Series on I Corinthians, II The Message of the Gospel, F Faithful, Text: 3:18-4:13. Title: Proud Fools


In this passage Paul continues to confront the divisions in the church at Corinth. The extent of his concern over this problem is clear from his reluctance to stop talking about it. This problem is not limited to the Corinthian Christians. It characterizes the whole history of the Church of Christ and is very much present with us today. Christians today are divided. i am a thoroughly conservative, committed concerned Presbyterian, but I am not prepared to pronounce the whole rest of the Church of Christ apostate. I am not an Arminian who emphasizes man's free will, or a Baptist or Lutheran who has a different view of the sacraments, or a charismatic who believes in speaking in tongues as evidence of my faith, but I'm not proud of it either. Therein lies the problem. The Corinthians were proud of their divisions. They took pleasure in following one man over another, and as I have indicated, I don't believe their differences were as great as what we have in the Church at large today, but still they had become enslaved to different viewpoints. How does Paul deal with this pride? He talks about service, stewardship and sacrifice.

I Service

The teachers the Corinthians were following were all servants of the church, not masters. I am sure that these teachers had different styles, different viewpoints, different emphases. Instead of seeing these different men as servants of the Church, all of whom could contribute to their faith, they allowed those different emphases to become their masters. They would isolate a viewpoint and then ride it roughshod over their brothers so that anyone who did not agree with that emphasis somehow was less of a Christian than they were. Let me speak just of our own denomination. In the Presbyterian Church in America we have a very tightly defined doctrinal position. We have a 33 chapter confession of faith, a hundred ninety six question and answer larger catechism and a hundred seven question and answer shorter catechism and still there are many differences in emphasis. There are differences in missions philosophy, in interpretation of prophecy and millennial views, different views of creation and the age of the earth, differences in worship, formal versus informal, different emphases on discipleship and evangelism, different views on the law of God and its applicability, differences in counseling philosophies, and we could go on. and all within the boundaries of orthodoxy as we define it. The problem arises when sinful human nature leads us to pick one of these emphases and champion its cause so that we begin to look down on those who are not as enlightened as we are. When this occurs the balance of Christian doctrine is upset. our standards are intended to be a balance pole like they use on the high wire in the circus. They present the teaching of the Bible in a balanced way. Paul's point in 3:18-23 is that all of these emphases belong to the Church, Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future-all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. Ephesians 4:11-14 says, It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. The teachers were servants and there was only one master, Jesus Christ. It is easy for us to go off in a tangent and begin to judge our brothers. and act like masters ourselves. Let us, therefore, consider the issue of stewardship.

II Stewardship

Paul says these different preachers are trusted stewards in verses 1-3, So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. 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. Although they are servants of the Church, they belong first to Christ. The word translated servant is not the ordinary word. It is literally a galley slave, but notice Paul says he is a galley slave of Christ. It is Jesus alone who is his judge. The word steward in the Greek is translated here as, “One entrusted with the secret things of God.” This implies that Christ is the master and only judge. A steward must be faithful to his master, and Christ is the master. Paul  says in verse 3 that he does not even judge himself, and then he adds in verse 4, My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Paul waits for the Lord's appraisal in verse 5, Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. Today Christians are judging one another as they did in Paul’s day. They go beyond what is written as Paul says in verse 6, Now, brothers, 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 take pride in one man over against another. A viewpoint that once enhanced our grasp of the truth has become a tangent that threatens to undo the truth and to make us fight one another. After World War II, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The Cost of Discipleship.” American pastors read it and some started what we called the “Lordship” teaching. They said you can’t have Jesus as Savior unless you have him as Lord. True enough! But they preached it so constantly that eventually it fostered in some legalism, judgmental attitudes, and unhealthy doubt. Another Pastor in PA developed a course called “Sonship.” It brought a much needed emphases on justification by faith and our secure position as Sons of God. But, it was preached constantly and it led some to a disregard for the law and a libertine lifestyle. Lordship and Sonship are good ships on the sea of Christian doctrine but when they become heavier than the water they displace they sink. You can be sure that if there is a missing piece to the puzzle, someone will make a piece that is too big to fit. Everyone was saying, have you heard this Sonship preacher? Have you heard this Lordship preacher? Taking pride in one teacher over another is the result of going beyond the clear teaching of Scripture. Its almost as if there isn't enough plain teaching to occupy our attention and our energy and, we want to major in the minors. Its not that we shouldn't discuss these differences, its just that we should not allow them to divide us and be a source of spiritual pride. The implication here is that if the outcome of the debate was vital then God would have spoken more clearly. If you want to be a good steward, then keep the balance of Scripture. Paul is not done. His final attack on their pride is to point to sacrifice.

III Sacrifice

Beginning with verses 7 and 8 Paul indulges in the most withering irony, 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? He then makes a comparison of the experience of the teachers and the Corinthian Christians in verses 9-13, For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men.We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 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. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. The Corinthians are kings and Paul and Apollos are the lowliest of slaves. And finally when he leaves off the comparison, he lists the sufferings he and other Apostles have endured, and concludes in verse 13 with the extraordinary epithets "the scum of the earth and the refuse of the world." Both terms refer to the residue left over after a thorough cleaning. Both terms also came to refer to human sacrifices. This strange connection is due to the fact that the people chosen to be so sacrificed were those most easily spared, the meanest and most worthless in the community. So the Apostle climaxes his description of their service, and it is as if he were saying to the Corinthians, while you are sitting in your ivory towers debating the fine points of your disagreements, we are out here in the trenches dying for the gospel. Someone has written, just remember: “Every baseball team could use a man who plays every position perfectly, never strikes out and never makes an error. the trouble is, there's no way to make him lay down his hot dog and come down out of the stands.” Their pride was senseless, stupid, heartless and absurd. The real demonstration of Christianity was in sacrificial love and service. I think again of that place in 1:13 where Paul says, Was Paul crucified for you? In spite of all their sufferings, the Apostles and teachers fell far short of Jesus. He died for us bearing our sin and the awful judgment of God fell upon Him. The Corinthians had been sidetracked and lost sight of what was most important as it is summarized by Peter in i Peter 2:21-24 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.


This is a very personal thing in the sense that each Corinthian Christian had to apply this to himself, and so do we. What is clear is that the man who truly follows Jesus puts sacrificial service first. There is a legitimate forum for the discussion of our differences,  but it wasn't a debate on the philosophy of missions that took David Livingston to Africa. It wasn't a debate over discipleship that led Dawson Trotman to found the navigators. It wasn't a debate over evangelism that led Billy Graham to preach the gospel, and it wasn't a debate over Apologetics that led Francis Schaeffer to found L'Abri fellowship. All these issues are debated, but the real work is done in the trenches by those who follow a crucified Christ.