Studies in I Corinthians
Lesson 13: “A Motivation for Ministry”
I Corinthians 3:18-23
In the musical “The Sound of Music” one of the most beautiful songs is “Climb Every Mountain” It is sung by the Mother Superior of a convent to the young Maria, who is trying to decide what to do with her life. And the song is all about motivation. And the message of the song is that nothing should ever stand in the way of accomplishing one’s dream. But the Word of God speaks of motivation from a much higher standpoint: Not the accomplishment of a dream, but the exaltation of a Savior. Not climbing every mountain and fording every stream,” but walking with the Lord in a personal relationship.
Let me ask you today, what is your motivation; what is it that keeps you going in life? What are you trying to accomplish? As we come to the end of chapter 3 of First Corinthians we want to think about the motivation for ministry in verses 18-23. Now as I hope you remember, in our last study we talked about the judgement seat of Christ – the sobering fact that everything we have done since the day of our salvation will be judged as to its motive. Those things that have been done with the motive of honoring Christ and furthering His kingdom will be rewarded, and the things that have been only for ourselves will not. And the rewards will be used to tangibly thank and worship Jesus Christ for our salvation. And certainly that is a motivation for ministry. But in these verses Paul is going to focus on some principles that be helpful to us as we live our lives in an increasingly secular society. And there are three principles in that regard:
First, the pointlessness of creating celebrities in verses 18 through 20. Then in verses we have the possessions of common Christians in verses 21 through23a, and, the position of Jesus Christ in verse 23b
So let’s begin our study by looking at the first of these principles: The pointlessness of creating celebrities in verses 18 through 20. As we look at this paragraph we need to remember again that the basic theme of this whole first section of the book is the danger of exalting men. Paul has already pointed out several aspects of this danger, and now he comes to another one: many times our exaltation of men is for the wrong reasons. As we have seen before, the Corinthians were not exalting these various men because some of them were more knowledgeable than others, but because of personality and background, or the academic degrees they may hold – they all taught the same doctrines. So in these verses Paul is going to warn about what can happen when we elevate men for the wrong reasons. And the first reason that it is pointless to do this is that there is confusion in wisdom, according to verse 18.
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.
The first thing we want to notice in this verse is the phrase “let no man deceive himself.” This is a translation of a Greek word which means “that which givers a false impression, whether by appearance or statement or influence.”
If we were to trace it through the New Testament we would find that it is most often used with reference to “money” or “lust.” Nothing is as deceitful as money or lust. Both of them lead to a false basis for your thinking. It is very easy to get the impression that if you have money you are automatically important (which is a lie) – you may or may not be important, but money is not the determining factor.) If you give yourself to lust, it leaves you with the impression that you are going to find excitement and stimulation – which is also a lie. The law of diminishing returns soon makes you a slave to lust!
So coming back to our text, the person who makes human wisdom and the personalities of mere men his standards is deceived about spiritual things! So there is “confusion in human wisdom” according to verse 18, Now we will come back to the rest of that verse in a few minutes, but at this point notice the contrast to human wisdom that we find in verses 19 and 20.
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, for it is written “He catches the wise in their own craftiness; (20) and again, the Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
These two verses are quotations of Old Testament verses. Verse 19b is a quotation of Job 5:13, and verse 20 is from Psalm 94:11. Now these verses speak pretty clearly for themselves, but there is a passage that articulates this principle even more clearly. Look at James 3:13 through 18.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom (14) But if you have bitter envy and self seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. (15) This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic (16) For where envy and self seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there. (17) But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy (18) Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
These verses make it clear that there are two kinds of wisdom: In verses 13 through 16 there is the wrong kind of wisdom. And notice the description – earthly, natural, demonic, sensuous, filled with selfish ambition and disorder . . .”
This sounds just like what we’ve been reading about the Corinthian church, doesn’t it? But that shouldn’t surprise us, because they were depending in the wrong kind of wisdom; human wisdom; earthly wisdom; “wisdom that is from beneath.” Now put all of that together and you will realize that wisdom that does not come from God is based purely on intellect, culture, education, and so forth.
But in verse 17 there is a description of God’s wisdom.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.You be the judge: what are the characteristics of the wisdom that guide your life? Are the decisions that you make and the lifestyle you follow “pure,” “peaceable, willing to yield – without hypocrisy? These are the characteristics of the wisdom that God gives! And in the context of our study, these are the things that characterize a church that operates on God’s wisdom (and vice-versa).
Now going back to First Corinthians, the third thing we want to notice about the pointlessness of creating celebrities is in verse 21: the conclusion about human wisdom Therefore, let no man boast in men. . .”
Notice the word “therefore,” – it indicates that a conclusion is to be drawn from the above information. And what he is saying is “since there is confusion and deception in human wisdom, and since there is a contrast between God’s wisdom and human wisdom, here is the conclusion that we should draw: “don’t boast in men.” And the last part of the verse tells us why: for all things are yours . . .” (and that leads to the next point): Not only is it pointless to create celebrities, but we don’t have to boast in men at all because of the possessions of common Christians in verses 21b and 22. God has provided you with not only prominent Christians to help your Christian life, but with all things that we need for Christian living. And samples of these possessions are in verse 22.
Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas or the world, or life, or death or things present or things to come – all are yours.
Notice that he begins the list of possessions with the very men they were exalting – and Paul says they are all for you – don’t limit yourself to just one! But it goes on much beyond that – the whole world! First Timothy 4:4 says that “every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving.” And First Timothy 6:17 says that “God gives us all things richly to enjoy” And First Corinthians 4:15 says “all things are for your sakes.” And verse 22 gives some examples of all those things: the ministry and ministers belong to believers – Paul, Apollos, Cephas” (so to limit ourselves to only one is cheating ourselves)
The world belongs to believers – the orderly system of the universe belongs to believers. It is for the benefit of the believer (unbelievers just get to share in it.) Life certainly belongs to believers – Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and they might have it more abundantly.”
And even death is for believers – Hebrews 2:14 and 15 says that
Christ’s death destroyed him who had the power of death, that is the devil and released those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
Believers have nothing to fear in death – to be absent from the body is to present with the Lord.”
So those are “samples of the possessions of common Christians – every Christian can have these things. But in verse 23a we should notice the source of those possessions And you are Christ’s . How is it that the common Christian can have victory over all things? We don’t need to be in bondage to anything. We don’t need to use any thing or person as our standard. But instead we can have the benefit of “all things richly to enjoy.” To put it simply: “we belong to Christ, and therefore these things belong to us. Now doesn’t that put things in perspective? Why exalt man? Why exalt a human creed? Why have our motivation based on what we can attain and acquire? All those things are already ours!
And that brings us to the final statement of verse 23 . . . . “and Christ is God’s (the position of Jesus Christ.) Don’t glory in men. There is no man great enough to glory in. Someone has said, “men and machinery will fail you.” Jesus Christ is the only one worthy of glorying in. And why? Because “Christ is God’s” And that is the motivation for the ministry – the fact that we are personally related to the God of the universe!
The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at