1 Corinthians 4 – The Nature Of Spiritual Leadership

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The Corinthians Needed To Support All The Leaders Because Of The Nature Of Spiritual Leadership; They Needed To Support All the Leaders, Not Judge Them; They Were Proud And Needed To Humble Themselves; They Needed To Imitate Paul And The Other Apostles; They Needed To Receive Paul’s Correction Or Experience Unpleasant Consequences When He Arrived

There is so much division in the world. We are divided by nationality, skin color, language, religion, ideology, politics, economic status. We are divided by the people we choose to follow. If two men are competing for the same job, people will back one but not the other. They will overlook the faults of the one they support, and amplify the faults of the one they don’t support.

Messiah’s Community can’t be like that. However, the community in Corinth was like that. There were divisions in the community because some were loyal to one of the God-ordained leaders, but not the others. They supported their leader and were unsupportive of the other leaders. The Corinthians needed to support all of the leaders, because of the nature of spiritual leadership. This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Messiah and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.

Messiah’s followers in Corinth needed to understand that the leaders like Paul and Peter and Apollos, were all servants of Messiah. They all served Him. They all served His interests. Why would any follower of Messiah not support all of Messiah’s servants who were serving Him and His interests?

The Christians and Messianic Jews in Corinth needed to support all of the leaders because all of them had been given a trust. They were entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. A mystery isn’t something which is outside of normal human experience, or something that is difficult to figure out. A mystery is a truth that was hidden and was recently revealed.

The truth about the coming of the Messiah as a human being, and at the same time, as Immanuel, God With Us, had been hidden in the Scriptures, but with the arrival of the Son of Man, had been recently revealed. It had been made clear.

The truth about the Messiah being rejected by the majority of His people, and suffering and dying to atone for sin, and then rising from the dead, and leaving the world for a time, followed by His return in the future, had been hidden in the Scriptures, but with the arrival of the Son of David, had been recently revealed. It had been become clear.

The truth about the Gentiles joining with the faithful remnant of Israel, so that the Chosen People and the peoples from the nations would come together as equals in a new fellowship united to God the Father, Messiah the Son, and the Holy Spirit, had been hidden, and had recently become clear. The leaders of Messiah’s community had been entrusted with these mysteries. The leaders understood these mysteries and were responsible to faithfully teach them to others.

Messiah’s people in Corinth needed to support all of these servants of God, who were entrusted with these mysteries – not withdraw their support from them.

Messiah’s people in Corinth needed to support all of these servants of God because the Lord had given them their ministries, and it was the Lord who would judge them – not the people of Corinth. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. The Lord knows everything. He knows all the motivations for everyone’s actions. He knows everyone’s conscience. He knows who has been faithful to Him and faithful to the things He has entrusted to them. Paul understood this, and therefore didn’t care how others judged him – whether his ministry was a success or a failure. Paul didn’t even trust his conscience, his own inner awareness of whether he had done right or wrong, because his conscience could make mistakes. He could have done something wrong and not been aware of it, and his conscience remained silent. He could have neglected to do something he should have done and his conscience remained silent.

Paul knew that at the right time, the Lord, and no one else, would be his judge. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. The Lord, whose judgment is perfect, would determine how faithful Paul had been to the responsibilities entrusted to him. The Lord would judge him and reward him if he had been faithful, or withhold reward if he had not been faithful. Messiah’s followers in Corinth should be supporting all of the leaders, not relating to them in a judgmental way. Judgment is the Lord’s responsibility.

There was a problem with division in Corinth. Groups had formed who were supportive of one leader and unsupportive of the others. Paul had previously mentioned himself and his friend Apollos as examples of groups forming around one leader but not another, groups which were competing with each other. That needed to end. Now, brothers and sisters, 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.” I like that saying: Do not go beyond what is written. I use a similar saying: If the Word of God is silent, then we should be silent. What I mean by that is, if the Word of God doesn’t address a subject, we should be very careful how we address that subject. We can speculate about that subject, but we need to make it clear that we are speculating, and our speculation is not something that the Word of God is teaching us.

Do not go beyond what is written. Nowhere in the Word of God is it written that God’s people are to be supportive and respectful of one God-ordained leader but unsupportive and disrespectful of the other God-ordained leaders; brag about how great your leader is and complain how mediocre the others are.

One of the ways that the Fall of Man has affected us is that people are insecure. To compensate for their insecurity, they do all kinds of things to make themselves feel better about themselves. One of the things they do is choose to follow a leader they think is better than others, or become part of a group they consider to be superior to others. By doing that, they feel superior, and they feel better about themselves. It’s not right to do that. We shouldn’t do that. Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. We are not to follow one leader over against the other. We support all of the leaders.

Whatever abilities and opportunities people have, including our opportunities to benefit by various ministries, have been given to them by God. That eliminates the basis for boasting. 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? Are you a superior person if you are able to benefit from one leader more than another? If you have been given the opportunity to benefit from the ministry of a great Bible teacher like Apollos, God made that opportunity possible. If you are in the place where you can benefit from a great apostle like Paul, God enabled that to happen. He gave you your life, and placed you in the time and place where you are, so that you could benefit from a Paul, from an Apollos. God made it possible, not you, so stop bragging as if you made it happen and that makes you superior to others.

The Corinthians were divided because they were supporting one leader and not the others, including great leaders like Paul. The Corinthians were proud. They were thinking too highly of themselves and to little of others. They were acting independently from God and their God-appointed leaders – like Paul. They were acting like kings and queens, not like humble followers of Messiah. The Rabbi uses a little sarcasm to point this out. Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign – and that without us! The Corinthians were acting like they had everything and didn’t need anyone or anything. They were acting like they were kings and queens who had begun their reign. The truth was they didn’t have everything they needed. They needed to be reminded that they would be rich beyond measure, and be kings and queens – in the future.

The Rabbi adds this thought – that it would be nice if they had begun their rule as the kings and queens they will be, because that would mean that Paul and the other great leaders would be ruling with them, and enjoying a much nicer life. How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!

In contrast to the arrogant way the Corinthians were conducting themselves, was the humble way Paul and the other apostles conducted themselves. For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. Instead of acting like kings and queens, the apostles were like men who had been captured in battle and were being humiliated by being put in cages or in chains and put on display at the end of the procession when the victor returns home. The Lord’s representatives were not like kings and queens. They were like those who were condemned to die in the arena in front of the jeering crowds. Just as people were tortured and killed in front of the cruel crowds, that’s what the experience of the apostles was like. They were being humiliated and tortured, and their torture and humiliation was on display for the whole world. Even the angels were fascinated by what was going on with these special men, and were observing how the world was treating these great men of God.

The Corinthians thought of themselves as kings and queens. The Lord’s representatives thought of themselves as people who were conquered and experiencing humiliation, torture and death.

The Corinthians thought of themselves as wise, powerful and honorable. The Lord’s representatives thought of themselves as weak, foolish and dishonorable. We are fools for Messiah, but you are so wise in Messiah! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!

The Corinthians thought of themselves as being rich and full, having everything, needing nothing. The experience of the Lord’s representatives was the opposite. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. These men had a great sense of mission. They understood that the singular purpose of their life was proclaiming the Good News about Yeshua; helping others know Messiah and get established in His Community. All the other desires that most people have – to have regular food and drink; decent clothes; to be treated decently by others; to have a decent place to live in; to not have to work too hard – all of these desires were set aside by the apostles so they could concentrate on fulfilling the mission the Lord had entrusted them with.

They did not act like ordinary people. They acted like one very special person – Yeshua. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world – right up to this moment. These were the greatest men in the world. Yet, the world treated them like scum, like garbage – just like the world treated Yeshua – just like we can expect the world to treat us – as we become more like Yeshua, and more like the apostles.

The Rabbi made it clear that the attitudes and the experience of the apostles were quite different from the attitudes and the experience of the people in Messiah’s Community in Corinth. In contrast to the apostles, the Corinthians fell far short. Paul lets them know that his purpose in contrasting them to the Lord’s representatives was not to embarrass them, but to warn them that they needed to receive his correction. I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. And they should receive his correction, because the Rabbi was not just anyone. Paul was the founding father of their community. He was their spiritual father and they were his spiritual children whom he loved.

A child can have many teachers, many tutors, many guardians. He only has one father. The father-child relationship is special and should be given special honor. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Messiah, you do not have many fathers, for in Messiah Yeshua I became your father through the gospel. It’s the responsibility of fathers to teach their children, and when their children stray from their teaching, to correct their children. It’s the responsibility of children to honor their father by receiving his teaching and correction. As their spiritual father, it was the responsibility of the Corinthians receive Paul’s teaching and correction.

Paul called himself their father. Was he wrong to do that, in light of Yeshua’s teaching: You are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. By calling himself their father, did Paul contradict Messiah? And a related question: is it wrong for me to want to be called rabbi?

To answer these questions, we must understand that one of the most important principles to interpret the Word of God is: “If the literal sense makes sense, seek no other sense, otherwise you get nonsense.” If a passage makes sense historically and grammatically, then that’s what it means. However, if the literal sense does not make sense, we should seek a non-literal sense. Yeshua’s words about not being called “rabbi,” “father” or “instructor” are not meant to be understood literally. If we interpreted it literally, then we could not call anyone on Earth “father.” But of course we have fathers, and it’s right to call them “father.” And, it’s right to use father to describe someone who is a spiritual father, as Paul does here. The same goes for rabbi. Rabbi means “teacher” (John 1); and the office of teacher is part of the leadership structure of Messiah’s Community (see Ephesians 4 and James 3).

So, if the literal sense doesn’t make sense, which it doesn’t in Yeshua’s teaching about using rabbi and father, then it’s right to seek a non-literal sense. The rest of the passage tells us that Messiah is warning leaders to avoid the desire to be exalted. Those who are teachers and spiritual fathers are to be humble, servant-leaders. Therefore “rabbi” and “father” may be used – but with humility.

Just as children learn by imitating their father, Messiah’s followers in Corinth should learn by imitating their spiritual father. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. Paul was an excellent role model. They should observe the way he conducted himself and follow his example – and so should we.

The Rabbi had not been with them for several years. He couldn’t be with them right away. To remind them how he lived, so that they could imitate him, he was sending them someone who was very close to him, someone he trusted. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love. Again, if Timothy was Paul’s spiritual son, then Paul was his spiritual father.

For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Messiah Yeshua which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. Paul was sent by the Lord Yeshua. Paul represented the Lord Yeshua. Timothy was sent by Paul. Timothy represented Paul. When Timothy arrived, the Corinthians should pay attention to what Timothy would teach them – about what Paul taught and the way Paul lived – which was in agreement with the truth about Yeshua. And Paul was consistent. He didn’t teach one thing in one place and then change the teaching to appeal to those in another place. He taught the same truths everywhere.

It was easy for some of them to support their leader and be unsupportive of Paul when he wasn’t present. He wanted them to know that his plan was to return to Corinth soon. Those who were critical of his leadership, if they were wise, would change their attitude toward him immediately, even before he got there. Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. Talk is cheap. There are a lot of talkers. There are fewer doers. Paul was a doer. There are some people who are powerful. You hear them talk and see them in action, and you sense they have wisdom and experience and vision. You know that you are in the presence of someone powerful. That was Paul. And Paul was powerful because he was an apostle. As a representative of the Son of God, Paul had the highest spiritual authority. And Paul was powerful because the Lord used him to do signs and wonders.

Were the arrogant talkers in Corinth as powerful as Paul? No way. Paul was far more powerful. Those who are inferior need to humble themselves before their superior, or those who are inferior are in trouble.

Messiah’s followers in Corinth had a choice: to humble themselves and change their attitude toward Paul and receive the correction he was giving them – or not. Both choices had consequences.

What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit? If they chose to receive his correction, when he arrived he would be able to relate to them with love and a gentle spirit. If they chose not to receive his correction, when the Lord’s representative arrived he would come like a father who uses a rod on unruly children. The carrot or the stick. The choice was theirs.

Let’s pray:

Lord, if Your Community was divided in Corinth, it’s a hundred times, a thousand times more divided today. Help us end our divisions. Help us be supportive of all Your God-ordained leaders, not want to judge them, punish them, undermine them. May we try to speak well of them, and not be overly critical of them.

Lord, I pray that the leaders here at Shema would be Your faithful servants, faithfully serving You and your interests. May we be faithful to the mysteries You have entrusted to us.

Lord, the apostles were extraordinary men. They had an overwhelming sense of purpose. I pray that You would grace us more and more with that same sense of purpose. Help us be more like them.

By | 2017-05-09T01:29:25+00:00 May 6th, 2017|Categories: Commentaries by Rabbi Loren, Sermons by Rabbi Loren|Tags: , |Comments Off on 1 Corinthians 4 – The Nature Of Spiritual Leadership

About the Author:

Rabbi Loren Jacobs is the senior rabbi and founder of “Congregation Shema Yisrael” (which means “Hear O Israel”). Congregation Shema Yisrael is a Messianic synagogue which was started in 1986 when Rabbi Loren and his wife Martha moved to Michigan to proclaim the Good News about the Messiah to the Jewish people living in the metro Detroit area. Rabbi Loren was raised in a Jewish home in the Chicago area, and became a Messianic Jew in 1975. He graduated from Moody Bible Institute’s Jewish Studies program in 1979 and received a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Literature from Northeastern Bible College in New Jersey in 1986. His wife Martha is a fifth generation Messianic Jew, which is quite unusual. They have two adult children and two grandchildren.