The Corinthians and Their Apostles: Page 5 of 10 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
The apostle, almost certainly, has the teachers in the church of Corinth in mind, and he intends to show them that there was no justification for pride or feelings of superiority with regard to their attainments in piety, talents, or knowledge. Since all that they possessed had been given to them by God, it could not be the basis for boasting or self-confidence. “For who maketh thee to differ from another?” is a question that can be applied to native intelligence; to opportunities for education; to the measures by which one rises in the world; to health; to property; to piety; to prominence and effectiveness in the church. It is God who makes anyone differ from others, in any of these respects; and it is especially true in regard to personal piety. Had God not interfered and made a difference, all mankind would have remained the same; under sin. The human-race would have rejected his mercy, because it is only by his distinguishing love that any are lead to believe and be saved.
The doctrine presented here by the apostle is this: God is the foundation of all good; no man possesses any good except that which he has derived from God; the ultimate gift being that grace which saves him from the horrors of hell—let him consider that he has received it as a mere free gift from God's mercy.
Let him not despise his neighbor who does not have it; there was a time when he himself did not possess it.
And what hast thou that thou didst not receive?
Whatever mercies and blessings men enjoy, they have, in one way or another, received them from God; the Father of all mercies. All physical, spiritual and earthly mercies are received from Him; even things regarding the body, the substance, form, and shape of it, perfection of limbs, health, strength, food, clothing, preservation of life, and all the comforts of life. And there are also things that relate to the soul; its formation by the Father of Spirits, and its powers and faculties. Then there is reason, and understanding, with all that they provide of abilities, and sharpness of wit; so that no man ought to glory in his wisdom, as if it began and grew naturally within him, when it all comes as a gift from God. All supernatural and spiritual blessings are received from God; such as a justifying righteousness, sanctifying grace, remission of sin, the new name of adoption, strength to perform good works, to bear and suffer reproach and persecution for Christ, and a right and title to eternal glory.
My friend, whatever you may have of talent, piety, ability, opportunity, health, strength, personality, and learning; everything you are and have, including your gifts in the ministry —and by whatever means you may have obtained it, it has been the gift of God, and so there is no reason for pride. All that the apostle has said can be applied to men in general, but at the time he wrote this he was aiming these words at the ministers who set themselves at the head of these factions, and then they encouraged and assisted the people in those feuds.
Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?
“Why dost thou glory”—why do you boast as if it were the result of your own skill or effort. This is not designed to discourage human effort; but to discourage a spirit of arrogance and boasting. A man who makes the most laborious and faithful effort to obtain anything good, will, if successful, trace his success to God. He will realize that it is God who gave him the character, the time, the strength, the success. And he will be grateful that he was enabled to make the effort; not vain, or proud, or boastful, because he was successful. This passage states a general doctrine, that the reason why one man differs from another is to be traced to God; and that this fact should suppress all boasting and pride, and produce true humility in the minds of Christians. It may be observed, however, that it is as true of intellectual rank, of health, of wealth, of food, of clothing, of liberty, of peace, as it is of religion, that everything good comes from God; and
knowing this fact which is so obvious and well known, does not stifle the efforts of people to preserve their health and to obtain property, so it should not repress their efforts to obtain salvation. God governs the world by applying the same good principles everywhere; and the fact that he is the source of all blessings, should not act to discourage anyone, but should trigger human effort. The hope of his aid and blessing is the only ground of encouragement in any undertaking.
The Corinthians viewed their gifts as personal accomplishments, and they were critical of others, particularly Paul. But what did they (the Corinthian teachers, who were heads of factions) have to blow their own horn about, when all their distinctive gifts were from God? They had received them, and could not boast of them being their own, without wronging God. At the time when they reflected on them to feed their vanity, they should have considered them as so many debts and obligations to divine grace. But it may be taken as a general principle: We have no reason to be proud of our achievements, because all that we have, or are, or do, that is good, is the result of the free and rich grace of God. Boasting is excluded forever. There is nothing we have that we can properly call our own; those who receive all should be proud of nothing: “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake” (Psalms 115:1; KJV). Beggars may take delight in the charity they receive; but to be delighted in themselves is to be proud of their poverty, helplessness, and need. Note, Giving due attention to our obligations to divine grace would cure us of arrogance and self-conceit.
The three questions found in this verse should prompt other questions in my heart: do I truly give God the credit for my salvation? Do I live with a spirit of humble gratitude? Seeing that I have received much from God, what can I give to Him? Paul was as much self-made as any man ever was, and yet he said, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
Research of the Inc. 500 companies revealed that among fast-growing companies, “95 percent of the failures are due to internal problems.” The same dynamic that hamstrings industry also cripples church growth. Although there may exist the perception that some external source is preventing growth, it is usually internal problems that impede growth and create a stagnant congregation. I bring this up only because the Corinthian Church was being damaged from within by the various factions, as most churches are, even today.
To take personal pride in anything is tantamount to insulting God. Do you have a gift? You may have a very outstanding gift, but you have nothing to boast about because God gave it to you. You are not the originator of your gift. We ought to thank God for our gifts. They are God’s gift to you, and your use of them is your gift to God.
8 Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.
The first three clauses are directed against the false teachers, who had promoted themselves in the eyes of their admirers, were receiving honors and compensation from them, and some were at the head of a sect bearing their name. They became conceited and put on the airs of "important men," not merely in the church, but throughout the whole city. The final two causes are spoken in sarcasm and disapproval; the true state of such impostors is far different from what they imagined.
Now ye are full,
Today, one might say, “Already you are filled up (with spiritual food).” The Corinthians received an abundance of spiritual gifts; and so did the apostles: but the apostles were kept from self-complacency by recurrent privation and suffering. The Corinthians, on the other hand, did not suffer at all, because they had plenty of things to make their lives comfortable, and they were pleased with themselves because they thought they had earned it all, and if God chose to bless them it was only because they deserved it.