1 Corinthians 4: Fools for Christ

Albrecht Dürer, Ship of Fools, 1494
Albrecht Dürer, Ship of Fools, 1494

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23 ESV).

Are you a good example?

When I finished my doctorate in 1985, a friend gave me a reprint of a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer called, Ship of Fools (1494), which hangs in my home office. At the time, I worked for the government and the woodcut seemed to be a parody of my office life. Later, in reading a book written on the history of insanity[1], I found reference to my woodcut. In the Middle Ages in Europe, the insane were set adrift on ships—presumably for their own good! Today, we let them wander the streets (and, periodically lock them up for a few days if they misbehave)—presumably to enjoy their legal rights!

The Apostle Paul writes: We are fools for Christ’s sake…To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless … (vv 10-11).  Which of us have been homeless for the Gospel?  Which of us, fools for Christ?

Paul applies different titles to the Christian:  helpers and trustees (v 1); apostles, death-row inmates, and spectacles (in other words, gladiators; v 9); fools, weaklings, fashion-challenged, disreputable, and street people (vv 10-11); blue-collar types, the reviled, the persecuted, the slandered, human garbage, and scum (vv 12-13); and beloved children (v 14).  Do you suppose that Paul was having a bad-hair day?

Paul was making the point that the behavior of the Corinthians was inconsistent with the evangelists, especially Paul, who had brought them to Christ.  He writes, for example: We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute (v 10).  Jesus himself said:  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:27 ESV).  Clearly, the Corinthians were out of sync with Gospel teaching.  Are we any different?

One of the hardest admonitions is simply to be a good example.  Without even defining what it means to be good, people run away.  How many athletes and other celebrities haven’t uttered the words:  I am no role model—as if they could wish being a role model away!

What does Jesus say to the disciples?  Follow me! (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17; Luke 5:27; John 1:43).  Consequently, when Paul (v 16) writes—imitate me—he is not bragging; he is simply reframing Christ’s own words.

Are you a good example?  Am I?

Footnotes

[1]The premise of the book was that the treatment of the insane is a mirror on society.  Michael Foucault. 1988.  Madness and Civilization:  A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason.  New York:  Vintage Books.

Questions

  1. How was your week?Did anything special happen?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about 1 Corinthians 3?
  3. How does Paul describe the company of the apostles? (v 1)
  4. What is required? (v 2)
  5. What is the nature and significance of judgment according to Paul? What does he call it? (vv 3-5)
  6. What is the limit that Paul imposes on himself and those he is teaching and why? (v 6)
  7. What limits boasting? What is the source of our gifts? (v 7)
  8. Does Paul seem ironic?Sarcastic? Depressed? (v 8)
  9. What is the problem with apostle? Why last of all?  What is a spectacle? To whom? (v 9)
  10. What comparison pairs does Paul offer? (vv 10-13)
  11. Why does Paul write?(v 14)
  12. What is the difference between a guide and a parent? (v 15)
  13. In what way are we to imitate Paul? (v 16)
  14. Who is Timothy and why did Paul send him? (v 17)
  15. What is Paul’s point about talk and power? What is the point of his planned trip? (vv 18-21)

1 Corinthians 4: Fools for Christ

First Corinthians 3

First Corinthians 5

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