1 Corinthians 3-4

Chapters 3 and 4 are in many ways a continuation of the topics that comprise chapters 1 and 2. In these two chapters Paul will (1) scold them for dividing up over preachers, which as a sign of immaturity, (2) instruct them in the proper evaluation of preachers, and (3) address their arrogance that had shown itself in their arguments and divisions over preachers.

I. Chapter 3

A. Their divisions were signs of worldliness and immaturity (3:1-4).

1. While he was with them in person, Paul considered the Corinthians spiritual infants and fed them accordingly. But they had not grown sufficiently in the meantime.

2. Their jealousy and strife were the evidence of their worldliness and immaturity.

B. How to properly assess preachers (3:5-15)

1. Preachers are merely servants; God deserves all the credit for kingdom growth (5-9).

2. Preachers will be judged on how they build on the foundation of Jesus (10-15).

C. The danger of destroying the church, God’s temple (3:16-17). By creating factions within the congregation, they were destroying God’s dwelling place.

D. Though they thought they were wise, their boasting in mere men was foolish (3:18-23).

1. In order for them to be wise in God’s sight they would have to show themselves to be foolish by worldly standards.

2. Though it was culturally relevant and acceptable to line up behind one’s teacher, it was not to be that way in the church.

II. Chapter 4

A. Preachers are servants whom God will judge (4:1-5).

1. The Corinthians had judged Paul, Apollos, Peter, and others as being worthy of too much praise.

2. Paul reminds them that God’s assessment of them will be the only one that ultimately matters.

B. The Corinthians should not go beyond what is written, for doing so only leads to arrogant boasting against each other (4:6-13).

1. Their perceived wisdom, which was mere foolishness to God, led them to develop an ugly arrogance.

2. But Paul sarcastically informs them that he – the teacher that many of them highly esteemed – did not exhibit this kind of arrogance. So why would they?

C. Paul warns them, as a father would his son, to get their affairs in order before he comes (4:14-20).

1. He wasn’t writing them just to shame them. He wanted to reform them.

2. In a way, he was their spiritual father. The church came to exist in Corinth through his preaching of the gospel. Therefore, he spoke to them as a loving father would to his erring son.

III. Practical Applications

A. Christians should grow beyond milk to solid food (3:1-4; Heb. 5:11-6:12; James 3:13-18).

B. Be careful not to elevate preachers (3:5-7; 4:1-5).

C. Teachers/preachers must take their roles seriously (3:10-15; James 3:1; 1 Tim. 4:11-16).

D. One should think long and hard before he does something that causes division in the church (3:16-17; Rom. 12:18).

E. Nothing that contradicts God should be called wisdom (3:18-20; James 3:13-18).

F. Stewards must be faithful (4:1; Matt. 25:14-30).

G. Pride is a dangerous thing, for it elevates man and brings down God (4:8-13).

H. Sometimes love requires sternness (4:14-20; Rev. 3:19).

1 Corinthians 1-2

After a brief salutation and expression of gratitude, Paul gets down to business. He had received a report from a family in Corinth about the existence of contentious divisions in the church. In the first two chapters the apostle not only addresses the sinfulness of their factions, he also addresses an underlying cause, namely, a misplaced elevation of human wisdom.

I. Chapter 1

A. Salutation (1:1-3)

B. Gratitude (1:4-9)

1. As is typically the case, Paul expresses gratitude for the recipients of his letter while offering insight into the contents of his prayers for them.

2. He is grateful for their reception of God’s grace, that they have been enriched in Christ, and that they lack no spiritual gift.

C. Division over preachers (1:10-17)

1. Here Paul begins addressing their problems, the first of which is division. Having heard from Chloe’s family of their divisions, Paul appeals to them to be united (10-11).

2. Though they were dividing based on personal loyalties to preachers involved in their conversions, Paul takes their focus to Christ, the gospel, and the cross (12-17).

D. God’s wisdom in Christ (1:18-25)

1. The cross is foolish to those who don’t understand it. But for those who do, it is God’s power to save (18).

2. God’s plan for the redemption of man – a plan with the cross at its center – may seem foolish to some, but it is actually the embodiment of God’s power and wisdom (19-25).

E. Jesus is the only ground for boasting (1:26-31)

1. Paul reminds them that they were not among the wise, powerful, or upper classes. Yet God called them in the body of Christ (26-28).

2. There is nothing in the gospel message, properly understood, that would lead one to boast in himself. Our only basis for boasting is in what Jesus has done for us (29-31).

II. Chapter 2

A. The pre-eminence of Christ in Paul’s preaching (2:1-5)

1. Paul didn’t utilize lofty speech or human wisdom when he preached to them. He just preached Christ crucified. Truth be told, he was actually scared to death (1-3).

2. But he preached “in demonstration of the Spirit and power,” so that they would not elevate him (Paul), but magnify God (4-5).

B. The wisdom of God revealed (2:6-16)

1. The message of Paul’s preaching was the revelation of the “mystery,” that is, God’s eternal purpose for the redemption of man. This message was revealed to Paul and the other apostles by the Holy Spirit (6-13).

2. The person who is governed solely by worldly standards will not accept the spiritual nature of the gospel message (14-16).

III. Application Lessons

A. God’s grace is amazing (1:4-5). We should be grateful for it (4). It is God’s gift (4). It is in Christ (4). It makes us rich (5). It is responsible for what we accomplish in the kingdom (5).

B. We should have confidence in each other (1:8-9). Though they had many problems, Paul was confident that they would fix them and not forfeit their eternal salvation.

C. Unity in Christ is possible (1:10), but only if everyone is willing to agree to follow the standard of God’s word.

D. We don’t often think like God does (1:26-28; 1 Samuel 16:7; Luke 16:15; Psalm 50:21).

E. Be careful whom you glorify (1:29-31). No human being, especially preachers, should be given credit for what God is responsible for.

F. The message is more important and powerful than the messenger (2:1-4). God used a weak, frightened man to reach the Corinthians. The power was in the message.

G. The word of God is verbally inspired (2:9-13). The words that inspired men spoke were words that came from the Holy Spirit who revealed the mind of God.

Eddie Parrish

How to Have a Successful Ministry

When Paul wrote about his brief work in Thessalonica, he affirmed that his time with them “was not in vain” (1 Thess. 2:1), meaning that his work was not devoid of results. It was not fruitless. What made it so? What are the components of a successful ministry? The first twelve verses of 1 Thessalonians 2 reveal the answer.

Preach the good news of Jesus, regardless of the consequences. Paul wrote, “We had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition” (1 Thess. 2:2). Though Paul and his company had faced mistreatment for preaching Jesus in Philippi, they preached the same message in Thessalonica with courage that God supplied. Satan does not want people to hear “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), and he will do whatever he can, including the employment of human opposition, to get our focus onto lesser things. We must preach the good news anyway.

Keep your motives pure. Paul’s preaching was not “from error or impurity or by way of deceit” (1 Thess. 2:3). He did not use “flattering speech” as a “pretext for greed” (2:5). Preachers should regularly look deep within themselves and genuinely assess their motivations. Why do we do what we do? What drives us? Is it the praise of others? Do we seek power and authority? Do we want to create a personal support base like Absalom did (2 Sam. 15:1-6)? Do we seek the failure of others so we can flourish (Phil. 1:15-17)? Improper motivations often lead to improper conduct.

Remember to whom you will answer. Paul preached “not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts” (1 Thess. 2:4). He did not “seek glory from men” (2:6). As a minister of the gospel, Paul understood that God had given him a sacred trust (2:4), and one day he would be called to account for how he handled it. We will stand before the same God to answer for how we have handled that same trust. It is not before the world or the church that we will stand and be judged, but God. Remembering that will keep us from altering the message to court the favor of others.

Be gentle. Paul wrote, “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7). It appears that some preachers believe the path of bitterness, rancor, hostility, and vitriol to be the path to successful ministry. Paul chose a different path. He would later encourage Timothy to walk the path of gentleness, too. “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24-25).

Establish close relationships with your church family. “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). Though Paul was not in Thessalonica very long (Acts 17:1-9), he did more while there than just impart information. He did more than give sermons. He gave himself. Today’s preacher must remember that even though his primary focus is the ministry of the word, he is not just a worker in a sermon factory. It is tragic for a preacher to spend years in one place and yet not become “very dear” to anyone.

Don’t be high-maintenance. Paul was very concerned that he not become “a burden to any of you” (1 Thess. 2:9). Contextually, the burden Paul wanted to avoid was financial. He worked “night and day” so that the church in Thessalonica would not have to support him and his companions monetarily. He did, however, receive financial support from the church in Philippi (Phil. 4:15-16) in addition to what he earned in other endeavors. But I want to make a different application. Preachers can be a burden to the church in other ways. Do we monopolize our elders’ time and discourage them by always complaining? Do we pout and sulk when we don’t get something that we ask for? Paul didn’t wan to be a burden to anyone, and neither should we.

Practice what you preach. Paul wrote, “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers” (1 Thess. 2:10). Not only did Paul teach others to conduct themselves properly, he followed his own teaching. Few things can damage a man’s ministry than blatant hypocrisy. No preacher is perfect, and each of us will sin. The church understands that. But people can tell the difference between a man who stumbles because of weakness and a man who simply refuses to apply Bible teaching to himself.

Take your preaching seriously. The words Paul used in 1 Thessalonians 2:11 to describe his preaching convey that he approached his work with a proper sense of gravity. He wrote, “We were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you.” While there is a place for the judicious use of humor, preachers are not comedians. We are engaged in a battle for the souls of men and women. It is a solemn duty to stand before the bride of Christ and speak for God (cf. James 3:1).

Preach practically. The goal of Paul’s “exhorting and encouraging and imploring” was “so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12). For Paul, preaching was not just an opportunity to communicate information. He was preaching to change lives. Our sermons are not finished until they answer the questions, “So what?” and “Now what?” If we are not giving our listeners something that they can take home with them and use, we are hindering our own ministries.

Preacher, if you want to know whether or not your ministry is successful, see how it measures up to Paul’s work in Thessalonica. Because of the above characteristics, his efforts among them were “not in vain” (2:1). If we follow the same formula, perhaps God will grant us a fruitful ministry, too.