Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

God's Wisdom and Christian Leadership

1 Corinthians 3:3-4:6

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Paul wrote this letter to a church that had lots of behavioral problems (LIST), including ugly factions. Paul wanted behavioral change, but he didn’t pursue it moralistically. He knew that their behavioral problems were symptoms of the root problem—they were operating by the wisdom of the world instead of by God’s wisdom (CHART). So Paul calls on them to change their operational wisdom, which will lead to a change in their behavior. That’s why, in the middle of this long section about factious behavior, Paul says 3:18-20 (read). In this case, he argues that their behavior (factions) is related to a worldly view of Christian leadership (CHART)—so he gives them (and us) three insights into God’s wisdom and Christian leadership.

Before we see what Paul says about this, we need to know why this is relevant to all of us:

We all have Christian leaders (elders; sphere leaders; home group leaders). Our natural tendency (without even realizing it) is view these leaders from a WOW perspective. This will cause serious problems in our church, just like it was causing problems in Corinth. So it is very important that we be on the same (and correct) page about how to view and relate to these leaders.

We all are Christian leaders. Your leadership may be official (e.g., home group leader; ministry team leader; elder) or unofficial (e.g., discipling younger Christians; personal counsel; parenting; etc.)—but you are influencing others, and influence is leadership. So you need to know how to lead according to WOG. Otherwise, you will misrepresent Christ and be unhelpful or detrimental to those whom you lead.

We are agents – not sources - of God’s power

Read 3:3,4 (NIV). Some of the Corinthians were especially impacted by Paul’s leadership (converted; grounded; saved marriages; delivered from addiction; etc.), while others were especially impacted by Apollos’ leadership. There was nothing wrong with this. But saying “I follow Paul/Apollos” betrayed a view of them as the sources of this spiritual impact, rather than as mere human agents of God. This is WOW—obscuring God’s primary role, and wrongly elevating human agents’ roles.

Paul had been through this before. In central Turkey, he and his co-worker Barnabas told a village about Jesus, and God enabled them to heal a crippled man as a validation of their message that Jesus could heal their souls. Because of the healing, the people began to worship them as gods. What’s was Paul and Barnabas’ response? Read Acts14:14,15. Worldly wisdom is blasphemous because it attributes the work of God to human power and wisdom.

The Corinthians were doing the same thing (just more subtly), and Paul “tears his clothes in protest” here, too. This is why he emphasizes God’s role in Christian leadership (read 3:5-7). It was God who gave him and Apollos the opportunity to preach to them, and it was God who worked through them for the Corinthians’ conversion and spiritual growth. Without God’s power, Paul and Apollos were “nothing”—spiritually impotent. Quote 2Cor.3:5.

How would you know if you were operating by this form of WOW? Consider these questions:

Regarding this meeting, do you think: “I like X’s teaching, so I’ll come/listen when they teach—but not when Y teaches?” If so, you may be a Christian groupie operating by worldly wisdom. Are you elevating the human teacher above the real power source—God and His Word? People who are operating by WOG may like one teacher more than another—but they can benefit by all Bible teachers because they know it is God’s Word (not the teacher) that changes them.

Do you find yourself becoming inordinately disappointed or upset when another Christian leader doesn’t meet your needs? Of course, leaders should serve people. But you may be putting them on an idolatrous pedestal, looking to them to do something that only God can provide (EXAMPLE).

Do you like it when other Christians’ tell you you’re the best X, or that they don’t know what they’d do if you weren’t there for them? It’s OK to be appreciated, but beware! Maybe you should be tearing your clothes, telling them: “I am only a human—turn to God!”

Do you feel like you are responsible to change and/or rescue people’s spiritual lives? Responsibility presumes power—but only Christ can change lives! Your responsibility is to tell them about His wisdom, to point people to Him, and to pray that He will impact them. If you exceed your role (as a Christian worker, parent, etc.), it will crush you and hinder them!

We are team-mates who complement one another, not solo rivals

Read 4:6. Because they were going beyond what God said about leaders, the Corinthians were pitting Paul and Apollos against one another. This had already created unhealthy factions within the church, and they were headed toward becoming separate, rival churches, each preferring their own solo, rival super-star pastors. This has been the story of many an American church, and we are not immune!

Paul totally rejects this view of leadership. Read 3:8. He insists that he and Apollos “have one purpose.” The NLT says they “work together with the same purpose.” Worldly wisdom exalts solo, rival leaders; God’s wisdom calls leaders to be team-mates who complement one another. The New Testament consistently calls for team-leadership: plural eldership; home group leadership teams; etc.

“SOLO”: Solitary leadership may be more efficient, but it cannot supply the resources needed to serve others effectively. Eccles.4:9-12 applies not only to friendship, but also to leadership (read).

No single leader has sufficient strengths to help a church develop—it takes a team of leaders with different strengths to do this.

No single leader can bear the pressure and spiritual attack that comes with this role—but a team of leaders can support and strengthen one another.

No single leader can avoid being deceived or drifting off-course—but a team can keep us on track and balanced.

“RIVALS”: Leadership according to WOW is also competitive. When you live by it, you derive your sense of significance by influencing people better than others: “I am a better teacher than X.” “My church grows faster than Y.” “My children are better behaved/better students than Z.” This comparison “works” as long as I am better. But then when someone else is better than me in these areas, I feel anxious and threatened and jealous—and this invariably leads to alienation (Jas.3:13-16).

But the through WOG, our significance does not come from how we competent we are compared to other people; it comes from being God’s child and being a team-mate with a unique role to play in His purpose. Then I do not lead for significance; I lead from significance. Then I am not the rival of other leaders; I am a team-mate. Then I am not threatened by their gifting or success; I am grateful because I benefit from it, God’s church is prospering, and He is being glorified.

A few years ago God was taking me to task (again) on my comparative, competitive attitude. As I struggled to see what it looked like to operate from God’s wisdom in this area, He pointed out my dog, Tess. She had no ego, no jealousy, no selfish ambition. She didn’t have to be better than anyone—she knew she was in the presence of others who were vastly superior to her in many areas. But she was grateful to be with them. She was just happy to be part of our family, and she played her part faithfully. How freeing and harmonious it is to live like my dog!

We lead to please God, not to please those whom they lead

The Corinthians revealed their worldly wisdom in another way—by how they evaluated the quality or success of Paul’s leadership.

QUALIFY: Members should evaluate the content of their leaders’ teaching and the moral integrity of their lifestyle in light of God’s Word. And leaders should be accountable to do what they agreed to do.

But they were involved in a different kind of evaluation. They believed Paul’s job was to please them, so they evaluated him on how well he was doing this and expected him to listen and respond to their “applause meter.”. But God’s wisdom, Paul says, leads to a very different job-description (read 4:1-4).

Paul declares his independence from their evaluation: “I know you are evaluating me, and I know how you are evaluating me, but I want you to know I do not think it is very important. I don’t even care how I evaluate me. The only evaluation that matters to me is God’s.”

Paul calls on them to resign from evaluating him and Apollos this way (read 4:5). “Quit trying to judge the effectiveness of our ministries. Only the Lord can do this when He returns. Only He knows what He has given us, and how faithful we have been with what he gave us. Only He knows the motives for our service and the ways we served Him when no one was looking. That’s His job—not yours or mine.”

Paul was acutely conscious that he had “an Audience of One.” He had God’s acceptance through Christ, so he didn’t need people’s acceptance. And he looked forward to God’s evaluation of his ministry, so he didn’t care about people’s evaluation. This vertical security and allegiance should distinguish Christian leaders: Christian leaders lead to please God, not to please the people they lead. This is a super-important issue, because our culture (for many reasons) puts a lot of pressure on us to lead transactionally—find out what people prefer and deliver this. Here are two important applications:

Church leaders in a consumerist culture must be clear on this issue. Consumerism is the mind-set that all of life can be reduced to products, and that our only allegiance should be to shop for the best buy. Consumer Christians view Christianity and involvement in the church the same way they view other consumer products—they want the most satisfying product for the least cost. So they shop for the best deal, and if a church doesn’t deliver this, they move on to look for a better product and feel totally justified.

This self-centered perspective is not Christianity—it is the WOW. The WOG calls Christians to deny themselves and follow Jesus in laying down their lives to serve others, just as He did for us. The WOG calls Christians to make commitments to God and to one another, and to sacrifice to keep those commitments—just as Jesus did for us. Christian spirituality is the antithesis of consumerism! If you want consumer Christianity, you should find another church.

So a Christian leader pleases God by modeling this way of life, by equipping and challenging his people to live this way, by criticizing the consumer lifestyle, and by being willing to discipline those who live blatantly self-serving lives (1Cor. 5). This is what pleases God, and He is the One Christian leaders want to please.

Parents in a self-esteem culture must be clear on this issue. We are told that the most important thing for our children is to feel good about themselves. So we need to parent in ways that help them feel good about themselves. But this can easily become simply pleasing our children, which will likely raise children who don’t say “Yes” to God and “No” to their own selfish desires.

We like it when our children are happy—but that is not the most important thing, and that does not dictate how we parent. We understand that our children are fallen, so what pleases them is often not good for them. They may even threaten in various ways to make us very unhappy unless we give them what we want. But we love them too much to heed their threats. We say (like Paul): “I know you’re evaluating me as a parent, and I know how you’re evaluating me—but I want you to know that your evaluation is not very important to me.” We parent to please God, not to keep our children happy. So we teach them that life is about loving God, and loving other people—not about getting what we want in the moment. And we do our best to lead them into that way of life, even when this involves discipline, even when this involves them not liking us.

Ironically, church members and children who are led this way will usually be happier in the long run—because we were created to please God!