting concern over the Greek philosophy being subtly introduced into the teaching of the congregation. He could evaluate properly; apparently others were not yet capable.

No Premature Judgment

When Samuel the prophet interviewed the oldest son of Jesse for the position of king in Israel, he thought to himself, "Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him." But the prophet was mistaken. "God sees not as man sees," came the word of the All Knowing, "for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (I Samuel 16:6,7). "The word of God," says another scripture, "is living and active and sharper than a two edged sword … and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). Saints, however, need to be cautious and conservative in their evaluations of mankind, especially of fellow saints, because the picture they have of their brethren may not be totally complete.

What the apostle is working on here in this issue of "not passing judgment before the time" is to break down the walls of division that had arisen in the various segments of the congregation. The leading schismatics had effectively used the names of Paul, Apollos, Cephas [Peter], and Christ for their own purposes, and had used differences in the personalities and styles of these high profile individuals to split the congregation into different factions. By helping the brethren see that they were not capable of making a proper evaluation on Paul and Apollos, then the tools the schismatics were using to cause division would be effectively rendered useless.

The scripture teaches about God and His good angels, about Satan and his bad angels, and about good and evil men. And God wants His saints to learn the lessons about all three of these major categories very well!

Elimination of Arrogance

Greed, envy, pride, and arrogance are hard to prove. Because they are more in the realm of character issues than just the execution of a single act or series of acts, it can be difficult to lay the specifics before the miscreant and say, "See, this clearly establishes envy [for example] on your part." But these character issues are real, nonetheless, and they are extremely destructive to the wellbeing of God’s people as well as eternally destructive to the individual who still possesses these darkened character qualities. There seem to be "body language" indicators, however, which are tell-tale signs of these character deficiencies. "Grasping greediness" is an expression that is in our spoken terminology, and paints a clear picture of the body language of one so possessed. "Green with envy" is another expression, as well as "swell with pride." We can almost see the "green" in the corners of those slitted eyes of envy, and we can see the chest swell with false pride over aggrandized accomplishments or position. When it comes to arrogance, the scripture uses an interesting expression that the New American Standard Bible translators render arrogance and that expression is "puffed up." There is a clear visual image of the character issue, of the individual’s inflating his self-importance so that it is far larger in his mind and in his projection than it is in fact. The apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit will deal with this issue several times in this letter to the Corinthian brethren.

The goal of God was to help the brethren understand that each saint was first of all to be a servant. Out of their gratitude to Christ for saving them, they were to serve God and serve each other. The apostle had reiterated, in his and Apollos’ case as examples, "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ." If the individual Christian in Corinth were to approach his work in the church from the perspective of being a willing servant, there would be none of these schisms. The splintering the body resulted from people wanting visible positions rather than simply doing the work that needed to be done.

Kings Without Us?

The American performer Frank Sinatra crooned a famous song, "I Did It my Way." Designed to be sung in upscale lounges where the "successful" loitered over their martinis, the tune gloried in the businessman or politician who climbed to the top, and — in his mind — did it all on his own. This is a tendency of mankind as a whole, to neglect their perception of the Father’s input. The man can clear the land and plant the crop, but unless God makes the seed sprout, there will be no harvest. In all of the activities of the human race, and especially within the church of the living God, each individual must do his part but also recognize that God’s part is far greater.

The spiritual condition of the church at Corinth was in jeopardy. Because of their fleshly-mindedness, they were being split into factions, and the leaders of those factions were taking the congregation in the wrong direction. The apostle Paul, in thus resorting to sarcasm, is doing everything he can to right the listing congregation. In his cutting remarks, he shreds the claims of those wanting to lead "according to the wisdom of this age."

Men like the apostles were the true leaders. In following in the footsteps of Christ, they put themselves last, and were willing to die for the sake of the gospel. What a contrast between them and these pretenders who moved up the ladder of influence by their ability to play politics!

Fools for Christs Sake

The apostles of Jesus Christ were truly unique men. Whether they were chosen directly by the Lord during His sojourn on earth, or later in the case of Paul, they were representative of a cross section of the Jewish people as whole, and ultimately of the human race in general. Commoners they were, rather than earthly kings, and therefore fitted for the rigors that were to be theirs in living, traveling, teaching, and dying for Jesus. Tested they were, as well; in remarks directed to the eleven apostles who would remain faithful after Judas’ defection, the Lord stated: "You are those who have stood by Me in My trials" (Luke 22:28). They would need to stand by the Lord again and again.

Those with spiritual eyes could see that the apostles were anything but "fools." They were willing to give all of themselves in order to, along with the New Testament prophets, lay the foundation of the church of the living God. Today’s Christians are beneficiaries of the "foolish" legacy of the apostles, and we give thanks to the Lord for these men of sacrifice.

Treatment of the Apostles

In Old Testament times, God generally blessed His people with earthly blessings. Abraham was blessed by God with riches, and refused to take any spoils of Sodom and Gomorrah lest, as the patriarch put it, the king of Sodom should say, "I have made you rich" (Genesis 14:23). Abraham wanted to be sure that God received the credit, so that the message was clear: God blessed His physical people with physical blessings. To Israel, the Lord promised — if they would keep all His commandments — "that He shall set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, for fame, and honor, and that you shall be a consecrated people to the Lord your God, as He has spoken" (Deuteronomy 26:19). Visible, physical blessings for a visible, physical people!

But it is different for the people of the new covenant, the children of faith. They are promised only to be minimally provided for, as Paul reminded Timothy, "And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content" (I Timothy 6:8). To the Jewish Christians at Ephesus, the apostle Paul wrote, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). These spiritual blessings are extended also the Gentile Christians; note then that the saints are promised spiritual blessings under the terms of the new covenant rather than physical blessings. The real blessings for the saints are such things as forgiveness of sins, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the great peace that surpasses comprehension. These are invisible. Invisible, spiritual blessings for an invisible (in a sense), spiritual people!

When James and John, during the years of Jesus’ earthly sojourn, asked to sit at His right and left hands in the kingdom, the Lord commented, "You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" (Matthew 20:22). Their blithe rejoinder was that they were able. Jesus then let them know, "My cup you shall drink" (Matthew 20:23). As Jesus drank the cup of suffering in sacrificing Himself for the rescue of mankind, so the apostles would drink of that same cup in doing their part likewise to rescue mankind through the gospel. "We have become as the scum of the world," observed Paul, "the dregs of all things, even until now." But they were the most blessed of men, spiritually!

Fatherly Appeal

The battle for the souls and the future of the congregation at Corinth was intense. Certain people were splitting the congregation up into competing factions to benefit their own egos; Greek philosophy or wisdom was being subtly introduced into the teaching of the congregation; there was blatant immorality that was tolerated; and they were drifting from the practices established by Paul in starting the church. To correct these problems, the apostle has to lay the groundwork re-establishing his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He has pointed out that the congregation was to regard him and Apollos as "stewards of the mysteries of God," and therefore accountable to God for their teaching. He even goes to the lengths of pointing out the privations that he and the other apostles have suffered for the sake of the gospel, contrasting that to the comparative well-being of the safely ensconced comfort of the leaders of the factions in Corinth. "We have become as the scum of the world," states Paul of himself and the other apostles, "the dregs of all things, even until now." Would the congregation then listen to his appeal?

The forces of darkness were working on many fronts to subvert the work of Paul and Apollos in Corinth. Paul, aware that the eternities of the brethren was at stake, was — under inspiration of the Holy Spirit — making his appeal in written form, and sending Timothy to follow up the exhortations in this epistle. Modern saints must keep in mind the severity of the conflict and the intensity of the battle for their own souls.

Everywhere in Every Church

In the free religious atmosphere which resulted from the 1787 Constitution of these United States, truth and confusion both abounded. Without the sword of the state hanging over the heads of those who would pursue truth, it was possible to peel back the veneer of tradition that had covered the sound doctrines and practices of the New Testament church. At the same time, the opportunity for charlatans abounded, and the number of denominations exploded into the thousands. This, of course, was in contravention of the prayer of Jesus lifted to heaven on the west bank of the Kidron, that His disciples might all be "one." The Lord had stated that He would build what He called "My church" upon the bedrock truth that He was the Christ, the son of the living God. He did build it from Acts chapter two onward, and it is our responsibility to cut through the confusion and get back to that one church that Jesus started.

The early church, under the tutelage of the apostles, universally had the same doctrine and the same basic practices. It is possible for us today to become like that first century church if we sincerely and honestly reason correctly from the scriptures and implement those teachings in our congregations.

The Power of Paul

"When the cat’s away, the mice will play," is the old proverb. When Paul left Corinth, and Apollos came and went, then the "mice" of the membership in the congregation began to show what they wanted to do when they "played." And what they wanted to do was neither nice nor moral. Hence they were covering their tracks, setting their defenses, and positioning unspiritual leadership. As part of their strategy, they spread the rumor that Paul was not coming back. This would leave them room to continue to carry out their lawless activities, and to continue their moral and doctrinal degradation of the congregation at Corinth.

The wording of this epistle — though carefully and positively addressed to the saints at Corinth — indicates how dire their spiritual situation was. There was a spiritual and doctrinal crisis with major implications, so serious that the apostle Paul was willing to meet them on a "power against power" basis if necessary. He was confident in Christ, because he knew that he was backed by the Holy Spirit, that he would win in such a confrontation. But he would rather that they would repent so that he could come to share with them on positive footing. Either way, he would come, as soon as the Lord wills!