Read 1 Cor 4:1-17
Today, I want to talk about leadership. Paul says in v16, imitate me because I am your father in Christ. And I want to answer the question, why should we imitate him? Who should we imitate today? What qualities should we look for?
First of all, who is a leader? I believe that in a broad sense, every single believer is a leader. The Great Commission says to go and make disciples of all nations. This command was not given just to the key apostles or top leaders. It was a universal command given to every disciple of Jesus. And by definition, all believers are disciples of Jesus. Then it follows that every single believer is called to make disciples. No matter what your gift is or what role you may play in the local church, all believers are called to be involved in disciple making, which means, we are all leaders. We are all leading someone. Whether it’s our spouse or our kids or a neighbor or a classmate that you are sharing your faith with, or a younger convert that you are meeting regularly to help build up their faith, we are all called to lead others.
That’s my prayer for this church. If you are more mature in the faith and you see someone younger in the faith at this church, I pray that discipling relationships would form naturally. You don’t have to it all of Christian life mastered before you disciple someone else. As long as you are one step ahead of the other person, then you can disciple him. Just help him or her take one step in their relationship with Jesus. And someone else can take over and help them take another step. And so on. That’s the church. Helping others to move forward step by step in our relationship with Jesus.
You don’t have to meet someone because you are assigned to a particular ministry or someone is under you through some artificial categorization. But if you see a younger brother or sister in the faith, may the Holy Spirit compel you to want to obey this command to make disciples and so you would meet up with another person for that person’s spiritual benefit. The key is–you are not making disciples who are loyal to you, but you are helping others to connect to the chief discipler, Jesus Christ.
So who is a leader? Answer: all believers. If you are a disciple of Jesus, you are a disciple maker, you are a leader and your main mission in life is to connect others to Jesus so that they can in turn become a disciple maker for others.
Next question, there is obviously a wrong way to lead others and a right way. Here in this chapter, we see 2 types of leadership at work. The first follows a theology of self-glory and the second follows a theology of the cross.
The first style of leadership if you can call it a style is one that is operated by the theology of self-glory. It’s completely the wrong way. It’s the Corinthian way. Starting from the opening chapter, Paul is out to correct the wrong leadership style at Corinth. Paul planted this church, he founded this church. In a spiritual sense, he fathered this church as we will read later on. And with Paul leading the way, the Corinthian church started with the right foundation. Jesus and him crucified. They started with a correct understanding of God and who they were in relation to God. And the result was a confirmation of their testimonies. Clear, authentic conversions were evident. Also, there was a proliferation of spiritual gifts. God was pouring out His favor upon this church.
Then, Paul left. And slowly, they started shifting away from the gospel. It’s not like the day after Paul departed, the Corinthian leaders said, let’s abandon the cross and let’s pursue a theology of self-glory. Let’s elevate certain leaders and let’s rank them. And Paul, he doesn’t seem that spiritual compared to Apollos and some of our own leaders. Let me follow the teachings of these more talented and gifted leaders and forget what Paul said to us. That’s not how it happened. It was so gradual that the members of that church probably couldn’t even detect a shift in theology away from the cross. But eventually, they ended up in a place that they probably never intended.
If you interviewed one of the Corinthian leaders and you asked them about their relationship with God, they’d probably say it was great. They were not back sliders. In their mind, they were trail blazers. They were taking the Corinthian church to the next level of spiritual maturity, or so they thought.
What does this teach us? As leaders, we can be sincere, but we can also be sincerely wrong.
That’s why Paul says in v3-4 —
3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
Even Paul recognizes that he can have a clear conscience, but having a clear conscience does not make him innocent before God. Our sincerity is not the measuring stick. We can’t be judged by others. We can’t even judge ourselves because of the danger of self-deception. Only God is the judge.
For us, unlike in Paul’s day, we have the benefit of having in our possession the whole counsel of Scripture. We can cut the Corinthians a little slack because they didn’t have the full Bible at their disposal because of the very obvious fact that the New Testament was yet to be written down and formalized recognized as the Holy Scriptures. This personal letter written to the Corinthian church, was just an ordinary letter. No different than other letters. But we know in hindsight that this very letter written by Paul was God’s inspired word.
We’re in a different situation today. We have access to the entire Old and New Testament. So we shouldn’t select a few passages and allow those to judge our ministry. We shouldn’t blindly follow a preacher’s teachings because he seems really powerful and charismatic. Even our conscience should cannot be the final judge. We need to look at Scripture as a whole, every chapter or every book, and see how our church measures up to the whole counsel of God.
The Corinthians were sincere, but they were sincerely wrong. They abandoned the gospel and gradually drifted toward a theology of self-glory. Self-glory, where humans and, in this case, human leaders are at the center instead of God.
Pastor Don shared during a church planter’s meeting this past week that during his years of being a pastor, there were many crises. And whenever a crisis hit, he would rush over to fix the situation. Because he wanted to be the hero and he wanted others to be grateful for him. But at some point, God showed him his sin and how he was creating followers of Don, people who were more dependent on him than they were on Jesus. So after a while, those same people would call and ask for help and he had to tell them, did you pray to Jesus first? Because in the long run, Pastor Don said, they need to be close to Jesus and not me.
The Corinthian leaders had not learned this lesson. They were the center of attention and they liked it. They felt strong, they felt wise, people looked up to them, people followed them, they were powerful in speech, they exercised impressive spiritual gifts. Again, they were probably thinking God was pleased with them. They were sincere, but they were sincerely wrong. Pride had blinded them. This is the danger of self-deception.
Last week, we talked about the clash between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. That’s theory. That’s lecture. Not we are in lab. And we see how the clash of these 2 different kinds of wisdom get played out in real life. On one side, you have the church at Corinth and all of its leaders, and on the other side, you have Paul and the rest of the apostles. And with that as our context, now we get to the meat of why Paul is writing this letter to the Corinthian church in the first place.
Let’s read from v6 and then we will back track–
6 Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.
There’s that theme of pride in one man over against another. That’s a result of living by the wisdom of the world within the church.
Then, Paul launches into his rebuke —
7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
Paul starts by acknowledging, there are differences among you. Some are wiser than others. And I think Paul would be the first to admit, he is not as eloquent objectively speaking as some of the other leaders at Corinth. So there is such a thing as some having a greater innate ability or competence than others. Some are just naturally born with many gifts and the majority of us feel like, how come that guy is tall, smart, athletic and I am short, a bit slow upstairs and uncoordinated? We are not all clones. We are all unique. And the world takes that and says, the guys with more gifts, you guys lead, you guys set the pace. The rest of us will follow. That’s the wisdom of the world. It’s where humanity takes center stage and we have to compete with others for the spotlight to see who will get the glory.
And Paul says, that’s not how it works in the kingdom of God. That kind of worldly wisdom has no place in the church. Why? Because the second half of v7 —
7 …What do you have that you did not receive?
Everything we have is from God. Every gift, every ability, every talent, the food on the table, everything is from God. He gets all the glory, not the recipients of those gifts. If you don’t know God, you think you got to where you did through hard work and effort. And that makes sense in their worldview. They have no one to thank. Their success, their failure, they think everything rides on their performance. But for the Christian, we know better. We know that we didn’t pick our parents. We didn’t determine our IQ. We didn’t choose where to be born. We know that all things flow from God. We had nothing to do with those fundamental privileges and opportunities and innate abilities that we enjoy. Everything is a gift from God. What do we have that we did not receive from Him? That’s the basic confession of a believer.
But the Corinthians leaders forgot this basic truth. And the gifts that they had received from God became the very reasons why they were boasting. It’s pretty obvious–the more talented you are, the more tempted you will be to boast. Because things come more easily for you. Everyone else crams all semester and you just skim your textbook the night before and you ace the test. We all know people like that. Perhaps it’s the person sitting right next to you. If you are that person, don’t boast. If that is not you, don’t envy. Remember God is the one who gave you your abilities.