Spiritual Leadership and Humble Relationships: Part 2—1 Corinthians 4:1-5
In Part 1, we saw Paul (in 1 Corinthians 1:1-9) respond to his critics by saying:
“First, I want you to know that you are sanctified and holy. Second, I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ. Third, you’ve been enriched in Christ in every way—in all your speaking and knowledge. You don’t lack any spiritual gift. Christ will keep you strong and blameless to the end.”
Practicing What We Preach
I was going to turn next to 1 Corinthians 1:10, but I was struck by the question, “Where does Paul find the power and perspective to respond to his critics in such a humble way?” In Corinthians, Paul practices what he preaches in Philippians 2:1-5.
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”
People long to see our humility as spiritual leaders. That’s not weakness, but Christlikeness, other-centeredness.
Meekness is strength under Christ’s control. Humility is self under Christ’s perspective.
Paul is practicing what he preaches in Romans 12:3. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
Notice that Paul does not say, “Never think of yourself.” He does not say, “Think lowly of yourself.” He’s saying, “Think accurately of yourself by understanding who you are in Christ.”
Paul’s Identity in Christ
For Paul, his identity in Christ trumps what other people think of him and even what he thinks of himself. Notice Paul’s perspective in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.
“So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.”
Paul does not ignore his critics, however, neither does he allow their evaluation to negate Christ’s evaluation of him. When he’s tempted either toward despair by his critics (and thinking too lowly of himself), or toward defensiveness by his critics (and thinking too highly of himself), Paul returns to his identity in Christ. “It is the Lord who judges the motives of my heart.”
Paul also reminds himself whose praise he is living for. “At that time each will receive his praise from God.” Paul lives for an audience of One.
Our Identity in Christ
Think about how this works in our lives when we lead any group of people, and some among them begin to complain about us and our leadership.
• If we’re mature, we meet the initial complaint in a humble, responsive way. We seek to hear others well and respond where we can. Our identity in Christ is our firm foundation.
• The complaints continue to pour in…unrelenting. Perhaps unfair in nature and unloving in motivation.
• If we’re not careful, we now begin to take our eyes off of Christ and put them on people.
• We start feeling beat up and beat down. In the limited power of our flesh, we’re exhausted.
• Now we start being defensive. The shame and blame game begins. We pull rank. We label. We put others in their place. We’ve gone from shepherding the sheep to maiming the sheep. We “do” to them, what they’ve done to us—putting our sheep on the defensive. The shepherd becomes the wolf.
• Then we start being aggressive. We feel so fragile in self that we start building ourselves up. Our mindsets are the opposite of Philippians 2:1-5 and Romans 12:1-3. Our people, instead of seeing the humility of Christ, witness the arrogance and pride of the flesh.
Stop the Merry-Go-Round
We stop this vicious cycle just like Paul did.
• By Seeing Ourselves in Christ: By refusing to judge ourselves by human judgment—ours or others. Our identity is not in self, not in what others think of us, but in what Christ says about us. For hundreds of verses about our identity in and to Christ, read: Who I Am in Christ and Who I am to Christ.
• By Living for Christ: By living for an audience of One. We don’t live as “people pleasers.” We don’t live as the KJV puts it, “with eye service as men pleasers” (Eph. 6:6). We live for Christ.
• By Living through Christ: By realizing that our standing before Christ is all by grace. Who we are in and to Christ is not by works we could do but by the finished work Christ has already done on our behalf.
Join the Conversation
How could clinging to your identity in Christ revolutionize the way you respond to criticism?