Are You Going Beyond What Is Written?

Let’s explore an unhealthy attitude that is often condoned in the church…

1 Corinthians 4:6

Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

As the Apostle Paul begins to sum up what the nature of ministry is and what it involves, he reminds the Corinthians of his former discussion in chapter 3 of his letter about himself and Apollos. The Corinthians were so caught up in exalting one leader over another that they failed to appreciate the value of each one. Their mantra was:

1 Corinthians 1:11-12

My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Sadly in the ministry today this same spirit manifests itself. My pastor is better than your pastor! Our church has better programs! Our church has more members! Our pastor visits more! Our pastor preaches better than your pastor! This is the same attitude people take to their favorite movie stars, favorite shows, favorite celebrities. It is the spirit of pride, the spirit of our generation. In ministry, when it is manifested, it is ugly, marring the image of a church that should appreciate the gifts of God, rather than compare them.

The point Paul made in the earlier chapter using himself and Apollos as an example, an analogy, was that each minister has separate gifts, separate ministries, separate results, but each has an important role to play in the furthering of the gospel.

1 Corinthians 3:6

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

Who do we think we are? Are we the source of God’s blessings to the church? Do we think we are so special that the church can’t do without us? Do we think that God’s work will stop, if we are moved or removed from the scene? Do we think that we can “punish” the church by withdrawing our presence or support? Do we think that God’s work can’t continue without us? Are we that petty, shallow, prideful?

1 Corinthians 3:7

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

We pastors and leaders cannot boast about our gifts or our ministry, because we are not their source. We have only received the gifts, the calling, the ministry. Our efforts should flow from our desire to be faithful to the calling and gifting that God has given rather than on producing results through those efforts. “God gives the increase.” When we act like we are producing the results, rather than acknowledging that it is God working through us producing results, we become proud, boastful, ungrateful.

So, just what does Paul mean when he quotes the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written?” My KJV Study Bible (given to me by my children on Father’s Day, June 18, 2006 ;-)) explains it this way:

This “is a proverbial expression. Paul is telling the Corinthians not to go beyond Scripture. In other words, learn to live by the Book, and stop following men (emphasis added).”

In this context, Paul is applying what the Scriptures say about “pride” to a specific situation in Corinth.

Proverbs 15:25

The Lord tears down the house of the proud,
but he sets the widow’s boundary stones in place.

Proverbs 29:23

Pride brings a person low,
but the lowly in spirit gain honor.

James 4:6

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

1 Peter 5:5

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

These are just a sampling of the many verses among many different contexts that are found in the Bible condemning pride. One might say that it is the “original sin,” since it was the sin that caused Satan to rebel against God, the sin that caused Adam and Eve to fall in the Garden, and the sin that continues to set us in opposition to God and His ways.

I am not trying to live my life by what others think about me. We must stop being so self-conscious about ourselves that we fail to see and do what is right. We must stop bowing down to the world and we must stop concerning ourselves with their opinions. We must stop holding our tongues and remaining silent while right fails and wrong prevails. We must adopt the attitude of Peter and John when confronted with the choice to cower to others expectations or step up and stay the course of right:

Acts 4:19-20

But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Now here is what I find most interesting. That such a prominent and obvious sin can be committed so openly, blatantly, and smugly among God’s people, who may justify, excuse, or cover it without the slightest remorse, is appalling. We ought to know better, and we ought to do better, and we ought to fall to our knees in remorse and repentance when we find we are guilty of the sin of PRIDE. The Corinthian church failed to see their sin of pride in comparing leaders and choosing sides. They failed to understand that how they were acting in the church was a serious sin. They thought that by standing up for one leader and putting down others, they were only showing loyalty. But instead they were committing serious sin in their failure to understand the true nature of ministry. When we clothe ourselves in humility and learn “to live by the Book,”

“Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.” You will begin to appreciate the glorious variety of ministers and ministries God has given to His church.


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1 Response to Are You Going Beyond What Is Written?

  1. Mark D. Mills says:

    A very true blog, and sad statement on our times and ministry. At first I was reminded of C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity”, but this goes well beyond that. As to my personal pride (and I think we all fall prey sometimes) Barbara helps keep that in line! 🙂

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