May 25, 2008
Proper 3 (A)
Wait ’til the Lord Comes
1 Corinthians 4:1-5

As a boy, we chose baseball teams by selecting two captains. These two would then take a baseball bat and turn the heavy end down. One captain would grab the bat with one hand, and the other captain would place his hand above the first. This process would continue until one captain held the very end of the bat. He would be declared the winner and have the first choice for his team. What a sense of power I felt when my hand covered the end of the bat!

In the Greek culture of Corinth, competition and one-upmanship were highly valued – even by some Christians. Believers had divided into cliques based on the personalities of various Christian leaders: “What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:12).

Paul confronts the immaturity of this approach declaring that it can only lead to division and disunity in the Body of Christ. “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:13). To the Apostle, faithfulness mattered much more than fame. In these verses Paul declares that:

The Gospel Is The Mystery (1 Corinthians 1:1)



In 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, Paul gives priority, not to the heralds who proclaim the message, but to the gospel itself: “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). The Gospel, then, is the “majestic mystery” or the “sacred secret” which brings glory not to Christian leaders, but to God. This mystery is a truth hidden in past ages but now revealed to the people of God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Paul asserts that the Corinthian’s focus, and ours, should be on God’s action in Christ and not on the men who preach that message: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (1 Corinthians 4:7). When we focus on ourselves more than on God’s redemptive plan in Christ, we are implicitly saying, “It’s all about me.” This seems to describe the immature Corinthian Christians (1 Corinthians 2:6-8).

Men Are Servants (1 Corinthians 4:2)



“So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).

Paul was embarrassed that anyone would consider him anything more than a humble servant of Christ. Literally, the word for servant means “under-rowers,” and refers to slaves who toiled below the deck of the Roman galleys to propel the ship. One of these slaves would never become the captain of the ship.

To broaden the image, Paul sees God as the “Divine Captain” who gives the orders and deserves the undivided loyalty of his servants. In third chapter, Paul uses a different metaphor, but the thrust is the same: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow (1 Corinthians 3:6).

God is the Judge (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)



Writes the Apostle: “I do not even judge myself” (1 Corinthians 4:3). To compare oneself to other Christian leaders is repulsive to Paul: “Who is the better preacher, Paul or Apollos?” “Who has won more converts, Paul or Cephas?” To the Apostle, such questions reflect a kind of spiritual cancer that is “worldly” and divisive (1 Corinthians 3:3). Paul would rather be considered “the scum of the earth” (1 Corinthians 4:13) than usurp any of the glory that belongs to God alone.

Believers, including church leaders, must not compare or judge. Rather, writes the Apostle, we must “wait till the Lord comes” (1 Corinthians 4:5). At his “appointed time” (1 Corinthians 4:5) God will judge, for he alone is able to discern “the motives of men’s hearts” (1 Corinthians 4:5).

F.B. Meyer writes that it was easy for him to pray for G. Campbell Morgan – until Morgan took a ministry in London not far from Meyer’s church. At that point, writes Meyer: “The old Adam in me was inclined to jealousy.” Meyer, however, prayed himself out of that jealousy and even gave a reception for Morgan to welcome him to London. Meyer understood the message of this passage: To say through our words and/or actions, “Me first!” is also to say “Christ last!”

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