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? (1 Corinthians 4:7 NIV)
The Corinthian Problem
In this part of 1 Corinthians, Jesus reminds us that He sends us out to others and we are His servants, accountable to Him as stewards. We must be faithful to Christ, serving one another and the whole world in Jesus’ name. He says, “Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your Heavenly Father.”1 We are to make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.2 Other people’s opinions don’t matter much. Only Christ’s opinion of our successes and failures matters. If we excel at anything, all glory goes to Him. And we should be happy about that!
In the first century, the Corinthian believers were divided into factions, cliques, rival parties within the church. That’s shameful, yet true to life. They were puffed up, proud, and arrogant about their advantages over one another, strutting like roosters or peacocks, blowing their own trumpets. To sober them up and make them grateful to the Lord, Paul poses three questions. Please think about them with me:
Question #1: “Who makes you different from anyone else?”
The singular personal pronoun you calls each individual to examine our self, not others. After peeling away superficialities, are any of us really superior to others? No. The most eminent Christian is only a sinner saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. That’s the best status we can desire. Isaac Watts’ hymn confesses:
Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to your cross I cling;
Naked, come to you for dress; Helpless, look to you for grace;
Foul, I to the Fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.3
God’s mercy is my only hope and yours too. That’s encouraging. King Jesus is the great Leveler of humankind. The rich and famous are equal to the poor and unknown before Him. None of us earned our standing before the Lord. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags so we can’t take credit for what we are, know, or do.4 All we can be is thankful to the Lord. That honors Him and refreshes us.
Question #2: “What do you have that you did not receive?”
Answer: Nothing! The Lord has given us everything. He is the Source of every material and spiritual privilege we enjoy.5 We are indebted to God and want to be appreciative to Him for all these blessings. Gratefulness sweeps away snobbishness.
Alex Haley (1921–1992) was an African-American writer, best known as the author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Haley had a unique picture on his office wall of a turtle sitting on top of a fence post. When someone asked about it, Haley would say, “If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know that he had some help. Anytime I start thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve done marvelous things,’ I look at that picture and I remember how this turtle (me) got up on that post.”6 The quirky photo reminds him to be humble. A turtle can’t climb a fence post. Some person has to pick it up and put it there. People don’t get raises or promotions at work unless the Lord gives it to us. People don’t win prizes in the arts, athletics, or academics unless the Lord favors us. So we can’t be proud. We must be grateful to our God. King David declared, “Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion, people are made great and given strength.”7
Likewise, Psalm 113 asks: Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap. He seats them with princes…. Praise the LORD.8
I love that Psalm because it reminds me that Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords, bends down to notice us, and often, to elevate us in some way. That makes me appreciate Him more and more. Ambrose of Milan (337-397AD) reminds us, “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.”
Question #3. “If you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
If everything we have and are is the Lord’s gift to us, and it is, how can we brag? We can’t. Ingratitude is a mark of unbelievers, heathens, and pagans who grab God’s gifts and snub Him by failing to express thanks to Him.9 It’s worse when Christ’s followers act like we are entitled to what we have and forget that He is the rightful owner of all that He lends us. Again, we are only stewards here on Earth who have our accomplishments and attainments on loan from God for a relatively short while. He can give and take away His gifts at any time.10
Four aspects of thankfulness come to mind:
- Remembering, not forgetting or overlooking, what the Lord has done for us;
- Acknowledging it to Him directly in verbal praise and song;
- Telling others about the Lord as the Source of all our blessings;
- Offering grateful gifts of service, time, and resources to Him and others.
Are we haughty or humble about our attainments? What would others say? What would Jesus say? He says: “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)
Notes (various Bible translations are used): 1 Matt 5:16. 2 Titus 2:10. 3 “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me.” 4 Isaiah 64:6. 5 James 1:7. 6 October 24, 1985, Chicago Tribune. 7 1 Chron 29:12. 8 Psalm 113:4-9. 9 Romans 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:2. 10 Job 1:21.