1 Corinthians 4:14-21 — End the Divisions in the Church!

So far in 1 Corinthians, Paul has focused mainly on divisions among Christians and in the church. He spoke of the fact of the divisions in 1:10-17 and the causes of the divisions in 1:18 to 4:13, specifically:
      1. A wrong conception of the Christian message (1:18-3:4)
      2. A wrong conception of Christian ministry and ministers (3:5-4:5)
      3. A wrong conception of the Christian person(4:6-13)
He ends this part of his letter by urging Christians to end the divisions among themselves and in the church.

1. After writing so harshly in the first 3½ chapters, why is Paul now sounding so gentle (“I don’t want to embarrass you” and “my own dear children”)?

A: According to Matthew Henry, In reproving for sin, we should distinguish between sinners and their sins. Reproofs that kindly and affectionately warn, are likely to reform. Though Paul spoke with authority as a parent, he would rather beseech them in love.

2. What can we learn from Paul’s approach?

A: Don’t minimize or overlook core problems. But don’t keep bashing people over the head with them either. Remember, the Corinthians had written to Paul with several questions and he hasn’t even mentioned them yet. In the first 3½ chapters, he has pointed out in a very direct way the basic problems these people have with the Christian message, with the Christian ministry and ministers, and with themselves. He’s not downplaying these issues at all. But now he’s saying, “I don’t want to make you feel bad. I want to help you. But before we can get on to the things that are bothering you, you’ve got to face up to these basic issues.”

What does this mean to you and me? Here’s an example. A friend of mine called me recently and asked me if I thought the laptop computer on sale the day after Thanksgiving at Wal-Mart was a good deal. I could have easily answered the question and told him, “yes, at $400 it’s a great deal,” but the much more important issues that had to be dealt with first were: 1) my friend, you have a serious spending problem, 2) your marriage is about to collapse if you don’t get control of your finances, and 3) what on earth do you need another computer for? I laid those issues out in a non-nonsense way, but after laying them out if I had continued to bash him over the head with them, he would have walked away so I said, “hey, we’ve been friends for a long time. You asked my opinion because you valued it. And although I’m not telling you what you want to hear, maybe you should think about these issues first.” I’m happy to say that he did, and he did NOT buy the computer.

3. In 4:16, Paul says, “I want you to be like me.” What is he looking for? How do you personally measure up to Paul’s standard?

A: As he says in the opening verses of Chapter 4, he is looking for Christians to be servants of Christ, to recognize that they have been given a trust, and to be faithful with it. He wants Christians to be humble, to endure persecution, and to be “fools for Christ.” He wants Christians to set an example as they follow Christ in both faith and deeds.

4. Who do you admire for putting their faith on the line? Mother Teresa? Billy Graham? Desmond Tutu? Martin Luther King? Some “lesser known” believer who is faithful in hard times?

[Leader: have a good example of your own. Mine was Gladys Guitz, founder of Potter's House, an organization that helps the 10,500 people living in the Guatemala City Garbage Dump.]

5. Explain verse 20. (God’s kingdom isn’t just a lot of words. It is power.)

A: First of all, “God’s kingdom” refers to what? It refers to God’s present reign in the lives of his people—our dynamic new life in Christ. (2 Cor 5:17 - Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!) This kingdom isn’t just idle, empty talk, but it has the real power of the holy spirit. (Romans 1:16 - I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.)

6. How would Paul respond to the idea, popular today, that “God wants you to be happy, rich, and successful”?

[Leader: If you can find it, there is an excellent 8-page piece in the Religion section of Time magazine, Sept. 18, 2006, titled, "Does God Want You to be RICH?" It is about the growing number of Protestant evangelists (T.D. Jakes, Joe Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Kirbyjon Caldwell, and others) that say "YES" to this question. But the idea is poison to other, more mainstream pastors. What do you think Pauil would say to that idea? For more on the Christian Prosperity movement, see Osteen's book, "Your Best Life Now."]

7. Read verse 4:21. If Paul came to visit us here today, would he come with a whip, in love, or with a gentle spirit? Why? How would you like him to come?

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