Faithful. And that is a great theme, isn’t it? I don’t need to talk about how necessary it is today to call for faithful men. We see the tragedy of unfaithfulness unfold before our eyes on a daily basis. I have never seen, in my lifetime, as many disastrous episodes of pastoral failure as I’ve seen in the last two or three years.
Faithfulness is rare. Faithfulness to the end. I saw it in my grandfather, who on his deathbed, dying of cancer, at a relatively young age, when I was about nine years old, and his heart cry was he wanted to preach another sermon. He had prepared a sermon and was not able to preach it. He went to heaven before he could preach it. It happened to be a sermon on heaven; so, at his funeral, my father passed out a printed version of that sermon. So, my grandfather preached on heaven from heaven. To the very end, that’s all he wanted to do was deliver the Word of God.
And I saw it in my father, who went to be with the Lord at the age of 91 and was still teaching the Word of God faithfully. I have seen a legacy of faithfulness. I pray all the time that this generation will find faithful men to invest in, because they seem to be more and more rare. But I know you’re here because that’s what you desire, and that is tremendously encouraging to my heart.
I want you to look with me, this morning at 1 Corinthians chapter 4, which is the go-to passage, in my mind, if we’re going to talk about faithfulness. And this will be a – more of a Bible study than a sermon. I just want to talk to you through this wonderful passage. First Corinthians chapter 4. Let me read it to you.
“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found faithful. But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
“Now these thing, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you didn’t receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
“You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. I think God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to the angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we both hunger and thirst, are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.
“I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.”
This is a very personal passage, as you can see – very heartfelt on the part of the apostle Paul, and we should receive it in that very way as well. This penetrates deep into the inside of us. It does for me.
The mark that I want to make with this passage is simply to help you understand that it is required of stewards that one be found faithful back in verse 2. Pistos in the Greek, from the verb peitho which means to be persuaded, to be convinced, to believe. It’s the word for trustworthy or faithful. The word is used as a synonym for Christians; it is translated believers and meaning just that. So, it is a basic term used to identify those who savingly believe in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But the word is also frequently used to define someone’s faithfulness. In fact, it’s used broadly that way. Let me just give you a few illustrations. Scripture says God is faithful, and it says of God that God is pistos.
First Corinthians 1:9, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” First Thessalonians 5:24, “Faithful is He who calls you, and He will also bring it to pass.” Second Thessalonians 3:3, “The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” First Peter 4:19, “Entrust your souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”
And then the word is used of the Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Timothy 2:13, “The Lord Jesus Christ remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” Hebrews 2:17, “He is a merciful and faithful high priest.” Hebrews 3, “He was faithful to Him who appointed Him.” Hebrews 10:23, “He who promised is faithful.” First John 1:9, “And if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” Revelation 3:14 identifies Him as “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness.” And in that powerful picture of Revelation 19, we read, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.”
And the Word of God is also faithful. Titus 1:9, “– holding fast the faithful word.” Revelation 21:5, Revelation 22:6, “These words are faithful and true.”
New Testament ministers are faithful. In 1 Corinthians 4:17, we saw that Timothy was faithful. In Ephesians 6, in Colossians 4, we learned that Tychicus was faithful. In Colossians chapter 1 and chapter 4, we learn that Epaphras was faithful. In Colossians 4:9, we learn that Onesimus was faithful. First Peter 5:12, Silvanus was faithful. Revelation 2:13, “Faithful is Antipas, who was killed.” And Paul, 1 Timothy 1:12, was considered by God to be faithful. Paul says to Timothy, “The things that I’ve given to you, pass on to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.” We are called to that same faithfulness.
Our Lord made much of this in His parables. He so frequently, in His parables, talked about faithful slaves, faithful servants. He talked about those who were faithful hearing from their Master, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” He said those who were faithful over little would be given much, and those who were faithful over little would have authority over ten cities. And to the church at Smyrna, Revelation 2:10, the word is that we are to “be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Faithful unto death.
All of that is really just preface to the text. And while that word is the key that I’ve talked about in the introduction, faithfulness, in this passage, is linked necessarily to humility. Faithfulness is linked to humility. Humility is the virtue that produces faithfulness.
Psalm 31, verse 23, says this, “The Lord preserves the faithful and fully recompenses the proud.” So, the Lord contrasts pride with faithfulness, which then indicates that faithfulness is essentially the manifestation of the long period of time of one’s humble stance before the Lord. Spurgeon once said, “I believe every man has a choice between being humble or being humbled.”
Humility creates the vacuum that divine grace fills. Now, this is a passage about faithfulness. Necessarily, then, it’s a passage about humility, which is the benchmark of any faithful servant of God.
I don’t really need to remind you, but just lightly to touch on it, we live in a world system that neither desires nor requires humility. This is a culture where bravado and hubris has gone mad. Whether in politics or business or profession or arts or sports or any other form of society – manifesting itself most ubiquitously on social media – everybody seeks to promote themselves.
Prominence, publicity, fame, self-importance drives an entire culture forward to, I might say, insanity and hopelessness. Humility has no place in the scheme of this world and, sadly, the dominant pride of our culture has spilled over into the church with so many who seek celebrity status. And there is a quasi-Christian public that will grant that to them. But the true man of God fights for humility; he fights for humility. The true man of God will choose the hidden path: the hidden path of sacrifice, the hidden path of the approval of his Lord rather than the spotlight or adoration of the carnal crowd.
The greatness of John the Baptist was not in the strength of conviction that made him denounce the evil of his time. The greatness of John the Baptist was not in the powerful, convicting words of that cut to the heart of his contemporary religious leaders. The greatness of John the Baptist was in the attitude that made him say these words: “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
The mighty impact of Paul was not developed out of his great logical mind, or his vast knowledge, or his strong convictions about the truth. What made Paul powerful was a heart attitude that caused him to say, “I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle. I am the foremost of all sinners; I am the very least of all saints.” The Lord worked hard to keep Paul in that attitude. As we learn in 2 Corinthians 12, He gave Him a thorn in the flesh, which Paul prayed would be removed on three separate occasions. The Lord didn’t do it because God’s power was perfected in Paul’s weakness. And because he had had so many revelations, in order to humble him, the Lord brought that pierced – that frightening piercing attack – not on his physical body, but on the Corinthian church with those demonically-inspired false teachers who were trying to tear up his work there.
It’s a strange thing to think about the Lord allowing demons to do damage to a church just to humble its pastor. The matter of humility was on Paul’s heart in his inspired words written here in this passage that I just read to you.
Let’s back up a little bit. The Corinthian church had developed a severe case of exalting different people. Right? “I’m of Paul.” “I’m of Apollos.” “I’m of Cephas.” “I’m of Christ.” This was the game they were playing. You see it in the first few chapters – chapter 1 particularly – and rather extensively from the beginning of chapter 3, early in the chapter, about verse 4, all the way to the end of verse 23.
They were playing the celebrity game, evaluating God’s ministers, God’s servants – ranking them, honoring one above another. And Paul sets out to deal with this matter. He gives a powerful word, here in this chapter that I read, on the essence of humility. And it is really by his own example as I’ll show you in a moment. It’s a first-person testimonial that reveals that he was fighting for humility for himself and for those he influenced.
If you break the passage down, I see five elements that manifest the humility of Paul, the humility that he fought for, that he sought. Number one, he was content to be a lowly servant. He was content to be a lowly servant. Just looking at verses 1 and 2, “Let a man regard us in this manner” – and the tone there is to say, “Instead of elevating us above somebody else, instead of this ‘party attitude’ that manifests itself in Corinth, when you think about us, don’t think about me as someone better than another.”
“But let a man regard us in this manner as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found faithful.”
Now, just look at the word “servants.” It’s very important to notice that word. There are a number of different words in the Greek language for servant. This is really the lowliest of them – hupēretēs – hupēretēs – huper meaning under; it has the idea of an underrower in a three-decked trireme ship, where you had three tiers of slaves pulling oars. Nameless slaves, perhaps even chained to their oars, nondescript, insignificant underlings, subordinates at the very lowest level imaginable.
Paul is saying, “Look, when you think about me, don’t think about me as better than someone else; think of me as a third-level galley slave. And this isn’t just some strange self-depreciation by the apostle. He learned this kind of language from our Lord. Listen to the beginning of Luke’s gospel, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and third-level galley slaves of the word.” Hmm. Luke uses it to refer to the apostles. Luke uses it to refer to the apostles.
In the 18th chapter of John and the 36th verse, “Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My third-level galley slaves would be fighting.’”
Toward the end of the book of Acts, in the 26th chapter of Acts and the 16th verse, the Lord says to Paul, “Get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a third-level galley slave and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you.”
If you dig a little deeper into the lexicons with regard to this word, you will find that, “This slave, this particular slave, this hupēretēs, has the special feature of doing his master’s will without any interest in his own personal worth or personal dignity.” And that’s a quote, “He’s doing his master’s bidding and will without any regard for his own dignity or worth.”
Look back at chapter 3 of 1 Corinthians, verse 5, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plans nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”
In Mark chapter 4, the farmer plants the seed and goes to sleep and doesn’t know what happened, but the seed grows. And we’ll look, a little later in the week, at the 9th chapter of 1 Corinthians – just give you a preview of that very familiar verse 16, “If I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.”
This is the perspective of humility: Paul was content to be a lowly servant, one who serves without any personal ambition, any personal reward in mind. And this kind of service is not glamorous, by the way. In the 6th chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul describes it this way, “We’re servants, and here’s the nature of our service: much endurance, afflictions, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonment, tumults, labors, sleeplessness, hunger; and purity in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the Word of Truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true, as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold we live, as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing everything.”
It’s never about us. So, first we are low-level galley slaves, and then he says, in verse 1, “We are stewards – stewards of the mysteries of God” – oikonomos. That has to do with a manager in a house. Oikos is the word for house.
House manager, that is a person who had the responsibility to distribute all of the goods and all of the foods to the household in the absence of the master or on behalf of the master. This would be a house manager, a trustee, a protector and dispenser of the property of someone else. That is exactly what we do; we provide all the goods that the Lord has put on deposit for His people. We feed the flock of God. That is our stewardship.
“We are the stewards of God,” Titus says. Colossians 1:25 says the same thing. “We take the goods that God has given to His people and distribute them.” We serve humbly, dispensing what isn’t even ours.
How many of our Lord’s parables talk about stewardship on the level of servants doing the right thing. And what is it that we dispense? The mysteries of God, the New Testament truths, new covenant truths, things hidden in the past and now revealed in the New Testament. And you can go through them yourself; you know what they are. The mysteries are those things hidden in the Old Testament and now fully revealed in the new covenant, in the New Testament – things hidden. We dispense the New Testament truth. We are primarily New Testament preachers. We dispense the mysteries of God.
So, Paul was content to be a very lowly servant, a third-level galley slave with no concern for himself, but willing to do his Master’s will. And then shifting the metaphor, he had a stewardship which was to dispense all of the glorious truths of God that had been hidden in ages past and were now revealed in Christ, in the New Testament, and he was to make sure that he fed them all to the household of God over which the Lord gave him responsibility. And all the Lord asks of him, verse 2, is that, in that stewardship, he be found faithful. Faithful galley slave and a faithful distributor of divine mysteries.
Faithful. That’s what it means. There’s a word to Timothy, in chapter 6, that I would just mention along this line. First Timothy 6, “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.” What has been entrusted to him? The Truth, the Word of God; that’s the treasure that Paul is talking about. The treasure. “Guard that treasure.” You have a responsibility to distribute it, but you can’t distribute it if you don’t guard it.
Right into 2 Timothy 1:13, “Retain the stand of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” Then he goes on to talk about all those in Asia who had forsaken him. “Faithfulness” means that you are willing to be a third-level galley slave, and as a steward, you are a careful guardian of all the mysteries that have been revealed in the Word of God, in their fullness in the new covenant.
So, Paul’s faithfulness is connected to his humility. His humility is, first of all, defined because he was content to be a lowly servant. Secondly, in this passage, he was content to be judged by God. He was content to be judged by God.
Verse 3, “To me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore, do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”
It’s easy for us to get caught up in the accolades, especially because we do something that no other profession does. It’s pretty stunning when you have the responsibility to feed people the mysteries of God, when you are the oikonomos, the steward of all that is in the new covenant cupboard, as well as all the fullness of old covenant fulfillment, and you dispense that to people. What happens is you become the object of that wonderful statement, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the Good News.”
It’s really almost overwhelming to me, here at this church, to try to navigate through a crowd of people, outside on the patio, on a Sunday – or anywhere else – because – not because they know me, not because there’s something about my personality that they particularly appreciate. I have fed them the Word of God for so long that there is a profound bond that exists that doesn’t exist in any other situation at all. And when you’ve done it for 50 years, and you’re on the 4th generation of the same families, the deepest affection is almost incomprehensible.
It’s hard for me to understand how they feel about me, because though I want to care for them, I don’t have the love for them that they have for me. And we haven’t even had a close friendship, and yet their love for the one who delivers the truth is overwhelming and overpowering.
But Paul says even at that – even at that, it’s a small thing. “It’s a small thing that I may be examined by you or by any human court.” It’s a small thing – elachiston, an interesting word. It’s a superlative. It should be translated in a superlative way. It is the smallest thing; it is utterly insignificant. It’s used in Ephesians 3:8 to refer to less than the least. It is absolutely irrelevant what someone else thinks about me. Someone else judging me has absolutely no significance; it’s the superlative use of the term. You can’t be less than that. You can’t be more insignificant or more trivial or more unimportant. It doesn’t matter at all.
Paul was accused, you know, of being a men pleaser among the Galatians. And then he let them have it with both barrels. He said, “If you preach another gospel, you’re damned.” And then he says, “Does that sound like a man pleaser?” It’s less than the least concern to me to be judged by you” – anakrinō. And it’s not so much final judgment; that’s not the word here, but rather to be cross-examined. And it means to investigate in a forensic sense.
And I want to say that, with all love and gratitude, what this church has done for me, even today, and in the last number of weeks, is overwhelming, overpowering. It makes it very difficult for me to function and to preach and think, because I’m so overwhelmed by all of this, just to feel the gratitude. But when it’s all said and done, as gracious as they are, as loving as they are – and I embrace that with all my heart – that is the least significant verdict on my ministry that will ever happen. That’s not the final word.
I’m glad for folks to say, “Thank you for being faithful,” but no human judgment is the final verdict. It’s a very small thing. It is the – it is less than the least that I may be examined by you.
“And who do you – what do you mean ‘you?’”
By any, literally, human day – by any human court. It doesn’t matter.
Paul was overly commended by some, and certainly overly criticized by others. He was battered back and forth, as I just read in 2 Corinthians chapter 6, from those who hated him and those who loved him. But in the end, he says that evaluation is without meaning. And then he says this, “I don’t even examine myself.” “I don’t even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, earnest I am not by this acquitted.” “I’m so biased in my own favor, I can’t even make an objective evaluation of myself.”
Proverbs 21:2 says, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.” My own conscience is a defense. Paul says “my conscience is clear” a number of times. My own conscience is a defense, but it is not a perfect defense, because I am biased in my own favor. I don’t trust my own judgment, because my heart is deceitful. So, what people say about me and even what I think about myself is insignificant; it doesn’t matter. I may be underestimated; I may be overestimated; I may be a combination of both. Neither of those is the final verdict. The final verdict comes from heaven.
“The one who examines me” – end of verse 4 – “is the Lord.” The one who examines me is the Lord. He knows, right? He knows. He knows my true heart. So, verse 5, “Therefore do not go on passing judgment” – stop the comparisons, stop making verdicts about who should be elevated above whom. “Do not go on passing judgment” – literally stop it – “before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose” – disclose the boulas, the thoughts, the considerations, the attitudes – “the motives of the heart; then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”
When He comes, He will make the right judgment. It is the only judgment that will be absolutely true and accurate. Second Corinthians 5:9, “We have as our ambition, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or” – phaulos, useless; wood, hay, stubble. That happens when the Lord comes and brings it to light.
And the final verdict on us will not be a number, will not be a reputation; the final verdict on us will be an evaluation of the inside – boulas, the purpose, the motive, the council of our own hearts. It can be translated council. “Then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” I think he’s talking about the bēma, the judgment of believers, where it will be praise. But all the wood, hay, and stubble, as you see acknowledge in chapter 3, will be burned away, and only the gold, silver, precious stone is left. And that will be related to the heart attitude with which we served, and not the outside, not the external. Paul is content to be judged by God as to the reality of his service. It didn’t matter to him what men said.
Thirdly, pursuing faithfulness and pursuing humility, he was content to be equal with other servants. He was content to be equal with other servants. Just look at verse 6 for a moment. “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes” – he’s using himself and Apollos as an illustration; and he says – “so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.” A very, very interesting verse.
Robert Morrison, the beloved missionary to China, once said, “The great fault in our mission is that no one wants to be second.”
Of Abraham, it is said in Genesis 18:27, “And Abraham answered and said, ‘Now I – behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes.’”
Jacob, in Genesis 32:10, “I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which Thou hast shown to Thy servant.”
Moses, Exodus 3:11, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” And even the Lord Jesus Christ, “I am meek and lowly in heart,” Matthew 11:29.
“These things” – at the beginning of verse 6 – “These things” – that is the discussion that’s been going on all along about him and Apollos and Cephas and this comparison – “These things I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sake. I’ve said Apollos is nothing, and I’m nothing, and I’ve been saying that to you, using myself and Apollos as an illustration so that, looking at us, you may learn not to exceed what is written.”
What do you mean by that, not to exceed what is written?
He means what is written about – what is written in Scripture about pride and humility. This is to show you the importance of being faithful to Scripture.
James says, borrowing from Psalm 138 and from the book of Proverbs chapter 3, that God rejects the proud and gives grace to – whom? – the humble. And then Peter says the same thing in 1 Peter 5:5. That’s what Scripture says, and not only in those two Old Testament passages, which variations of are quoted in those two passages in James and 1 Peter. Paul is saying, “Look, the Scripture everywhere exalts humility and debases pride. So, I’m talking about this and using myself and Apollos as examples so that you will learn not to be proud when the Scripture forbids it.” And that’s how he closes the verse, “So that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.”
This is just destructive to be in competition with someone else in ministry. I think a beautiful illustration of this is found in Philippians 1. In Philippians 1, as we all know, Paul is a prisoner. Verse 15, “Some, to be sure” – he says – “are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, some from good will” – what was happening was Paul was a prisoner, and there were some other preachers coming along – reportedly gospel preachers – saying, “Paul’s in prison because somehow he stumbled; somehow there’s some sin in his life. The Lord put him in prison as an act of divine discipline. The Lord put him on the shelf. The Lord’s done with him, and now it’s a new day; it’s our day.”
And so, they were literally stepping on the prisoner Paul to elevate themselves as if they were the true faithful preachers. And so, they were literally preaching Christ from envy and strife – motivated by envy and strife against Paul. “The latter do it out of love” – those who do it with goodwill – “knowing that I’m appointed for the defense of the gospel.”
And then he says this, “The former proclaim Christ” – those who do it out of envy and strife – “proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” That is a twisted person, isn’t it? What a twisted preacher that is, wanting to inflict damage on the imprisoned Paul by accusing him of being involved in some kind of divine discipline for his corruption. You would think Paul would attack those with such impure motives.
Verse 18, he says, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.” That’s a big heart. People are trying to do all the damage they can possibly do to Paul, but they’re preaching Christ. He will not defend himself; he will not criticize them; he will rejoice because Christ is being preached.
Verse 7, why not? “Who regards you as superior? What do you have you didn’t receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” You’re nothing. You’re less than nothing. You’re just a third-level galley slave; you’re a steward called to distribute the divine mysteries of God to His household. No place for boasting, no place for self-elevation.
And he gets so exercised by this that, in verse 8, he bursts with some sarcasm in condemning pride, “You’re already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us” – you have full satisfaction; you have all the riches; you who have been enthroned, you’ve arrived spiritually; you’re on the throne, and you did it without us; you get all the credit; give yourself all the credit. You reached the elevated place on your own – “indeed, I wish you had become kings so that we also might reign with you.” He pulls them right back down to reality.
Paul was content to be an equal, never wanted to be above anybody else. Never sought exaltation. “Everyone who has a proud heart is an abomination to the Lord.” Proverbs 16:5, “Everyone which has proud heart is an abomination to the Lord.” How you react, when someone is selected to a larger church than you, takes your pride temperature. How you react to he praises given to other men, and not having desire to belittle them or their work, speaks of your humility. It’s tough, isn’t it? Because the flesh hankers after pride.
Fourthly, Paul was content to be a servant of Christ. He was content to be judged by God. He was content to be equal to others. He was content to suffer. If you’re busy trying to exalt yourself, you need to read this, “I think God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we’ve become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.”
This is such a powerful, powerful text. God has put us in last place publicly. We are literally on exhibit in the world. We’re on exhibit like men condemned to death, like people marching along to death row, to our execution. By the way, that is one word “men condemned to death,” and it’s only used here; it’s a very strange, unusual word. We’re like condemned criminals, being mocked and scorned. We are spectacles. The word is theatron from which we get theater. We’re like somebody on a stage. We’re like men parading to our death while the audience watches us.
When a Roman general won a great victory, he paraded his victorious army through the streets and dragged behind the army all the condemned captives. They were taken into the arena to be killed by the wild animals or the gladiators.
We’re last. We’re lowliest. We’re on exhibition to be mocked and scorned and killed. And Jesus said this in John 15 and 16, “The day will come when they will arrest you, and they will kill you.”
Back to sarcasm in verse 10, Paul says, “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor.” We are fools – moron in the Greek. We are weak; we are without honor. Our lives are full of hardship, suffering, distress.
Verse 11, “We are hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, roughly treated, homeless.” You can read more about that in 2 Corinthians chapter 11, verses 23 and following. We’re vagabonds, and the elevated Greeks look down on low life people like this: the homeless. We’re common laborers. Verse 12, “We toil, working with our own hands.” We’re just absolutely nobody, content to be rejected, content to be thought little of, to be humiliated, to be just the commonest of common people who work with their hands, no honor.
There’s a final word. He was content to sacrifice his reputation. He met defamation of character all the time. Verse 12 ends, “When we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate” – and then this graphic section – “we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.” We’re scum. And that is the dirt film – the best I can understand, that’s the dirt film baked on the bottom of the pan that you have to scrape off. And the dregs, that’s the residue left in the bottom of the container where the wine was kept; it went to the bottom and stuck to the wineskin. We’re the crud on the bottom; we’re the dregs.
To the perishing, our message is foolish. We do not seek to be popular with the world. When you entered the ministry, you set yourself in absolute and total lifelong opposition to the world. We do not seek to be popular with the non-Christian world, or even popular with the unfaithful quote-unquote Christian world. We do not seek to be exalted in our own eyes; we’re content to be the scum at the bottom of the pan, the dregs at the bottom of the wineskin. That’s okay.
And if we’re not humble enough, the Lord will give us a thorn in the flesh and humble us more. Peter summed it up, 1 Peter 5:5, “Be clothed with humility.” James 4:10, “Humble yourselves, and He will” – what? – “exalt you.”
Father, we thank You for Your Word; we’ve traversed it this morning. I pray that You will seal that which comes from heaven to our hearts, and that anything else would be forgotten. Thank You for these precious men who have gathered in this place to hear a word from You from heaven. Thank You for the stewards that You have sent, the third-level galley slaves who are going to serve You by feeding us Your divine food. Give us a great week, exceed all of our expectations. Do more than we could ever ask or think. Fill our hearts with joy and believing. Make the fellowship sweet. May Your Word live within us and carry us to levels of joy in worship and faithfulness and service that we’ve never seen before, for Your eternal glory we ask. And everyone said –
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