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But for the Grace of God

February 13, 2022 Preacher: Kevin Godin Series: Growing in Grace

Topic: Grace Scripture: 1 Corinthians 4:1-21

Sermon Notes:

We are continuing our series, “Growing in Grace”, where we are working our way passage by passage through the letter of 1 Corinthians. We are traveling along with the Corinthians as the apostle Paul instructs them how the Holy Spirit uses the truth of the Gospel to help believers grow in grace.

In the first 3 chapters saw that the Corinthians perceived themselves as being spiritually mature, but they were far from it. Their pride was causing divisions within the church, and they were still worldly in their thinking, leading to a distorted perception of reality. Paul reminds them that the wisdom of the world will come to nothing, to not judge by appearances, and to seek the true wisdom found in Christ.

In our passage this morning Paul will build on this explaining, Christians are citizens of a Kingdom that is already here in some ways, but not yet in others. That is the key point of the message this morning, it is important for us to realize Christians are citizens of a Kingdom that is already here in some ways, but not yet in others.

We will pick up at 1 Corinthians chapter 4. If you are following along in the blue Bible we provide, it is on page 1189. If you do not own a Bible, please consider that one our gift to you and you can take it when you leave.

Paul begins by emphasizing that we need to be humble in our assessment of the gifts and ministry of other brothers and sisters and even ourselves because ultimately, we are accountable to God and each of us will stand before Him. He will be the final judge.

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 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. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 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.


Paul says he isn’t concerned about what the Corinthians or any other human beings think about his ministry. In fact, he cannot even judge himself because the only judgment that really counts is God’s. As sinners, we cannot reliably judge even ourselves. It is too easy for our own hearts to deceive us about our faith and our motives. Remember Peter boasting that he would die for the Lord and Jesus said, you will deny me three times before tomorrow and so it was.

We can speak confidently only where Scripture speaks, even about ourselves. The world says we should all follow our hearts. That the pursuit of the good life is to be true to ourselves. But God says that leads to destruction. We cannot rely on our own innate sense of what is right and wrong. Our internal compass is broken.

This is the glory of the Word of God to the believer, that it cuts through all the darkness of the world, and all the darkness of our own heart and shows us the truth. The world tells us we have external problems and should seek an internal solution, but God says we have an internal problem that requires an external solution.  

It is the nature of sinners that we are prone to foolish judgments. Have you ever noticed how millions of people, with no training or experience whatsoever can become experts on anything? Think about it… millions of people in this country are apparently experts on how to how to set economic policy, negotiate with foreign governments, diagnose medical conditions, reduce crime, and coach college and professional sports. Recently, I have been astounded to find out how many of my friends were experts on infectious diseases and respiratory viruses.

The reality is that most people do not really know what they are talking about most of the time. It shouldn’t surprise us then that there are so many people who say foolish things about God and position themselves as experts on a God they don’t know. Paul says, don’t get caught up in this nonsense. There is a day coming when every mouth will be stopped, and every knee will bow and each one will give an account. That is the only judgment we are truly concerned about.

We do not sit in judgment; we rely upon God to judge. Paul says, “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness…”  He continues in verse 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. 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?


Paul and Apollos set the example. Since we know God will judge and reward justly there is no need for jealousy and strife. Division, if it comes, must be based on God’s revealed word and not because of earthly judgments or pride. Paul says we are not to “go beyond what is written”. There is no place for division in the church based upon opinions, or leadings, or private revelations. When issues arise, we don’t search our feelings, we search the Bible. We should ask what God has said. We do not rely upon our own judgment in these things, we rely upon what is written, and we do not go beyond that in setting the boundaries of our fellowship.

Paul asks them three critical questions that it is important we should ask ourselves when the temptation to pride comes.

First, who sees anything different in you? What makes you different from anyone else? Were you any less a sinner than your brothers and sisters? Did you walk in any righteousness before God? When we understand that there was nothing in us that led God to save us and that our salvation is based wholly upon His goodness and love rather than our own what room is left for arrogance. Wasn’t it necessary for Christ to die for me in the same way He died for my brothers or sisters?

Second, What do you have that you did not receive? The answer of course is nothing. Are you sensitive to your sin and desire to grow in holiness? God did that in you. Do you love the deep things of the Word of God and pursue them in your life? That’s God’s work. Are you a prayer warrior who is taken with the sublime presence of God in your quiet time? This is God’s doing.

If we want to know what reward was earned by our best works, we need only look at the Cross? We like to look past it because it makes us uncomfortable. That man, beaten, bleeding, and thirsty. Why is he there? He is there because he is cursed. He is there because the wrath of God is poured out upon Him. He is there because it was the Father’s will to crush Him.

How can that be? Because my sin was upon Him. Because the sin of every person who would put their faith in God for salvation was upon Him. He suffered in my place. That Cross is the verdict upon my life. My best is not good enough. The righteousness I have was given to me in Christ. My faith was bought upon that Cross. From start to finish salvation is a gift.

That leads to the third question, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? These foolish Corinthians arguing because of their pride in human teachers had forgotten that it was God who gave them Christ. It was God who gave them the Gospel. It was God who gave them the teachers. They were caught up with the packaging rather than the reality.

This isn’t a unique problem found only in Corinth. At the root of the sinful heart is the desire as old as Eden to want to be godlike. The enemy uses our attraction to power and glory to draw us away from the path of humility and obedience. In some men it shows up as a rejection of God, but in others it is expressed as a corruption of faith itself.

We see this all over the place in our own time. So many have exchanged a desire for God with a desire for what God can offer. The false teaching of the prosperity gospel, which is no gospel at all, is infecting churches everywhere. The idea that we can take promises to be fulfilled in the fullness of the Kingdom and apply them now appeals to the flesh but it is a distortion of God’s word. Is it true that God wants us to be healthy, wealthy, and comfortable more than anything else? Does he promise us that? Are those things a mark of faith and spiritual maturity?

Yes, God promises us the treasures of heaven and abundance. Yes, He promises healing and the end to disease, He promises peace and joy and comfort, but He doesn’t guarantee them now. These are promises to be fulfilled when the Kingdom comes. That kingdom is already present in some ways, but it has not fully come. The Kingdom of God now is an invisible, spiritual reality, but it will come as a substantial, physical, earthly, Kingdom where Christ will rule.

We must be careful about blending the two sets of promises or falling prey to those who manipulatively twist them for their own benefit. The health and wellness gospel is a lie and it hurts people. It brings disrepute upon the name of Christ and causes people to question the goodness of God.

Because of their pride and immaturity, the Corinthians could only see God working in the glory and the blessings. They mistook their comfort and gifts as evidence of God’s favor upon them. Several years ago, I heard a preacher on the radio explaining that the prosperity and blessings enjoy by Americans throughout our history was a result of our strong faith. The more I preached, the more I wondered if this preacher had ever read the New Testament. He would have made a fine Corinthian.

Is the healthy and the wealthy and the successful who are most blessed by God? Are those the people who have the most faith and are the holiest? What does Paul say?

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.


Paul is using sarcasm to press home his point. Are these believers more blessed and more mature than Paul and the other faithful apostles? Have they already entered the fullness of the Kingdom while those who laid the foundation are still suffering? Paul says, I wish that the Kingdom had come so I could rule along with you!


Many of these Corinthians and many of us are puffed up because God has blessed us greatly, but Paul says that the apostles are under a death sentence, a spectacle to the world. I wonder if many of us who are concerned about the erosion of godly influence in the culture are not really more concerned about the loss of respectability and influence.


Paul is pointing out that the transformation God brings does not depend on any social, economic, or political influence or respectability. The gospel did not advance throughout the world through the influence of its leaders. Of the 11 faithful apostles, 10 were executed and 1 died in prison. Read Hebrews chapter 11 and we will see that God doesn’t honor those successful by worldly standards, but those who are faithful to the end. People that the author of Hebrews says of which the world was not worthy.


10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.


The Corinthians and so many today are seeking wisdom, strength, and honor but Paul says those leaders called by God were fools, weak and in disrepute. They were not living their best lives now. Paul says they were hungry, their clothes were worn out, and they had no place to sleep. Why would this be?

It is because the more like Christ you are and the more faithfully you pour yourself into living for the Kingdom the more of the worldly pleasures you sacrifice. Paul and the others are stretched in every way because they have given their lives to preach the word and reach others. Being comfortable is not a sign of spiritual maturity. In fact, those who are most like Christ will often suffer the most.

They will suffer because they do not spend their energy storing up the treasures and pleasures of the world because they are focused on eternal things. They will suffer because the world hates Christ and the more like Christ we are the more it will hate us as well.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God left the glory of heaven and came to earth as a man. He was the most loving, kind, honest, man who ever lived. There was no deceit or malice or greed or any other sin in Him. He came and lived the only perfect life that was ever lived, and the world hated him and killed Him. It was because He was good that the world hated Him because the world is evil.

Brothers and sisters, every one of us is from the world. We are all sinners, and our hearts are inclined to love evil rather than good. But God in an amazing act of Love had a plan to rescue everyone who would put their faith in Him. He sent Jesus to live that perfect life and then to be handed over to those sinful men so that He could die in our place. The sin of everyone who would ever believe in Him was punished on that cross. He was killed so that our debt could be paid. Then, on the third day He rose again to show that death itself was defeated and that all who would come to Him in faith would inherit eternal life.

Having that confidence in Christ, we can now live as He lived. Showing sacrificial love to the world because we have received the Spirit of Christ. Look at what Paul says,

When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.


We don’t seek the glory of the world and we do not seek to appease it either. No matter what hardship we endure we endure. When we are criticized and made fun of, we offer blessing in return. When we are slandered, we continue to plead with our slanderers to accept Christ.

Those who are most mature in Christ are not those who claim promises of material wealth and health. It is those who are willing to suffer for the kingdom that are most Christ-like. This is why I hate the prosperity lie. It appeals to the fleshly nature while claiming to be a teaching from God. These teachers tell people that if they have enough faith, they can victoriously claim wealth and healing as if God is some kind of cosmic butler.

We are living through a pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 5 ½ million people around the world. If they had the power they claim why not go down to the hospital and show mercy?  Every major city in the country has a children’s hospital but you never see those folks over there do you? What is even more evil than that is that they blame those who are sick or poor for their condition, telling them that they do not have enough faith.

The world and the false teachers tell us it is God’s will that we have power, and wealth, and honor. Paul says in the eyes of the world the servants of Christ are often considered the scum of the earth and garbage. Paul tells us not to judge based upon what the world thinks because the Kingdom of Christ is not of this world. There is power in the Gospel, but it is the power of forgiveness. It is the power of a new heart and a new life. It is a power that endures. We will be raised to glory and honor, but this is the reward we receive at the coming of Christ.

When I was a young child, it seemed like it took forever for Christmas to come. I would wait all year and the anticipation would build and build. Then finally Christmas eve would come and it was the tradition in my family that we would go to my grandparents house on Christmas eve and we would have dinner. When we arrived, we would get a few small gifts to play with but there would always be a bigger pile of gifts with the names of all the kids on them. But there were also guests from the extended family who would visit for dinner, and we had to wait for them to finish eating and visiting and wait for them to leave before we could open our gifts.

The church age is a little bit like that. We have already been given some gifts of the Kingdom, but we are not yet able to fully unwrap the biggest gifts. Sometimes as a child it felt like that one evening lasted for as long as the rest of the year as all of us kids were waiting to open everything. As I got older, I realized that we didn’t really have to wait that long.

The most amazing gifts have been purchased and wrapped but our Lord is still working to bring more into the kingdom. We need to trust Him and be obedient. If, by His grace and power, we are able to do this, we will not be disappointed.

Paul has been a bit harsh in making his point, but his goal is not to discourage. Rather he wants the Corinthians and us to recognize that true wisdom and true blessing doesn’t look the way the world expects it to look. He says in verse 14,

14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.


His desire for them is that they stop being distracted by vain and foolish things. That they stop arguing about worldly comparisons and recognize that they have all things in Christ. With that assurance, they can live humble obedient lives knowing that their reward is secure for them in heaven. I pray we can do that same.


In the last few verses Paul addresses those who don’t respect Paul’s authority or who think he won’t do anything more than write letters. His response is the apostolic equivalent of don’t make me come down there. He says,


18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?


He warns them that he intends to follow through with whatever means necessary to protect the congregation he planted. I think we see the love in Paul’s heart here. If he speaks harshly to them, it is because of his concern for them.

As we think about this chapter we can see that several of the issues Paul deals with are related to these believers seeking fulfillment of Kingdom promises in the glory of the world rather than waiting to be glorified when Christ comes to fully establish His kingdom. That is why the main point of the sermon is that Christians are citizens of a Kingdom that is already here in some ways, but not yet in others.

The main point of consistency between the Kingdom blessings we already possess and those that are yet to come is that we have the gift of the Spirit. This mutual participation in the life of Christ through the Spirit should draw us together. That is why Paul is so concerned about these disputes. As we grow more spiritually mature, as we grow more like Jesus we will grow in unity.

When the Kingdom comes in its fullness it will be love that binds us in perfect unity to Jesus and each other. We have this gift of the love of God already and it is love that God, speaking through Paul, calls us to display to His glory. I like the way the theologian George Eldon Ladd expressed this,

“Love is that gift of the spirit, above all others, which will characterize our perfected fellowship in the age to come. This love we now enjoy, and the church on earth will be a colony of heaven, enjoying in advance the life of the age to come.”

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