1 Corinthians 4:10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! (NKJV)
(Previous devotionals can be found at www.seriousfaith.com)
“I wish I was like you!” That’s what Paul was sarcastically telling the Corinthians who were a very affluent, self-reliant, status minded, materialistic culture. The Corinthians had brought their societal standards straight into the church and were actively engaged in equating material prosperity with Christian spirituality. The good news is (and it’s really good news for us Westerners) is that Paul still considered them genuine Christians because he addressed them as “brethren”. So if there was hope for them, then there’s hope for us.
The “brethren” of Corinth were having big problems: they had fallen into “personality worship” and had brought their materialistic worldview into the church. They had picked favorite teachers and were creating segments of the church that were identifiable by loyalty to a certain person (other than Jesus Christ). Sound familiar? They had incorporated their worldly standards of success into the church and set them up as the standard by which to measure holiness, faithfulness and spirituality. Sound familiar?
Those guilty of personality worship and materialism
were still considered Christians by the Apostle Paul.
That’s good news for us today.
Again, it’s good news for us Americans that Paul called the Corinthians “brethren” and still considered them true Christians who were in need of correction. Why is it good news? Because this sort of “personality worship” and “materialism” is rampant today no matter what type of church you belong to.
Personality divisions run the gammut from fundamental churches (MacArthur, Goddard, Swindoll, Stanlely, Calvin, Spurgeon, etc.) to Word Faith (Copeland, Hagin, Hinn, Cho, etc.) to the more social minded churches (Schuller, Warren, etc.) to the major religions (Pope, Mary, Watchtower, Mormons, etc). Some of those teachers would be appalled and saddened that people “follow” them. Others have the obvious intent of wanting to be followed. Note: don’t draw conclusions simply because of how I grouped those names; I only list names to highlight that this is a real problem across the board, not just with one group.
Materialism saturates our society and by default, most churches. In some churches it’s just the passive reality that most of the congregation is chasing more money and more “stuff” to spend on our own pleasures and desires (James 4.1-5). We subconsciously (or overtly sometimes) equate our material success with God’s approval of us. In other churches, it is just flat out preached, taught and proclaimed that material prosperity equals greater faith, deeper spirituality and wealth is a measure of God’s opinion of you. An increasingly large segment of the electronic church is based on this principle.
The Apostle Paul proceeds to harshly and sarcastically rebuke the Corinthians for these practices. If Paul declared they were wrong then, how is it that we have a great portion of Christianity practicing and actually defending them today? How much of Paul’s brutally direct and sarcastic comments in 1 Corinthians 4:6-13 would apply to us today? Let me set up the context of the verses for you, then give you a paraphrase in modern English of Paul’s comments.
Here’s the context:
- The Corinthians were materialistic, worldly, affluent, prosperous and self-dependent; they promoted materialism and measured themselves by it by socially and spiritually
- The Corinthian church had been picking personalities to follow and be identified with (Paul and Apollos) because they were very much into status and social ranking
So Paul comes along in this context and after chewing them out for causing divisions by “personality worship” (1 Corinthians 3) , he blasts their class warfare and materialistic mindsets with a scathing barrage of sarcasm (1 Corinthians 3:6-13):
“What are you bragging about? Why are you judging others and setting up levels of ‘status’ based on your ‘personal success’? You measure yourself by what you posess, but you have NOTHING that God didn’t give to you!
Look at you with all your stuff! You’ve got it made, I wish I could be like you! Me and the other Apostles are the lowest, most despised men on earth; we’re just a bunch of fools running around preaching about Jesus… we must be doing something wrong because you guys are rich and self-made and prosperous – you guys are obviously doing something right because of how successful you are! We aren’t successful at all; we’re weak, poor, dishonored, destitute and unpopular. You all must be great people of faith and spirituality because you’re popular, prosperous and successful. We are just a bunch of low life filth that has been cast off by the world. Wow… it must be great to be you!”
That is pretty brutal sarcasm coming from arguably the most holy, humble and loyal Christian who has ever walked the earth. Keep in mind that Paul was so respected by the Corinthians that people were actually creating division in the church based on following Paul or Apollos. So for Paul to be this sarcastic to them, served the purpose of really convicting the Corinthian church and getting their attention. How much of that do you think would apply to the Church today? Let’s consider….
- Is the church today materialistic and worldly?
- Do Christians today get into social status and class?
- Does any part of Christianity today equate prosperity and material abundance with greater spirituality?
- Are there Christian teachers today who focus on success and the “good life”?
- Are there preachers today whose message is more about personal success than personal sacrifice?
- Do we tend to judge people by their success, wealth, appearance or social status?
- And finally… is the average Christian today more like Paul (humble, sacrificial, content whether rich or poor, loyal, committed) or more like the Corinthians (materialistic, worldly, seeking success, equating prosperity to spirituality, following personalities instead of Christ)?
It’s a very sobering question to ponder, especially in our affluent Western culture, especially with our modern “prosperity gospel”, especially with our “Jesus will improve your life” seeker-friendly movement… and especially with all the personality following (worship) that goes on today within the groups of people who claim Christ.
If Paul’s rebuke was true for materialistic Christians in the first century, is it any less true for materialistic Christians in the 21st century?
Lord, Help us to realize that Paul’s words are timeless. If we are like the Corinthians, help us to understand Paul’s rebuke, and apply it to our lives. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Contemplation: Do you see any parallels with the Corinthians and your own life? If Paul’s rebuke applied to them, does it apply to us? It’s really hard to not be materialistic in a thoroughly materialistic society; what can you do about it as a Christian short of living alone in a cave somewhere?
Application: We are foolish to think that Paul’s warning was applicable to the Corinthians, but we have somehow managed to “better understand” Scripture today. In other words, it’s dangerous for us to read Paul’s sarcastic lambasting of the worldly Corinthian church, and then turn right around live materialistically, or preach the prosperity message of today. As Ecclesiastes says, “there’s nothing new under the sun”. People are people are people. We would do well to learn from the past.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?