Sermon: “Already, Not Yet, and Now” (1 Corinthians 4:8-13)

by May 26, 2019Sermons0 comments

8 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! 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. 10 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. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. 1 Corinthians 4:8-13, ESV

This is the word of the Lord and today as we consider and look at this it’s important that we understand the subject matter the Paul is addressing here. Paul is talking in this passage about the nature of the kingdom of God, about Christ’s kingdom. I want to hold this out to you how this is happening, in case you missed it.

8 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! 1 Corinthians 4:8, ESV

Now a little bit more literally that is, “without us you have begun to reign.” There is a way to say “become kings” in Greek and that not literally what is happening here. This is sort of a paraphrase. More literally this is, “you have begun to reign.” This is important because if you keep reading, that phrase there “did reign” is the same in both spots.

The reason that’s important is because you can reign as a king, which is what is sounds like in our translation, “without us you have become kings”, or you can reign with a king. You can reign as a king independently of your own rule and autonomy, or you can reign with a king. That’s what Paul has in mind here. We see that phrase, “would that you did reign so that we might share the rule” or literally “reign with you.”

Three times right in a row Paul is talking about a reigning. Specifically he’s talking about the kingship, the kingdom, of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Now the reason this is important as we talk about this is because it frames everything Paul is talking about here and probably if I start talking to you about the kingdom of God, if we are honest with ourselves, most of us don’t know what to do with the idea of the kingdom of God.

We see that Jesus preaches extensively about the kingdom of God in the gospels. Everywhere he’s going he’s talking about the kingdom of God. We sort of wonder what exactly he’s talking about. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is because we are Americans and we don’t understand kingdoms.

In fact, a good bit of who we are as a country was formed in opposition to a kingdom. We don’t want a king; we’ve rejected a king and set up a republic in its place. So, when the true, rightful, lawful king comes into view, we don’t really know what to do with that.

The other reason we have a difficulty with the kingdom of God is that again, if we are honest with ourselves, we look out at this world and see so much destruction, sin, so much hate and murder, so much violence and so much opposition to God’s law. We say, how can it be true that Jesus Christ is reigning as king if all of this is happening out there in the world?

Or perhaps a little bit more closely to home, how can it be true that Jesus Christ is king if I’m honest about everything happening in my heart?

So, is Jesus Christ is a king? In what sense is he king? What does it mean to talk about the kingdom of God? All of these are questions that Paul is dealing with here. Now when we talk about the kingdom of God, what the scriptures tell us is that there is a sense in which the kingdom of God has already come.

At Jesus’ birth we see the entrance of the kingdom of God. When Jesus was born, he was hailed as the king of the Jews. When Jesus began his public ministry, he began the establishment of the kingdom of God. Everywhere he went he said the kingdom of God is at hand, the time is at hand, repent, believe the gospel. I, the true rightful king am in your midst. I have entered this world through my incarnation, I will establish it through my public ministry of teaching and preaching, of healing, of miracles, of feeding.

Then ultimately all of that ministry will culminate in my crucifixion and death on the cross. Then three days later I will be raised up from the dead and eventually ascended into glory where I will be seated at the right hand of my father. All of this has happened and been accomplished. Jesus has entered this world; he has established his kingdom.

Now in the third sense Jesus has begun expanding his kingdom to this world. He’s entered into his kingdom; he has established his kingdom and he is still expanding kingdom into this world. The kingdom of Christ has already begun. At the same time the kingdom of Christ is not yet complete. There’s an already of the kingdom and there’s a not yet element of the kingdom.

Not yet has Jesus Christ destroyed every rule, authority and power in this earth. Not yet has Jesus Christ put all of his enemies, including death, under his feet. Jesus Christ is already the kingdom and not yet has his kingdom come into its full splendor and glory.

We live in this tension, this time between the times, the already, not yet nature of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. And so, this causes a lot of problems. Problems that are behind the passage that we are looking at this morning. On the one hand we recognize that there are real blessings that we already benefit from in the kingdom of Jesus Christ in our lives.

There’s also quite a bit that’s not yet. So, we can err in a couple of different directions. On the one hand, we can start to despair, believing that what God has already done in and through Jesus Christ maybe has not yet worked. We look around and say, has God done anything? When will God address this mess? We despair by thinking that what God has already done has been for nothing. Jesus Christ came and left, and nothing has changed. Everything is still as it was. Then we despair.

On the other hand, and this is what is happening here, sometimes we can begin to be deceived into thinking that what God promises of the not, yet element of Christ’s kingdom has already arrived. That’s what’s happening among the Corinthians. Everything that is not yet about the kingdom of Christ, everything about the future coming blessings and reign and peace and prosperity of the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Corinthians are living as if they have already entered into it. They are proud and boasting, that’s the last phrase right before our passage.

7 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? 1 Corinthians 4:7, ESV

These are proud people who think they have come into their kingdom with Christ. Here Paul has to differentiate between what is already and what is not yet.

Our big idea this morning is this, Christ promises his already, not yet, kingdom for those who suffer for his sake now.

I hope you heard in there three-time elements; already, not yet, now. What we are going to see that those three words are going to shape the way that we study this passage.

1. Already is Counterfeit
2. Not Yet is Our Comfort
3. Now is Our Cross

Already is Counterfeit

Look with me at the beginning of this passage, Paul says twice the word already. He says,

8 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! 1 Corinthians 4:8, ESV

All of this has already happened. Notice there is a progression there. Already you’re satisfied, already you’re rich, already you’re reigning. Paul is using sarcasm and irony to say, you think these things have already come. Understand what Paul is saying is that these things that you are embracing are not the real true expected blessings of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. What you are already arrogant about, these things are counterfeits.

It’s like counterfeit money, if you have something that looks a lot like a $100 bill, you may be able to pass it off on people unsuspectingly, but it really has no buying power. What Paul is saying is that you have all these blessings and you are so arrogant, but what you have is not the real deal. All of the things that you are looking forward to are not yet here and are yet to come. Yet you are living as though they have come.

Paul is saying that there are real blessings to Christ’s kingdom and many of these blessings have already come. There is an unshakeable foundation of hope that we have in what Jesus Christ has already done through his incarnation, life, public ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. That’s our hope and our confidence. But you are acting as if the rest of it, what is not yet here, has in fact already come.

These blessings that you are clinging to and putting your hope in are in fact fake. They’re counterfeit. Now there are some people who think that what Paul is doing here is addressing a very sophisticated system of theology that these Corinthians have put together. They have this big worked out theory of exactly when Jesus Christ returned and what is kingdom looked like. They are operating with this really spelled our theological system.

Others point out, and I tend to agree more with these commentators, is probably what is happening here is not too much conscious thought at all. The Corinthians are not super thinking out their doctrine. They are unthinkingly imbibing the surrounding culture. The surrounding culture loves power, wisdom, seeming smart and intelligent to those around them. The Corinthians say that the kingdom of God is about power.

The kingdom of God is about God’s wisdom. If we just have all of these things as the world has them, there we go. We are already wise and powerful. They may not realize that what they have is counterfeit. What Paul is doing is addressing them saying what you have is not true, not legitimate, not real. You are looking for the right things, but you are looking for them in all the wrong places.

Paul says first is that already these material blessings that you are boasting in are counterfeit. Do you in your own lives have all that you want? Do you have everything that you want in life? Do you look around at the material blessings around you and think I have everything that I could possibly want? I have all of the wealth, power, authority and control that I could possibly want.

If you don’t have everything you want, which probably most of us don’t, then the question is that as you are thinking about the things that you don’t have and the things that you want, are you thinking about more material blessings in this world? More power and authority over your own life and potentially others? Are you thinking about more riches in this world?

Or are you thinking about what is yet to come in the kingdom of Christ? Do you realize that if you had everything you could want in this world, none of it would be a benefit to you unless what you receive comes directly from Jesus Christ and the truths of his kingdom.

Brothers and sisters, what is already available to us in this world will not help us. What we can get our hands on in this world is not true. As true as it looks, it is counterfeit.

Here’s what Paul does, he doesn’t say you’re fools to want this. He instead simply directs their attention away from already to help them recognize that what they need has not yet come. Look away from already and look to the not yet.

Already is counterfeit, but then we come to the second issue here. Not yet is our comfort.

Not Yet is Our Comfort

Paul says at the end of verse eight, “And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!” There is a question, should Christians want to be satisfied, prosperous, rich and under the reign and rule of the kingdom of Jesus Christ? The answer is yes, that we should want these things. But the answer is also that we cannot find these things in truth, goodness and purity in this world.

God promises that we will be satisfied.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalm 16:11, ESV

There is satisfaction and joy to be had, but not in this world. If you boast that you have it in this world, all you have is a fake.

What about riches? Sure, we can find riches in this world, we can boast as if God has given our best life, prosperity gospel now. God says it’s not real, it’s not lasting. Those are corruptible riches, instead what you need to look is to the fact that you have an inheritance that is imperishable and undefiled waiting for you in heaven.

16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8:16-17, ESV

You stand to share in the inheritance of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. It’s yours! “Fear not little flock, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” That’s what Jesus himself tells us in Luke 12:32. You will have the kingdom even.

Paul promises us this in 2 Timothy 2:12,

12
If we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
2 Timothy 2:12, ESV

Should Christians want these things? You should want to be satisfied, to be rich and to reign. But what you need to have very clear recognition of is that everything that you can fulfill those desires in this world is a counterfeit of the real thing.

It’s false, it will lead you astray. It will not give you what you are looking for. In fact it will lead you to your death, destruction and condemnation. Nothing in this world can provide for you what has not yet come into this world through the eventual coming kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Jesus has accomplished everything necessary by entering this world, by establishing this kingdom through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus Christ is still working to expand his kingdom throughout this world, but it’s not yet all here. There is more work that Jesus is doing.

One of the interesting books of the Bible is the book of Ecclesiastes. We don’t like to study the book of Ecclesiastes too much. If you’ve ever read it, it’s fairly pessimistic. You read it and it says everything is vanity of vanities, it’s empty, it’s shallow. There is not substance or reality to it. Why would you want that kind of pessimism in your life? Because we need it.

Martin Luther, the great reformer, considered the book of Ecclesiastes to be the most encouraging book in the entire Bible. How would he say that? Everything under the sun is emptiness and vanity. Yet Martin Luther considered that the most encouraging book in the Bible.

That has stuck with me, it has captured my imagination. Here’s the best way I can illustrate what he is trying to get at when he says that.

Have you ever lost something? Maybe you lost your keys and now you need to go somewhere, and you go to look for your keys and so you try to retrace your steps. They are not in any of the places that you tried to retrace your steps and you keep looking and tracing and retracing your steps. This is the time when I call my wife because she can see so many things that I can’t see that are right in front of me.

But you keep retracing in the exact same spots. You are looking and looking going back and forth. Then suddenly you remember that you went into the other room. How do you feel as you are going into that other room? You feel excitement, right?

You feel joy, not because you wasted your time because no one wants to waste their time. Not because you have failed so far to find what you are looking for. It’s that moment of joy because you are going to find that thing that was lost. I’m going to find what I have been searching for.

Jesus talks about this idea in a few of his parables. He says that the kingdom of God is like the man who found a treasure buried in a field. He went out and sold everything in his life. It was all worthless compared to the treasure in that field. He didn’t feel like a failure for having wasted so much time, but he was also instantly willing to give it up to embrace the great treasure that is there for him.

Or the kingdom of God is like a woman who has lost a coin. She searches everywhere and when she finds it, she doesn’t lament that she had to spend so much time searching for it. She rejoices for having found it.

The parable of the prodigal son. The father doesn’t berate the son, why did you waste so much of your time? There is great feasting and rejoicing when the lost is found.

Here’s what Paul is telling us. I want you to reign because if you reign that means that Jesus has returned. If Jesus has returned, that mean that I will share the reign with you. That means that the kingdom will have come and everything that we are enduring now, suffering now, will all be for a good cause. All of that will be so that we can embrace the riches and reign of Jesus Christ with you. That’s my heart’s desire, I want it.

If you know where this great treasure is, he is saying give everything up for it. Not yet is our comfort. We recognize, what is coming, though we haven’t found it in our whole search of this world, everything that we have is worth giving up in order to embrace what we have not yet found. We are going to another room with joy knowing that it’s not in this life, but we will find it when Jesus Christ comes with his kingdom.

Already is counterfeit. Not yet is our comfort. Then we come to this issue of now. If this hope that we have is not yet, how then do we live now? If trying to pretend as though the kingdom of Christ has come in all of its fullness is false, whatever we try to bring into our lives in terms of material blessings is a fake, then how do we live in this present day?

Now is Our Cross

11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. 1 Corinthians 4:11-13, ESV

I want to look at verses eleven through thirteen, I want to point out a couple of words. It’s the word “now”, but if you are reading from the English Standard Version, neither of the times that this word appears is it translated as “now”.

The first place where the word “now” comes up is in verse eleven, “To the present hour”, or literally to the “now hour”. The second place that “now” appears is in verse thirteen, the word translated “still” in the ESV is actually “now”; “We have become, and are now, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”

In fact, the word “now” doesn’t appear in the middle of the sentence like it looks like here. It’s actually brought all the way to the end. In other words, if we retranslated this, we would say, “We have become like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things, until now.”

Notice what Paul is doing in this paragraph. He starts with already. He says that how you are living already is fake. Then the last word of this passage is now. He says, already what you are looking for is counterfeit. Let me show you then how to live now. Already, not yet, and now.

Now, what Paul says, is our cross. Paul has some pretty harsh words to tell us about what this means for the way that we live now. Let’s study them carefully.

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. 1 Corinthians 4:9, ESV

In our day and age, executions are carried out in private. We may read about an execution after it occurs, but unless you have a very specific reason to be at an execution you will not see it first-hand. We do a lot in our society to shield ourselves from death and that is one example.

In Paul’s day thought, executions were public spectacles. They were big parties that you would invite people to. They were carried out in arenas and theaters where people would gather to watch condemned prisoners be executed as a spectacle.

Paul is saying this is our life. We are put out there like a theater to be condemned and killed before the eyes of the watching world. That is what it means to follow in the footsteps of Christ. That is what it sounds like to take up the cross of Christ.

Look at what else he says, he goes back to this already/not yet tension. He says,

10 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. 1 Corinthians 4:10, ESV

In other words, we are willing to be seen as foolish, to suffer for Christ’s sake. But you consider that already you have been made wise in your connection with Christ. That’s not the case, what you have is actually counterfeit.

He goes on and talks about how much they have carried their cross in verse eleven,

11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. 1 Corinthians 4:11-13, ESV

When he says that they have been buffeted, it doesn’t mean that they have eaten at a buffet. It means that he is struck, they kind of striking that you would do to your slave. It’s entirely something that is filled with shame, ridicule and despising someone. We are being treated as beaten slaves. This is the cross we bear.

Then he says, just as Jesus told us to do, we turn the other cheek. He is saying, just as our Lord Jesus asked his Father to forgive those who were crucifying him, so we must also bless those who harm us as we suffer for Christ’s sake.

He says we have become like the scum of the world. Scum is something that you would wash away with water. Like the scum of the world and the refuse, that is filth you would have to scrape off and sweep away.

Paul’s point is that this life is hard. We must suffer in it. Now is not a time for us to puff ourselves up as if we have entered into our reign with Christ. Now we have to look to the author and perfecter of our faith, the Lord Jesus. The one who shows us the example of what it means to live in the tension of the times, the already of Christ’s kingdom and the not yet of Christ’s kingdom.

Think about what Jesus does. He goes around proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is in your midst. Yet he willingly suffers at the hands of counterfeit kingdoms. He is crucified at the hands of wicked men. He is spit upon and belittled. He is interrogated. What kind of a kingdom do you really have? He is mocked and murdered.

What Paul is saying is though some of us will suffer in different levels, and certainly the apostles had a different share being the first leaders of the church of Jesus Christ. They had to suffer in unique ways. However what Paul is saying is that all of us are called to suffer for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. Jesus is already the king, the kingdom has already been established, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you this, but not yet.

In the meantime, now, you must live as Jesus did, suffering as Jesus did. Bearing and taking up your cross the way that Jesus did. Not to purchase your salvation, that is already done. Jesus has already established his kingdom, he has already purchased the forgiveness of your sins, but to follow in the footsteps of your master.

So, here are a few applications of this already/not yet/now text that we are looking at.

Applications

1. To those of you who don’t yet believe, to those of you evaluating, thinking, considering the claims of Christianity, I want you to consider what Paul is saying here. You may look at Christians and wonder why they suffer in this way. Maybe in the United States you don’t see many outwards kinds of suffering, though it certainly happens in the global church right now. This has been an incredibly bloody century in the church.

Even if you don’t see it here, you recognize that Christians are very much on the outside of things. We are very much on the outside looking in, in terms of power and riches and wealth. We are not called to become rich in this world, we are not called to become kings in this world. In fact, we willingly relinquish opportunities that we might have to advance ourselves when those conflict with the kingdom of Jesus, with the law that our Lord has set to rule and govern our lives.

You look at Christians and you say, why would I want that? Why would I not want a comfortable life? Why would I not want a happy, easy life? Why would I ever want to live the kind of life that Paul lived; suffering, daily taking up his cross.

The promise of the gospel is that Jesus Christ came into this world to forgive sinners. The problem that the gospel addressed is that as sinners we are the uworthy recipients, that is that God is a just judge, to condemn us to an eternity separated from him in hell.

To all those who do not look to Jesus in faith, who do not repent from your sins, the warning of the gospel says that God is a just and righteous judge who will condemn you for all of eternity, but God so loved you.

You may have a comfortable life now, but would you give it all up when you find the pearl of great price in Jesus Christ, knowing that he has died in your place for your sins. Don’t look for a comfortable life now, as Jesus Christ himself says, “what would it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?”

Listen to the gospel, listen to the promise of the gospel and think about what it means to be a sinner under the condemnation of God outside of Christ.

2. For those of you who are looking to Jesus Christ in faith, who do believe, let me urge you to refuse to be satisfied in the comforts of this world. In America, the richest nation that this world has ever known, we have unfathomable wealth. We are unfathomably satiated, we have unfathomable amounts of power to those who lived very small, meager existences throughout the world and history. We have so much in this world. Are we satisfied in these things?

Especially those of you who are graduates this week. Those of you who are thinking about what it means to graduate and go on. You are about to go onto the next chapter of your life, go onto school or some vocation. What the world is going to tell you is look at what you can do.

You can make yourself healthy, wealthy, and wise. You can pursue a good, comfortable, satisfying life. They will put in front of you what is available in this world. Understand that is counterfeit. It is a mirage; it will not satisfy you. You may gain the whole world, but it will not profit you if you forfeit your soul.

So, what Paul is doing here in this text, what the Holy Spirit wants to do as he sinks this text into our hearts, is to cultivate a holy discontentedness. Not so that we complain everywhere we go, that’s not all what I’m talking about. But to recognize that God doesn’t want us to be satisfied in this world.

God wants not to suffocate our desires, not just to tell us to do without, but he actually wants to enflame our desires to want more. More of the not yet that hasn’t come. God wants you to be looking so much to the kingdom to come so that you are never satisfied, never willing to trade the kingdom of Jesus for the meager pittance this world can offer you.

As C.S. Lewis said, “We are far too easily pleased.” Cultivate a holy discontent.

3. I have one more application for those of you who are suffering. Some of you have been denied jobs, or lost your jobs, or some of you who have suffered in various ways for the sake of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. You have been persecuted in big ways or small ways. You have been counted as fools for the sake of Christ. Perhaps you are seeking to suffer faithfully for something that has happened to you that has come upon you; some kind of health crisis or other type of suffering that you are dealing with.

Understand that there are a lot of options that this world offers to you on how you might deal with this. In the words of the wife of Job, “Curse God and die” is the running theme from the encouragements from the world.

What Christ offers you is a different hope. While you are suffering now, this isn’t forever. When you do suffer, what you are doing is entering into the sufferings of Christ. As Paul writes in Philippians 3:10-11,

10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:10-11, ESV

The hope is that as we suffer with Christ, we will also reign with Christ. It’s going to require bearing our crosses now, but the promise is eternal glory when Jesus Christ returns with his kingdom. Let me close with the promise of the gospel of Jesus Christ found in 2 Timothy 2:12,

12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
2 Timothy 2:12, ESV

Brothers and sisters, we need the security of the already, what Christ has already done in his life, death and resurrection. But we also need to live in the not yet in order to endure the now. That’s our prayer.

Father we ask as we pray and come before you today and come under your word and sit under it today, that you would transform us and conform us to be like Christ. That you would prick our consciences to see that ways that we have sinned against the king, Jesus Christ, to repent in front of him, to look to him in faith, and to pursue after him for the glory of Christ. Father we ask that you will do that for the glory of Christ and for our good. That we would put away and abandon the things of this world that we already have, leaning instead of what Christ has already accomplished, that we might look to what is not yet ours. We pray this and we pray that Jesus Christ will return quickly. In his name. Amen.

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