The Humility of Discipleship
© 2024 C. O. Bishop
1st Corinthians 4:8-16
8 Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.
9 For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.
11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;
12 And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:
13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.
14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.
15 For though ye have ten thousand instructers in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
Remember the context, here, as we begin to study this warning to the Church at Corinth:
They were already displaying a great deal of carnality, division, and pride. Paul had already begun to admonish them regarding their sin, and this is simply a more pointed address to the source of their error.
In verse eight, Paul addresses their self-confidence and self-aggrandizement. He sounds almost as though he is mocking them, but he at least is highlighting their arrogance, by comparing their attitudes to those of the apostles.
Ye are Kings!
The Christians in Corinth had excessively high opinions of themselves: Theythought they were really something special. Possibly in their immaturity as new believers, they had simply become elated at their new position in Christ, but it led to becoming inflated in their own minds.
They felt self-satisfied and smug, it seems. So, Paul is calling them out because of their pride. He approached them fairly gently about it, compared to some of the preachers of past ages. (Jonathan Edwards, in his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” blasted his hearers and condemned them, saying that they were lower than worms and hanging on the brink of an eternity in Hell!)
Paul is very gently chiding these baby believers and leading them to see themselves accurately. He does something similar in Romans 12:3, where he commands the Roman believers to “not think more highly of themselves than they ought to.”
He went on to make three contrasting comparisons between the believers in Corinth and the Apostles who had actually introduced them to Christ.
- We are fools, but ye are wise!
- We are weak, but you (plural) are strong!
- And, we are despised, but you are honorable!
Even today, the church at large has attempted to make itself “attractive to the world” by attempting to look wise, strong, and honorable to the world around us. In a limited sense, that was what was beginning in Corinth. They felt as though they had “arrived,” and had a special “in” with God. But today it has gone further!
The organized churches of every stripe have built huge buildings, with amazing architecture, and tried to attract rich parishioners, even to the extent of rejecting those who “didn’t measure up.” James warned against this practice in James 2:1-4. He says if you are turning the poor away, or treating them differently, then you are in sin!
How Bad did it Become?
In some past ages, the so-called “church” has even taken on “military status,” literally having its own armies to back the armies of “approved” nations against those that were unapproved. The Spanish Armada (also called the “Invincible Armada”) was a classic example. The king of Spain sent it to attack England and force it to return to Catholicism. And, the Pope at that time had guaranteed the Spanish king that if the Armada made landfall in England, then the Pope would send in troops to participate in the invasion!) Providentially, the Armada never made landfall. The “Invincible Armada” turned out to not be so “invincible” after all!)
The Crusades were a similar travesty. And these were by no means the only examples.
The powerful “churches” of that time extorted money from the poor to fill the treasuries of their cathedrals. Then they tortured and killed those who disagreed with them. In no case did such behavior honor the Lord, and in no case did He approve of any of it at all. In fact, in many cases, that “Strong, Wise, and Honorable” organization was imprisoning, torturing, and killing His people! This powerful so-called “Church” considered as an “enemy” anyone who simply believed Jesus for their salvation, and refused to follow their teaching, So they tried to destroy them all.
We remember the Inquisition as a horrible, cruel time in history. But those people who declared themselves “wise, honorable, and strong” carried it out! Other church organizations have committed similar crimes. Jesus does NOT command believers to “attack unbelievers.” The unbelievers are precious souls for whom He died, the same as the Believers! He commanded us to take them the bread of life, and offer hope, not condemn them!
In Romans 1:22, Paul explains the problem: He says, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools!”
What is Our Calling?
1st Corinthians 1:26-29 says, “26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.”
If that is the sort of people God has chosen, then why on earth do we insist on appearing to not be that kind of person? Why are we so desperately trying to show the World that we are “Wise, strong, and honorable?”
You see, that is what the Corinthian believers were doing, too!
But, Aren’t We Supposed to Be Wise?
There is nothing wrong with doing what God says is wise. There is nothing wrong with allowing God’s strength to be our sufficiency, and if it brings good results, then the honor goes to God!
And, of course, if we behave in a manner that God says is honorable, then, the result will be mixed: those who hate the smell of Jesus will despise us along with Him. Those who see Him as their only hope will be drawn to us, along with Him. If Jesus is rejected, we should expect to be rejected along with Him! And we are to accept that rejection with Joy!
Hebrews 13:12, 13 says, “12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. 13 Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.”
Jesus calls us to join Him in the rejection the World has given Him (and still gives to Him.)
So, What was the Problem in Corinth?
Several times, Paul confronted the believers of Corinth. He condemned their pride. Proverbs 16:18 says “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
Pride always has bad results! The Corinthian believers were not only torpedoing their testimonies by conceit, but they were wrecking their walk with Jesus because God hates pride!
Proverbs 6:16-19 says, “16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”
Over and over, God condemns pride, in both the Old Testament and the New! So, Paul begins to offer the contrast between the Apostles and the believers at Corinth. They were heading down a dangerous path.
Isn’t it odd that today the media tells us to be proud? That pride is a wonderful attribute, when God says it results in strife and discord, and war?
What about the Apostles?
What does Paul; say the lives of the Apostles looked like? He said:
- Physically buffeted,
- They labored, working with their own hands: (self-supporting)
- Being reviled, they blessed.
- When they were persecuted, they accepted and endured it:
- Being defamed, they intreated
- They were made as the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things.
(Wow! What a great ministry! Sounds like a “recruiting poster for servanthood,” doesn’t it?) No, it does not! From a human perspective, it sounds like a great occupation to avoid!
Jesus did not say that discipleship would be “fun.” He never said it would be a “source of pride or position.” When the twelve disciples were bickering about who would be greatest in the kingdom of Heaven (the Millennial Kingdom,) He straightened them out by saying that the greatest would be those who approached Him as a child approaches. Without any self-will or arrogance. And that those who served would be the best rewarded. “He who would be chief among you, let him be your slave.”
The Apostles seemed to be the last in line for honor, in this world. As far as we know, the unbelievers eventually executed all of them were for the sake of Jesus, with the possible exception of John. (History is unclear regarding some of them.)
And Paul’s Conclusion?
Notice that he softens the admonition by saying that he is bringing this rebuke in love, as a father to his children. He had no desire to shame them, but he had to warn them of the trap into which they were walking. He reminded them that he, himself, had led them to Christ. His heart toward them was as a father to his children.
His conclusion was, “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me”
In effect, he said, “Please follow our example! We Apostles have led you to Christ, and we have taught you how to walk with Him. Follow our example, and drop all this heady nonsense of pride and personal glory!
Some of this may sound foreign to some of you, but, if you think about it, I would expect that at least some of you may have run into these attitudes before and may even have fallen prey to them yourselves. In either case, God warns us that such conceited self-satisfaction in our “super-spirituality” is a guaranteed recipe for disaster, both as individuals and as a church.
We need to learn and embrace the humility of discipleship.
Lord Jesus, open our eyes to our true condition and help us to change, as You transform us through the renewing of our minds. Teach us to walk with You in true submission and humility, rather than insisting on our own way. Make us able ministers of your truth.