The text to which I would like to call your attention this morning is 1 Corinthians 4:6-7. We’re continuing our study through this letter written nearly two thousand years ago to a struggling church in a Greek city called Corinth.
Corinth, if you will recall from earlier in our study, is a very cosmopolitan city. It is full of trade and money and influence. The city is full of people who consider themselves to be elite, people proud of themselves and their accomplishments. It might be compared to other influential metropolitan cities of today, or even to some place like Hollywood.
The Corinthians considered themselves to be wise, to be the judges of what is true and beautiful, to be too sophisticated to settle for anything less than impressive. And significantly for our study this morning, that Corinthian mindset of cultural and intellectual elitism had infiltrated the church.
The Corinthian church had been influenced by worldly standards of what is true and good and beautiful. The church members were judging the quality of their leadership by the standards of worldly philosophy and rhetoric. They wanted pastors and leaders that were impressive according to worldly standards. They wanted a church that was influential and impressive to the outside world.
They didn’t want to be associated with leadership that was less than beautiful and not quite compelling. In short, they were valuing the things that the world values, which meant that they had no use for Paul, a man of modest appearance and natural abilities.
And so, last week we went through the first part of chapter 4 where Paul explains his view of Christian leadership. As we saw last week, we’re called, and especially Christian leaders are called, to be servants, under-rowers for Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. We’re called to be caretakers of a gospel message.
And our faithfulness to that service, our faithfulness to that stewardship will be judged and commended by the Lord on the last day.
Today, in our brief little focus on verses 6 & 7, we’ll see Paul then apply the principles of the preceding passages to the mindset of the Corinthian believers. And we’ll see him confront their flawed thinking. And as Paul confronts this church from two thousand years ago, we will see that our flawed thinking is confronted as well.
God’s word is living and active. It wasn’t merely written for a specific group way back then. It is alive today, and in the hands of the Holy Spirit will reveal to us ourselves and reveal to us Christ. With that in mind, let us come to our text expectantly, expecting God to speak to us through the proclamation of his word, to the end that we might be made more holy and God might be glorified.
1 Corinthians 4, starting in verse 1, focusing today on verses 6-7.
This 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?
Today I would like for us to see in our text a principle to be learned, a pitfall to be avoided, and a posture to be maintained. A principle to be learned, a pitfall to be avoided, and a posture to be maintained.
Let’s look first as verse 6 and see the principle to be learned. Paul says, “6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers,[a] that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written.”
Paul says he’s applied these things that we might learn. What things in particular Paul? What are the things that you’ve applied, Paul? He’s talking most directly about the preceding verses. The metaphors for ministry from chapter three, and his description of service in the first 5 verses of this chapter.
He’s talking about the picture of Christian service being a field. One person plants, one person waters, but God gives the growth. One person lays a foundation, another builds on the foundation, but Christ is the foundation. One person lays a stone, another lays a beam, but the project belongs to God, it is HIS temple.
We are the workers, God is the foreman. We are the laborers, God is the architect. We are the stones, but God himself is building and filling the Temple. We are servants, the under-rowers serving away down in the belly of the boat, but God is the captain. We are the stewards, but God is the owner.
These are the principles that he has applied. And he says in verse 6 that he has applied them specifically to the situation in Corinth surrounding Paul and Apollos. The Corinthian church was split in its allegiances. Some wanted Paul, some wanted Apollos, some wanted someone else.
But Paul has brought them back to first principles. God is the central focus, not the worker. God is of prime importance, not the messengers. And they had forgotten that. They had forgotten what they had been taught, and what was written.
That’s what’s behind this little statement, which is obscure in the Greek. Paul says I have applied these things so that you might not go beyond what is written. It’s not an explicit allusion to a particular Old Testament text, but the usage seems akin to what Jesus does throughout the gospels. Have you not read? Do you not know the scriptures?
The Corinthians were going beyond what was written, seeking things that God does not seek or even require of his servants, fussing over things that God overlooks, and adding to God’s written word.
In a sense, Paul is telling the Corinthians something like our modern exhortation to Keep your finger on the text. Don’t stray from what is written. Keep scripture as your bound.
Which is an important principle, for fairly obvious reasons. When scripture no longer becomes our standard, then we lose everything. It’s not like we simply become freed from any sort of standard. When we give up scripture as our standard, we necessarily submit to another. It becomes the standard of man, or of popular opinion, or of our parents, or of another religious book, or of our own conscience. We don’t and can’t exist without some sense of truth, some standard of what is right.
That’s what the Corinthians had done, they had drifted beyond scripture and assumed the standards of the world. That was their principle to be learned, and a principle for us to be reminded of again this morning. I’ve preached about that particular topic in the preceding sermons, so I won’t linger there this morning, but we need to be constantly on guard against adopting principles from the world, and going beyond what has been written, for if we do that, then we are in danger of all sorts of problems,
Which leads to the second point of the morning, A pitfall to be avoided. A pitfall to be avoided. Again verse 6: “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. ”
The pitfall that Paul wants the Corinthians to avoid is being puffed up. Is being prideful. The imagery is of being swollen, swolen with conceit. The specific context is that they were puffed up over their allegiances to their favorite leaders: “That none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another, or in favor of either one or the other” [leader].
He doesn’t want them to be so lifted up by their pride and foolish zeal that they destroy the church. That’s the specific context of the exhortation against pride, but the general principle for us to remember is that pride brings major problems. In fact, one of the hallmarks of a prideful person is that they can’t see it. Pride blinds us. Pride makes a man blind to his own sin.
That’s why Paul asks the first rhetorical question. He says that he applied these things “that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you?” We could say, who judges you any different? Who comes to a different conclusion regarding you?
Who has made you so special? Who is it that is so wonderful among you? Who is it that is so wise, so discerning, so intelligent and sophisticated that HE is the reason for his own position?
The rhetorical question is meant to expose to them their own pride. Their imagined maturity is actually demonstrating their own immaturity. Their imagined profound wisdom is actually demonstrating their foolishness. By dividing the church over their opinions of what is the best, they are actually demonstrating that they are the worst.
In short, their pride had blinded them. Blindness is one the fruit of pride. Pride distorts our perception. Pride hinders our ability to rightly see ourselves and to rightly judge situation. Pride makes people make illogical choices. As they say, sin makes you stupid, but pride in particular makes you blind.
That’s one of the reasons Paul says in Romans 12: “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” or to think with a sane mind. Pride makes us lose our sanity, to think without sober judgement, and to act in ways that are foolish.
Think about a couple of examples from the old testament of how pride made someone blind. It was the pride of the Israelites that led them to make a golden calf and bow down to it. Israel had just been led out of Egypt, God split open the red sea, and then used that same sea to instantly judge the scariest army on the planet. And then God, not the Israelites, fed them manna in the wilderness. But the moment that Moses goes up the mountain, they create for themselves an idol of gold. They took off their jewelry, melted it, and then bowed down to it.
How blind do you have to be? You’ve been led out of slavery by God, without your own striving, God did it all, and now you want to be the creator of your own God. Yahweh has freed you from slavery, but you bow down again to be enslaved by a false statue? Pride makes you blind to the enormity of your sin.
Likewise, when God brings the Israelites into the promised land, He tells them very explicitly what they should do in order to keep the land. He left no doubt, gave them tons of laws and warnings to guide their behavior. But what did Israel do? Deuteronomy 32:15 tells us that Israel grew fat, stout, and sleek and forsook the God who made them and scoffed at the rock of his salvation.
Israel got comfortable, and forsook God. Israel allowed pride to creep in, and grew blind to his sin. Israel forgot its utter dependence upon God, and that distracted him, emboldened him, to wander away from the God of his salvation.
This danger isn’t just for old testament saints either. How often do we grow sluggish, indeed, fat and sleek in our faith, and allow pride to pull us away from a vibrant Christian life? Think back in your life. When you were going through a tough time, when you were going through a trial and God had used a situation to drive you to your knees, looking back, do you consider that time a blessing because it pushed you closer to him? It humbled you by reminding you of your need of him, right?
God humbled you, and with that humility came a keener vision of your dependency upon him. Humility granted you sight.
If that’s the case, that our being humbled by trials reminds us of our dependence, then the opposite is true as well, that pride fools us with the illusion of our independence. Pride makes us think that we are self-sufficient. Pride makes us think that we can do this on our own. Pride makes us blind.
We see this in our lives today too. How often have you spoken too quickly, spoken out of pride, only having to later pull your foot out of your mouth, and eat a big slice of humble pie? How often have you seen someone else who is so arrogant that nobody wants to be around them, but they are woefully unaware of how their pride repels people? That’s why they say pride is like having terribly bad breath: everyone around you can smell it, but you don’t notice.
Scripture, though, makes clear that pride isn’t merely a problem of perception. It certainly is a perception problem, but it is more than that. Pride will blind a man so much that he will walk right into a pit. Pride goes before a fall, and a haughty spirit comes before destruction.
God will oppose the proud, scripture says. He is an enemy to the proud, and he will judge the prideful. Pride isn’t merely a perception problem; it is a sin problem. It will bring the downfall and judgment of millions of people who lack the eyes to see the danger right in front of them.
Are you a proud person? Have you humility of heart to admit that you are indeed a sinner who thinks more highly of himself than he should? Or do you think your intelligence, your cleverness, your status will keep you from judgment? Do you dare to ignore God’s clear word to you, and stand instead in judgement of Him and His righteousness?
If so, then be warned, you are blind. You can’t see the truth. Your pride has corrupted your vision, and you stand but a hair’s breadth away from eternal judgement in hell for your sin. Hear the word of scripture and turn instead to Jesus as your savior.
For scripture says that God gives grace to the humble, and Christ was the most humble man to ever live. He humbled himself to the point of becoming a servant. He lowered himself down from heaven, took on human flesh, lived a life in this fallen world, and died a terrible death in order to redeem his people. He didn’t have to, but willingly chose to. He would have been perfectly just to judge every human being as a sinner forever, but he instead committed to come and save the bride that the Father had set apart for him.
He didn’t come with glorious armies and didn’t dwell in mansions made of gold. He came and died alone, having no earthly possessions of his own, no wealth to his name. He didn’t speak when he shouldn’t have, but perfectly spoke the truth of God in love. In short, he was perfectly humble, thus granting him perfect vision to see the path of God in front of him.
And because he was the perfectly humble one, he has been raised to life, and rules at the right hand of the father. And now God grants grace to the humble, because he grants you humility and grace through Christ. Come to Christ and be forgiven of your pride. Confess it, and be cleansed of it, and have your vision restored through renewed humility found in Christ.
Don’t go on boasting in your strength, don’t continue divide relationships because of your opinions. Trust in Christ, whom had nothing and became nothing, so that in him you might be granted all things.
And if you’re trusting in Christ, keep a close eye on your pride. Check yourself regularly. Surround yourself with wise people who love you enough to point out your pride when you are blind to it. We need one another, and that’s one of the reasons God gives us the good gift of a spouse and godly friends, if only to help keep us humble.
Trust in Christ, be encouraged at his humility to come as lowly savior, and stay close to him, that you might avoid the pitfall of prideful blindness in this life.
Finally, we’ve seen a principle to be learned and a pitfall to be avoided. Now let’s look at a posture to be maintained. A posture to be maintained. Paul says,
“I have applied … these things…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?”
What do you have that you did not receive? The implied answer to Paul’s rhetorical question is NOTHING. Everything that the Corinthians had, was a gift. Their leaders were a gift. Their spiritual gifts were a gift. Their salvation was a gift. It was all of grace.
Pride makes us blind and deceives us to believe that we have really earned something. We’re really pretty great. We’re something special because of our talents, or because of our leaders.
But humility, humility is the opposite of pride, and it bears opposite fruit. If pride blinds us to our true situation, humility opens our eyes to reality. Humility allows us to see our genuine position of dependence. Humility shows us that everything really is a gift, and thus, the humility will bear within us the posture of gratitude. Gratitude is the posture of a humble Christian.
A proud Christian, like the Corinthians, will demand that he gets his way, that his guy is in the pulpit. That his opinion gets heard.
But a humble Christian will be thankful to God for whatever gifts he has given, will be thankful for the leaders that have been placed over him, and for the gifts that he has been given.
And that’s because a humble person knows what he really deserves. A humble man knows that he is a sinner, and that all he deserves is death. Sinners have violated God’s holy law, and thus deserve eternal punishment in hell. So for a humble man, anything better than that judgment, is a gift of grace. A truly humble person can be satisfied and thankful in any situation in this life, because he knows that no matter how bad this life might get, it is better than he deserves.
With gratitude, we can be content with very little, because we know that even the little that we might have is more than we deserve.
With gratitude, we can be content through relational difficulty, because we know that what we deserve is instead is being alone in hell.
With gratitude, we can be joyful amidst trials, because we have the humility and vision to see that those trials drive us to Christ for our benefit, and are being worked out for our good, as scripture teaches.
A humble person really is the person with the keenest vision in life. He sees things as they really are, because they see themselves in proper proportion relative to God. They aren’t puffed up by the pride of thinking they are higher than they ought to be, but instead are able to humbly recognize that everything they have is a gift from God, both in the good and the bad times, and because it is from God for their good, they have a posture of thankfulness, regardless of what is going on around them.
Do you have that kind of posture? Do you find yourself thankful for the situations in your life that are difficult? Are you grateful for everything that you receive, both the pleasant and the unpleasant, knowing that all of it comes from the hands of a father who lovingly gives you what you need?
A prideful person can’t have a posture of gratitude, because he thinks he deserves better. He’s quick to grumble when a decision is made he doesn’t like. He’s quick to stiffen his neck when he comes under God’s rod of discipline, because he doesn’t believe he deserves it. A proud man pouts when people don’t ask or follow his advice. And a proud man doesn’t think the rules apply to him like they should apply to everyone else.
That’s why we see in scripture the first instance of pride, and the blindness that resulted from it. Pride let Adam to eat the fruit that was forbidden for him. Pride led him to distrust the commands and promises of God. Pride led him to think that he could be equal to God, and pride led him to disbelieve that he would actually die if he violated God’s law.
Pride led Adam to be blind. He was blind to the whole garden of fruit that God had provided for him to eat instead. He was blind to the good creation that was under his jurisdiction. And He was blind to the already stated consequences for his sin. Blind to the billions of lives that suffer under sin and death because of his pride. Pride, likewise makes us blind to the consequences of our sin felt by those around us.
But, a posture of humility and gratitude will grant us the ability to see things for how they really are, to have a proper perception of our circumstances and of our situations, and will compel us to praise the giver of all our good gifts.
Do you find yourself to be a grateful person? How often to you thank God? And I don’t merely mean the rote prayers of “thank you God for this day and thank you for this food.” We certainly should say those things and mean them, but if that is all the thankfulness that you express to God in a day, you need to watch out. Pride might be blinding you, fooling you into believing you’re stronger than you really are, deceiving you into thinking that all things really aren’t a gift from God.
In closing, we need to remember frequently the gracious gifts of God that he freely chooses to give his children, the most precious of which is salvation through Christ. Christ has come and died in the place of a prideful and blind bride, who was otherwise on the path of hell and ready to fall into a pit of judgment. But praise be to God that he has acted, by sending a humble Son to earn the grace needed for His bride to be saved. He became nothing, demonstrated true humility, so that we might be redeemed from pride.
He grants us, through union with him, proper humility and right vision. Stay close to him, keeping watch for pride that bubbles up in each of us, and fighting hard to maintain a posture of gratitude. For it is only in such a posture, on our knees before the cross, that we can actually see things for what they really are.
And if you have not come to Christ by faith, then don’t delay any longer. Don’t be content with the blindness of this world and of Satan, which tempt you to believe that you’re better than you really are, that you’re safe in your sin, and that you really deserve better. Come instead to a savior who has earned better for you, who has died to give you sight, and who lives even know to grant his good gifts of grace.