Preparation for Worship
What are the marks of a person’s identity that has been shaped by the cross? That’s the question we’re considering as we look at this passage.
As we’ve been seeing, the Corinthians are caught up in the same patterns of competition, comparison and envy that typify the social life of Corinthian society. In this section, Paul clarifies that the root of all this conflict and unrest is pride and boasting. At core, boasting is about how a person defines themselves, what someone depends on to establish their identity. The human ego is so fragile and empty, that it is constantly seeking new pursuits, accomplishments or experiences to establish a sense of self-worth and significance.
Not only does Paul rebuke his friends for acting “merely human” (3:3), he also models a different way to approach personal identity. He says this remarkable phrase in 4:3: "I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.” Not only does Paul not care about what they think about him; he does not even care what he thinks about himself! His identity is no longer based on ranking, comparison, achievements, successes or failures. He has entrusted his sense of self to the Lord, the one he truly belongs to (3:23). This has transformed his sense of self. He is no longer in the courtroom of human opinion; Jesus’ finished work has already rendered the only verdict that matters.
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1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7
3.21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas[a] or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
The Nature of True Apostleship
4 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
6 Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. 7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?