First Corinthians 4:6-13
The Danger In Too Much Pride
So That You Never Have Overbearing Pride
1. What has been stated so far is that Paul is explaining that the Corinthians learn "not to [think regarding humans] more than what is written." We're not sure what the phrase "not to [think regarding humans] more than what is written" means. But, his intentions are explained by the words that come afterwards. He says, "It is so that no one by elevating one person makes another ill-regarded and no one is high-minded." The thing Paul is taking issue with is "overbearing pride, haughtiness."
2. In saying "by elevating one person [it] makes another ill-regarded" this means, in sum, to compare people together. We normally make comparisons and live in a world where we put a great value on ranking people. Of course, this does not only have to do with comparing other people with other people. Those who compare other people are always comparing others to themselves. They live all the time either up basking in a superiority complex or down tormented by an inferiority complex.
3. Paul was trying to get them out of living that way. What he said so far about Apollo and himself was for that reason. For that reason Paul was not trying so earnestly to direct their thoughts onto humans but onto God.
4. Paul says, "Who is it that made you superior to the others? Among what you have, is there anything there you did not receive? So if you received it, why are you high-minded looking like you didn't receive it?," (verse seven).
5. His words are scathing. But, we had better listen hard to them just as well. There is an expression in English for people with ability, it is "gifted." Since it is a "gift," something they are given, it should mean that it was "given" to them by someone and not that the ability was naturally inherent. Or even in our churches in Japan we use the expression that "a person was given a gift." A gift is not something that you owned originally, but something that is "given to you." But, even though these different expressions are used, we don't often think about the One who has done the giving, do we? Like Paul said, I think we're making faces "looking like we never received it." Aren't we?
6. If I may add, it is translated here as "Who is it that made you superior to the others?," but that's not a literal translation. If we translated the text literally here, it would say, "[Who is it] that made you different from other people?" Of course, it is only God who makes one person different from another. Since God makes us different and makes one person different from another, then what's important ought not to be "rankings and standings among men and women." That's not where it's at, rather, what matters ought to be the differences in purpose and intention. Shouldn't it? But, whenever the One who has given the gifts is forgotten, the meaning of the differences between folks is not considered. The attitude of ranking one person over another takes its first step.
7. That's where the problem of human self-elevation lies. There is not a self-elevation in only taking pride in one's rankings. There is a lifting up of the self also when a person lowers himself or herself. There is an elevation of self even in inferiority complexes. Because when we forget that we have received [it all] from God in the first place we are [in this wrong state of mind of] self-elevation. When we live looking like we haven't received anything from Him, that in and of itself is a self-aggrandizement.
8. But of course, what Paul is stating here won't [line up] with the world's common sense. The world's common sense won't come up with questions like, "What is there among all that you have that wasn't given to you [by God]?*" What is being said in this is the mindset that comes by consistent faith. But, the problem is in when this faith derived mindset, which we should just have by nature as people of faith, is lost. This portion of scripture was addressed to the disciples of Corinth, the people of the church. Though they were believers, the problem was that they were living and thinking like persons without faith. Paul had already said in chapter three and verse three, "As there is an unceasing jealousy and fighting between you, doesn't this mean that you are men of the flesh and are walking as mere men?"
9. The fact that Paul has spoken like that to church people means that this is for us and not just for somebody somewhere else. Over and over again we have to keep having a right mindset awakened in us as believers. Because even if we have been living the church life for a long while, even as members, or as pastors even, we don't see it and end up forgetting and have misunderstandings. The problem of self-elevation, in particular, creeps into our day to day faith life unawares.
The Rich And Splendored**
10. In order to awaken the right mindset [in them], Paul goes on to hurl some harsh words at them. "You are already full and are already so rich, setting us aside, you have selfishly become kings. But oh how I wish you actually right now were kings; for, if that were so, we too ought to have been kinged with you," (verse eight).
11. Of course, Paul is being sarcastic when he tells them you are full and so rich. What he meant was that although the disciples at Corinth weren't really like that, they were starting to think that way. They were thinking as if they were kings in the kingdom of God. There was no room for the blessing of God any more to come in among them since they were satiated but unaware that they had received all things from God. You might say that they were not even seeking the blessing of God nor even thankful at that. This same figure is seen in the church at Laodicea found in Revelation. In Revelation chapter three and verse seventeen the following message is recorded, which the Lord gave to the church of Laodicea. "You say, 'I am rich. I am content. I don't need a single thing,' but you don't see how that you are a wretch, a miserable person, a poor person, a blind person, a naked person," (Revelation 3:17).
12. The Lord once said, "The poor in heart are blessed, the kingdom of God belongs to them," (Matthew 5:3). Whoever knows his or her own poverty seeks of God. They give thanks even for the slightest thing given to them by God. The person who is already very rich is not that way. According to Jesus, that is disastrous for him or her.
13. Paul describes the Corinthians as "Setting us aside, you have selfishly become kings." In saying they set aside Paul and those with him he meant they set aside missionaries, and he meant that they set aside the word of God. Saying you don't even need the gospel that was given through Paul and his group, if put in other words, is equivalent to saying you don't even need Christ. That they have become like kings without Christ is truly dreadful. But, it is quite possible for the church and for christians to end up being like that.
The Figure Of The Apostles Obedient To Christ
14. Then, Paul dares to make a comparison of himself and his group with how they are and says, if you would look beginning at verse nine, "When you think about it, God has made us apostles sort of like the men condemned to death for some crime dragged in at the end [of the victory parade]. Because we are an exhibit through out the world and to both angels and humans. We have become fools for Christ, but you believe in Christ and are become wise persons. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held up in honor, but we are held in contempt. To this day we have gone hungry, thirsty, without clothes, been ill treated and had no one to give us a place to stay and have worked hard toiling with our very hands. We have been treated bad but we bless, we have been persecuted but we've endured, we've been abused verbally but we return a sweet word. Up to now we've been made the scraps of the world, and the refuse of all," (verses nine through thirteen).
15. Paul connects his own image and that of his helpers with that of slaves in the Roman colosseum who are condemned to death and who are dragged out at the end as trophies from war. There is no element of worldly honor or praise in that whatsoever. It has nothing related to this world's glory. But, even in it he is with Christ; for the Christ whom Paul proclaims is but the crucified Christ.
16. We compare people with people and in a world where our ranking of them has decisive meaning being considered wise or strong and winning respect takes on importance. In all reality, what the Corinthian disciples were seeking was to be wise men and women, to be men and women of strength, and to be admired men and women. And to a certain degree they had achieved it. They had acquired [a measure of those qualities] and were full to satisfaction. Paul shows them his own figure as an apostle along with a strong message to them. [He shows them that] in order to show them what it means to be with Christ, to obey Christ, and to proclaim Christ. [He shows them that] in order to point out that the figure which they were seeking to be was so very far from this.
17. We must remember the figure of Paul as an apostle because without realizing it we think that the important thing for the church is to acquire worldly power, wisdom, and to win the world's respect and admiration. We are not to end up thinking that getting the notice of the world on us, having influence, or being cool and attractive are indispensible to the church mission.
18. Paul wasn't in the least bit cool. Nor was he strong. The phrase of "We have been treated bad but we bless, we have been persecuted but we've endured, we've been abused verbally but we return a sweet word" are not the words of a strong man in this world. But, it is precisely through such apostles as that through whom Christ has preached. The crucified Christ has preached in that manner. The Corinthian disciples were also supposed to preach Christ through being persons like that. They had to be reminded of that. And so do we. What we must truly consider is not how much we can be to get the admiration and the respect from the men and women of this world. Much rather, [we had better think about] how we can humble ourselves more as we [abide] with the crucified Christ.
*Same sentence as "Among what you have, is there anything there you did not receive?" which is from the scripture. I thought it best to change it here and make it sound more like the way we speak in English and not in New Testament Greek or church type Japanese.
**Or, The Wealthy And Wonderful