This week's sheet....
Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.
Week five, beginning Sunday 20 May: 1 Corinthians 4.6 - 4.21
Main theme: the nature of power
apostolic style and authority
Questions to prompt discussion
1.What does 'do not go beyond what is written' mean?
2.How does this link with taking pride in 'one man over another'? Can you think of examples in the contemporary church (in UK and worldwide) where there is such pride?
3.Is there anything that a Christian can boast about? If only the cross, does this mean that a Christian should never enjoy a sense of achievement? (or similar)
4.Would you like Paul as your church leader? Paul is engaging with what he perceives to be the arrogance of the church community, and a large part of his method is sarcasm (vv 8-13) - but is sarcasm a form of blessing or answering kindly?
5.What is the power of the Kingdom of God? What is the context of Paul's statement - and therefore what is he suggesting specifically?
Some background thoughts
Paul is still struggling with 'party spirit' at Corinth. He has been talking about Apollos as an example, not because he is particularly angry with Apollos or disagrees with him, but because the Corinthians have distorted the faith through emphasising the importance of individual leaders. That is the 'idiom' of their culture, and against this Paul is emphasising the nature of apostolic leadership - humiliated and weak. There is a strong sense that the Corinthians have started to look down on Paul as a manual worker who doesn't speak well.
Paul is here exercising an episcopal role, ie oversight of the church community which he founded, and is using parental language to try and exercise discipline. It would appear that his attempt goes wrong, and the divisions are not overcome (see 2 Cor 1.23 - 2.4).
There are strong echoes of the cross (1.18-25) in Paul's description of apostolic ministry.
Notes on verses
v6 - "Few scholars claim to understand the allusion" to not go beyond what is written; yet I suspect that the point Paul was trying to make can be discerned. NB there was no New Testament at this time
v8 - almost certainly not economic riches or kingship, but figures of speech used by popular philosophers of the time
v9 - 'end of the procession' - captured prisoners dragged behind triumphant military leaders, usually to be executed as entertainment or sold into slavery
v14 - 'guardians' - literally childminders, babysitters
v14 - compare with 6.5