Sermon Summary | "The Only Assessment that Matters
1. Extended Appeal (3:18-20)
- Warning (3:18)
- Way of Escape (3:19-20)
2. Misguided Leaders (3:21-4:1-5)
- Receive Christian Leaders as Gifts from God (3:21-23)
- Recognize that all Christian Leaders Belong to God (4:1-5)
1. Extended Appeal (1 Cor 3:18-20)
The apostle begins this section with a warning: “Let no one deceive himself” (1 Cor 3:18a). This is a sobering appeal. Those who seem to be “wise in this age” identify themselves primarily with standards of this world, being astute according to the cultural ethos. In turn, Paul provides a way of escape from this self-deception: those who are seemingly “wise” should become “fools” (1 Cor 3:18). Becoming a “fool” involves identifying oneself with Christ and the message of the cross, which is foolishness to the eyes of the world (cf. 1 Cor 1:12).
Verses 19-20 then give the theological basis for this exhortation (note the conjunction “for”). Ironically, those who think they are “wise in this age” are actually fools, because “the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Cor 3:19). To the world, the message of the gospel seems silly and irrational. In this sense, Christians are exhorted to become as “fools” in the ways of the world, so that they may be “wise” according to the ways of God.
2. Misguided leaders (1 Cor 21-23; 4:1-5)
Paul now addresses the issue of factionalism pertaining to leaders by reminding the Corinthians that (1) they should receive Christian leaders as gifts from God, and (2) they should recognize that Christian leaders belong to God. First, leaders are gifts from God, which they cannot boast in (1 Cor 3:21; cf. 1:29); rather, their boasting should be in God (1 Cor 1:31). If Christian leaders are received as gifts, then there is no place for boasting in man, but only in God. Furthermore, in verses 21b-23, Paul expands beyond just receiving leaders (Paul, Apollos, Cephas), but also the world, life and death, the things present and the future all belong to Christians. That is to say, Christians no longer live under the tyranny of the world, death, and the future. Rather, all of these things are transformed by the gospel under the lordship of Christ and sovereignty of God.
Second, Paul responds to the factionalism in Corinth by recounting that Christian leaders ultimately belong to God (1 Cor 4:1-5). Initially, he gives a description of Christian leaders; namely, that they are “servants” of Christ and “stewards” of God’s mysteries (4:1). Upon evaluation from God, they are to be found trustworthy as those who were entrusted with the gospel (4:2). Indeed, the assessment of evaluation for all Christians must be adjusted—for Paul, there is only one assessment that ultimately matters, that is, God’s assessment (4:3-4). Paul states that our motives will be revealed and evaluated, disclosing the “purposes of the heart.” At that time believers will receive their due commendation (4:5). Thus, there is no place for a premature or superficial judgment toward Christian leaders and one another.
[by Andrew Preston]