Confident Christianity: “Faulty Yard Stick” – 1 Corinthians 4

measure I generally don’t buy seconds, and after my “yard stick” experience, I think you will understand why. I was laying stone tile in a small bathroom for a friend. I had very little space to work with, and we were using some tricky stone that cracked easily if you didn’t cut it precisely and without tension. The problem came when I took out their yard stick to make marks on the stone. The edge was straight enough, and that wasn’t a problem. The issues started when I began using the markings for measurement. You see, inside the bathroom I was using a tape measure to set up the specific cuts and angles. Outside, where the tile saw was, I had the yard stick and was using it to both measure and mark the tiles to be cut. I went inside and carefully measure each place I needed to cut the stone, then I went outside and marked the stones and cut them on the saw. When I brought the stones inside, virtually all of them were miss-cut. Nothing fit. I couldn’t figure it out! I ruined these expensive stones by cutting them and I didn’t know why my measurements were all completely wrong. Then it dawned on me to check the cuts against my measurements. Every single measurement was wrong! How could that be? I took them outside and measured them again. When I used the yardstick, they were all exactly correct. I went inside and got my tape measure and placed it beside the yard stick. Can you guess what I found? The two measuring devices didn’t agree – they were not even close!

Here is what I learned: Never buy seconds and cheap tools – you will pay a price. I also learned that a measuring device that isn’t correct is useless. I mention that because it has provided me a life lesson that was bigger than simply a tool minder. I learned that when I don’t use the right standard of measure, I get a useless conclusion. That has proven true in every area of life, and the Apostle Paul made clear that it was also true in relationship to measuring the church of Jesus Christ. Here is the simple truth…

Key Principle: Right measuring devices yield right answers. Wrong ones don’t.

It is helpful to remember where the idea is taught, and what God says about wrong measures in the context of the letter the words are found within. Think for a moment about the letter we are studying…First Corinthians can be divided into two parts:

1) Chapters one through six contains things Chloe and her family related to Paul about the church’s problems of division, pride over immoral situations and court cases between believers;

2) Chapters seven through sixteen were answers to the questions the church sent Paul before this letter was written.

Since we are reading from chapter four, and that is in the first part of the book, we should look a bit more closely at that first section. It can be further divided three ways:

1. The first part concerned the “misplaced loyalty” of the church (they loved the men who served more than the message of God they represented, 1 Corinthians 1-4);

2. The next chapter (1 Corinthians 5) concerned the “misplaced affection” (they held the value of love higher than truth);

3. The third part concerned their “misplaced standards” (placing the standard of the world over that of the Word, 1 Corinthians 6).

As we dive in, let me ask you a question: “Do you know someone who has placed trust and confidence in a person or a system that has proven to you it is not worthy of that trust?

I ask, because our lesson today is the last part of the problem of “misplaced loyalty”. In chapter four, Paul shared measures the local church at Corinth be the church they were called to become. There is no other way to say it: they were in bad shape – and part of their root problem was they trusted people they shouldn’t and allowed the wrong measurements to guide them. Let me show you what Paul highlighted to help them see that truth.

First, Paul told them don’t use “star quality” as a measurement – use “student quality” as a standard, especially in the handling of the Word.

1 Cor. 4:1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.

Many believers don’t seem to know how to properly measure those believers who lead the church all over the world. We rate potential by “star quality” and lose track of the fact that all of God’s servants are flawed. The work of any Christian leader isn’t to bolster their name, but Christ’s name. How do they do that? It ISN’T by flashy demonstration, but rather by quiet faithfulness. It isn’t what you see of what they do, often it is the quiet preparation behind what you see. There is a story that helps frame this well:

A young man applied for a job as a farmhand. When the farmer asked for his qualifications, he said, “I can sleep when the wind blows.” This puzzled the farmer. But he liked the young man, and hired him. A few days later, the farmer and his wife were awakened in the night by a violent storm. They quickly began to check things out to see if all was secure. They found that the shutters of the farmhouse had been securely fastened. A good supply of logs had been set next to the fireplace. The young man slept soundly. The farmer and his wife then inspected their property. They found that the farm tools had been placed in the storage shed, safe from the elements. The barn was properly locked. Even the animals were calm. All was well. The farmer then understood the meaning of the young man’s words, “I can sleep when the wind blows.” Because the farmhand did his work loyally and faithfully when the skies were clear, he was prepared for the storm when it broke. So when the wind blew, he was not afraid. He could sleep in peace. There was nothing dramatic or sensational in the young boy’s preparations – he just faithfully did what was needed each day. Consequently, peace was his, even in a storm.

Measure those who would lead you and gain your trust by what Paul called in the verse “their stewardship of the mysteries of God”. Do they demonstrate apt handling of the Word: carefully exposing and administering God’s truth in front of you. If they do not, charismatic personality will draw a crowd, but that simply isn’t a good enough reason to trust them to lead. In the years of ministry, I have observed a number of very talented men who are now out of ministry. Over and over I have watched as people put trust in them, but the characteristic that defined their ministry was not apt handling of the Word in its context and depth. In time, the novelty wore thin, and they disqualified themselves from ministry. Let me be clear: I wholeheartedly believe that personal sin was the cause of their demise, but less than adequate understanding of the Word set them up. Wrong measures promoted them early. Pressures aided their destruction of ministry. It is for that very reason Paul warned Timothy to take his time and not lay hands too quickly on another man and ordain him for the work.

Scripture calls on you to think of those of us that minister to you in this way: we are servants (huperatace: under rowers) of Messiah and stewards (oikonomos: house attendants or managers) of God’s revelation (musterion: hidden counsels). (4:1). If we don’t handle the Word well, we shouldn’t be holding your trust. We may be good mayors or politicians, but the church requires a different standard. Those who lead ministry have as their primary distinction the ability to consistently and carefully reckon the truths of the Word.

I want this to me clear to you, because it is a critical issue. If someone says to you: “They are really funny, and they really do a great job loving – but they don’t know the Bible that well…” that is a great description of a friend, a fun person at parties – but NOT a Pastor or mission leader. Please, dear ones – don’t think you can put a person in the place of Pastoral service who hasn’t worked out what the Word teaches – it will be a disaster.

Second, Paul made clear the servant of the Lord is just that – a servant Jesus measures.

1 Corinthians 4:3 But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. 4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.

When I was growing up, the international tensions in the Olympic games showed themselves, because you used to know which judge scored the American lower based on the country from which he came. The judges often appeared biased based on political views and inter-state tensions. The commentators didn’t really trust them as much as we seem to now. That left a nagging sense of inequity in each evaluation. Sometimes the commentators would read the CROWD and their reaction to judge the performance – but that isn’t reliable as a measure either.

Among believers, we have a similar problem. We think we can measure effectiveness by the reactions and receptivity of the crowd rather than understanding that the Lord is real audience of our work. If He is truly pleased with us, then we are what He has made us to be. For many today even IN THE CHURCH, the judge is the WORLD, not the MASTER. (We must be careful by what we mean when we say “effective” in ministry terms. – 4:2-4). When I hear people say: “Do the people outside the church see its message as relevant?” – I shudder. Lost people aren’t the best judge of where to attain reliable directions. I am not saying we need to be outdated in method – I am arguing that we don’t have to keep adjusting the standard of morality to suit the crowd. Servants are measured by trustworthiness (pistos: faithfully executing) much more than innovation. Reliably standing on God’s standard as expressed in the Word is a recognition that we will be judged by what the Lord over us thinks of our performance! (4:2-4).

Years ago, I heard a story about a preacher who went to a small town to preach a series of gospel sermons. His attempt was to evangelize that little town. He preached for two weeks. During the whole time, only one little girl responded to the invitation at the end of one of his sermons. She confessed Christ, was baptized, and turned out to be the only convert during the entire meeting. The preacher judged the meeting a failure, and for years, bemoaned the great effort he had made for such little result. However, he did not have the right view of things. That little girl grew up to be a strong, faithful Christian woman. She married a Christian man, and together they produced several sons, all of whom became preachers of the gospel. Those sons converted thousands of unbelievers to Christ. Now, what do you suppose would have happened to that little girl and her family, had that gospel preacher not faithfully proclaimed Christ? Do you really think that preacher’s effort was a failure? Sometimes, what looks like a very small, insignificant effort on our part, turns out to be far greater than we think.

Let me suggest there are three common courts that people use to judge what is truly effective, right and good:

1) People rely heavily on the court of court of self-evaluation. In Galatians 6:3-4, Paul writes, “For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.” 2 Corinthians 13:5 says: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves.” One thing that plays a part in this process of self-evaluation is our conscience. One little boy defined conscience as “something that makes you tell your mother before your sister does.” Yet, the conscience is not enough. 1 Corinthians 4:4 reminds: “I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this.” Or, as the NIV translates it, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.” The court of self evaluation can be bought – and is intrinsically unreliable – but it does play a role.

2) Another court is the court of public opinion that is always in session. Everywhere you go, to work or to play, even to worship services, people around you are making judgments about you and everything that is going on. Social media has really highlighted the idea that anyone with an opinion and an internet connection should weigh in – regardless of whether or not they have any background in the subject at all. Paul was concerned about other people and what they thought, enough so that he said, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:13). It’s important that we consider how our actions will affect other people. Yet sadly, even if we wanted to please everyone, we couldn’t do it.

The story is told of a man and his grandson traveling down the road, walking and leading a donkey. They met a man who said, “How foolish for you to be walking. One of you should be riding the donkey.” So the man put his grandson on the animal. The next traveler they met frowned and said, “How dreadful for a strong boy to be riding while an old man walks.” So the boy climbed off the donkey and his grandfather climbed on. The next person they met said, “I just can’t believe a grown man would ride and make a little boy walk.” So the man pulled the boy up and they rode the donkey together. That is, until they met another man who said, “I never saw anything so cruel in all my life — two human beings riding on one poor defenseless donkey!” Down the road a ways, they met a couple of men. After they passed, one of the men turned to the other and said, “Did you ever before see two fools carrying a donkey?”

The court of public opinion can in some cases be important, but it’s still a lower court — it doesn’t have final jurisdiction. There’s an old Latin motto that says, “Vox populi, vox Dei” — the voice of the people is the voice of God. That’s basically the motto of politicians and businessmen — give the people what they want. But it’s not an adequate motto for the Christian. There may be many times when the voice of the people is not the voice of God — it may even be the voice of Satan. It is wholly unreliable. Consider people in all things, but don’t make them the final voice. Believers that do that offer little challenging truth to the lost world. Churches that do it compromise until they become a joke.

3) The final court is the Supreme Court – presided over by Jesus Christ himself. Peter said, “It is He who was ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” (Acts 10:42). And Paul said, God “has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31).

The story is told of a young boy who was playing around a lake one day when he fell into water over his head. He couldn’t swim and was struggling for his life. Fortunately, there was a man nearby who heard his cries for help and came to rescue him. As the years passed by, that young boy grew up to become a hoodlum and got into all kinds of trouble with the law. When he got to the courtroom and approached the judge’s seat, he recognized the man sitting there. He said, “Your honor, don’t you remember me? Years ago, you saved me from drowning in the lake.” The judge looked down at him and said, “Then I was your savior, but today I am your judge.” We need to stop confusing Jesus’ future role by His past role.

The Corinthians accept a competitive spirit as legitimate to motivate them – and that doesn’t please God.

1 Corinthians 4:5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. 6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.

Revival begins with attacking our unchallenged arrogance within. We waste time “rating” ministries and the value each leader and church has in the Kingdom, allowing arrogance and division to take up our time and our hearts. (4:5-6). Because He alone is the measure, stop evaluating the value each of us has in the Kingdom – because not everything will be clear until we stand before our Master! (4:5). Paul shared: “I have figuratively mentioned some people so that you would move from this mistake of evaluation and not try to compete arrogantly with rival groups” (4:6).

In his book Eating The Elephant, Thom Rainer tells of an interview Billy Graham encountered years ago. The interviewer was fascinated by Rev Graham’s success and asked if he anticipated being given great rewards in heaven for the millions of lives he had impacted through his worldwide ministry. Billy Graham said that he was not sure of the extent of his own rewards, God is the final Judge, but he was certain that others would have greater rewards than he. He went on to say that there is a faithful elderly woman whom he knows, who is right now on her knees praying for her little country church, her family, and her nation. For nearly 80 years, the sweet lady has been faithful to her Lord. She has been constantly praying, and reading the Bible daily. To Billy Graham, that lady and many others like her, will receive the greatest rewards in heaven. At the close of the interview, Billy Graham said these last words: “You see, we are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful.”

Billy knew that rivalry begins with measuring one person against the value of the contributions of another – but that depends on what we see and how we look at the whole situation. Better we remember that we serve a God that sees EVERYTHING and evaluates it all, when the time comes, with perfection.

The Corinthians had a tendency to praise to the wrong person.

1 Corinthians 4:7 For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

Everything we have we got from God, and much of it through the hands of others. We misdirect our praise and ascribe esteem based on the appearance of gifts and talents – when God is the author or all of that. The truly gifted shouldn’t be applauded, the Giver should be! (4:7). Paul noted: “How can any follower of Jesus boast superiority when all we have was given by God?” (4:7)

The Corinthian believers often gazed at the wrong display to evaluate worth.

Paul wrote with some sarcasm:

1 Corinthians 4:8 You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. 9 For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. 11 To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12 and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13 when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.

We misplace value when we see those who look well-received by this world as therefore effective in the Kingdom and those ministries who have money as blessed by God. As a result, we get wrong who is “better” because we have been more blessed in the standards of this world. (4:8-13). Paul argued: Some of you act as though you have attained a level of authority that goes beyond those of us that led you to Messiah. I wish that were so! (4:8). God has clearly displayed us, as the founders of this movement, to be underwhelming in appearance and weak in the view of the world, while some of you puff up and look strong before the world (4:9-10). We look hungry, naked and needy. We work hard to care for ourselves and endure constant derision in the world – yet we continue to minister without a reputation of success when measured in this world, (4:11-13).

Sixth, Corinthians easily followed the wrong leaders.

1 Corinthians 4:14 I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.

Notice Paul told them he was their father in the faith – not their tutor. Don’t get tripped up by a common Protestant use of Matthew 23 “call no man father” as if all of your Catholic friends are doing something that violates Scripture by calling a priest a “father”. They aren’t. That isn’t what Jesus was saying at all. In fact, Paul told the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:15) that he WAS their father. Jesus’ words also included calling no one “leader” or “my teacher” (Rabbi). The point of the saying wasn’t the use of a title – most all of us call our fathers “dad”. It was a comparative statement to use discernment in not lauding those who seem to be leading for the benefits or perks (Matthew 23:6: “They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues…). Jesus’ point was in 23:11 “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

When we don’t place the right examples in high regard and follow after them – because they are not “heroes” by the worldly standards – we follow the wrong people. Faithful fathers of the faith get trampled for the more flashy and fashionable voices.

There’s an old Indian Fable I heard recently. A water bearer had two large water pots which he carried on either end of a pole slung across his shoulders. One of the pots had a crack in it, so every day as he carried water to his master’s house he arrived with one full pot and one only half full. This went on for two years. One pot was very proud of its accomplishments, while the imperfect pot was embarrassed at its failure. Its distress at being able only to accomplish half of what it had been made to do, resulted in its speaking one day to the water carrier. “I am so ashamed,” the pot said. “Why?” asked the carrier. “Because water leaks out all the way to your master’s house and because of my crack I’ve been only able to deliver half of the load.” The water carrier looked kindly at the cracked pot and said, “As we return to my master’s house today, I want you to look at the beautiful flowers along the path.” The pot was a little cheered by the beauty he saw along the way. “Did you notice that the flowers were only on your side of the path?” the water carrier asked. “I’ve always known about your flaw and I took advantage of it. I planted seeds on your side of the track and as we walked back each day from the stream, you watered them.” For two years I have been able to pick fresh, beautiful flowers for my master’s table. Without your being just the way you are, this beauty would not have graced his house.”

Seventh, the Corinthians were tempted to set the wrong goals.

1 Corinthians 4:18 Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power. 21 What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?

We think that the ability to SAY the truth well is the end game. The real standard isn’t talk; it is the transforming power of God becoming evident in our midst. The goal is reliable teaching that leads to powerful change. Anything else is the wrong goal.

Imagine that someone gives you the latest high tech car (a sort of James Bond style car). It has every feature you can imagine and a few more. It not only has cruise control but it has a navigation system that virtually allows the car to drive itself. It has a collision avoidance system. It has infra red sensors that tell it when there’s an animal or a person in front of you that you might hit. But the trouble is, your friend has just left the car in the drive with the key in the ignition and the instruction book on the driver’s seat. What are you going to do? You could probably just jump in turn it on and go. After all you’ve driven plenty of cars before. But then what about all those high tech doodads? What if you were to touch the wrong button? In fact, you’d be pretty dumb to just ignore all the things that had been written down in the instruction book for you, wouldn’t you? It could even be a dangerous thing to do. Yet that’s what some people do as they try to reinvent what it means to be a Christian. They throw out the instruction book. They go beyond what’s been written down and they invent their own rules for living; not to mention for judging what’s right and what’s wrong; what’s wise and what’s foolish.

Can we not see that in the Word are the proper measures and in the world are the unreliable ones?

Paul simply argued: “Right measuring devices yield right answers!”