The Power of the Pragmatic

The Power of the Pragmatic

Feb 25, 2018

Passage: 1 Corinthians 4:15-21

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Series: 1 Corinthians

Category: Humility


Alright, well if you have your Bible's open up to 1 Corinthians 4.

Today our passage is about power. Now what is power? Power in the most general sense is that motive force that is able to make changes in the world.
Waves have power to move rocks and shape them. If you think about the power of a river to generate energy. Millions of metric tons of water push on turbines that create megawatts of electricity that power homes and factories. And then we do stuff with that power. We make changes in the world.

Everything would just sit motionless and unchanged unless there is power added into the equation. So power changes things. But power is not too helpful unless we can direct it. Much of the effort of science goes toward harnessing the power of nature for the purposes of men.

Now that all makes sense in the physical realm. We desire power because we want to change things.

But here's the question in our passage before us today. Can we do that same thing with spiritual power?

You see we all want spiritual power because we all want to change. We don't want to stay exactly how we are for the rest of our life. We want people around us to change. We don't want them to stay exactly how they are for the rest of their life. But how do we do it? We lack the power. We've tried to change ourselves and cannot. Without some external insertion of power nothing is going to change. Where does that power for change come from?

How do we experience the power of God to help us change? If spiritual power is what produces change, how do tap into that power to change people? What levers do we hold to produce results to make change, to direct that spiritual power.

This is what was causing division in the church in Corinth. Presumably these arrogant teachers are motivated by their perception that they control powerful ministry tools and they are causing division because not only are they claiming their ministry tools work. They are claiming the old ways don't work.

  • This old-fashioned preaching stuff doesn't work.
  • The cross is kind of weak and embarrassing.
  • We need to be more relevant.
  • We need to inject some polished eloquence.
  • We need to keep up with this Greek wisdom.
  • The power in ministry is derived from our cunning our witty efforts, our crafty schemes.
  • We need to get a Starbucks in the foyer. That will draw them in for sure. We need something that actually works. We need power.

And what Paul does in this passage is say, you want to talk power? You want to talk about what works? You want to go to the source of power? I'm happy to go there. In fact, the only thing I care about is what works. I'm a pragmatist among the pragmatic. I care about true power more than any of you. And it just so happens that this old fashioned preaching of the cross which is foolishness to the world, this confession of weakness is the only thing that has true power. Preaching the cross, embracing foolishness, loving weakness, are all routes to power because they conform to reality.

Now the Corinthians are left in a bit of bind. Well who is right?

And what you have in this passage is essentially a Mt Carmel showdown of pragmatics. You've got your alter of pragmatics over there and I've got my altar of pragmatics over here and he's got his altar of pragmatics over there. Which one works. Which one is actually going to produce CHANGE? Which one has POWER? There are all these various claims to power. But which one is right?

Paul begins out passage today pleading for the Corinthians to listen to him:

Let's organize our thoughts around this heading today:

Imitate the Spirit-Filled and Ignore the Arrogant.

Now Paul is trying to make the distinction between a guide and a father.

In the ancient Graeco-Roman world that word that we translate guide (παιδαγωγός) had a definite understanding. This guide had a very specific roll. This was not the teacher in the classroom. This person was usually a slave or paid attendant who accompanied the child for the purpose of protection, guidance, and general supervision of behavior to or from school, or on occasions when a parent was absent.

There are two key distinctions between a guide and father.

  1. Motivation.

The motivation of the guide (παιδαγωγός) if he were hired would be money or if he were a slave, his motivation might be begrudging obedience to his master, NOT love for the child. A guide is impersonally invested. Guides are a dime a dozen. But it's not just an issue of motivation, it's an issue of destination.

  1. Destination

You hire a guide to get you where you want to go. I might need a guide to get me to the best destinations in Belize. He says what kind of destinations are you looking for? Islands, rivers, jungles? I tell the guide the destination and he will get me there.

But what does a father do? A father tells you the destination. A father will correct you if you have the wrong destination. A father will guide you, but not to the destination you think is best, but to the destination which actually is best.

A father both knows his children and loves his children and because he knows and loves them, he is willing to correct and direct them.

If you give a child $500 that child has a mental destination for that cash. He probably wants something that $500 can get him. And he can find guides to help him. Maybe he wants a tablet and there are all sorts of guides on what the best tablets of 2018 are. That's a guide. But what does the father or mother do? They look at the desired destination and they say, "That needs to be corrected and challenged. Is it really a good idea to blow all that cash? It's hard to earn $500. Electronics become obsolete almost instantly. There's so little good that comes from that. You need to save some of that. You need to give some of that money to God as a way to both remember that he is the giver of all good things and to store up treasure in heaven." This is the attitude of the father.

So the idea here is that Paul loves them and wants them to move in the right direction. He cares for them. There are not many people out there who will go to bat for you. There are not many who really care to get involved all the way.

Now as a point of application here, I want you to look at your life and say, "Who is that person in my life who is can both guide and correct me? It's so easy to surround yourself with people who tell you, "You are awesome." But here's the problem with that. You are not awesome. And you need a spiritual father who loves you enough to tell you that. You need a spiritual father who loves you so much they will actually just tell you the truth.

For some of you, that may be your actual biological father or mother. For some of you, the only person who will tell you the truth about you is your spouse and you hate them because of that. For some of you that may even be your very own kids. For some of you that will be a close friend. What do you need to hear and who will tell it to you? Listen, find those VERY precious, rare people in your life who will tell you true things about yourself that hurt. And love them. Latch onto them. Embrace them. Thank them. Let them guide you.

In fact, let me really challenge you. Ask them. Actually ask them where you need to change. Sure a father will tell you when he thinks you are making a mistake but for every one he tells you, there were 38 others that he wanted to say and instead bit his tongue. How much better off we'd be if we actually asked? If we leveraged that wisdom.

Where is Paul Taking Them?

Now where is Paul trying to guide them? At first blush it's almost humorous. Corinthians, you are off track. Your arrogance is killing you. So what I want you to do is be humble. Actually come to think of it, just act like me. Imitate me. Be humble like me.

And the disapproval here goes off the charts. What Paul? You finally have it nailed? You have figured it out? I see, you are the model and we are all to follow you in your perfect example. When we get to chapter 11 he's going to again say,

Now what does Paul mean by this? How is this not arrogant? The key to understanding this is to get specific on what exactly he's asking them to imitate.

Paul will be the first to say, "I've got serious sin issues." Paul called himself the chief of sinners. So clearly, we aren't to imitate everything he's doing. We don't imitate the sin. What are we to imitate?

The issue in chapters 1-4 is where does ministry power come from. And over and over in chapters 1-4 Paul says ministry power does not come from humans. It comes from the Spirit of God. What does Paul call himself over and over again in chapters 1-4. The word that rises to the top is servant.

  • Back in 3:5 he says, "What is Paul? What is Apollos? Servants through whom you believed as the Lord assigned."
  • In 4:1 he says, "This is how you should regard us, as servants of Christ." The metaphors he uses point in this same direction.
  • We are rakes, shovels, plows. We are tools.

So Paul sees himself as a servant. That word in Greek is really the word for slave. And so to imitate Paul is to simply say, "I have no rights. In my position as servant/slave of Christ, it is not my position to decide the strategy of the church. I don't get to determine the blueprint of the building. I don't have that FREEDOM. I'm not the architect. I'm the builder. I'm not the gardener. I'm the shovel."

So when Paul says, "Imitate me." He's saying here's how you do it. You open up your Bible and it says, "Preach Jesus Christ and him crucified." Okay let's do that. You open up your Bible and it says, "Confess Christ before men." Okay let's do that. Think of yourself as foolish. Okay, got it. You are a rake that comes out and does its job and then goes back in the shed. Okay, perfect.

You don't need to get tricky or fancy. Jesus already told us what to do. Our job is to do it, not reinvent it. So imitate me cause that's all I'm doing.

Does that makes sense? Let's just get stupid simple. Remember when Jesus first calls his disciples.

So Philip began to follow Jesus and he was convinced this is the Messiah. This is the guy. We've literally been waiting for this guy for 1500 years since Moses. Can you believe it? He's here. Follow me and I'll show you.

Would you call Philip arrogant? Of course not. The only reason you follow me is so that I can connect you to the guy who you need to be following.

Paul is functioning like a street sign. Here's the direction. That's the master. He's got the truth. He knows what works. He's the architect and the engineer and the philanthropist. Follow him. I'm just a street sign. Street signs are not arrogant. They just point the way when it's not obvious.

But here's the question that arises:

  1. I might agree that Paul is functioning as a father. He genuine cares about his children. He's more than a guide.
  2. I also might agree that he's not being arrogant. He truly believes that we need to walk in the same path he's walking not because he has the answer but because the guy he's following has the answer.

But how do you know he's right? What if he is sincerely misguided? What's the Bible's answer? This might be a little surprising. Be pragmatic. What works? We aren't into theories and philosophies if they don't actually work.
Where's the power? Look at the next verse, verse 18 of chapter 4.

So do you see what Paul is saying here? It's easy to talk.

  • It's easy to criticize from a distance.
  • It's easy to be an armchair pastor.
  • It's easy to blow up the church with your words and point out all the problems.

Paul is saying, "Avoid the talkers." It is arrogant to say, "I know the way. Listen to me." Avoid these people who set themselves up as experts. It is humble to say, "I know nothing. But let me take you to the one who does. Follow me."

Let's get out of the realm of the church for a moment and transfer this concept into the world of business.

Let's say you wake up in the morning and ask the question, "How do I grow my business?"

  • There are no shortage of consultants in the world who are ready and willing to open their mouths to give you advice and claim expertise in answering that question.
  • There are no shortage of guides who will want to talk and tell you things.
  • There are no shortage of people who will sit in that seat of authority and say, "Let me tell you how to structure your life for success."

And while there will perhaps be some overlap in what these countless guides will tell you, many things these guides will tell you will be quite different. So who do you listen to?

Well, the best answer is listen to the guy who's successful. Go to the guy whose done it over and over again in different circumstances with different people and clearly he can see through the fog and confusion. He has a formula that works. Do they follow their own advice and if so what did it produce in their own life?

Business has the motto, follow the money. The Bible uses similar logic. Paul says, follow the power. "I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power."

In other words these guys will talk and talk and talk about power but they will lack true power. Paul, almost shockingly is saying, get pragmatic.

Paul says, "Who do you follow? You have countless guides. That word literally just means infinite. You will never exhaust the number of guides out there. Follow people with power. Follow people whose lives are actually changed, who are actually transformed." We saw this in our study of Hebrews.

Remember in Hebrews we saw this exact same idea. The author of Hebrews after surveying these amazing servants of God who through faith did amazing things says,

So that all makes sense, but there's one last piece we need to work really hard on here. Because there's a potential at this very point for a major misstep. What kind of power are we looking to follow?

Because the Corinthians could say, "We are following the power." Apollos has more power in his speech then Paul. We are following the power and it looks like Paul doesn't have it.

And we too might be tempted to look around and say,

  • Well who has the biggest church? Who has the best technology or is the most culturally relevant?
  • Who has the best worship band?
  • Who has the most in attendance?
  • Which church has the biggest budget?
  • Which guy has sold the most books?
  • Whose the most engaging teacher,
  • whose the funniest,
  • whose go the ability to draw us in with a story.

And we think we are following the power.

But do a word study on the word POWER. This is a major theme in the Bible. It's one of those themes that really surprised me when I started looking into it. When the Bible uses the word power, it's almost always referring to a very particular kind of power.

There is this very tight connection in the Bible between power and the Holy Spirit. So when Paul talks about following the power, when Paul talks about the kingdom of God consisting in power, he's talking very specifically about the type of power that the Holy Spirit gives.

And the breadth of the type of power we are to be looking for is quite impressive. The Holy Spirit EMPOWERS the church in so many ways.

Listen to just a few of these examples.

So here we have power to be witnesses. Similarly we have an example here

So here the apostles were given great power to share their story, their testimony. So you listen to this guy share his story and you think, man that was done with such power. Amazing.

Here the Holy Spirit is giving a person hope when he should have none. So the evidence of power is great hope.

In the book of Acts we see the power of God manifest in healing, speaking in tongues and prophesy. It's a huge theme especially in the beginning of acts. Remember the lame man who approaches Peter and says hey, can you give me some money? And Peter says, "I don't carry cash any more, I only carry a credit card, but here's what I do have, 'in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazarath, walk."

Later on the religious leaders demand him to confess, "By what power did you do this?" So the power of God can be seen through miracles or healing or sign gifts.

In 2 Corinthians the Spirit's power is made known through humility and confession of weakness.

One of my favorite is Paul's prayer in Ephesians.

So when we say follow the power, what kind of power is he talking about? He's talking about the power that comes from the Spirit of God working in you. The fruit of the Spirit. The power of spiritual gifts working in you.

What actually changes people? It is the Holy Spirit.

  • He is the one who affects change,
  • He is the one who manipulates the affections
  • He is the one who changes what you love,
  • He is the one who heals people both physically and spiritually
  • He is the one who speaks words of truth into your life.
  • He is the one who gives you joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control.

Look at the person who is satisfied in God and you will see the POWER of God.

But what crushes all that power? This horrible, soul-sucking, choking, strangling PRIDE. Pride extinguishes the power of God. It's just buckets of water on a campfire. And so Paul just confronts it so violently.

Next week we start a new subject in Corinthians. Paul is closing out this section about divisions and pride with a call to action, a call to introspection and repentance.

Paul here as their spiritual father is admonishing them. And he's asking them to be sensitive, to repent, to respond, to confess.

And what is the core of his admonishment. You're seeking power in the wrong places. You're seeking power in yourself. You're being prideful. You're being worldly.

Point: If you want to experience the power of God, the power of the Spirit in you, be willing to receive correction, ask for correction, change.

We are all little children. One of the hard things about being a child is that you can't understand why your father gives you the advice he gives you.

It's hard to explain to your kids why certain songs, certain movies, certain friends, certain social settings are really really dangerous. I'd much rather have my kids play catch with daggers than listen to certain songs or watch certain movies. That makes no sense to a child.

It's so hard to explain. There's just not enough life experience to help them to understand what it means to be impressionable, the effects of 10 years of a subtle influence and what that does to you.

It's hard to listen. It's hard to admit. It's hard to be humble, but isn't that better? Don't you want that, ultimately? That's the plea of Paul as he finishes up chapter 4 and that's going to be our plea as we finish up this message. Don't you want that? Don't you want to conform to reality? Doesn't the idea of gospel humility move you?

Let me put these two thoughts together for you. All I'm going to do is just state two truths of the Bible that are really, really easy to demonstrate and hopefully the implication will be obvious.

Truth #1 - God HATES pride (anyone want to argue that?):

Truth #2 - God DISCIPLINES those he loves:

It's the entire theme of Hebrews 12.

  1. So, if God loves you as a child, if God really, really cares for you soul, if he looks at you with the compassion of a perfect father.
  2. And if it's true that because he loves you he is willing to discipline you if he sees something in you that he dislikes.
  3. And if we know that of all things he dislikes, it's pride, what do you think will happen if you remain prideful?

Paul ends with this statement, "Shall I come to you with a rod or a spirit of love and gentleness?" Listen God I think is asking us today, "How hard to I need to make this?"

I think God has really worked in our body the last few weeks to deal with pride in our hearts.

  • How is pride ruining your marriage?
  • How is pride ruining your relationship with your kids or kids how is pride ruining your relationship with your parents?
  • How is pride keeping chasms where closeness ought to be in your relationships.
  • How is pride destroying your relationships with God?

If you want to experience the power of God, lay it down. Repent of it. And you want to know what is on the other side of that? Love and gentleness of a loving fathter. And if you don't? God loves you too much not to discipline you. God knows what that looks like in your life. I'm not here to suggest anything in that regard other than God knows how to do it. Stubborn kids need hard discipline. Soft kids need light discipline.

Do you want to do this the easy way or the hard way? Are you going to be a quick learner or a slow learner. Are you going to insist on a non-reality or are you conform to the reality?

  • Who do you need to ask forgiveness from?
  • What do you need to admit that you haven't been willing to admit up to this point? Maybe you can't admit your side of a problem.
  • Who do you need to seek out? Who is that person who will speak truth into your life and tell it to you straight. The reason I am experiencing all this failure is because .... and allow them to answer it.