Summary: Some groups put The Pastor on a pedestal as God’s annointed, a spiritual super-star to be admired and honored. In our passage today Paul sarcastically shreds this un-Christlike view of leadership.
Most American Christians are soft. Our crosses are pretty jewelry, not instruments of brutal death. They warmly decorate our houses rather than warning of suffering. Particularly in the suburban Bible Belt, our versions of Christianity depict sanitized pictures of the American success story. We see good Christians as well-educated, smart, economically upper-middle class, and well-regarded in the community. Certainly we would expect these traits of church leaders. In fact, in many circles, the Pastor is expected to exemplify such traits: to be a pillar of the community, to drive a nice car (but not too nice), to dress well, to be educated and respected. Some groups put The Pastor on a pedestal as God’s annointed, a spiritual super-star to be admired and honored. In our passage today Paul sarcastically shreds this un-Christlike view of leadership. If you thought Paul was tough in chapter three when he called the Corinthians, “spiritual babies,” tighten your seat belt, because in chapter four he harshly lampoons them with biting, sarcastic irony.
We are studying Paul’s letter to Christians in ancient Corinth, a place of materialism, sexuality and conflicting religious traditions, much like us today. What they thought was wise, ends up being foolish. Paul takes us to deep roots of our faith to show us how to live for Christ in a corrupt culture. Fundamentally we are to live out our identity in Christ.
The problems they faced, we face in our lives today. Their city valued wealth and status, and the church followed its culture. Secular standards of leadership and success overshadow biblical ones. We grow up learning to take credit for and even advertise our accomplishments in education and employment through resumes and job evaluations. Not surprisingly, such advertisements carry over, consciously and unconsciously, to the Christian life, as we take pride in spiritual accomplishments. Churches boast about their size, their buildings, their programs or presence of Christian celebrities; which is itself a bit of an oxymoron. I’m not sure the concept of “celebrity” fits with a cross-shaped life. We all recognize the trappings of personal or organizational success. However nicely it was done, the Corinthians were bragging about their favorite leader and saw themselves as spiritually successful.
Strap on your seat belts, your views of leadership and spiritual success may be challenged. What we are about to see in 1 Corinthians chapter four directly counters most perspectives on success, including some “Christian” views. Remember Paul is writing to the churches in Corinth to correct their distorted views of maturity and spiritual leadership.
Open your Bible to 1 Corinthians chapter four. In applying this text, I encourage you to identify both with Paul as a leader and with the Corinthians. Do not let the word “leader” take you off the hook as if these biblical truths do not apply to you. They do. In the chapter Paul paints three images of spiritual leaders. His point is that we can view spiritual leadership as God does by seeing leaders in three vivid images: as stewards for God, as fools for Christ and as spiritual fathers. In the first image Paul paints, we are stewards of God.