The Eighth in a Series of Sermons on 1 Corinthians
One of the vivid memories that many of us share from our collective childhoods is that of our exasperated mother telling us “wait till your father gets home.” In our text we have the apostolic equivalent. “Wait until your apostle returns.” Paul is in Ephesus when he writes his first letter to the Corinthians. Although in the providence of God, Paul never did return to Corinth, nevertheless he considers himself to be the father in the faith of the Corinthian church because of the gospel he has preached to them. So Paul can admonishes the Corinthians to imitate him because Paul does not seek favor with men, but from Christ, who is Lord of his church. As the spiritual father of this church, Paul hopes to return to Corinth to see his spiritual children. When he returns, the apostle hopes that the immature who are acting arrogantly will have humbled themselves and that he will be able to come in a spirit of gentleness.
Having wrapped up Paul’s discussion of true versus false wisdom in the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians, we now turn to Paul’s discussion of the nature and authority of his apostolic office in chapter four. Up until now, Paul has been speaking in rather general terms. Now he gets very specific. The pastoral gloves come off. In the first five verses of chapter four, Paul confronts those who have been judging him using the standards of worldly wisdom discussed in previous chapters. In verses 6-13, Paul addresses those in the church boasting about their own false perception of their own wisdom and stature. Paul then speaks fondly as a father speaking to his children in verses 14-17, before closing out the chapter with a very stern warning to those who reject the authority of his apostolic office.
In this chapter we see a rare picture of Paul–the apostle is a bit sarcastic as he scolds the church in Corinth which he helped to found. Paul has suffered greatly. He has sacrificed much. No question that he hates to see this congregation facing division and schism, fighting among themselves, solely because they have not been able to leave pagan wisdom and categories behind. And so in this chapter, Paul sounds very much like an disappointed father getting word that his children are misbehaving, and then warning them that he is coming home after work, to either punish or commend them, depending upon how they behave. Paul is clearly vexed and more than a little frustrated.
So, having wrapped up his discussion of true and false wisdom, and having told the Corinthians that the time has come for them to move on to maturity, Paul turns his focus to the way in which God vindicates Paul’s ministry. He is a servant of Christ, not just another faction leader.
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