1 CORINTHIANS 4
“For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honoured, we are dishonoured! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless”. (4:9-11.)
The Corinthian church, founded by Paul, had begun to reject their father in the faith and to follow charismatic and persuasive alternative leaders who were leading the church astray. These new leaders had modified the gospel and lifestyle requirements of their people to avoid being persecuted and to rely on a ‘superior’ wisdom. Paul compares himself with the disgraced captives of a victorious Roman general, processing through a conquered city: persecuted, hungry, homeless, dishonoured, despised. How you are treated is no measure of your integrity or worth.
Factions within the Corinthian church had had enough of Paul’s teaching and his authority. They wanted to ‘cut loose’ and ‘run their own show’. They emphasised certain ‘pet’ doctrines to the exclusion of the whole teaching of God that Paul taught. As Paul later wrote in 2 Timothy 4:3: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear”.
It is a very dangerous and destabilising thing to hold to a ‘favourite’ doctrine or teaching. The issue of heresy is that it is not necessarily an incorrect teaching, but more usually an imbalanced teaching – over-emphasising a truth to the detriment of counter-balancing truths. We move to a “Jesus and Environmentalism-” or “Jesus and Socialism-” or “Jesus and Fair Trade-” gospel; fairly soon, we will be tempted to drop the “Jesus” part of that. Watch out!
The antidote to this is to put into practice: “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). If our pet doctrine is not supported or promoted in scripture, then we need to exercise the utmost care in promoting it strongly ourselves. We should particularly avoid the temptation of using the gospel as a means to propagate our pet theories; God will not allow us to hijack what he has given us for the eternal redemption of mankind.
Paul signs off chapter four by promising – and even threatening – to visit the church soon and to start imposing his authority if they will not listen to his gentle words. By comparison with these false ‘super-apostles’ he may lack slick and persuasive rhetoric, but he does have the Holy Spirit’s power in him! And he will use that power to exercise the fatherly discipline that an apostle has been invested with.
1 CHRONICLES 26 and 27
After the list of musicians to lead the worship of God, we now have a list of gatekeepers for the yet-to-be-built temple. Like every other role and function, this was meticulously organized and based on family relationships. We seem to have lost the apprenticing of sons by the fathers these days – in a ministry context – which is a significant loss in our churches; but these fathers took great pride in their work, treating it as the honour it was and taking care to train up their sons to do it with equal diligence. Obed-Edom was one of the gatekeepers who had the particular honour of guarding the South Gate, through which the king would enter and leave the temple area. He also had eight sons and 62 descendants in total, which was regarded as a real blessing of the Lord in those days. Psalm 127 has the verse: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him… blessed is the man…”. Sons and daughters are one of the ways (not the only one) that God blesses people. Why was Obed-Edom so blessed? Well, he was the man who dared to take the Ark of the Covenant into his house and to care for it when David was too fearful to go near it (see 1 Chronicles 13:13); when we step out in faith like this, trusting in the Lord to make everything right, he will bless us abundantly.
The army was similarly well-organised, with 24,000 men on duty each month, under a different commander. The Israelite tribes were each under the authority of a head man – who was himself in full submission to the king. We learn from all these ‘lists’ that service in the Lord’s kingdom (which included King David himself) was specialized (you didn’t get people doing a bit of everything), organized (no over-reliance on ‘random acts of spontaneity’) and faithful (people did it year in, year out, without complaint or shirking). It was an honour to serve the Lord and it was the most important aspect of their lives. Let’s take a note of these attitudes when thinking about service in God’s church.