1 Corinthians 3:18–4:21: True Christian Ministry
If the church is the temple of God, then what role should ministers in the church play in that temple? How should the Corinthians—and all congregations—relate to the leaders whom Jesus Christ has appointed over them? Furthermore, what role and status should regular members of the congregations claim? Finally, why has God organized his church this way? What is he seeking to accomplish in this world and the next through his church and his church’s leadership?
In 1 Corinthians 3:18–4:21, Paul addresses the true nature of Christian ministry. The Corinthians were spending their time bickering, backbiting, and dividing into various factions as they rallied around particular leaders, Paul rebukes their entire outlook on Christian ministry. The Corinthians, Paul explains, both held their leaders in too high and too low an estimation. They esteemed their ministers too much by boasting in the ministers, rather than in Christ whom the ministers served. Then, they esteemed their ministers too little by failing to follow their ministers as their ministers led them to Christ. In 1 Corinthians 3:18–4:21, Paul argues that King Jesus appoints ministers to administer the rule of his reign in his church.
1) Where do you seek true, lasting, genuine enjoyment (1 Cor. 3:21–23)? In Christ alone, or in the blessings and wisdom of this world? What about the world’s wisdom seem so alluring to you? What would change if you used everything in this world for the enjoyment of Christ? What would change in your relationships? What would change in your outlook?
2) What does Paul mean by calling ministers “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1)? How do pastors unique administer Christ’s kingdom through the key of doctrine, by declaring God’s word? What does this teach us about how Christ advances his kingdom? What does this teach us about the authority (and limitations on the authority) of a pastor?
3) In what sense is the kingdom of Christ already established (1 Cor. 4:8)? In what sense has the kingdom of Christ not yet come? What tension do we find in the now, between the already/not yet? Where do you feel this tension in your own life? Do you tend more to despair over the effectiveness of the already, or to be deceived into boasting about the not yet?
4) In what sense are ministers fathers (1 Cor. 4:14–15)? How should we relate to ministers in their fatherly capacity? In what sense are ministers teachers (1 Cor. 4:16–17)? How should we learn from ministers as they teach us? In what sense are ministers rulers (1 Cor. 4:18–21)? How does Christ establish the government of his kingdom through their ministry?