Reminded of Derek Binghams introduction to Daniel when he observed that God does not give prophesy simply to satisfy our intellectual curiosity about the future, but with prophetic revelation God has moral and spiritual goals in mind.
1 John 3:1ff : 'and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifiers himself even as he is pure'
2 Peter 3:11 - Edward Blum, 'Peter makes the impending disintegration of the universe the ground for a personal challenge to his readers.'
Christ is coming back
Gods wrath is about to be poured out on a Christ rejecting world
The heaven and earth will be dissolved
A new heaven and earth are to be ushered in
So what does all of this mean?
Be careful what you are watching on the Tele
Be wary of what you are browsing on the Internet
This truth seems to come to the fore here in 1 Corinthians chapter 4, in a negative sense, namely a wrong understanding of future events results in wrong behaviour.
The Corinthians appear to be suffering from a wrong view of the kingdom.
Problem of the Kingdom (4:6)
Proof of the Kingdom (4:7-14)
Power of the Kingdom (4:15-21)
Problem of the Kingdom
Problems seem to have arisen due to a wrong appreciation of the Kingdom of God.
That now is the time to reign and rule; 'now ye are full, now ye are rich' (4:8)
How did this problem arise?
We will discover in chapter 15 that they also have a wrong view of the Resurrection, that there are some among them who deny the resurrection.
It may well be that these 2 issues are not disconnected.
The OT spoke very clearly of a coming Kingdom when Messiah will reign physically and visibly upon the earth with His administrative centre at Jerusalem
Psalm 2:1ff, 6
With Christ we have Messiah, God's anointed one; We recall from our studies in Hebrews for example that Christ is; 'King of Righteousness' and 'King of Peace' (Heb 7:1-2, 15-23).
So if we have the King, do we not then have the Kingdom.
Again in Hebrews chp 1:8
Rev 19:16 "King of Kings and Lord of Lords"
The Lord and the apostles certainly speak of the spiritual or mystery aspect to the presence of His Kingdom on earth; that is that:
all who are saved enter into this Kingdom (John 3:5)
The Kingdom of God is 'within you' (Luke 17:21)
"The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink but righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom 14:17)
So all who bow to the rule of Christ in their lives are part of His spiritual Kingdom.
This is a most unsatisfactory fulfilment of those literal OT prophecies and hardly does justice to Christs titles of "King of Kings" and "Lord of Lords" ; that His Kingdom reigns over a world which is on the most part in a state of outward rebellion.
So there will be a future, literal outward Kingdom which will fulfil those OT prophecies and NT expectations.
When will that be?
Does the present age of Church testimony and world rebellion just merge imperceptibly with the future Kingdom or is there a specific event or set of events which divide this present time from the future Kingdom?
If you were to ask me for those specific events which trigger the beginning of that transition I would identify 3 concurrent events:
The return of Christ
The Resurrection of the dead in Christ
The removal, by rapture of the believers form the world.
It is these 3 events which pave the way for the pouring out of Gods wrath on a world which rejects His Son, His Spirit and His Gospel.
These 3 events separate this present time from the future day of tribulation and wrath which paves the way for the binding of Satan for 1000 years and the establishment of Gods Kingdom under Christ.
What is interesting is that when you come to 1 Corinthians we find that there is a group of believers who deny this resurrection (1 Co15:12ff).
More than this in 1 Co 15:23ff Paul makes the connection between:
The Resurrection of believers (15:18-23)
The Return of Christ (15:23)
The Rule of the Kingdom (15:24ff)
These believers then in denying the physical bodily resurrection of believers not only undermine the fundamentals of the Gospel (1Co15:17ff) but it also fundamentally alters their view of the Kingdom; for them there is no transition the present merges imperceptibly into the future.
This all may sound a bit complicated, a bit tenuous, but in fact it has been a not infrequent teaching over the years; so much so, it even has a name: 'post millenialism'.
Satisfaction : "full" : 'korenmoi' : to have enough (4:8)
Prosperity: "rich" : 'plouteo' : to be rich (4:8)
Authority: "reign as kings" : 'basileuo' : to reign, rule, be king (4:8)
They were as a consequence accustomed to:
Fighting for their rights (6:1ff)
Self confidence in their new found knowledge (8:1ff)
Standing on a few toes / breaking a few eggs to get what they wanted (8:11ff)
Playing a prominent part in Corinthian society (8:10; 10:19-21)
Awareness of place, position and status (1 Co 11:21ff)
Using their gifts and abilities to claim position and place (1 Co12:15-18)
Used to being heard and making their views known (14:26-32)
They were reigning as Kings in their own Kingdom!
This was a gospel for winners!
This was a gospel with prosperity!
But this was not the Kingdom of God (4:20)
So long as I am doing alright
So long as my fellowship is doing alright then all is ok!
Proof of the Kingdom
But here is a different view of being a king (4:9ff) - A King in Gods Kingdom.
A King in the 'theatre' of the world
'spectacle' : theatron: 2302: theatre, a place where drama and other public spectacles were exhibited
It is perhaps instructive and helpful for us as Christians to assimilate the truth of 1 Co4:9, in a practical and personal way. that in a society orientated around entertainment; and for many their lives are centred around entertainment:
Up in the morning
Home and TV / Internet / Facebook / DVD / music
Start the cycle again
If eating is to sustain our life and
If sleep is to rest from life and restore life and
Presuming we don't live to work but work to live
Then where is the purpose or content or substance to such a life?
All that is left is entertainment!
For many life revolves around entertainment.
It is worth noting the Divine perspective on all of this, and the exposure of one of the great deceptions of our day.
We are nor here to be entertained!
We are the entertainment!
In allowing ourselves to become distracted by places and practices of entertainment we fall victim to one of the greatest deceptions of our generation and miss this simple and profound truth; 'we are not here to be entertained, we are the entertainment.'
"a spectacle unto the world and to angels and to men" (4:9)
There does appear to be something of an overlap in verse 9: "unto the world" and so "and to men" (v9)
Cf. ASV: "for we are made a spectacle unto the world both to angels and men"
Cf Darby: "for we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angles and men" (4:9)
Cf. NASV: "because we have become a spectacle to the world both to angels and to men"
So "to angels and to men" is this a breaking down into subcategories of what is meant by "unto the world"
But why break this down into subcategories?
Well these subcategories do actually exist.
So they do but the fact that it is true is not sufficient for it to be stated here. What is the relevance?
The world that is watching divides into:
The unseen - Angels
The seen - Men
Why remind them of that?
Cf. 1 Corinthians 4:5: "who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts"
It is a fairly commonly reported sense which people have to feel that they are being watched:
Romans 2:15-16 - Gives a pointer to an internal basis for this sensation; that as human beings we do not simply assess our actions on a purely pragmatic basis; will they work, does it suite me, but we assess our actions as to whether or not they are right or wrong, according to an absolute standard (2:15) given by an absolute God (2:16). We are being watched, we are being watched by our own conscience.
1 Corinthians chp 4 gives us a further basis for this sense that we are being watched (1Co4:9)
These believers were being watched.
Not only by God in His omniscience but by men and angels.
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden - watched for the purpose of deception and attack. At Sunday school we were often asked for the names of the 2 gardens spoken of in the Bible. In reality there are more than 2 gardens, garden of Uzza (2 Kings 21:26); Garden of the Kings Palace (Esther 1); Naboths garden (2 Kings 21); but there are 2 key gardens - Eden - the first and Gethsemane is the last. What we weren't told is that these 2 gardens we also theatres in which the lives of the first and the last Adam were being watched.
Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness - watched for the purpose of provision (Gen 21:17ff)
Angels watched Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:20ff) for judgement and Lot for his righteous life and testimony (Gen 19:22), and watched Lot to ultimately deliver him; "and delivered just Lot; vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked." (2 Peter 2:7); to preserve and deliver Lot.
Job - "hast thou considered my servant Job" - watched for the purpose of observation and education of Satan, this was instructive to the angels rather than of benefit to Job! That a man would worship God for more than simply pragmatic reasons, but becuase he loved God and desired to worship God (Job1:9ff)
Daniel - watched by an angelic being engaged on spiritual warfare on his behalf; angelic intervention in response to Daniels prayer (Dan 10:11ff).
Christ in the wilderness - ministered to by angels.
So these Corinthians may well be:
But let's go a little deeper than that.
Let's look at the non public parts of their life.
How are these parts doing?
All of these - observed by men and by angels have spiritual consequences for them.
Does Satan perceive them as a threat?
Does Satan take encouragement from their apathy?
Do angels make warfare in response to our prayers?
Does God send angels to minister to us?
They may have been reigning as Kings but not of Gods Kingdom.
Consider Pauls position before them:
1 Corinthians 4:9-13
"blessed be the poor in spirit"
"and labour working with our own hands" (4:12)
"blessed are they that mourn" (5:4)
"appointed to death"
Here is an application of "blessed are they that mourn" not only the very real and practical experience of enjoying the presence of Christ in grief and loss, for He is the God of all comfort.
Not solely the mourning that marked the life of Christ as He could uniquely see the the path and the process that leads to the end point of death but He could uniquely understand the entire process which led to that same point. If it is right and proper to mourn for death then logically and consistently it must also be right to mourn for the cause of that conclusion in sin and suffering and the fall. He is thus "the Man of sorrows".
But here in 1 Corinthians 4 there is a 3rd experience of this text from Matthew chapter 5 ; that a special kind of reality and mourning hangs heavy over the head of the apostle; the mourning for His own life. The life of Christ in Him is also his death. The hope of heaven and eternal life comes from the cross; "whosoever shall come after me let him deny himself, take up His cross and follow me."
Paul had presented his body on the altar of Romans 12:1 as a living sacrifice and he never quite new when the death blow would come and it could come at any moment.
"I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, the life I now live, I live in the power of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. "
So the mourning then of Matthew 5:4 includes:
The mourning for and at death, the final event, as experienced by Mary and Martha for example and the blessing of being comforted in that sorrow by the God of all comfort.
If it is the mourning of death then it must of necessity include the mourning and grief of all events that would lead up to the final conclusion of death. Mourning not only at the effect of death but also at the sin and suffering which causes this terminal event.
The mourning at the imminent and progressive loss of our own life always anticipating that my next sacrifice may be my final and complete sacrifice.
"blessed are the meek" (5:5)
"we are weak" (4:10)
"hunger and thirst after righteousness" (5:6)
"we both hunger and thirst" (4:11)
"blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake"
"and are buffeted"
"blessed are ye when men shall revile you" (5:11)
"being reviled" (4:12)
"and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely"
"being defamed" (4:13)
The path to the Crown is the cross.
To reign is to take the lowly place.
This is the substance of his sacrifice for them.
The bonds of fellowship are formed in adversity (4:15).
Pauls Relationship to Them
He sends Timothy marked by 'faithfulness'
Paul is marked by:
Self sacrifice (4:9-13)
This is the essence of relationship (4:15)
Commitment is costly
Responsibility is tieing
Doing a job well means effort and sacrifice
There is more to fellowship than turning up for a sermon or two, or even delivering a sermon or two.
This is the cement of the building.
Power of the Kingdom
Notes from a sermon preached as part of our systematic bible study series on 1 Corinthians.
Free audio, mp3 downloads available above, of these messages, expounded verse by verse through the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.
Yours by Grace in Christ
Dr J Stewart Gillespie