Summary: Christianity would benefit greatly if there were more humble individuals in both pulpits and pews
When asked what were the three most important Christian virtues, Augustine replied, "Humility, humility, and humility." Yet, this great virtue is in rather short supply in our culture. Even very good people seem to have a hard time being really humble. One day Linus tells Charlie Brown, "When I get big, I'm going to be a humble, little country doctor. I'll live in the city, and every morning I'll get up, climb into my sports car, and zoom into the country. Then I'll start healing people...I'll heal everyone for miles around. I'll be a world-famous, humble, little country doctor." Linus didn't realize that wanting to be world-famous and humble don't quite mix. I also think of a well-known Christian businessman who was visiting a church and was asked to give his testimony. He said, "I have a fine family, a large house, a successful business, and a good reputation. I have plenty of money so I can support some Christian ministries very generously. Many organizations want me on their board of directors. I have good health and almost unlimited opportunities. What more could I ask from God?" As he paused for effect, a voice shouted from the back of the auditorium, "How about asking Him for a good dose of humility?"
Friends, our journey through 1 Corinthians brings us today to Chapter 4:6-21. Here Paul addresses a number of specific concerns with the Corinthians, but the one which is most obvious in this chapter is their lack of humility. A shortage of this plagues the church today as well. I think Christianity would benefit greatly if there were more humble individuals in both pulpits and pews. I also have a feeling that many of us at First Baptist Church could use a bit more humility as well. So let's pause and pray that God would use His Word to build true humility in our lives today.
Let's take a look at the situation in Corinth. Pride was a common attitude in the church. We have mentioned before the divisions which existed because many of the folks at Corinth had picked their favorite teacher, formed a little clique, and decided their group was better than all the others. Also, a lot of the people in the church were quite resistant to some of the instructions Paul had given to them. We see that in 4:18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. Apparently, they were saying something like, "Paul? Who does he think he is? We don't have to listen to him." Both of these problems were rooted in pride. That attitude was popping up its ugly head in various situations. 4:6a Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written." The Corinthians have failed to heed what was written in Scripture as to how leaders were to be viewed. 4:6b,7 Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? The Corinthians had forgotten a very basic fact of life: God is the source of everything which is good. 4:8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings -- and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! Paul is using a bit of sarcasm here. The Corinthians think they are on top of the world. They think they are pretty hot stuff. They see themselves as superior to the apostles. 4:10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! Again, Paul is using irony to make his point, but even if the Corinthians were not choosing to put things in those words, Paul does describe their attitude. They think they are much wiser, much stronger, and much more honorable than the apostles of Jesus Christ. They were a group of proud people.
In contrast, humility was a common attitude among the apostles. Even though they had been chosen as the representatives of Jesus Christ, they did place themselves on a pedestal. Instead, 4:9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. The image is derived from the Roman arena. Condemned criminals were often sentenced to fight to the death as gladiators. They then would be paraded before the public as objects of derision. Paul implies that the apostles often get no more respect than that. He continues to describe how lowly their position has become. 4:10-13 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. Is Paul boasting here? No. Years ago Walter Brennan starred in a television western called The Guns of Will Sonnet. Whenever he would describe one of his exceptional abilities or accomplishments, he would end with the phrase, "No brag, just fact." That is what Paul is doing, "No brag, just fact." He is simply pointing to the true humility which is evident in his life and in the lives of the other apostles. Why is he doing this? 4:14,15 I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Remember, he was the one who had first brought the Gospel to Corinth. He was the founding father of the church there. 4:16,17 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. In other words, Paul says, "You folks in Corinth are a proud group of people. I have learned that following Jesus means following a path of humility. I am sending Timothy to help you learn to become humble people."