I’m not sure that I have ever heard a sermon from the text of 1 Corinthians 4:1-21. We could easily dismiss the entire chapter as a scathing correction from Paul to his converts in Corinth (“shall I bring my whip when I come?”) that has no application to us. But I think that would be a huge mistake. I am convinced that from this gloves-off, direct confrontation with the Corinthian boasters you and I can learn a great deal about our discipleship.

The first thing that I think the church of the 21st century needs to hear from this passage is that we need authentic leadership in the Lord’s church. Too often leaders in the church, especially paid preachers, take the path of politicians. We vacillate back and forth depending upon the latest opinion poll of the congregation. But, we must always remember that the church of Christ is NOT a democracy. As ministers, every one of us is responsible to a higher Authority than public opinion. What is required of us is faithfulness to God Almighty—with or without the support of the majority vote.

Those who would step forward and proclaim the Word of God must do so in absolute faithfulness to the meaning of that Word. No amount of peer pressure should be able to sway the faithful preacher from proclaiming the message of that Word. And no amount of moaning and groaning should be allowed to keep the preacher from reminding God’s people of the mission for the church of Christ that is assigned to us by that Word.

Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 is that authentic leadership will occur in the church of Christ only when those who lead do so as “servants of Christ” rather than employees of the majority opinion. Anyone who speaks to us must be free to speak Truth even if it is unpopular or makes us uncomfortable.

Of course, the challenge is for this principle to be applied so that we have a healthy, well-balanced community. An autocrat needs to be run off. A dictator has no place among God’s people. The paid preacher is not the only person through whom God’s Word can be spoken.

For these reasons and more I am firmly convinced that even though Paul’s words in this chapter are tough, and his correction of the church firm, there is much wisdom here that we must strive to capture for ourselves.