Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 8 2013 - 1 Corinthians 4:1-21 – Servants of Christ

Some among the church in Corinth were boasting of their high spiritual status – that they had “arrived” (see Paul’s ironical description of them in 1 Corinthians 4:8). By way of contrast, Paul describes himself as a servant – one possessing a lowly status.

But here is the paradox; he, and Apollos, are “servants of Christ and entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed” (4:1). God is not unknown and unknowable, nor can his purposes be made the subject of spiritual debate and rivalry; he has made himself known in the Lord Jesus Christ. He has shown us his immeasurable love for us and revealed the marvels of his good purposes for us in Jesus. Paul says that he has been entrusted with these truths – with the message of the gospel. And if God has not kept these things secret, neither should he. His whole concern has been to be faithful to the calling entrusted to him, the calling of making Christ known.

And it has proved to be a costly calling. Far from giving him an exalted status in the world, it has resulted in hardship, hunger and thirst, homelessness, brutal treatment and persecution (4:11-12). Paul says these things not to make a boast of his sufferings as if he is determined to outdo the Corinthians’ boasting in spiritual riches. He is concerned to emphasise that Christian discipleship means following Christ in the way of the cross that we might enter into the glories of the resurrection life.

Paul emphasises that Christian discipleship is not about mere words and boasts, it must shape the way we live. Paul was more than a preacher of the gospel, he lived out the message he preached, and he calls on the Christians at Corinth to do the same: “I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (4:16-17).

It is not enough to talk about Jesus; we need to live as those who are his disciples – those who follow him; those who walk as he walked. Paul reminds the Corinthians, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (v. 20) – the transforming power of the Spirit of God. That power is not to be seen in spectacular signs or clever talk which draw attention to ourselves and gain us a reputation as spiritual lords. It is to be seen in a Christ-like life of faithful and sacrificial service.

Would you dare to tell someone that the way to live the Christian life is to imitate you? We cannot share what we do not possess. If we are to encourage and mentor others in Christian discipleship we must first devote ourselves to the faithful service of Christ. It’s not about words but about the power to live the life to which Christ calls us.

Lord Jesus, help me to learn of you and to fix my thoughts upon your life and character. You came into this world not to be served but to serve and to give your life as a ransom for many. Help me to have the same mind and heart. Help me not to seek glory for myself but to give myself to your service. But Lord, I do not have the power to do it. I recognise my own weakness and my self-will. Help me by your Spirit. Conquer me and direct my paths so that the gospel message which I profess may be the power that shapes every aspect of my life. Enable me to proclaim your glory not in words alone but in the reality of a transformed life. 

Peter Misselbrook