Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? – 1 Corinthians 4:6-21 (ESV)
“If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” This rhetorical question is intended to put people in their place. When someone goes on and on as he or she has the solution to all problems this question is a way of saying “where’s the beef? If you are really so smart, show us what you have done with it. Surely, someone as smart as you claim to be must have made a fortune by now.” As attractive as this question may seem at times, it is fundamentally wrong. First, it assumes that the chief thing that an intellectually gifted person could do with this gift is to make money. That is a very worldly assumption. Second, it fails to take into consideration the many reasons beyond mere intelligence that frequently go with those who are financially successful. Nevertheless, the attractiveness of the question poses a spiritual danger for us. In the twenty-first century we have a large number of polished religious teachers who attempt to validate their “ministries” by how large, influential, or wealthy they are. Now there is nothing wrong with gifted men finding a wide audience for their teaching or for the fact that they are pastoring large congregations or are on radio stations all over the country. The danger is when we imagine that those things demonstrate that such teachers are somehow anointed by God. This line of reasoning seems to have taken hold in first century Corinth. Some of the Corinthians were pointing to their own wealth and social status as evidence that they clearly had God’s approval. How do you answer people like that? The Apostle Paul responds with biting sarcasm where he contrasts how exalted these men are with the lowly and despised condition that he and the other Apostles experienced. If they didn’t immediately catch the point of Paul’s sarcasm, it becomes crystal clear in the middle of verse 12: “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat.” These words clearly echo the life of Jesus. Paul understands that true discipleship is costly. Rather than being embarrassed by the hardships that he faced, Paul is holding them out as marks that he is being conformed to the likeness of Christ. Put directly, Paul is asking the Corinthians: “If you claim to be so fully mature as Christians, why does your life look so different than that of Jesus?” This is a good question for us to ask the health and wealth teachers of our own day. On the other hand, we must be careful not to turn Christian faithfulness into a quest for persecution. Gordon Fee wisely points out that “Paul took seriously that his sufferings and weaknesses were a genuine participation in Christ himself. For him discipleship entailed a fellowship in the sufferings of Christ (Rom. 8:17; Phil 3:10); but that did not mean that one must suffer in order to be a genuine disciple.” We are not to pursue suffering. We are to pursue faithfulness.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 92
Q. 92. What is a sacrament?
A. A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.