Sermon: “What We Have Received” (1 Corinthians 4:6-7)
Listen to the Sermon:
1This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
6 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. 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 4:6-7, ESV
This is the word of the Lord. May the Lord bless the reading and preaching of his word this morning in our midst.
Children, I have a question for you this morning! Do you ever play silly games where you pretend that one part of your body is another part of your body? So, maybe you make your hands look like you are eating something with your hands instead of your mouth? Do you ever use your ear and say, I’m looking at you? Does your mom ever tell you that she has eyes in the back of her head? Well, she does, but not in a true sort of a sense, she just always knows what you are doing.
The reason that those games are so silly, is because we recognize that our hands have one set of strengths; we can pick things up with our hands, but we can’t eat with our hands. Our ears can’t actually see, but they hear. We understand that these parts of or bodies God has made for really good things. If you try to mix them around, all this is just a silly game of pretend.
Now children, I’m going to let you in on something. Adults play this silly game all the time. It just goes under a different heading; we think about it in different terms. In the body of Christ, that is the church, what Paul writes later on in 1 Corinthians is that each of us is a member of the body of Christ. Each of us have different gifts and strengths and all of them are non-interchangeable.
You can’t take a hand and substitute it for an eye or an ear. You can’t say to the foot, I have no need of you. In fact, all of these different gifts are essential. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. This is where we get the idea that as a church, we are many members with different stories, that are united as one body. All of us cannot be a hand or eye.
If we were all one part of the body, then we wouldn’t have all the other gifts. We can try to pretend that an ear is an eye all we want, but at the end of the day it’s just a silly game.
This idea, I think, is behind what Paul is talking about in verse six and seven. In fact, Paul says that everything he has been talking about, he is applying it for their benefit to Paul and Apollos. We need to talk about why he is applying it specifically to those men, and we will in a bit.
Here’s our big idea for the day, God gives every gift for building up the body, not for boasting.
The idea is that in the church, the reason we have all of these different gifts and parts of the body is in order to fulfill the great commission that Jesus Christ has given to us. We are called to make disciples who worship the Lord Jesus Christ and serve one another, but that can’t happen if we all have the same gifts. We need some who have gifts of hospitality, who create this welcoming environment and instantly feel like it is home. On the other hand, we need people with word-based gifts who can teach, preach, counsel, encourage, and exhort with the word of God. If we didn’t have all of those things, we would be a deformed body, we would not have all of the gifts and strengths that Christ wants for his church.
In this passage, as we look at it, we will see this in three ways.
1. Be grounded in the Bible, not presumptuous.
2. Be gracious to one another, not puffed up.
3. Be grateful for all you have received, not prideful.
Let’s look at verses six and seven. Paul has an introductory statement that we need to look at.
6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, 1 Corinthians 4:6, ESV
That’s why we gave a runway into this passage by reading what immediately came before it. When Paul talks about all of these things, he’s going all the way back to chapter three where he listed out metaphors of ministers. He starts by saying that Paul and Apollos were farmers. That Paul sowed the seed and Apollos watered the seed, but God alone gave the growth.
Then he talks about Paul and Apollos as construction workers. In 3:10 he says,
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 1 Corinthians 3:10, ESV
Paul laid the foundation of Jesus Christ and Apollos has come along to build on that foundation.
As we looked at last week, in 4:1, Paul says,
1This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.1 Corinthians 4:1, ESV
Servants are under-rowers, the lowest level of common sailors in the galley of a ship. They have one job, they can’t modify or improve it, their job is to just keep rowing. He says that’s my job, I am a servant of Christ and I do what my master tells me to do.
Then he talks about the last metaphor of ministers, also in verse one, stewards.
That is those who dispense the provisions of a household, a master, to the master’s household. In this case the mysteries of God, the dispensers of the Bible to the church of God.
Now Paul is saying that I’ve said all of these things, used all of these metaphors, to explain the role that I and Apollos have in the church. But why does he say this? The answer for why he has given us these metaphors has to do with what Paul has been writing since the beginning of this letter.
Starting in 1 Corinthians1:10, Paul has been contrasting human wisdom versus God’s wisdom and knowledge. There’s this human wisdom that thinks if we just look around in the world and apply human solutions to the problem of how we relate to God, we can figure this out. What Paul says is that in fact no, God’s wisdom looks nothing like the world’s wisdom.
God’s wisdom doesn’t look like power, wisdom, and eloquent speech, it looks like a bleeding, dying, naked man on a cross. Jesus Christ and him crucified is the power and the wisdom of God. It looks like nothing we would draw up for ourselves if we had to define power and wisdom.
What he says is that we, Paul and Apollos, are simply people who preach the mysteries of God. Here’s the issue. To the Corinthians, and this is where we are getting into what is happening in our passage, these two pastors who both labored in their midst were a source of rivalry, division and contention. Not because of anything Paul and Apollos were doing, but because of the way the Corinthians were evaluating them. These were two competing options of opponents. Select one or the other, which do you prefer and fall behind? They are two choices for loyalty.
Whereas Paul is saying no, this is nothing like that. The power of God is our king and master Jesus Christ. The one who is crucified for us, all of us farmers, construction workers, servants, stewards, who serve the king together in one united mission.
So, Paul is referencing all of this, he says I have applied all these things to Apollos and I for your benefit brothers. Then he gives us two reason for this. If you look in verse six, he tells us what these reasons are. They are marked off by two instances of the word “that”. Look at the verse and see the two reasons that Paul gave.
Be Grounded in the Bible, Not Presumptuous
6 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. 1 Corinthians 4:6, ESV
The first reason, “that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written.” That is the first thing that Paul is telling us is that we are to be grounded in the Bible, and not presumptuous.
The second reason that he gives is what builds off of this first general principle that Paul gives.
When Paul talks about what is written, whenever he talks about what is written, for Paul that always refers to the writings of the scriptures. So, when Paul says, it is written, he’s not referencing some random article that he read on a blog that week, he is talking about the writings, and particularly in his day he only had the Old Testament, so he is only citing the Old Testament. We have both the Old Testament and the New Testament of scriptures, both are authoritatively God’s word to us.
Paul is saying that the first thing that you need to learn is not to go beyond what is written, that is in the scriptures.
Now notice Paul doesn’t quote any particular text from the Bible right here. But what Richard Hayes points out in his commentary, and I’m persuaded by what he argues because there are a lot of discussions about what Paul might be doing here. What Richard Hayes points out is that Paul has actually quoted scripture, he’s quoted a verse, six times so far in this letter.
If you look at those six quotations of scriptures, every last one of them deals with the same issue but from two different perspectives. All of them are contrasting the futility of human wisdom verses the power and the wisdom of God and his wisdom.
Look back at these and let’s look at these one at a time.
19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 1 Corinthians 1:19 , ESV
That’s quoting Isaiah 29:14. God says this is futile, I’m going to destroy and thwart the wisdom of this world.
Next look at 1 Corinthians 1:31,
31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:31, ESV
Paul is quoting Jeremiah 9:23-24. Paul is saying that we should boast, but not in ourselves because no human being should boast in anything except the Lord. That’s verse twenty-nine, we should boast only in the Lord. To boast is to take confidence in something, to put your faith in something.
9 But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”— 1 Corinthians2:19, ESV
This is kind of tricky because Paul isn’t seemingly citing an exact text, but it seems like Paul is paraphrasing verses like Deuteronomy 29:24, or Isaiah 6:9-10.
24 all the nations will say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?’ Deuteronomy 29:24 , ESV
9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” Isaiah 6:9-10 , ESV
He’s citing those kinds of texts; in other words, no human being has seen, heard or imagined what God is going to do. Even when they were told about it through the preaching of God’s word, they still didn’t believe it. Namely that God would send his only son into the world to be crucified to save sinners. It doesn’t make sense. It cuts against every part of our human wisdom. So as human beings we are blind and deaf to it, our hearts are hard to it.
16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians2:16, ESV
Now there is no, “as it is written here”, but he is quoting Isaiah 40:13, again he is saying that human wisdom is utterly insufficient for advising or counseling God. We don’t know enough to instruct him.
Then the last two quotations are in 1 Corinthians3:19-20. The first quotation comes from Job 5:13 and the second quotation from Psalm 94:11.
19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”1 Corinthians3:19-20, ESV
Now Paul tells us how to interpret these passages, because what he writes right before those passages, “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.” So, when Paul says here in 1 Corinthians 4:6 that he has written all of this so that we may learn not to go beyond what is written, he is telling us something specific from the texts that he has been quoting.
He says that you don’t get it, as much as you think you know, you don’t. As much as you think that other people around you might have some idea from their own reasoning up to the things of God, they don’t get it either. The only way that any human being can come to know the hidden thing of God, is if God himself reveals them. What God has revealed is that he so loved the world that he gave his only son for us, that whosoever should believe in Jesus Christ should be saved.
Now, there’s an important application to all of this, for what would be a persistent problem. We are still struggling with this issue today, not to go beyond what is written. Learning to be grounded in the Bible and not to be presumptuous. Here is what this problem looks like, maybe you can relate to it.
You’ve probably sat under quite a few sermons, I’m guessing. After you’ve done this for a while doesn’t it feel like there should be more? Doesn’t it feel like, I’ve heard this one before, I know where the pastor is going with this one. I know where this one is ending, I bet he’s going to take this to Jesus.
We sit there and listen and have all of these thoughts, and if we are honest with our hearts there is a part of us that presumptuously thinks, “I’ve got this mastered. What I’m really looking for is something more. Something beyond what is written in the Bible.”
Again, if we are honest with our hearts, there is a part of us that hopes we don’t get the same teaching and preaching from the Bible. I hope the pastor brings some new nugget of wisdom from somewhere; business, politics, science, sports, culture, the arts.
There is a sense in which the Bible is universal in scope, reaching all peoples at all times at all places, however, it’s limited in subject matter. There are some things in this world that we must study in this world because God has given us dominion over the things in this world. The Bible isn’t going to answer every single scientific question that we have.
What the Bible insists is that in order to make sense of science, business and the arts, the only way to make sense of this world, but also the next world, is that you can’t look and find the answers in this world. You have to look beyond this world. The place where God has given you insights into his mysteries is in the Bible, which is why we’ve got to learn not to go beyond what is written.
Then our hearts lurch after all of these nuggets. Give me something to have a happy marriage and a happy family. Just tell me how to have healthy finances. Just tell me how to live my best life now. I know I need the gospel for my long-term strategy in life, but in the short term I need these things to make me healthy and wealthy and wise.
This is what happens, the first thing we do when we start to feed that thinking and desire is that we start to remove ourselves from God’s word. When we presumptuously think that we’ve got this book mastered. Then we start to distance ourselves to it. It takes less of a place in our preaching and thinking.
Then we start to replace what God has said in his word with something else from some other source. Nature abhors a vacuum, so if we stop listening and giving our attention to the word of God, we’ve got to go somewhere else to feed our souls.
We will remove ourselves from God’s word, we will replace God’s word with something else. Then eventually we will start prizing the wisdom of this world more than the word of God. So, when these two things come into conflict; when the world says “what the Bible says is not true, what the Bible says there is actually immoral, the Bible is backwards, bigoted, stuck up. Why would you go with the Bible when what we clearly know from this world is X, Y, and Z?” We have this temptation and eventually we reject God’s word all together.
What we need is to be asking ourselves what kind of soil is in our hearts? Is it fertile, ready soil, waiting for a nourishing seed of God’s word to land? Are you praying that God’s word will transform you today? What we need is faithful preachers and teachers of God’s word. That’s what Paul is saying.
I’ve written these things about me and Apollos, about these pastors in your midst, so that you understand exactly what kind of job that we have and so that your embrace it. This is what Paul wrote in another context in his instructions to another pastor, Timothy. In t, Paul writes,
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:1-5, ESV
This is heavy stuff. This is why Paul describes pastors with the metaphors that he does. He says, as farmers, we pastors can only plant and water the seed of God’s word, while we wait for God alone to give the growth. As construction workers we can only build on the foundation of Jesus Christ and him crucified, there is no other foundation. As servants and stewards we are under strict orders only to dispense the word of God and nothing else to God’s household.
If we are bored with the Bible the problem is in our hearts. To whatever degree we are bored with the Bible, the problem is with our hearts and not with the Bible. Do you have eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to imagine what God has prepared for those who love him? Do you find your heart’s desire in God’s word?
If not repent with me of this presumptuous spirit in our hearts, as though we had already mastered this blessed book. Pray that God will captivate us once again with the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified. Be grounded in the Bible, not presumptuous.
All that is to say, sort of a little bit on this first point, that Paul has made this very important point inside of the scriptures because he has a specific application in mind. He wants to tell us something so important. He says the scriptures tell us this, you’ve stopped listening to this and you are listening to human authority about what is powerful and what wisdom is. You’ve got to put those away and listen to what God says in his word. Specifically, what Paul is writing about is that he wants us to learn to be gracious to one another and not puffed up.
Be Gracious to One Another, Not Puffed Up
Listen to what Paul says in the second half of verse six, this is the second “that” phrase.
6 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.1 Corinthians 4:6, ESV
This idea of being puffed up is just like what it sounds like. You puff out your chest a little bit, you think that you are all that and a bag of chips. Because of that you pridefully divide yourselves from other people in the church. Paul is dealing with a very specific, serious issue in this church. The people are dividing along the lines of their pastors tragically.
They are saying I’m in this camp and other people are saying that I’m in that camp. Paul is saying that worldly wisdom has so infected you that you don’t even see it anymore. You’re no longer rallied and united under King Jesus for his mission. All of you are pursuing your own humanistic, worldly, demonic goals. I say that word specifically, demonic, because that’s what James calls it in James 3:13-18.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18, ESV
If we are truly united around the gospel of Jesus Christ, if we are under the authority of God’s word, if we are grounded in the Bible, this will lead us to reject this demonic idea that we can separate ourselves from one another. It will instead lead us into the idea that we have to be peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. Seeking a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
This world’s wisdom is fundamentally divisive. Now God’s wisdom is divisive too, but in a very different way. In this world it’s all dog eat dog, put yourself on the back of someone else. Sometimes there are power alliances brokered and sometimes people are just trying to put other people underneath their feet.
God’s wisdom is divisive, but not in that sense. In the church we reject that thinking, in the church the reason that God’s wisdom is divisive is because God is saying to the world that I love you and sent my son to die for you and I will call to be my people all those who come to my son Jesus in faith. God holds that open initiation to the world and the world hates is.
In the flesh the world rebels against the gospel of Jesus Christ that is proclaimed to us in the Bible. The divisiveness of God’s wisdom is not the problem of God, it’s the problem of human hearts like yours and mine.
Here’s the question, if that’s the case how does any of us come to believe this? How does anyone turn from death to life? How does anyone come to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and to look to him and believe in him in faith for salvation?
We Must be Grateful for all we Have Received, Not Prideful
This is what Paul teaches us next in verse seven. We’ve seen that we have to be grounded in the Bible, not presumptuous, be gracious to one another and not puffed up. Now we see that we must be grateful for all that we have received, not prideful.
In verse seven Paul gives us three rhetorical questions. That is, he’s saying these because he wants to make a point.
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
1. For who sees anything different in you? This is interesting because later Paul is going to say there are tons of differences among you; some of you are eyes and some of you are ears and some of you are hands. There are lots of differences but are your differences something that distinguishes you as superior to your neighbor? Who sees anything distinguishing in you?
What Paul is confronting is this idea that I’m superior because of this or that. This idea of playing a silly game of thinking the different parts of the body are superior to each other, rather than seeing that they all being to the body and that God has a purpose for all of them. We need each other.
2. Paul goes on to ask an important question. What do you have that you did not receive? What gifts do you have that you didn’t receive coming down from a good gift from the father of lights? Have you come to this faith in the Lord Jesus Christ because of what a great person you are? Because of how intelligent you are or the purity of your heart? You received the gospel of Jesus Christ as a gift. No one comes to look to Jesus Christ in faith unless it comes as a gift. What do you have that you have not received?
3. Then here’s the real question. If then you received it, why do you boast? Why do you become confident and arrogant and self-centered as if you had not received it. Why do you think that you are the center of all of this? Why do you think that your personal preferences dictate everything happening around you? Why do you think you are distinguished and superior? Do you not recognize that what Jesus Christ has given to you and the fact that Jesus Christ has given you yourself is an act of God’s grace to his church?
This isn’t for you to be puffed up or boastful or arrogant. This is for the edification of the body. Even children know this, that’s why they play these silly games. It’s funny to pretend that a mouth can be made from a hand. It’s just not true, but it’s silly and funny.
Paul is talking about something very serious here. All of us are blind, deaf and ignorant of God’s wisdom unless we humble ourselves before the Lord to recognize that what God gives us in the gospel of Jesus Christ can only come to us as a gift.
How is the soil of your heart this morning? Are you willing to receive the seed of the gospel of Jesus Christ? That God so loved you that he sent his son to die so that all those who look to Jesus in faith may be saved. Are you ready to receive that? Is that a cause of joy and celebration in your heart as you see the gracious, free gift of God? If God has graciously given his son, how will he not also freely with him grant us all things? If you are not little children, your father has given you the kingdom.
Christians then should be people who cultivate lives of gratitude. There are a couple of different ways that we fail in this. There are some Christians that forget that we are supposed to be grateful. So, we are sometimes known by our prideful boasting, I did this and that.
On the other hand, there is another kind of pride and boasting that takes away from gratitude. It’s called prideful complaining. To think that you deserve something in some way and to be constantly complaining about it. I need to repent about both of these things in various areas of my life. I suspect that you do too.
All of us have this apart of our flesh that thinks that we have mastered this, and we can go beyond this because we deserve more than this. Whereas the gospel of God turns all of that on its head and announces that all is grace, all is gift, all is gospel.
Good news, Christ died for sinners. Do you believe that today? Is that your hope, your joy? Are you looking to Jesus in faith? Is that hope, is that gospel transforming you, shaping you so that you are a grateful person? Recognizing that everything that you have comes down as a gift. That you are just a poor ragamuffin beggar, but the king has been kind enough to bestow upon you his riches and pleasure. All is grace, all is gift, all is gospel.
What God gives as grace, he gives for the building up of the body and not for boasting.
Let’s pray together.
Heavenly Father, we ask that you would give us grace as we come to your word, study your word, help us not to go beyond what is written. Rather to instill this, by your Spirit, deep in our souls. To cast light on the places where our flesh, the indwelling sin of our flesh, is still waging a war to puff us up with pride and arrogance, to be boastful complaining people rather than those who are grateful that we are crafted in the image of King Jesus.
Father we pray that you would continue to do this work in our hearts. Father if there are any who don’t know Jesus Christ today, that you would lead them to look to Jesus Christ in faith for salvation, knowing that there is no other name under heaven through which salvation is given, except through Jesus Christ and him crucified. We pray this in his name. Amen.