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bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry.

1 Corinthians 4:6-7

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers,[a] that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

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Last week’s post introduced 1 Corinthians, explaining more about Corinth and the Christians there.

Unlike the Thessalonians, who were devout, the Corinthians had shortcomings in their beliefs and conduct. Paul counselled and corrected them in this letter.

One of the big issues with the Corinthians involved the divisions within their church. Groups of them followed certain leaders. One faction aligned itself with Paul, another with Apollos, yet another with Cephas as well as one group claiming to follow Christ alone.

Paul addressed this factionalism in 1 Corinthians 3, excerpts from which follow (emphases mine):

2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled[b] master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

As we know, continuing squabbles lead to genuine strife and destructive division that can put an end to a church — or any other organisation for that matter.

Paul warned the Corinthians about the end result:

16 Do you not know that you[c] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

He also took issue with their notional wisdom. Philosophy was very popular in Corinth:

18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

1 Corinthians 4 is about the role of Apostles (i.e. Paul) and ministers in the church (e.g. Apollos) and how the congregation should treat them.

He begins by saying that ministers of the church should be faithful, above all. Paul said he was not concerned if the Corinthians judged him, because only the Lord could judge him:

Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

Paul knew that the divisions among them were causing them to be full of pride, each faction believing it was better than the other.

Therefore, he wrote that he and Apollos were faithful stewards of the church and, as such, just as they did not go beyond what Paul had taught them (‘beyond what is written’) or in Scripture, nor should the Corinthians in esteeming their respective faction over another (verse 6).

Matthew Henry explains:

The advice the apostle would by this means inculcate was that they might learn not to think of men above what is written (above what he had been writing), nor be puffed up for one against another (1 Corinthians 4:6). Apostles were not to be esteemed other than planters or waterers in God’s husbandry, master-builders in his building, stewards of his mysteries, and servants of Christ. And common ministers cannot bear these characters in the same sense that apostles did. Note, We must be very careful not to transfer the honour and authority of the Master to his servant. We must call no man Master on earth; one is our Master, even Christ, Matthew 23:8,10. We must not think of them above what is written. Note, The word of God is the best rule by which to judge concerning men. And again, judging rightly concerning men, and not judging more highly of them than is fit, is one way to prevent quarrels and contentions in the churches.

This is a perfect illustration of why pride is a sin. It destroys, never heals:

Pride commonly lies at the bottom of these quarrels. Self-conceit contributes very much to our immoderate esteem of our teachers, as well as ourselves. Our commendation of our own taste and judgment commonly goes along with our unreasonable applause, and always with a factious adherence to one teacher, in opposition to others that may be equally faithful and well qualified. But to think modestly of ourselves, and not above what is written of our teachers, is the most effectual means to prevent quarrels and contests, sidings and parties, in the church. We shall not be puffed up for one against another if we remember that they are all instruments employed by God in his husbandry and building, and endowed by him with their various talents and qualifications.

Verse 7 seems obscure, but Paul is really asking what makes everyone have such a high opinion of themselves, when everything they have with regard to gifts or talent comes from God.

Henry says that verse 7 also includes the ministers in their midst who headed the various factions. Those ministers were false teachers:

Here the apostle turns his discourse to the ministers who set themselves at the head of these factions, and did but too much encourage and abet the people in those feuds. What had they to glory in, when all their peculiar gifts were from God? They had received them, and could not glory in them as their own, without wronging God. At the time when they reflected on them to feed their vanity, they should have considered them as so many debts and obligations to divine bounty and grace. But it may be taken as a general maxim: We have no reason to be proud of our attainments, enjoyments, or performances; all that we have, or are, or do, that is good, is owing to the free and rich grace of God. Boasting is for ever excluded.

This is very important:

There is nothing we have that we can properly call our own: all is received from God. It is foolish in us therefore, and injurious to him, to boast of it; those who receive all should be proud of nothing, Psalms 115:1. Beggars and dependents may glory in their supports; but to glory in themselves is to be proud at once of meanness, impotence, and want. Note, Due attention to our obligations to divine grace would cure us of arrogance and self-conceit.

More will follow on this subject next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 4:8-13

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