Tuesday, June 17, 2014

1 Corinthians 4: The Gospel of Entitlements

1 Cor 4:6-16 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?  Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 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. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

The Corinthians were puffed up with their own version of the Gospel--the Gospel of Entitlements. They were behaving like the pampered rich and the privileged royalty. So Paul had to expose them with these sarcasms: "Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings!" (v.8). The Corinthians were acting like they already got it all buttoned up. Apparently they had abandoned Paul's message of the Cross in preference for their own message of Entitlements.

In contrast to their entitlement lifestyle, Paul their spiritual father was living a life of deprivations and disenfranchisements: "To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things" (v.11-13). The contrast between the message of the Cross that Paul preaches and the message of Entitlement that the Corinthians were preaching to one another was starkly different. So Paul had to remind the Corinthians that though he was the anointed servant of God and steward of God's mysteries, his ministry was marked by suffering, deprivations, and persecutions.

Is Paul out of favor with God, since he did not enjoy a rich and royal lifestyle? Of course not. In fact, he urges the Corinthians to "be imitators of me" (v.16). In other words, they should be prepared for a life of deprivations and persecutions -- just like him. In Acts 14:22, Paul expressly declared that those who wanted to enter the kingdom of God must expect trials and tribulations, not a life of ease: "strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).

The inconvenient truth is that the vast majority of Christians in Africa, Asia and Latin America are still living a life of deprivations and persecutions--not a life of ease and comfort. Are we to conclude that these Christians are not enjoying God's favor?

In fact, when a preacher teaches that God would not let His children suffer wants and deprivations (since Jesus has took upon himself their "crosses"), they are denying Scriptures and failing to prepare these affluent believers for the coming days of global persecution of true believers. I believe the reason Christians in affluent societies like US and Singapore prefer the Gospel of Entitlements to the Gospel of the Cross is because it affirms their materialistic desire to become rich in this world. And this kind of positive prosperity "gospel" is not just preached by Christian preachers. Even Buddhist monks in Thailand and Hindu gurus in India are attracting massive followings by offering their own version of prosperity "gospels".

So, it really doesn't matter which religion the preachers of prosperity come from. As long as their message promises a lifestyle of ease and comfort, they will attract large crowds. However, the message of the Cross cuts right across this materialistic motivation. And this is not popular with these affluence seekers in modern capitalist societies.

May God grant us wisdom to discern truth from error.

Father, deliver us from self-deception. Amen.

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