14 June, 2006

Leadership: The Revenge of the Gifts

Corinth had problems.

Corinth had real problems. Sex, eating, legalism, suing each other, messing up the Lord's Supper(!), unintelligible meetings, and some seriously funky doctrines. This was one troubled church!

Paul puts all that off.

From verse 1:2 on, Paul attacks one problem alone. Even as he addresses every other problem, he is really focusing on this one problem. It is first clearly stated in 1:10

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

What caused the Corinthian church to be divided? For that we go back to verse 7

7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

And what was the sign of their division?

12 What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas [Peter]"; still another, "I follow Christ."

Corinth was suffering from gifts poisoning.

I want to focus in on Apollos. Apollos was at the center of this controversy, and Apollos is the only one who could have nipped it in the bud. He failed.

Christ, Paul, and Peter were all gone while this was brewing. The problem was ongoing, so it must have been someone who was still there who was causing it. Knowledge is a huge part of the problem, according to Paul, and that was surely not brought by Peter. We know, though that Apollos was a knowledgeable and eloquent speaker. Apollos was there in Corinth, and preaching away.

By process of clue elimination, we conclude the crime was committed by Apollos, with the candlestick of knowledge, in the parlour of Corinth.


This is a guess, but I think there is some value to commend it.

Apollos was young. I think he simply made rookie errors. I will concede that the problem is not his youth per se, but that he made youthful errors because he was young. There are definitely some young men who don't make youthful errors, but not more than a couple per generation.

My evidence is scant, but here it is.
1) He was willing to sit and listen under Priscilla. That would be unheard of for the average man (especially one who knew rabinnical tradition), but probably easier for a young man than for an old.
2) When Paul is writing to Titus, Apollos is traveling with Zenas. I get the feeling he is traveling as much as the young men Paul taught in Ephesus. So, I imagine Apollos as maybe 5 years older than Timothy, Titus, and the rest.
3) In chapter 4 of 1 Cor., Paul positions himself as the father of the Corinthian church. This would be hard to do if the person causing the problem were as old as he was. He cannot bring up the fact that Apollos is young, because he is about to send Timothy to help them.
4) The errors made in Corinth by Apollos just seem like those of a man trying to prove himself.
5) Paul does not come down hard on Apollos. He is gracious, as one might be with a young man who had tripped himself up a little bit.

Paul tells us in this book that the gifts are helpful to the church, but potentially dangerous too. Through the gifts we become puffed up, feed our carnality, and forget how weak we were when the Lord found us.

1 Cor 8:1 ... We all possess knowledge. But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.

Paul set an incredible standard in Corinth. He came in weakness, and laid aside great knowledge he could have flaunted. He brought, instead, wisdom and the power of the Spirit. Peter may have done the same. It's impossible to know. But someone was flaunting his knowledge, or Paul would not have made such a big deal of correcting the mistake.

1 Cor 3
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

(I know a lot of people assume that this passage is talking about the judgement seat of Christ, but it makes gobs more sense if Paul is talking about the building of the church, and the "fire" is the trial of division.)

When we connect the knowledge problem back to this passage, we see knowledge in the wood, hay, and stubble. Brilliant persuasion is just so much straw, ready to be burnt when the fire of trial comes. Building with knowledge is especially an error of youth, too. Haven't you ever seen children build? They want to build with whatever is quickest. They build with sand, because it takes forever to find good clay. They build with twigs because lumber can only be cut to size with a saw. You can just break a stick, and get on with it.

The young worker in the gospel tells people what they ought to do, because that is so much quicker than going through the suffering alongside them. He gives great advice, because that way he doesn't have to get involved, and "They need to find the answer for themselves anyway." The older worker sits down quietly and suffers with a brother, for years if necessary.

I believe Paul had respect for Apollos, and that Apollos went on to be a profitable worker for the gospel. If this were not true, Paul would not have been calling for him in his old age. Here, though, Apollos was the young, gifted worker bringing destruction along with all his gifts.


Now, to tie all this back to the good ol' leadership posts of May (has it really been that long :-? )

The things that matter in the church are the matters of real life. Caring for each other, for widows, orphans, single moms, and children with one parent. Living life with sound faith, love and endurance. To that end, wisdom is needed. The old cowboys say that judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from a lack of judgement. Just so, it takes some years to get wisdom.

So, our leaders need to have some years behind them.

The gifts are given to the young and old alike, and it is tempting to let the young exercise their gifts for the Lord. It is tempting, but its not wise. Let them exercise their gifts in small ways until they have proven themselves in the teenage years of their kids, or in some equivalent way. Hand the church to them later. It will still be there.

We have enough seminary grads. Praise the Lord for the knowledge to be gained from seminary, but we need something much, much, much more badly.

The church needs men who know how to love their wives and children through the hard times. Men who know how to build relationships and bridges when those relationships are dying. Men who know that the sister weeping in the back row is more important than whether she believes that the Trinity is three persons in one nature.

Apollos was well and truly gifted. His heart was right. He grew into a profitable servant. He may even have been sent by Paul to Corinth for the particular of ministering to Corinth's needs. But something betrayed him, and youth is the best candidate.

Let your young men get a job and raise a family.

(Oh, I said I would mention apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers:
Apostles teach groups of people to be churches.
Prophets teach churches what God is saying.
Evangelists teach those who don't know Him Who the Lord is.
Pastors teach saints how to survive the lean winters and droughts.
Teachers teach everything else.

It's all just teaching to me.)


Milly said...

Let them exercise their gifts in small ways until they have proven themselves in the teenage years of their kids, or in some equivalent way.

With one about to be a teen I may agree with you later, you speak from which you came raising a child into a teen and about to have a college man, so I’m giving you that voice.

Now my real opinion I have seen those in my church leadership with children who are grown and married stumble, I have seen those with small children stumble, and I have seen those with grandchildren stumble. I do agree that experience counts on how we handle the stumbles. I guess though I have found that the younger ones are more open to say “Wow I just stumbled on that one.” I do feel that the experienced know that when you fall you have to step up or step out. I’ve unfortunately, as many churches have, had men who weren’t the best at handling things. I was glad to see some step down. They all had grown children some with grandchildren.

Milly said...

Men who know that the sister weeping in the back row is more important than
(so many things)


DugALug said...


Gifts are just that, stewardship is another issue.

As far as leadership with some years, I am more in favor of leadership with a track record. I know plenty of plant life with grey hair.

I think using the same scriptures that you could make the case the Apollos was arogant rather than young. Apollos seemed more interested in having followers than spreading the Gospel. This was a clasic example of being right at all cost. The implication is that Apollos used knowledge for personal aggrandizement, rather than a tool to point to the giver of all true wisdom. Rookie mistake? Possibly: or maybe a human nature flaw.

Age is no replacement for experience and tempering, my friend. Age only gives you the oportunity to attain wisdom and experience: it is up to the individual to reach for it.

God Bless