Real Biblical Ministry – 1 Corinthians 4:9-21

When I was thinking about First Corinthians and all the problems Paul was addressing, I again thought to myself how messed up this church was. What we’ve heard so far is not the worst of their problems. In fact, if you read from chapter 5 onwards, things are worse. The things that were happening in this church and the things they were tolerating will make you cringe.

Yet God loved these people. God was not giving up with them. In the first chapter of this letter, in verse 8 it says that Jesus will sustain them to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so it is with you, brothers and sisters. I don’t have to tell you how messed up you are, or how broken you are. You already know. Yet God is not giving up on you. Verse 9 in first Corinthians says that God is faithful and He is even today.

This sermon and every sermon we preach is a message of redemption. It’s meant not to condemn but to invite you to throw yourselves once again into the arms of the Lord Jesus.

No one’s sin does God condone. But He cleared your debt by making Jesus pay. Now that Jesus is risen, it’s all good. Because you can be sure of God’s faithfulness to you, you can with assurance hope in the promises of God and you can look forward to the day when Jesus will return. For those who haven’t believed he invites you to turn away from your sin and turn to Him.


Our passage brings us to an end of Paul’s explanation of how he and his fellow workers have to be viewed. When you read verse 9 again, Paul is adopting a sarcastic tone with the Corinthians. He’s essentially wanting them to see how pride has clouded their vision on how they view themselves. But the reality is different. They are actually not as great as they think they are. Just because they follow a certain leader doesn’t make them great, just because they were part of a group that listened to Paul or Cephas didn’t boost their reputation. The reality is that ministers like Paul were considered as scum of the world. In fact, believers in Christ are all considered weak and weird because of where they stand. You say no I’ll not watch this or I won’t talk in a certain way or I willingly give up my Sundays to be in a place called church. The reality is that Christian life and serving the Lord is tough.

The previous two Sunday, Jinson and Saju gave us a Biblical view of ministry. Today I believe the passage is leading me to talk about Real Biblical Ministry.

What does it look like? 

1. Real Biblical Ministry is not Glamourous (v9-13)

Paul used a lot of sarcasm when talking to the Corinthians but he wasn’t joking when he wrote that he and the other apostles were a spectacle to the world, poor, homeless, working hard to support themselves financially, fools for the sake of Christ, etc.

This was all true. Paul probably got beaten up more than the other apostles ever did at least from what we read. This is what ministry looked like for him. This is in stark contrast to how the Corinthian believers were behaving. Creates separate groups amongst themselves, failing to the pressures of the times, and all the other problems that existed in there.

I’m not sure what you all think about ministry, or if you think it makes you famous or cool. Maybe some of you think that being up front preaching or leading the singing is something glamorous, it really isn’t. For those of us who do it regularly we know it isn’t. It’s hard work yes but it’s just ordinary stuff. Everything we do is ordinary. Many of you sitting here serve in different capacities and you know that it’s ordinary. Paul’s ministry certainly did not have any glamour in it. And is ministry restricted to the pastors? No, you’are all called to serve in whatever way that God has for you.

So what’s the point of this? Real biblical ministry is not glamorous because God works through such unglamourous methods. That’s the truth. In verse 9 Paul says “For I think that God has exhibited us apostles last of all”. One commentary I read highlighted Paul saying that is was God who chose to exhibit the apostles as last of all. God did it. And to what end? What would God achieve through such weakness and foolishness? He would show His power. Yes, real biblical ministry is not glamorous but through this lack of glamour God works.

That has a direct application for you and me, friends. You are serving maybe almost every week in some capacity. Some of you are doing it for months and even for many years. It feels so ordinary. It seems like nothing is happening. But God is working through this, like He did through Paul. You may think that this church, our Gathering church can function without you, you may think what am I, I’m serving in this small way but no, God is working through if for your good and His glory. Your faithfulness is a display of God’s glory, your commitment is a display of God’s glory, your earnestness to serve is a display of God’s glory. Continue on. Push on. Serve in whatever way God has called you to. It may be ordinary but that’s because real biblical ministry is not glamorous.

2. Real Biblical Ministry bears the burden of correction (v14-17)

The point of Paul’s sarcasm was not to put down the Corinthians, it wasn’t to demean them or simply make them feel guilty.

His end goal was to “admonish” them. A commentary online defined admonishing as “to provide reasoning to a person to turn his or her direction to God. It means appealing to the mind by providing correct doctrine so that a person can change his or her conduct.

Paul wanted to correct them. And it cost him to do this always. He wrote letters but he was constantly worried about them. He would even part ways from his beloved brother Timothy in order to correct others.

He calls himself as a father to these Corinthian believers. He goes so far to say imitate him. Paul doesn’t think highly of himself, there are many passages that attest that not least when we calls himself the foremost of sinners in 1 Timothy 1:15.

The real work of biblical ministry is bearing the burden of correcting and admonishing one another. It’s not easy. The easy thing is to cop out. I’m not saying it’s easy for two reasons, one things such conversations can be messy, the other person will be unwilling to listen to, might rebel, might accuse you of stuff and make you feel guilty, and moreover, you need to see how a sinful person like can go and tell the other person if he or she is wrong.

But it’s important part of Christian life. Now I’m also not saying start correcting each other without taking due consideration. What to say, how to say it, when to say it should all be considered. And it should be done prayerfully. Is a brother or sister in your life consistently walking in disobedience? Are you noticing the fire of his or her faith cooling? Then maybe you need to bear this burden of admonishing and speak to them to bring that person to God.

Yes, I’m calling it a burden but it’s a good burden to bear. It’s heroic to bear burdens. It’s heroic to sacrifice. James 5:19-20 says “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” You want to be a hero? Admonish your wandering fellow believer and return him to the truth. 

And the last point is

3. Real biblical ministry has transformative power (v18-21)

Paul says in v20 “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power”. What does this mean? Paul was talking about some people among the Corinthian believers who spoke a lot but did not walk the talk. Their life did not match what they spoke. If you remember earlier sermons on 1 Corinthians, the people of Corinth lived in a culture where philosophy, debating, wisdom from debaters, etc. were prized. The culture influenced the Corinthian believers so much that there were some who considered themselves wise because they could speak well and used to bad mouth Paul because he came to them in weakness.

Paul is saying that such people will be judged not by how well they talk but by the effect their words are producing. Because the kingdom of God is not just talk but it’s about a transformative power that changes dead unspiritual people to those who are alive to God and care about the things of God.

In effect he’s saying, real biblical ministry produces such transformative power. And that should be how we measure our effectiveness too. This has a direct bearing on the preaching. Is our preaching  producing change by the power of the Holy Spirit? What about our Bible studies in our GCs or DNA groups. What about the spiritual conversations we have? 


I want to end by saying real biblical ministry is only possible by the power of Christ. You’ll only desire to be real through your faith in Christ. Apart from Christ you can do nothing. Also, only a real faith in Christ gives meaning to everything that I just said. Why would you want to do the unglamourous work of ministry if you didn’t have Jesus who also did the same? Why would you want to bear the burden of correction if you didn’t have Jesus who did the same for you? Why would you care about transformative power if you didn’t see Jesus work similarly in your life? Real biblical begins by putting your faith in the Lord Jesus and turning away from sin. And real biblical ministry is sustained by your ongoing walk with the Lord. If any of you have not put your faith in Christ then today is the day to do it. You’re listening to this sermon because God wants you here and He’s inviting you to leave your slavery to sin and become a slave of Christ. Not just a slave but a friend and beloved son and daughter of the Most High God.

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