Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church
Sermon Series: Supernatural Ways Of Royalty – 05 (Chapter 9) – Tall Imitations; Date: 16 October 2011
For more sermons and other writings check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org
“Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:16). These are words from a church leader in the Bible to his congregation. “Imitate me!” How do these words sound to you? Would you accept them from anyone in this church? Would we tolerate anyone – getting up, pointing to himself and saying: “Hey, listen up. A good Christian practises my life-style.”
Our immediate reaction would be to cut down such arrogance. How dare anyone suggest that he is the model Christian – the standard of perfection for others? What insolence! God will not tolerate pride – not even in someone that is ignorant of him. For instance, one day the king of Babylon was walking on the roof of the royal palace – enjoying the view and saying: “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30). God didn’t like the words. God didn’t like the attitude. Therefore – Daniel 4:31-32: “Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, ‘This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox ... until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.’”
Cf. Daniel 4:33-37: “Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.
At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’
At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honour and splendour were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”
Pride never succeeds but sets up even kings for failure. The Bible could not be clearer on this matter:
Proverbs 3:33-34: “The LORD’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous. He mocks proud mockers but shows favour to the humble and oppressed.”
Proverbs 16:5: “The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.”
Isaiah 66:2: “ ... These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word”
Psalm 138:6: “For though the Lord is high, yet has He respect to the lowly [bringing them into fellowship with Him]; but the proud and haughty He knows and recognizes [only] at a distance.”
Romans 12:16: “ ... Do not be proud ... Do not be conceited.”
James 4:6: “ ... That is why Scripture says: God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.” [Cf. 1 Peter 5:5.]
According to the words of Jesus – (on more than occasion) – pride sets us up for demotion but humility is the pathway to promotion – Matthew 23:11-12: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Therefore – we are utterly careful when someone stands up, points to himself and pronounces to the rest of us: “I urge you to imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:16). Who does this person think that he is?
Yet – for all of the apparent dangers of pride – we – especially in this nation of Australia – have the wrong gut-reaction. Not everyone that says “imitate me” is proud – up himself – or a tall poppy. In fact, our nation – this city – our own little church – cannot thrive – cannot flourish – without confident role models. I put it to everyone here this morning: The time comes when we need you to be worthy of imitation. You need to lead by example. Your children – our children – are watching and so are others.
Kris Vallotton – the author of the study that we are doing currently – experienced the following in a conference in Australia:
Kris Vallotton: Heavy Rain, Ventura: Gospel Light 2010, p137-138: It was a warm summer afternoon in Australia. About 200 leaders had gathered for a leadership conference where I was teaching on the subject of greatness. I wanted to use some examples that my audience could relate to in order to emphasize the fact that it is heroes who make history. However, I was unfamiliar with Australia’s past, so I asked the crowd, “Who are the heroes in your nation?” They were completely silent. After a few moments of increasing tension, I pressed, “Come on, Aussies, who are the most famous people in Australia? You know what I mean. The U.S. has George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Billy Graham. England has Winston Churchill, and South Africa has Nelson Mandela. Who are the heroes of this country?”
The hush continued in the room. Finally, the senior leader on the front row broke the silence. “Kris,” he whispered, obviously trying not to embarrass me. “We don’t have heroes in our nation. It’s culturally taboo to be great in Australia. It’s called the Tall Poppy Syndrome.”
After the meeting ended, some of the pastoral team came over and explained to me that the Tall Poppy Syndrome is a social dynamic in which anyone who accomplishes something outstanding or somehow stands above the crowd is cut down by the masses. I was stunned to learn this was a guiding principle in their culture, and wondered if they understood that this societal dynamic inherently leads people to resist advancement, innovation or progress. As I pondered the Australian mindset, however, it occurred to me that much of the Body of Christ has the identical culture. Plenty of churches are teaching people how to be good, but few are inspiring people to greatness.
In our nation – everyone that rises above the crowd – everyone that might say (with reason) “imitate me” – is cut down because – in our national psyche – we remain suspicious of tall leaders. Tall leaders – great leaders – competent leaders – may actually take us somewhere but we are not at all certain that we want to be taken anywhere. We don’t trust anyone with power; therefore undermine them for fear of pride. [E.g.: My own experience of past church elections in Qld.]
Yet, it is God that makes some of us grow tall – Matthew 23:11-12: “The greatest among you will be your servant ... those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Humility is not the same as lowliness – is not the same as lowly insignificance – but it is rather the gateway to greatness – promotion and exaltation. As soon as the King of Babylon acknowledged God and his rule over all the kingdoms on earth – as soon as he said: “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35) – God made him great again.
God is not threatened by great men and women. A humble king can have anything. The King of Babylon declared – Daniel 4:36: “ ... my honour and splendour were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.” The first twelve disciples of Jesus became so great in the kingdom of God that the foundation stones of God’s city in heaven were named after them – Revelation 21:14: “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles ... ”
Would you like to have a street named after you in heaven? This kind of ambition is not wrong – for the humble. We need some of us – (and why not you) – to rise up and say: “Imitate me.”
And by the way – the reason why in our nation not more people are rising up in this way is not always a false understanding of humility but a lack of courage. A young man (or woman) may be too shy to step up to the plate – too afraid – but – to clarify this at once – shyness is not the same as having a humble disposition. Shy people can be extremely self-centred – always worrying about how they may come across – always assuming that everyone is looking at them – always fearing a negative outcome for themselves. Yet, what they lack is courage. If you are shy, relax and don’t take yourself so seriously. Humble yourself and pluck up the courage to rise above the masses in our nation. Lead others (to Jesus). [Cf. Further road blocks to greatness can be a false understanding of sin in a Christian’s life. We are not just “poor miserable sinners” but are meant to conquer and not let sin dominate us (Romans 6).]
You may consider the shyness of Saul, his promotion and the true nature of his heart:
1 Samuel 9:19-21: “‘I am the seer,’ Samuel replied. ‘Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you are to eat with me, and in the morning I will send you on your way and will tell you all that is in your heart ... ’ Saul answered, ‘But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?’”
1 Samuel 10:21-24: “Finally Saul son of Kish was taken [to be King]. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. So they inquired further of the LORD, ‘Has the man come here yet?’ And the LORD said, ‘Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.’ They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. Samuel said to all the people, ‘Do you see the man the LORD has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.’ Then the people shouted, ‘Long live the king!’”
1 Samuel 15:10-12: “Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.’ Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the LORD all that night. Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, ‘Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honour and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.’”
1 Samuel 18:8-9: “Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. ‘They have credited David with tens of thousands,’ he thought, ‘but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?’ And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.”
Maybe it is time to define the nature of humility. What man (or woman) do we want to get up and say: “Imitate me”? A humble person has an honest understanding about his strengths and weaknesses – doesn’t puff himself up with pride – and remains submitted to God – always. However, one of the best definitions of humility is this one: “Love taking the position to serve another.” Humility is when you have the power and position – the right and privilege – to be served by others but – instead – out of love – you choose to serve rather than be served. This lies at the heart of Jesus’ instructions. Listen again – Matthew 23:11-12: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Even the greatest among us is to remain humble which means that he serves rather than be served. Thus, Jesus performed the menial task of washing his disciples’ dusty feet when none of them wanted to do the job (John 13:1-17). Here at Living Grace – even Jesus would be on the toilet roster. Humility is love taking the position to serve another.
This is at the core of the Christian message:
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to
be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the
very nature of a slave, being made in human likeness. And being found in
appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even
death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him
the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
We now have a closer look at the man – the Apostle Paul – who – in the Bible – said: “Imitate me.” There are further lessons for us to learn. Listen to an entire chapter in the Bible. This is not an easy chapter but is full of conflict, tension, sarcasm, explanations, pleading and warnings. When you are meant to rise above others, it is not always in a peaceful situation. Don’t let this hold you back:
1 Corinthians 4: “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 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. 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.
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.’ Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. 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?
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! 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.
We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honoured, we are dishonoured! 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. 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.
I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 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 Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
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. 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?”
The Apostle Paul was the missionary that first brought the good news of Jesus Christ to the people in Corinth. The Christians there owed Paul their faith (1 Corinthians 9:1) but there was not much gratitude but a growing rejection of Paul. He faced their judgements; therefore writes: “I care very little if I am judged by you ... ” (verse 3) “Judge nothing before the appointed time” (verse 5).
What were the issues? Other church leaders – like Apollos – had become more popular than Paul. Paul had come to them “in weakness and fear, and with much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3) – he was seen to be “timid” in person (2 Corinthians 10:1) [and “bold” when he was away] – which was not portraying an image of success and favour from God (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31). He should have demonstrated greater evidence of visible glory (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3: “And even if our gospel is veiled ... ”). [2 Corinthians 10:10: “For some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” 2 Corinthians 10:6: “I may not be a trained speaker ... ”]
When Paul defended himself, the church soon accused him of making himself look good (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:1; 5:12: “We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again ... ”; 12:19: “Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you ... ”). The church further accused Paul of promising a visit but then not coming to them. They thought that he was withholding affection from them (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:12: “”We are not withholding our affection from you ... ”). Some used the disappointment to rise up against Paul and fill the vacuum with their own views (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:18-19; 2 Corinthians 1:23). Some of Paul’s correspondence seemed to be too harsh to them and caused them grief (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:8: “Even if I have caused you sorrow by my letter ... ”). They also took offense that Paul would not accept any money and support from them (cf. 1 Corinthians 9; 2 Corinthians 11:7-12: “ ... I have kept myself from being a burden to you ... Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do ... ”; 12:13).
The whole package of Paul was no longer the package of a valued church leader in Corinth. Therefore – it took courage, perseverance and confidence to keep saying to this congregation: “Imitate me.” “I urge you to imitate me.” Become strong like Paul. The church is always in need of correction. We need leaders – heroes – that conquer the status quo – the moral compromises of Christians, the apathy, the deceitfulness of wealth, the self-pity, the lack of compassion – and we need to be lead by positive examples rather than negative denouncements. Anyone can criticize but only few can demonstrate an alternative: “You need a model? Imitate me.” [Cf. Francis Chan’s resistance among Christians when he wanted to downsize his family home.] [Extended thought: The world does not only need a model of transformed Christian but a model of a transformed church and then transformed city and nation. The world needs to see a working model.]
I also find it interesting that Paul was the founder of the church – an apostle – but did not demand and defend his authority through constitutional means. He had not put in place any legal framework which could have enforced obedience from his congregation. He was confident in his role as their spiritual father (1 Corinthians 4:15: “ ... you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father ... ”) but – when he left them behind on further mission journeys – they were given their own eldership (Acts 14:23) that was – from a legal perspective – independent from Paul. [Paul did not set up a franchise.]
This is again evidence of great humility. He would have had the right to insist on leadership but – out of love – he chose to serve without forcing anything on the church. The definition of humility from before said that it was love taking the position to serve another and this kind of service comes without coercion. Humility is service without any strings attached. This is what Jesus taught. Consider again – Matthew 23:11-12: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” The greatest among us – like Paul – remain humble – that is: keep serving – and trust God with their exaltation.
At the same time – Paul knew that he was exalted by God – a great leader – and he knew that he could trust God – not any human means – any human constitution – to back him up in any leadership conflict. He wrote – 1 Corinthians 4:18-21: “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. 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?” Paul was humble but knew about his spiritual power. Become confident in God backing you up. Serve with assurance – in any conflict. God will confirm that we are to imitate you.
This leadership principle of humble service without enforcing authority – (through human means) – is demonstrated in key crisis moments of other Bible leaders. God can be trusted to confirm the leadership of his chosen ones:
1 Samuel 24:5-15: “Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, ‘The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.’ With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way ... ‘Against whom has the king of Israel come out? ... May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.’”
1 Samuel 26:9-11: “But David said to Abishai, ‘Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the LORD lives,’ he said, ‘the LORD himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the LORD forbid that I should lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.’” 1 Samuel 26:22-25: “‘Here is the king’s spear,’ David answered. ‘Let one of your young men come over and get it. The LORD rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness. The LORD delivered you into my hands today, but I would not lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed. As surely as I valued your life today, so may the LORD value my life and deliver me from all trouble.’ Then Saul said to David, ‘May you be blessed, David my son; you will do great things and surely triumph.’”
Numbers 12:1-16: “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. ‘Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?’ they asked. ‘Hasn’t he also spoken through us?’ And the LORD heard this. (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.) At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, ‘Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.’ ... Then the LORD ... said, ‘Listen to my words: ... But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?’ The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them ... So Moses cried out to the LORD, ‘Please, God, heal her!’ ... ”
Numbers 16:1-50: “Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?’
When Moses heard this, he fell facedown. Then he said to Korah and all his followers: ‘In the morning the LORD will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him. You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers and tomorrow put burning coals and incense in them before the LORD. The man the LORD chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!’
... He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. 11 It is against the LORD that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?’
Then Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab. But they said, ‘We will not come! Isn’t it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness? And now you also want to lord it over us! Moreover, you haven’t brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Do you want to treat these men like slaves? No, we will not come!’
Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, ‘Do not accept their offering. I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them.’
Moses said to Korah, ‘You and all your followers are to appear before the LORD tomorrow—you and they and Aaron. Each man is to take his censer and put incense in it—250 censers in all—and present it before the LORD. You and Aaron are to present your censers also.’ So each of them took his censer, put burning coals and incense in it, and stood with Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the tent of meeting. When Korah had gathered all his followers in opposition to them at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the glory of the LORD appeared to the entire assembly. The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.’
But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, ‘O God, the God who gives breath to all living things, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?’ Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to the assembly, ‘Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.’’
Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. He warned the assembly, ‘Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins.’ So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents.
Then Moses said, ‘This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt.’
As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, ‘The earth is going to swallow us too!’ And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.
The LORD said to Moses, ‘Tell Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, to remove the censers from the charred remains and scatter the coals some distance away, for the censers are holy— the censers of the men who sinned at the cost of their lives. Hammer the censers into sheets to overlay the altar, for they were presented before the LORD and have become holy. Let them be a sign to the Israelites.’ ...
The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. ‘You have killed the LORD’s people,’ they said. But when the assembly gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron and turned toward the tent of meeting, suddenly the cloud covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared. Then Moses and Aaron went to the front of the tent of meeting, and the LORD said to Moses, ‘Get away from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.’ And they fell facedown.
Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the LORD; the plague has started.’ So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped. But 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those who had died because of Korah. Then Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance to the tent of meeting, for the plague had stopped.”
Paul was a humble servant leader when he urged his congregation to imitate him. He wrote – 1 Corinthians 4:1: “ ... you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ ... ” The problem of pride was rather with the people. Hear some of the words again and pick up what was at the heart of all contentious issues:
1 Corinthians 4:7-13: “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?
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! 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. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honoured, we are dishonoured! 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. 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.”
To the Corinthians – Paul was an extremely unattractive role model because it cut down all their achievements and privileges. Paul threatened to take away all their gains in the Christian faith. They thought that they had the best church – the best experiences – the best conferences. They were so deliriously happy that Paul confronted them with sarcasm – words meant to bite through the delusion: “Already you have all you want!” How could they think that when their own church members suffered from bitter divisions (1 Corinthians 3:1-4), took each other to court (1 Corinthians 6:7-8), someone slept with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1), the rich got drunk around the communion table while others came in hungry (1 Corinthians 11:17-22), a lack of love was everywhere (1 Corinthians 13:1-3), worship services were chaotic with everyone doing their own thing (1 Corinthians 14:26-40), some denied the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12), etc.
The Corinthians were boasting over their achievements but Paul asked them: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” No achievement – no breakthrough – no spiritual gift – no city transformation – nothing is ever the result of our own effort. Credit – honour – glory – praise – always belong to God because he makes us live by his grace and his power.
The Corinthians thought that they were doing so well compared to Paul. Again – listen to the sarcasm which Paul used against them: “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! ... We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honoured, we are dishonoured!”
What the Corinthians did not want to embrace was the life-style of humility which Paul demonstrated in his own work. There’s a job to be done. Jesus said – Matthew 28:19-20: “Go and make disciples of all nations ... ” And this kind of job is going to be met with opposition. Not everyone welcomed Paul and his preaching of Jesus Christ who died for the sins of the world. Looking at Paul – the Corinthians saw what was waiting for them, that is: weakness and dishonour. They were called to humility: the love that is taking the position to serve another.
When Paul said: “I urge you to imitate me,” the Corinthians – and we – naturally drew back. The role model was too radical but necessary – 1 Corinthians 4:9-13: “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 ... 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. 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.”
Do you want to imitate someone that is the “scum of the earth” – “the garbage of the world” – “hungry and thirsty” – “brutally treated” – “homeless” – and “working hard”? We need you to take this on. This is how Jesus served us and this is how we are meant to serve each other and a lost world. We need people in our own midst that can demonstrate this kind of life-style.
This may not be attractive to you but it is attractive to others – 1 Corinthians 4:12-13: “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.” This kind of humility is attractive – it will win in the end – because there is a willingness to serve without insisting on any rights of fair treatment or other privileges. When someone meets us with this kind of humility, we know we will be heard – we know we will be served – we know we will be helped – we know that our needs will matter – we know that there will be peace – we know that God’s heart will be present (Dr Norm Wakefield & Jody Brolsma: Men Are From Israel, Women Are From Moab, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 2000, p156) – and this is what we need among us: Love taking the position to serve another – humility – for others to imitate.
This morning – you can respond to the call: “Imitate me.” The words of the Apostle Paul in the Bible remain an invitation to anyone that wants to hear the call. Are you ready? This may mean that you also go hungry and work hard. You may have to endure persecution and slander – even homelessness – but – at the same time – (and this is how we began the message) – you are growing into greatness. Humility is not the same as lowliness – not the same as lowly insignificance. I think that Paul’s name is on one of the foundation stones of God’s city in heaven and who knows how God may recognize your growing stature in his kingdom. Your humility is not a hindrance but the pathway to promotion and exaltation. We need leaders that are tall among us. [Cf. Matthew 23:11-12: “The greatest among you will be your servant ... those who humble themselves will be exalted.”]
Paul wielded extraordinary authority. He was – 1 Corinthians 4:1: “ ... entrusted with the secret things of God.” And he was a father to the church – 1 Corinthians 4:15: “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” He also had the power to exercise discipline which would bear results – 1 Corinthians 4:19-21: “But I will come to you very soon ... 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. 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?”
He was a great man who – nevertheless – took the position to serve others. He was tall but humble. Be like him and we imitate you. Amen.