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A word of caution. People in the church do not have the place to go up to church leaders and tell them that they are nothing. Leaders, though they are nothing, deserve respect.

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13). Paul reiterates this in 1 Timothy 5:17: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”

Everybody is to be respected. We are to respect one another. “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Peter says, “Honor everyone” (1 Peter 2:17a).

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Please allow me to repeat this. Paul said that he, Peter and Apollos were nothing. Paul wanted to make sure the Corinthian believers understood this so “…that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:29).

Paul didn’t want a company of people saying they were Paul’s followers, a group who were in “his” fellowship, so they could boast about being in the church of the amazing apostle Paul. He was thankful that he hadn’t baptized many people for that very reason. He simply wanted a church of believers who met together for their mutual strengthening and found their identity only in Jesus Christ.

He wanted to make sure that their “…faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).

This is stunning.

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From Paul’s point of view, the church was headed in a disastrous, worldly direction when divisions over joining oneself to “charismatic” personalities were materializing. “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?” (1 Corinthians 3:4a).

He tells the Corinthians that both he and Apollos were simply “workers together,” and they were really one: “He who plants and he who waters are one” (1 Corinthians 3:8a). They were both trying to nurture a plant, which God was causing to grow—and by that growth, Paul didn’t mean numerical increase, but rather upward, healthy, fruit-producing development. In all of his writings, Paul did not mention any numbers whatsoever concerning his ministry. That was not his concern. His concern, like that of Jesus, was to make disciples who would follow the Lord to the ends of the earth, willing to sacrifice their own lives.

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Some may respond to this by saying, “But Paul said that the Corinthians were quarreling and striving. Sure, there may be divisions in the Church because of denominational affiliations, but the people in churches today for the most part don’t quarrel and strive with those in other churches about their pastors.” Let’s think about this for a moment. We’re well ensconced in a universally accepted church world in which there are not only many different denominations but a plethora of churches within those denominations. Therefore, it’s difficult to imagine what these first century Corinthians were dealing with, but let’s try. Imagine yourself in a room in which were gathered the members of three churches and on the platform sat the three pastors of those churches. In the meeting it’s announced that only one of these men will now lead all three fellowships under one roof and that all of the members will have the opportunity to decide which one will get the job. What would that meeting be like? On what criteria would the people base their choice? Am I mistaken to think that if one man was actually chosen, the choice would be made—all things moral and doctrinal being equal—on the basis of his ability to speak and how he presented himself? What would the people do after a choice had been made? Would there be any quarreling and striving? After the votes had been tallied, would there be those who would decide that they were going to keep their own pastors, regardless of the outcome?

Paul tells us that, according to God’s wisdom, it is not His intention to build His Church according to this kind of worldly criteria. Read the rest of this entry »

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What Paul was advocating in these first four chapters of First Corinthians—not gathering around gifted personalities—is light years away from how we think about doing church today. We’re perfectly content to conduct ourselves in the very way that so greatly alarmed Paul. Consider how we regard those who preach in our churches. When our pastors deliver a message, we rate them on their performance—their ability to speak. It’s just how our system works. In general, those who are stellar in this capacity have large, notable churches, and the less talented ones do not. We want people to join our group because of the teacher’s or pastor’s ability to express himself effectively according to fashionable awareness of our culture, the same way the Corinthians did in their first-century Greek context. For them it was Greek oratory. For us, it’s preaching skills, culturally clued-in humor and affability. Regardless of style, the point is that Christians should not divide over the speaking styles and abilities of certain talented individuals.

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The church at Corinth was divided over which individuals they had attached themselves to. With what criteria had the Corinthians rated these men—Paul, Peter and Apollos—to determine if they were worthy of their allegiance? As strange as it seems, it was their communication abilities. Paul attempted to reunite these believers by explaining that this way of thinking was faulty; that the bringing of the gospel to people was not about how accomplished the speaker was. It was not Paul’s aim that the Corinthians should rally around his speaking-induced leadership. Right after the famous passage about how God chooses “what is low and despised in the world,” so that “no human being might boast in the presence of God,” he wrote in the beginning of the next chapter,

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

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Leadership. It seems impossible to talk at any length about the Bible or the Church without the topic of leadership being discussed at some point. Rightly so. The men and women in Scripture who did great deeds for and with God were, indeed, leaders. Therefore, it is imperative for us to investigate the thoughts concerning leadership from a man who, except for Jesus Himself, is justifiably considered the greatest leader in the New Testament: Paul. From his perspective, what was the position and function of leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ?

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