Sunday, February 27, 2011

1 Corinthians 4:1-21

"Scummy Leadership"
MasterPiece Church
27 February 2011

Well, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride these past few weeks -- especially if you’re the despot of a North African country. The people have risen up and overthrown the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt. And it is probably just a matter of time before Libyan crazyman Muammar Gaddafi gets the boot.

Once he’s gone, how many other countries will rise up to overthrow their strongmen leaders -- hoping to replace them with lesser strongmen?

Still they will be strongmen. For that is the nature of politics. Political leadership comes through the exhibition of strength and power. What is being challenged in the Arab world right now is how that strength and power is exhibited. There is a transition to a more democratic approach -- which in my book is the more preferred approach.

But even in a democracy it’s all about creating coalitions and gaining votes and public opinion ratings -- in order to exercise power. We all like our strongmen -- but in the democratic world, with checks and balances so that their strength isn’t so absolute.

Well, I’m not really interested in talking politics this morning -- except to point out that leadership in a politically driven system and leadership in a Jesus driven system are going to be different in nature. There is a sense in which Jesus stands the system, regardless of whether it is tyrannical or a democratic system, on its head. And what we see happening in 1 Corinthians 4 is a wonderful case study in Jesus-driven, Jesus-style leadership.

For the past several weeks we’ve been looking at some of the challenges in the Corinthian church -- and by the way, this will be our last Sunday in Corinth for awhile. We’ve seen that there were some people who had managed to rise to power in the new church through their fractiousness. That is, they divided to conquer -- and then they started teaching that truly spiritual people needed to have their brand of wisdom or knowledge.

The apostle Paul is responding to their advances in the church. He is in essence challenging their attempt at leadership. And he is doing so by painting a fresher -- more radical approach to leadership -- a type of leadership that is rooted in the gospel rather than the political one-ups-manship that dominates the world system.

Borrowing Paul’s terminology in 1 Corinthians 4:13 I am describing this as “Scummy leadership” -- “We have become the scum of the earth, the waste that runs off everything...”


And the fact is that you all, whether you are the president of the United States or a retired school teacher or someone who stays at home with kids -- have to make leadership decisions on a daily basis.
Will your leadership be scummy enough?
Will you be leading in a Jesus way or a political way?

Okay, so I have five observations from 1 Corinthians 4 on the nature of scummy leadership.


Now, if you’ve been in the business world you’re probably familiar with the term servant leadership coined by Robert Greenleaf -- and while I don’t want to go into detail about his theories I would say that they are moving in the right direction.

But the Jesus approach is even more radical than Greenleaf.
The world system of leadership, whether it is on the global stage or the PTA tends to follow the axiom: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

That is, I’ve been given the authority to set the agenda so you need to get in step with where I’m going or get lost. And there is a certain truth to that in the world system -- but the Jesus-style approach is markedly different in nature and tone.

Paul writes in verse 1, “So a person should think about us this way—as servants of Christ...”

Our only agenda is his agenda -- he is the reason we do everything we do. We are not driven by personal benefit. We’re not working our way up the ladder. Servanthood is when someone else sets the agenda and you just do it.

And Christ came as a servant savior -- giving up his divine rights in order to carry out his mission of going to the cross to die for us -- so that we could be forgiven and reconciled with God.

We talk about rights a lot in our culture. And everyone seems to be out to protect their rights. As grateful as we are for rights and privileges -- they have little to do with scummy leadership.

Philippians 2 --
4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. 5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
7 But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave (a servant)
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
In other words, be wary of any kind of leadership which dwells on rights or entitlements or privileges. That’s not Jesus’ style. Leadership in his system involves giving up your rights and privileges so that you can serve -- and in particular serve him and his agenda.

Typically leadership has to do with accumulating necessary power so that you can advance your agenda. Scummy leadership has to do with giving away your political power and advantage so that you can advance Jesus’ agenda.

It is totally counter-intuitive because it means you become the low guy on the totem pole -- not even a small fish in the pond -- but the pond scum. Naturally we want to influence from the top down but in the Jesus scummy approach we influence from the bottom up.

And from that position you’re better able to influence and lead as a teacher, security guard, doctor, businessman, salesman, janitor, jobless -- whatever. We do whatever we do and live wherever we are as servants of Christ.


Management seems to get a bad rap -- but...

Vs. 1 again, “So a person should think about us this way—as servants of Christ and managers of God’s secrets.”

We’re working for God and managing his portfolio -- which has been entrusted to our care.

The temptation is to view God as an asset in our personal portfolios -- something or someone that enhances our performance and makes our lives better. So the goal has become getting God on our side -- lining up with his principles so that we can get more out of life. With the help of God -- taking charge of your life -- and the world around you.

But that is not scummy leadership. It’s not the leadership approach of the apostles who saw themselves as managers of God’s agenda -- the mysteries or secrets here in 1 Corinthians 4.

Again, it’s not that God is trying to keep his plans some great secret. To the contrary. But it appears that Paul’s opponents in Corinth were talking about the mysteries or secrets that they had to offer. These were the add-ons -- the things in which you engaged on top of your faith in Christ.

Paul simply usurps their terminology to make his point. The mystery is God’s purpose or plan -- his agenda -- his kingdom. And he has graciously entrusted the outworking of that mystery into our hands.

And it makes sense -- that a servant would have an agenda -- and that it wouldn’t be the servant’s personal agenda -- even if the servant has a good agenda -- but it is always the bosses’ agenda.

And this is where we all struggle. When you’re in a position of leadership there are at least three -- often more agendas tugging at you.

There is the will of the people -- society and culture as a whole. For example, if you are a politician -- the desires of the people who voted you into office.

And then there is the agenda of your personal ambition -- or vision. Sometimes that doesn’t line up with the will of the people. And this is where politicians get into trouble. They think they know better than the people who elected them. And since the people as a whole tend to be fickle -- there are times when that assessment is correct.

Sometimes there are also other special interest groups jocking for your voice and votes. And then there is the agenda of God -- the one to whom you are ultimately accountable.

The recurring, daily question is always -- who are you going to serve -- Bob Dylan released a song in 1979 on his Slow Train Coming album -- “Gotta’ Serve Somebody” -- (Lots of bands have done covers -- latest Nicholas Barron in 2007 -- so it’s not just an old guys song.)
You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
The question is always the same -- WHO AM I SERVING AT THIS MOMENT?


Vs. 2 -- “In this kind of situation, what is expected of a manager is that they prove to be faithful.”

How do you measure success? If you’re golfing, success is a low score. If you’re playing basketball, success is a high score. If you are acting as a leader in the world’s game it seems that success is measured by approval ratings -- your boss, your constituency, your audience.

If you are acting as a leader in the Jesus game success is measured by faithfulness. Sometimes that leads to good approval ratings or a happy audience -- but often not. Jesus came to serve and save -- but they crucified him. The apostle John ended up living out his life in exile on the island of Patmos. He was the only apostle who was not executed.

Defining success as faithfulness in no way justifies sloppiness or laziness. But it does suggest that at times when we as servants of Christ are carrying out Christ’s agenda, we will not be well received. We won’t score high personal ratings.

Said Musa, lost his leg to a land mine while serving in the Afghan army. He then worked with fellow amputees for the International Committee of the Red Cross for 15 years.

Eight years ago he became a follower of Jesus. A few months ago he was detained for apostasy and was subject to execution in Afghanistan. Last week, he was released after an overwhelming number of appeals from abroad.

Most of us will not face that ordeal -- but we will be misunderstood. People will misinterpret our concern for the poor, the unborn, the vulnerable, and the immigrant. It is unavoidable.

They will at times think we’re not patriotic enough. That certainly happened to the church in Germany during Hitler’s era.

Said Musa was seen as a traitor to his country and people -- even though he cared for the handicapped and wounded -- the vulnerable.

And if we’re faithful to the mission of Christ that means we will have to live with a kind of holy indifference -- toward the success criteria of everyone else. Sometimes its even a distrust.

It’s not that we are unaware but that we know we’re playing a different game with a different set of rules -- and a completely different criteria for success. And people don’t understand that.

Americans dislike cricket and curling. We don’t understand those games so we compare them to other games like baseball and football -- and judge them by those standards of activity and play. We don’t really understand the rules so we don’t like the games.
3 I couldn’t care less if I’m judged by you or by any human court; I don’t even judge myself. 4 I’m not aware of anything against me, but that doesn’t make me innocent, because the Lord is the one who judges me. 5 So don’t judge anything before the right time—wait until the Lord comes. He will bring things that are hidden in the dark to light, and he will make people’s motivations public. Then there will be recognition for each person from God. 
vs. 6 -- Brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit. I’ve done this so that you can learn what it means not to go beyond what has been written...
Faithfulness, Paul says, the kind of faithfulness that both he and his collegue Apollos have demonstrated -- is a matter of sticking to the script -- the story as it has been passed down -- “what has been written.”

No add-ons. No winging it. No groupies. Scummy leadership doesn’t encourage groupiness -- just faithfulness.

Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation of vs. 6-7 really catches the idea well.
For who do you know that really knows you, knows your heart? And even if they did, is there anything they would discover in you that you could take credit for? Isn't everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what's the point of all this comparing and competing? You already have all you need. You already have more access to God than you can handle. Without bringing either Apollos or me into it, you're sitting on top of the world—at least God's world—and we're right there, sitting alongside you!
This kind of faithfulness isn’t concerned about popularity ratings or personal credit -- only God’s approval ratings -- and the credit that God gives. And it is all a gift from God himself.

Fourth, SCUMMY LEADERS WORK IN SCUM -- scum, of course, being the waste -- the run-off.

I was interviewing some potential church planters for the Covenant and I met a guy who had been one of the pastors at a church in Denver called Scum of the Earth -- or as it affectionately know -- "Scum Church." This is a church that describes itself as “a church for the ‘left out and the right-brained.’”

This guy was covered with tattoos and his face looked like he had tangled with a box of fishing tackle -- great guy. But it was his church’s story which really caught my attention.

This was and is a church which obviously embraces its identity -- working with street kids, prostitutes, people caught up in alternative culture -- and yet totally faithful to the gospel.

They get it! I want to get it! Paul especially wants the Corinthians to get it. For they had somehow got into a status thing.

Vs. 8 (and notice the heavily sarcastic tone) --
You’ve been filled already! You’ve become rich already! You rule like kings without us! I wish you did rule so that we could be kings with you! I suppose that God has shown that we apostles are at the end of the line. 9 I suppose that God has shown that we apostles are at the end of the line. We are like prisoners sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle in the world, both to angels and to humans. 10 (SARCASM ALERT AGAIN ) We are fools for Christ, but you are wise through Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, but we are dishonored! 11 Up to this very moment we are hungry, thirsty, wearing rags, abused, and homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are insulted, we respond with a blessing; when we are harassed, we put up with it; 13 when our reputation is attacked, we are encouraging. We have become the scum of the earth, the waste that runs off everything, up to the present time.

One of the most sought after characteristics in secular leadership is the ability to think and act in a detached manner -- so that you can make the hard decisions.

But Jesus-style leadership is never emotionally detached.

Did you notice all the caring imagery in verses 14-21? Look at the text printed on the message guide. What are the caring words you see in there? Signs of personal attachment.

  • LOVED CHILDREN: 14 “I’m not writing these things to make you ashamed but to warn you, since you are my loved children. “
  • FATHER: 15 “You may have ten thousand mentors in Christ, but you don’t have many fathers. I gave birth to you in Christ Jesus through the gospel”
  • MENTOR: 16 “ I encourage you to follow my example.”
  • PROVIDER/FAMILY MAN: 17 "This is why I've sent Timothy to you; he’s my loved and trusted child in the Lord; he’ll remind you about my way of life in Christ Jesus. He’ll teach the same way as I teach everywhere in every church.”

In contrast -- vs 18
Some have become arrogant as if I’m not coming to see you. 19 But, if the Lord is willing, I’ll come to you soon. Then I won’t focus on what these arrogant people say, but I’ll find out what power they possess. 20 God's kingdom isn’t about words but about power. (That is, the Spirit’s power.)
And in vs 21 he asks somewhat facetiously: “Which do you want? Should I come to you with a big stick to punish you, or with love and a gentle spirit?”

The answer is obvious -- as is Paul’s mode of operation.

I once did a doctoral seminar at Fuller Seminary with a guy named John Maxwell. You may know of John. He is a pastor, best-selling author, and a motivational speaker -- talking mostly about leadership issues.

And he’s come up with perhaps the best definition of leadership that I’ve heard. John Maxwell says that quite simply, “Leadership is influence.”

That’s a great definition. And it’s something we can all agree on, whether we’re in politics or business or church leadership or whatever.

Where we will differ, though, is in the approach to influence. Presidents and politicians and business leaders all try to accumulate as much power as possible -- and hopefully will use it for the most good. But Jesus and his followers take a completely different path to influence -- Jesus-driven leadership is scummy leadership.

And if we are truly following Jesus we will embrace his scummy style of leadership -- servant leadership, managerial leadership, faithful leadership that doesn’t avoid scum, and caring leadership.

Let’s join together in affirming our faith -- this time using the words from Philippians 2:5-11 (The Message)
Christ Jesus had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. 
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

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