We are talking about how to move from being selfish to selfless as God commands us to do as followers of Jesus. The Corinthian Christians had all kinds of problems in their lives and in the church because they were arrogant and selfish. When James wrote his letter, he asked these rhetorical questions:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? (James 4:1 ESV)
We noticed last week that when the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, he told them that selfishness and arrogance need to be put away from them so that they could be of the same mind, same purpose, and be united in Christ. Throughout the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul is going to identify these problems of selfishness and arrogance and teach how we can move from being selfish to selfless. We noted that the key to the book of 1 Corinthians is in 1 Corinthians 1:10. They need to agree with each other and there be no divisions among them. We also noted that God’s goal in how he created the world and runs the world is so that no human being would boast (1 Corinthians 1:28-31). Now we will not stop the lesson here but I would like for us to consider how we could. If God’s intention for how he runs the world and how he brought about salvation was so that no human being would boast, then what does that tell us about how we ought to think and act as followers of Jesus? God has arranged life so that all glory and boasting would only be directed to him and to no one else.
Understanding Our Purpose
Paul unpacks this idea in chapter 2 regarding the wisdom that is found in God alone and not within ourselves. But listen to what Paul says in 2:1-5 as he expresses why he taught the way he did to these Corinthians. Paul says that he did not come preaching to them with brilliance of speech or dazzling wisdom. He says in verse 4 that his message was not with persuasive words of wisdom. Rather, he came to them in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. He came to them preaching Jesus. He came to them with the demonstration of the Spirit. Why did Paul do all of this? Look at verse 5. “So that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God.” Paul never wanted the people to look at him as anything. For these Christians to be elevating Paul or any other human is contrary to everything God wants. Our faith is not to rest on people or personalities but on God alone. Notice how Paul emphasizes this further in chapter 3.
In the first three verses of chapter 3 Paul says that they are not acting spiritually, but worldly because there is jealousy and strife among them. But now look at verse 4. When they are elevating humans like Paul or Apollos, they are also acting worldly and fleshly. Now here is the big point in verse 5. “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” Paul says that there are simply servants and nothing more. They are to be regarded as servants. That is all that they should be considered. They should not be praised or elevated. They are just servants. So much so that you will notice in verse 6 Paul says that all we did was plant and water. God gets the glory because God is the one who gives the increase. Look at verse 7. “So neither he who plants or he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” Is the one who plants anything? No. Is the one who waters anything? No. Who is anything? Only God.
Friends, if the apostle Paul says that he is not anything and that he should only be regarded as a servant of Jesus and nothing more, then what should we display and what should we think about ourselves? We move from selfish to selfless when we understand our purpose. We are simply servants. This work in the kingdom of Jesus is not about us at all. Everything has been established so that only God could get the honor and the glory.
It should be shameful that we would ever be devoted to any human being. One of the worst things I see is a term that is jokingly used called “preacheritis.” What that means is that you are so enamored with that preacher that you will only listen to him and only follow him. If he leaves, then you leave to. If he says it, you believe, and that is the end of it. But then preachers sometimes encourage this. They want the glory because there are baptisms or church growth. Look at the work he is doing. The preacher is nothing. We plant and water. The only reason there is any growth or any strength is because of Jesus and his glorious gospel. God gives the increase and we are nothing. We do not cause growth. Only God does that work because everything has been set so that no human may boast in the presence of the Lord. I have observed the same problem with elderships that sometimes they act like it about them and their authority. They make themselves important over the congregation. Our faith does not rest on people. Further, everyone is simply a servant doing the tasks that the Lord has assigned to them.
Destroying God’s Work
But we have noted that when we do not see ourselves properly but have selfishness or arrogance, then problems arise. Listen to how Paul reveals this truth in 1 Corinthians 3:16-23. In verse 16 Paul says that we are the temple of God and God’s Spirit dwells in us. The “you” in verse 16 is plural. So Paul is not talking about the individual in this text but the congregation. Do you all not know that you all are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you all? Now think about this imagery for a moment. What was the purpose of God’s temple? The purpose of God’s temple was to be the place where Israel, as well as the world, would come and meet God to find forgiveness. We do not have time to explore this in this lesson. But I would direct your attention to 1 Kings 8 when Solomon dedicates the temple and declares this would be the place where the repentant people could turn and find forgiveness. We as God’s people collectively are to be the place where repentant people can come and learn about the Lord and find forgiveness. We are here to be a house of prayer. We are here to be light to the nations. We are here to proclaim the message of salvation.
But listen what Paul says in verse 17. “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” How many times have you seen or heard of God’s temple being destroyed? How many times has a church been divided? How many times has faith been destroyed in people because of fighting in the church? How many times have problems arisen that have caused the doors to close? I would like to challenge what we can see happen in a local body of believers. There will be a fight or a division and the claim will be made that it is over some important biblical issue. But I would like for there to be a closer examination. Was the division or the fight really over an important doctrine in scripture that required a split? Or was the division or the fight really about personalities? Was it about just being right? Was it about some people just wanted to make a point? We should be haunted by the words that Paul says here. If we destroy God’s temple, God is going to destroy us. How many preachers, how many elders, and how many members are going to held severely accountable on the day of judgment for destroying God’s people? The warning here should be startling to us and should help us see how God looks at our fighting and our divisions.
Please do not hear me saying that doctrinal matters in the scriptures are not important. What we believe and practice does matter. But division should not be our solution. Fighting is not our solution. We need to grow in the faith and grow together through our disagreements. We are not to toss everyone out who does not agree with us. Paul’s message to the Corinthian church is not to start a new church down the street. Paul’s message is to stop making it about ourselves, see ourselves as servants and nothing more, and then see what we can work through as we come to the unity of the faith. You will notice that this is exactly where Paul returns in the letter.
Look at 1 Corinthians 4:1. “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” How many different ways can Paul make this point to us? We are to be regarded as servants. We are nothing and Jesus is everything. Paul is going to continue to move us from selfishness to selflessness. Look at 1 Corinthians 4:6-7. Paul says that he has applied all these things to himself and to Apollos for their benefit. I think the point is that these Christians are not merely saying they belong to certain teachers like Paul and Apollos who had come and taught them the gospel. Rather, they were lining up with certain teachers and leaders in their own midst. So you see at the end of verse 6 that he does not want them to be arrogant in following or favoring one person over another. Verse 7 is to break any of that thinking that we might have about ourselves or about other people.
For who makes you so superior? What do you have that you didn’t receive? If, in fact, you did receive it, why do you boast as if you hadn’t received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7 CSB)
How can you be puffed up in favor of one over another? What do you have that you did not receive? Name one thing you have that you did not receive from God? How can we possibly boast, have pride, or make anything about ourselves when everything we have is from God? Everything is from God and therefore God gets the glory. Your salvation is from God. Your place in God’s kingdom is from God. Your ability is from God.
So how is Paul moving us from selfish thinking to selfless thinking? First, you are where you are because of God. Therefore, your glory can only be in the Lord. Whatever role you have in God’s kingdom, your glory can only be in the Lord because God has given you that role. All that we can do is think about ourselves as servants and nothing more. I love how Jesus made this point as recorded in Luke’s gospel.
“Which one of you having a servant tending sheep or plowing will say to him when he comes in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? Instead, will he not tell him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, get ready, and serve me while I eat and drink; later you can eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did what was commanded? In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we’ve only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:7–10 CSB)
This is what Paul is teaching. We regard ourselves as nothing more than servants. We are where we are because of God. God’s purpose is that we would not put our faith in people but on God. So as we look at our lives we are to be considering how we can serve. Consider how you can serve in every relationship you have. How can you serve in the church? How can you serve in your home? How can you serve in the community? We are to be regarded as simply servants. We are to think about ourselves as servants. No matter what we do for the Lord, we should always see ourselves as unworthy servants who are grateful for where God has placed us. We have only done our duty.
Now imagine how many less difficulties would occur in the church, among the people of God, if we all saw ourselves as only servants. Imagine how many less conflicts, how many less divisions, how many less hurt feelings, and so on if we would only consider ourselves as simply servants.
Second, we can be satisfied as servants. We see this in Paul and Apollos who as apostles say that they are nothing but servants. But listen to what Paul says about what we have as servants of Jesus. Look at 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.
So then, no one is to be boasting in people. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3:21–23 NASB20)
Being a servant means all things belong to you. You have everything in Christ. So you can rest. You do not need to seek human glory. You do not have to climb your way to the top. You are already at the top if you are in Christ. Further, when it comes to the church, you do not have to have prominence because you already have everything in Christ. Our different roles that we play in God’s kingdom does not change all the things are ours, no matter what role we play in the kingdom. All things are ours as we belong to Christ. You have it all as a servant of Jesus. Therefore, keep serving, giving God the glory, as you enjoy all there is with life in God’s kingdom.