Chapter Four The Ministers Of Christ

Stewards of the Mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)

As we have seen, there was a tendency to factionalism and sectionalism in the church at Corinth because the Christians were rallying round various leaders and exalting them instead of recognizing that those leaders, evangelists, pastors, and teachers were simply servants of Christ who were given by God for the blessing of the whole church.

In chapter 3 Paul sought to put the servants of Christ in their right place in the minds of the saints at Corinth. Chapter 4 follows very naturally, for it concerns the responsibility of the servants of Christ. Paul wrote, “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”

We are inclined to go to one extreme or the other: either we laud and praise and overestimate the ability and character of God’s servants, or we set them at naught and disdain the instruction and help God intended them to give. God would have us take the middle course, not foolishly flattering His servants, but recognizing that we have a great responsibility toward them as they seek to fulfill their responsibility toward us. “They watch for [our] souls, as they that must give account” (Hebrews 13:17) and we are not to be angry or indignant if they have serious things to say to us at times concerning worldliness, carelessness, and carnality. Rather we are to judge ourselves in the light of the Word of God that they bring to us, for they are ministers of Christ.

Notice that in 1 Corinthians 4:1, Paul did not use the word “servant,” which he used so frequently in his Epistles in the sense of “bond servant.” Instead he used a word that conveys the thought of an official minister who has been specially appointed to a particular service.

When Paul said, “Let a man so account of us,” he was linking himself not only with Cephas, who was an apostle, but also with Apollos, who was not. Apollos, that “eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures” who first preached “only the baptism of John,” was not above being instructed by a godly woman and her husband, Priscilla and Aquila; when Apollos had learned the gospel more fully from them, he went forth to preach with greater liberty and power (Acts 18:24-28). Paul said in effect, “Do not put Peter, Apollos, and me on pedestals and form parties around us. Think of us as official ministers of Christ. We are sent with a commission from the Most High to proclaim His Word, and we are responsible to do it faithfully. We are stewards of the mysteries of God.”

A steward is one who is entrusted with certain things that he is to use for the benefit of others. Paul wrote of such things to Timothy: “That good thing [deposit] which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us” (2 Timothy 1:14). God had committed His truth to Paul, and he was responsible to teach it faithfully. We too have been made stewards of the divine mysteries.

We have seen that the New Testament mysteries are not abstruse truths that are difficult to understand, but sacred secrets that had not been known in previous ages. In Deuteronomy 29:29 we hear Moses speaking to the people of Israel on the plains of Moab just before they went over the Jordan to take possession of the promised land; he says, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God.” But when our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, he uttered “things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:35), and before He left His apostles He said:

I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come (John 16:12-13).

And so the truth revealed by the Holy Ghost in our dispensation constitutes the mysteries, the sacred secrets, that the servants of God are now to make known. What are some of the mysteries?

There is the mystery of the gospel, that grand and wondrous truth that the mind of man would never have ferreted out if God had not revealed it—“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). The good news is that Christ on the cross died “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself”; that having been “delivered for our offences, [He] was raised again for our justification” (Hebrews 9:26; Romans 4:25). Now in resurrection life He sends the message out into all the world that he that “believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This is God’s great secret. Man never would have thought of it.

I know that the gospel is from God, for I am somewhat familiar with almost all of the religious systems prevalent in the world, and apart from that which is revealed in the Bible, not one of those systems ever intimates that God Himself should provide a righteousness for sinful man. They all demand a righteousness from man and simply point out different ways by which men are supposed to work out for themselves a righteousness that will make them fit for God. The gospel alone explains the mystery of how righteousness is provided for men who never could obtain it themselves. Our Lord Jesus Christ “is made unto us wisdom, [even] righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30) and we are stewards of this great mystery of the gospel.

There is also the mystery of godliness or piety—that is, the great mystery of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus, who was God and man here on earth in one person. We read in Matthew 11:27, “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” It is utterly impossible for human intelligence to understand the union of deity and humanity, yet this mystery is plain to us who believe. We simply accept the revelation that God has given and end all questioning. People talk about “the problem of Christ.” Christ is not a problem; He is the key to every problem. Everything else is made plain when we know Christ in whom dwelleth “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

Another mystery that Paul wrote about is the great mystery of Christ and the church. The apostle compared their relationship to that of a body and its head, and to that of a bride and a bridegroom. The glorified Lord Jesus Christ is characterized as the Head of the body, and every believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit as a member of that body, which thus becomes “the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).

Christ is also characterized as a bridegroom, and the church as His bride. What a beautiful picture! We are told that He who made Adam and Eve in the beginning made them male and female and “therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), and in speaking about this marriage relationship, Paul said, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).

Linked with this is the mystery of the rapture and that of the olive tree—that is, Israel’s present rejection and future regeneration. These various mysteries are the revelation to us of things kept secret from the foundation of the world. To unfold these mysteries is the responsibility given to Christ’s servants, yet how few who take the place of being ministers of Christ fulfill that responsibility!

Paul went on to say, “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” The business of a steward is not to electrify people by his eloquent sermons, not to dazzle them by his wonderful ability, not to please them with his rhetoric, not to speak in words that will simply be to them as a “lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument” (Ezekiel 33:32). The business of a servant of Christ is to open up the truth of God, to unfold, expound, make known these mysteries so that the people of God will appreciate the heritage that He has given them in His Word.

In fulfilling this ministry, the servant of Christ may open himself up to criticism, but that should not deter him. The apostle said to the Corinthians, “With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.” In other words he was saying, “As long as I am faithful in opening up the Word of God, I am not concerned about whether my sermons particularly appeal to you. As long as I know that I am pleasing Him who sent me, I am not greatly disturbed if I displease you.”

The Corinthians appreciated eloquence, oratory, and other special gifts, and they said of the apostle Paul, “His bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Corinthians 10:10). But he could say, “Well, that doesn’t trouble me at all. Did I give you God’s truth? That is what I am concerned about. Your appraisal does not matter to me in the least.” Paul was not bothered by “man’s judgment” (1 Corinthians 4:3). The term translated “judgment” here can also be translated “day,” so the phrase would be “man’s day,” which is the entire period of time lasting from the rejection of Christ until He comes back again. During this period God is letting men try out one scheme after another to see what they can make of a world out of which they have cast the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul did not even attempt to appraise his own service. He felt he had no right to say, “Well, I think I did pretty well today; that was an excellent address.” Self-appraisal can encourage the pride of the natural heart, or it can make a person so depressed that he throws himself down under a juniper tree and says, “It was all a failure; I certainly did make a mess of things.” No servant of God is capable of appraising his own service. That which he thinks was excellent may have been just so much wasted time. That which he thinks was wasted time may have been just the right message for the moment.

Then we read, “I know nothing by myself.” A more accurate translation is, “I know nothing against myself.” Paul was not conscious of anything of a harmful character in his ministry. “Yet am I not hereby justified,” he said, for he may have been blundering even when he did not realize it. “He that judgeth [appraiseth] me,” the apostle added, “is the Lord.” The Lord appraises everything rightly in accordance with His own holy Word.

Then Paul warned the saints against attempting to get on the judgment seat. It is not our place. “Judge nothing before the time,” he said. What time? He meant the time when the Lord comes back. When He returns He is going to examine carefully all the service of His people. He will distinguish between the precious and the vile; He will separate the gold, silver, and precious stones from the wood, hay, and stubble. He will pronounce correct judgment on the labors of His ministers. You and I cannot do that now, so it is better for us just to wait.

The Lord will “bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” That is what you and I cannot do; we can hear what comes from the lips or note the actions, but we do not know the hidden springs behind the words and deeds. When the Lord Jesus examines all our labors, He will bring everything to light. If there was envy and jealousy and pride and carnality, he will drag it all out into the light. Many a sermon that sounded very beautiful, that was almost perfect as a piece of oratory, will be shown to have been utterly spoiled by the pride that was behind it. The Lord will show where there was earnest preaching to glorify Him, even though the speech was faltering and the expressions used were not all they should have been. He looks on the heart, not merely on the outward appearance.

Observe, however, what Paul added: “Then shall every man,” and he is speaking of believers, “have praise of God.” You might say, “Oh dear, I can do so little, for I do not seem to have any gifts. I am afraid there won’t be anything the Lord can reward me for in that day.” But if you are in Christ, the Holy Spirit of God is dwelling in you, and in that coming day it will be revealed that every Christian has accomplished something for God, something for which he can be rewarded.

Once when I preached that every Christian will receive a reward, a brother came up to me at the close of the meeting and said, “Didn’t you go a little strong there?”

I said, “No, I do not think I did.”

“Well,” he said, “think of the dying thief; that man was saved just as he hung by the side of Christ. What opportunity did he have to do anything for which to get a reward?”

“Why, my dear brother,” I said, “think of the dying thief again. There he hung nailed to a cross; he could not move a hand or a foot, but he recognized in the man on the central cross the coming King of the ages and said, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.’ The thief turned to his fellow and rebuked him and bore witness to the perfection of Christ: ‘We [suffer] justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss’ (Luke 23:41-42).

At the judgment seat of Christ I think I see that redeemed man coming before his Lord, and saying to himself as he comes, “I was saved only a few minutes before my Savior died, and I had no opportunity to serve Him or to witness for Him. I cannot expect any reward.” And then I think I hear my Lord saying, “Every one present who was converted through some sermon you heard about the dying thief, come here.” And I imagine I see them coming until there are thousands and thousands of them, and I see my blessed Lord turning to that man and saying, “I want to give you this crown of rejoicing for all these souls that you have helped to win to a knowledge of My salvation.”

Do you not see it? “Then shall every man have praise of God.”

True Apostolic Succession (1 Corinthian 4:6-16)

A great deal is said in certain circles about a ministry that can date back to the days of the apostles, the first followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to this definition of apostolic succession, the ordination given to the apostles has been passed on through their successors, one clergyman after another down through the centuries without a break to the present time—as though that in itself would confer any particular grace on them! Undoubtedly Charles Spurgeon was right when he said, “When men count on receiving the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands and because of any fancied apostolic succession, you can depend upon it, it is just a case of empty hands laid on empty heads.” Even if we could show an uninterrupted line from apostolic days to the present time, there would be no merit in anything like that. As we read verses 6-16 we will see what true apostolic succession is.

Earlier in the Epistle the apostle warned against making overmuch of the servants of God. He indicated that in Corinth they were divided into sections in the local church because some were saying, “I am of Apollos,” while others were saying, “I am of Paul” or “I am of Cephas,” and some were even making Christ the head of their party and boasting that they were “of Christ,” the implication being that the others were not “of Christ.”

Now he wrote, “These things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes.” He meant that it may not actually have been his name or the name of Apollos or that of Cephas that was being used in this sectarian way, but he put himself and Apollos, his fellow laborer who was thoroughly of one mind with him, to the front and used the names Paul and Apollos as illustrations to help reprove the tendency to sectarianism among the people of God.

Paul explained to the Corinthians why he used these names as illustrations: “That ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written.” The words “of men” are italicized because they were added by the translators who thought something was needed to help make the meaning of the Greek text clear. The clause has also been translated like this: “That you might learn in us nothing above that which is written.” In other words, “You are not to put men in such a place of authority that you rally to them and to their instruction, and are carried away with admiration for their abilities, and forget that they as well as you have to be tested by that which is written.”

The basic question is, What is written? The Bible is just as open to you readers as it is to the learned doctors and great commentators; in this respect you “need not that any man teach you,” for the Holy Spirit will teach you concerning all things as you ponder over the Word of God (1 John 2:27). The reason that so many people constantly refer to the thoughts of others, men like themselves, is that there is so little real familiarity with the Book. God has given His written Word, and any extraneous thoughts of even the best teachers will be mere speculation. God has given teachers to the church not so that they may supplant the Bible and save His people the trouble of studying the Word for themselves, but so that they may spur the people of God on to more intensive searching of the Scriptures. If men get occupied with teachers, they get puffed up one against another.

First Corinthians 4:6 suggests that for believers to attach themselves to people who have certain gifts and neglect others who may also have special ministries from God, is to become very one-sided. Consider the Christian who says, “I am not interested in teaching; I like the preaching of the gospel. I like to go to evangelistic meetings, but I am not interested in attending Bible studies.” Such a person, being only partially developed, is very easily carried away by all kinds of winds of doctrine. Wherever there is plenty of emotional appeal and a great deal of enthusiasm and excitement, he is present; but when thought and meditation will be required, he stays away. Believers like him lose a great deal.

Another type of Christian speaks sneeringly and slightingly of evangelistic efforts, of gospel preaching, and says, “I like to go to a meeting where some able teacher unfolds the Word of God, for that builds me up in Christ, but I am not interested when only the gospel is presented.” Only the gospel? The gospel is the most precious thing that I know about. It is the glad, glorious message of God’s love to a needy world. The preaching of the gospel is a very rare jewel these days. Recently someone came up to me after a meeting and said, “How is it that one can wander about from church to church, and go Sunday after Sunday, month after month, and never hear the gospel? It was such a refreshment to come in today and listen to the gospel.” The people who say “only the gospel” had better try tramping about a bit to find out what is being preached. Perhaps after they have sampled the rubbish that is being proclaimed in place of the gospel, they will have a higher opinion of gospel preaching.

Someone else says, “Well, there is so-and-so; I like to hear him; he is an exhorter and he always stirs me up. I am not interested in dry teaching.” Teaching of course can be dry if the power of the Holy Spirit is lacking. But mere exhortation, if not backed up by the Book, will not accomplish very much. Yet exhortation is a gift given by the risen Christ to the church.

If one has a gift that God has given, he is to use it for the glory of God and not to attract attention to himself. There is no reason for any servant of Christ to exalt himself over another. Paul asked the Corinthians, “Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”

Then Paul turned his attention to another factor that was contributing to the problems in Corinth. The people were not profiting from the ministry that God had provided for them, and that was an indication of a low spiritual condition. We learn from 4:8 that the Corinthians were settling down to enjoy the gospel’s benefits, but ignoring its call for self-denial. They received the good things that God’s servants brought to them, they congratulated themselves on the fact that they were saved and going to Heaven, and then they made themselves comfortable in this world. Paul exclaimed in effect, “You are reigning like kings now, before the time. Already, you are full; already you are rich.” It is true that we will reign by and by, but the reigning time has not yet come. This is the suffering time. This is the time when we are to show our loyalty to Christ by our identification with Him in His rejection.

Since the apostles shared in that rejection, Paul said, “I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death.” In other words, “We are like men who are already under sentence of death and going out to die” (also see 2 Corinthians 1:9). With this sentence hanging over their heads, they went on in their devoted service. “We are made a spectacle,” Paul added in 1 Corinthians 4:9. The word translated “spectacle” here is theatron, from which we get our English word “theater.” Paul was saying, “We apostles are like performers on a stage. Others look at us and see something of the lowliness, gentleness, and rejection of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The word translated “world” in the last part of 4:9 is kosmos, which refers to the entire universe, so Paul was saying, “We are made a spectacle to the universe, to both angels and men.” From Heaven angels are looking down on the servants of Christ, and here on earth men are looking at them. If Christians are proud, haughty, self-indulgent, and self-seeking, the hearts of angels are grieved and the hearts of men are filled with contempt. If believers are lowly, devoted, Christlike, unworldly Christians, men recognize their reality and angels rejoice.

Years ago when I was a young Salvation Army officer, our old colonel called us in for an officers’ council and I will never forget his advice to us on that occasion. He said, “Comrades, remember as you go about your work that men will forgive you if you are not eloquent. They will forgive you if you lack culture, if your educational privileges have been greatly curtailed, if you sometimes murder the king’s English as you try to preach the gospel, but they will never forgive you if they find that you are not sincere.” Men look for reality, and the Lord looks for reality in His servants. With angels and men watching us, we must be sincere and play our parts well to the glory of God.

Next Paul put the apostles and the Corinthians in vivid contrast. “We are fools for Christ’s sake,” he said, “but ye are wise in Christ.” Everywhere the apostles went, men branded them as fools because they had given up earthly privileges. They had given up the opportunity of settling down comfortably so that they might devote their lives to the gospel of God, and therefore the world said, “They are throwing their lives away!” The Corinthians, on the other hand, were settling down, making money, getting on in the world, and having a comfortable time.

Notice the difference in the prepositions in 4:10: “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ.” Paul did not say “wise for Christ.” The Corinthians, as real Christians, were in Christ. They imagined that they were wise too because they were holding on to a place and position in this world, but the apostles who were counted as fools for Christ were the ones who were really wise for Him.

Paul added, “We are weak, but ye are strong.” Oh, the irony of all this! He was saying, “You think that you are strong and we are weak because we give our lives to propagating the gospel.” Continuing the contrast, the apostle remarked, “Ye are honourable, but we are despised.” In other words, “Men look up to you, for ‘men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself (Psalm 49:18), but we have given up everything for Christ’s sake and of course we are despised.”

In 4:11-13 Paul gave us an outline of what true apostolic testimony and experience really were. “Even unto this present hour,” he began, “we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; And labour, working with our own hands.” The apostle was not the kind of man who had such regard for “the cloth” that he would not dirty his fingers in some temporal occupation. When there was not sufficient money to take care of his needs, he got a job making tents. He was simply a humble servant of Christ and was not above anything that the Lord would have him put his hand to.

“Being reviled, we bless,” Paul added. Note that he did not say, “Being reviled, we give them as good as they give us.” He continued, “Being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” Paul did not look on the service of Christ as something that introduced one into high circles in cultured society. To be a servant of Christ was to be misunderstood, to be rejected; it meant a path of self-denial all along the way.

Why did Paul write to the Corinthians about these trials? He assured them so tenderly, “I write not these things to shame you.” Why then? He wrote to exercise them, to stir them up, to get them to realize how selfish their own lives were. “But as my beloved sons I warn you,” he explained. He was saying in effect: “You are mine. I brought you to Christ, and I grieve when I see you forfeiting future reward for present ease. [How often the servants of Christ are burdened like that and people do not understand!] You can take your choice. If you want to get a place and a position in the world and be well-thought-of down here, go on with the frivolity. But if you want to be well-thought-of up there, and if you want to be a Christian who will really count for God, then make a clean break with everything that would hinder fellowship with Him. You will get far more pleasure from a prayer meeting than from a frivolous social, once you get better acquainted with the Lord Jesus. You are my sons in the gospel and I love you, and because I love you I warn you. You will lose out by wasting your time in things that just appeal to the flesh instead of using that time for self-denying service for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul added in 4:15, “Though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” The word translated “instructors” here does not mean “teachers.” The Corinthians did not have many teachers—there have never been a great many real teachers of the Word of God—and Paul’s intention was not to slur teachers or speak of their gift as a very small thing. The term rendered “instructors” means “child trainers”; it is the root of our word pedagogue. A child may have many trainers, but only one father. Paul was saying as it were, “You Corinthian babies have plenty of child-trainers, but only one father. I brought you to Christ, and I am your father in Christ.”

How can we tell if people are still in spiritual babyhood? One indicator is that they cannot enjoy the deep things of God. “I have fed you with milk,” Paul said to the Corinthians in 3:2, “and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” I have known Christians who, after being converted a number of years, say, “I am not interested in Bible studies. They are too dry for me; I do not understand them. I like something simple.” They give the impression that they would prefer to lie down on a couch and be given a bottle with a nipple on it so that they can suck a little weak truth from it. They should have been teachers themselves by this time, but they are still babies.

Another indicator is the things with which they play. Paul said in 13:11, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Many have been converted long enough to put away all childish things and get down to real business with God, but they are still spiritual babies. Some have been saved so long that they ought to have a whole host of spiritual children, but they have never yet led one soul to Christ!

In a wonderful climax to the passage in 4:6-16, Paul said, ‘Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.” A man must live wholly for God in order to speak like that, and the apostle did. When he stood before people and said, “I want your lives to glorify God,” if they answered, “But we do not know what to do,” he could say, “Well then, imitate me. As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ I have counted everything loss for Him. My one desire is to glorify Him.” In 11:1 Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” That is a safe thing. That is true apostolic succession, and if you will follow that line, you will find apostolic blessing in your life and God will use you to win others to Christ.

Discipline in the Church (1 Corinthians 4:17-21)

This first Epistle to the Corinthians is the charter of the church and it brings before us certain divinely-given rules and regulations for the ordering of the local churches of God here on earth. This portion deals with the question of how to discipline an open offender against holiness and righteousness.

The church is the house of God. When I use that word house, I do not mean a building. God’s house made of stone and mortar was the temple at Jerusalem and He has never owned another. His present house is made of living stones, men and women “builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). This house of God, this assembly of God, is the church of the living God in this present age of grace. Holiness becomes God’s house. He dwells in His church—that is, in the assembly of His saints—and therefore it must be a holy assembly. That is why again and again in the New Testament we are exhorted to absolute separation from the world and its ways.

Sometimes when those who watch for our souls seek to prevent worldliness and carnality and unholy things from cropping up in the church of God, they are looked upon as censorious and harsh and possibly unkind. When they try to deal with matters of this character, people fall back on Scripture verses like Matthew 7:1-2: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” In these particular verses, however, our Lord was speaking of the motives of the heart. You have no right to judge my motives; I have no right to judge your motives. If for example I see someone put a hundred-dollar bill in the offering basket and I say to myself, “He is just trying to be ostentatious; he did not give that out of real love for Christ,” I am wrong, for I am judging his motive, and I have no right to do that.

But the church of God is called on to judge the unrighteous behavior of any of its members. First Corinthians 5:12 says, “What have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?” The world outside goes on its way and the church has no jurisdiction there, but the church is responsible for the character of its fellowship. The church is also responsible as to those who sit down together at the table of the Lord and are involved in Christian service.

Where there is failure, the individual who fails is held responsible by God. It is a serious thing to profess to live the life that should characterize members of the church of God. Ours is a high and holy calling, and if we lower the standard, we are not only dishonoring Christ individually; we are also giving the wrong testimony to the world.

The story is told of a man who wanted to hire a coachman. The man lived in a mountainous region and the road to his home ran along a precipice. A number of drivers applied for the position. He said to one of them, “Tell me, are you adept at handling fractious horses?”

“Yes, I am,” the applicant replied.

“Can you drive a six-horse team?”


“How near can you drive to the edge of the cliff without going over?”

“I have a steady hand and my eye is pretty true; I can get within a foot of it and not go over.”

“You step outside,” said the man, and he called another and asked him the same questions.

This applicant answered, “I am an expert in handling horses; I can drive right along the edge and not go over.”

“Step outside,” the man said, and he called another and quizzed him.

“If you want someone to drive on the edge of the precipice,” said this applicant, “you do not want me. When I drive, I keep as far away from the edge as I can.”

“You are the coachman I want,” the man responded. “I will hire you.”

Christian, be careful of the edge of the precipice. Do not get near it, for the first thing you know, you will go over and your testimony will be ruined. And the sad thing is that you are also liable to drag others over with you. Keep away from the edge, and do not resent it if those who “watch for your souls, as they that must give account” (Hebrews 13:17) try to impress on you the solemnity of these possibilities.

The apostle Paul had heard negative reports concerning internal conditions in the church at Corinth, but he had been hindered from getting there to deal with them. Certain carnally-minded members of the church who knew that the apostle’s coming would probably mean that they would be rebuked for their worldly behavior were evidently saying, “Paul is really afraid to come to Corinth; he knows he hasn’t the influence he once had.” So Paul, who was not afraid to come, wrote with apostolic authority, “Some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you. But I will come shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power.” In other words, when he came, he was going to look into some things very carefully.

There is a tremendous amount of pretense among professing Christians—they pretend to a piety that they do not possess and a devotedness that is not genuine. So Paul would find out whether the power of God was working in the Corinthians’ lives or whether it was just bravado and conceit that led them to justify themselves. He would inquire not only about the talk of their lips but also about the behavior that characterized them, “for the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” Mere lip profession is not enough; the power of the Holy Spirit must be demonstrated in the life.

The apostle said in effect, “I want to come to you, but do you want me to come with a rod of discipline?” He could come as the representative of the Lord to chastise the Corinthians for their bad behavior, or he could come in the spirit of meekness so that they and he might sit down together over the Word of God and enjoy the precious things of Christ. If they desired him to come in the latter way, there were some things to be settled first, and in the subsequent chapters he told them what they were.