Lesson 4 January 18 - 24
"Paul, Called to be an Apostle"

Read For This Week's Study: 1 Cor. 4:1-21; 9:1-27.

Memory Text:  "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible" (1 Corinthians 9:24, 25).

Key Thought:  In illustrating the ministry of apostles, Paul defends his own commission and records valuable counsel for later Christians. With Paul, we are invited to become "all things to all men" (1 Cor. 9:22) and to "run in such a way as to get the prize" (1 Cor. 9:24, NIV).

Sabbath Afternoon January 17

CHRISTIANS AND THEIR LEADERS NEED TO WORK TOGETHER MORE EFFECTIVELY.  Have you criticized or praised your pastor lately?  Or has your pastor criticized or praised church members?  If there has been criticism only, has it been founded on a thorough knowledge of your pastor's gifts and responsibilities?  Or a thorough knowledge of members' gifts and responsibilities?  Misunderstandings between Christians are not new.  Paul's reputation in Corinth suffered as a result of unflattering comparisons.  So in his letter to the Corinthians, he spent much space attempting to broaden their understanding of his ministry, thus mending his relationship with them.  First Corinthians, chapters 4 and 9. deal directly with Paul's role as an apostle.  These chapters show us that it is possible to have understanding leaders and members in every congregation.  

Sunday January 18

FIRST, APOSTLES (1 Cor. 4:1-5).

An "apostle" is an authoritative messenger or representative.  Paul uses the term informally, referring to messengers from churches on practical missions (2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25) and more formally, referring to the spiritual gift, one sent by Christ to proclaim the gospel (1 Cor 1:1).  Our lesson focuses upon the latter use.

What is the function of an "apostle," and for how long was the gift to be active in God's church?  Acts 2:15-26; 1 Cor. 9:12; 12:27-31; 15:3-8; Eph. 4:11-13.     

Two positions have been taken regarding the identity of apostles and the period of their ministry:

1. The apostles were a special group of people consisting of the twelve, Paul and perhaps others who, at the beginning of the Christian church, helped to lay down an authoritative foundation for future Christians. There are no living apostles in modern times.

2. The term "apostle" was assigned to the twelve who participated in Christ's earthly ministry. Others, though, especially Paul, could justifiably claim the title. And the gift is to operate in the church until Christ returns.

Which position do you regard as more valid?  Why?   

How does Paul invite us to picture an apostle?  1 Cor. 4:1-5.
Do you know one or more persons who were sent by God to accomplish a special mission for Him?  How was their work similar to that of the apostles?

An apostle, says Paul, is a servant to whom has been entrusted the management of the divine Master's goods, much like Joseph's service to Potiphar.  With such an important position goes a high degree of accountability to God.  What matters most is what He thinks of our service; and His measure of success is not recognition or position, but faithfulness to Him.  We cannot afford to be distracted by the world's symbols of accomplishment and success.  Our God is loving and faithful to us, and our love and faithfulness to Him is what He values above all (1 Cor. 4:2).    

Monday January 19

"MADE A SPECTACLE" (1 Cor. 4:6-13).

Paul continued to describe the role of apostles, noting that he was especially speaking of himself and Apollos (1 Cor. 4:6).  In verses 8-13, Paul compared his own circumstances ("we apostles") to those of his opponents in Corinth who had apparently been using Paul's bleak circumstances against him. But Paul laid claim to suffering and trying circumstances as a badge of honor rather than a signal of God's displeasure.

What lessons about Christian living may we learn from Paul's defense of his ministry?  1 Cor. 4:8-13.  How do we discern God's plan for us through trying circumstances and even through false accusations?    

Though Paul is speaking of apostles, he indicates that others are to learn from his words, as well (verse 6).  Then he invites Christians to imitate him (verse 16).  Paul's account of his ministry challenges us.  "The scandal of the cross is written large over Paul's vision of his own apostleship.  For him it truly was 'like master, like servant.' -Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987), p. 175.  Could the same be said about our ministry for Christ?

What language does Paul employ to further describe the role of apostles? 1 Cor. 4:9.     

The amphitheater served as an arena for the battles of gladiators. Corinth's amphitheater accommodated some 14,000 people.  Paul compares apostles to the band of doomed prisoners already sentenced to die who are brought in at the end of the performance.  Such wretches would bring the crowd added sport as they were slain by gladiators or wild animals (1 Cor. 15:32).  Paul, with all true apostles, has become "like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things" (4:13, NRSV).  Some Corinthian Christians may have thought he was too! In vivid language, he agrees that he is in trying circumstances.  But he also wishes to point to the One who has permitted these circumstances.  Thus, God arranges for Paul (and his fellow apostles) to be on display for "the world, to angels and to mortals" (4:9).

Have you ever suffered for the sake of the gospel?  Do you know others who have?  What would you say to encourage them?  What words of Paul could you share with them?      

Tuesday January 20

THE APOSTLE'S RIGHTS (1 Cor. 9:1-18).

What rights that belong to an apostle does Paul claim are his?  1 Cor. 9:1-12.   

As he had been earlier (1 Cor. 4:3-5), Paul remains concerned about those who are preoccupied with judging or examining him.  In 1 Corinthians 9:1, 2, he uses a series of questions to set forth his credentials as an apostle.  He has seen the risen Lord, and his ministry has been validated by fruit born, including the winning of Christians in Corinth (perhaps some of the very ones who are now critical of him).  Paul assembles considerable evidence to establish his point, drawing illustrations from military service, agriculture, and animal husbandry.  He further supports his argument with material from the Old Testament.

What parallel does Paul draw between the support of the Old Testament priests and Levites and the support of Christian ministers? 1 Cor. 9:13, 14.   

Paul is not interested in reshaping the Christian ministry in the form of the Old Testament priesthood.  He will elsewhere argue for the concept that has come to be known as "the priesthood of all believers."  Nonetheless, he draws a specific parallel between the Levites, who were supported by the tithe (see Num. 18:21,24; Lev. 27:30, 32; Mal. 3:8-12), and the support of those who commit themselves to proclaiming the gospel of Christ.  Notice that, as a crowning piece of evidence, he claims the authority of Christ Himself for such an idea (1 Cor. 9:14; Luke 10:7).

God calls us today to: 1. participate in the ministry that God has entrusted to us, whatever our occupation, and 2. return tithe for the support of those who have dedicated themselves to the proclamation of the gospel as a full-time occupation.  In this passage, there also rings an additional challenge for those who accept such support.  How quickly would the message spread if those of us who benefit from receiving tithe funds or who do not would be as dedicated as Paul in spreading the gospel!

How easy is it to delay and rationalize the decision to be faithful in returning tithe?  Is your commitment to Christ strong enough to be reflected in the way you manage His gifts to you, including money?  What important role does your trust in God play in becoming a faithful steward?     

Wednesday January 21


How adaptable does Paul claim to be in his bid to win people to Christ?  1 Cor. 9:19-23.   

We sometimes find ourselves specializing in some specific way to share Christ, then grow nervous if we find ourselves pushed beyond what is familiar to us.  Leonard Sweet tells of overhearing one graduate student sharing with another that the job offer he had received was beneath him.  The other student responded, "You know, the world's a better place because Michelangelo did not say, 'I don't do ceilings.'"

The interchange inspired Sweet to write the following:
".....The world's a better place because Moses didn't say, 'I don't do Pharaohs or mass migrations.'

"The world's a better place because David didn't say, 'I don't do giants.'

"The world's a better place because Peter didn't say, 'I don't do Gentiles.'

"The world's a better place because John didn't say, 'I don't do deserts.'

"The world's a better place because Mary didn't say, 'I don't do virgin births.'

"The world's a better place because Paul didn't say, 'I don't do correspondence.'

"The world's a better place because Mary Magdalene didn't say, 'I don't do feet.'

"The world's a better place because Jesus didn't say, 'I don't do crosses.'"--Adapted from Leadership, Spring 1994, vol. xv, no.2, p.

In what ways do you think Paul proved adaptable for the sake of proclaiming the gospel?  To what extent may we adapt our approaches in order to share Christ effectively with others?    

Faithfulness to God as He empowers us to advance His Kingdom "is not a matter of talk but of power" (1 Cor. 4:20, NIV).  We often just talk about what God calls us to do, but do not earnestly seek the power of His Spirit to bring such talk to reality!

Is there something God is calling you to do for Him to which you are responding, "I don't do..."?  How do you experience the power of the Holy Spirit in your life to transform your talk to reality?    

Thursday January 22

RUN TO WIN (1 cor. 9:24-27).

Paul takes us to Isthmia, 9 miles (14 km) east of Corinth, site of the important games that Corinth sponsored.  Here, he invites us to watch a race, to see the boxers spar, and to take an example from the disciplined training of the athletes.  While he is still interested in demonstrating how he conducts his ministry, he encourages Christian disciples to draw lessons for themselves.

What parallels and contrasts does Paul draw between athletics and the Christian life?  1 Cor. 9:24-27.    

Again Paul employs imagery that is accessible to those who will hear his letter read.  The Isthmian Games, held every two years, were second only to the Olympics.  Some suggest that Paul may have attended the games during his stay in Corinth and helped to provide tents for the thousands of competitors and athletes.

Each of the ancient Greek games featured a ringlet made of specific greenery as a symbol of victory.  Perhaps Paul watched from the sidelines as a winner took a victory lap in the lsthmian Games.  On the winner's head would be a ringlet of . . . withered celery!  Yes, the Isthmian games featured a celery crown, which was already wilted when presented and was surely more so by the end of the victory lap atop a sweaty brow.  Fleeting honor indeed!

It is exciting to watch someone win a gold medal in today's Olympic Games.  But even those medals are only gold-plated and worth about $100.00 each.  The victory ceremony lasts for a few fleeting moments.  The top three competitors mount the platforms to have their medals placed around their necks.  Then the flags of the nations they represent are raised and an abbreviated version of the gold medalist's national anthem is played.  In a flash, it's over.  Only marginally better than a wilted celery crown!  And yet you would be hard pressed to find a winner who would say it was not worth it.  Paul's point is that such effort, invested for so fleeting a prize, Shames us in our lackluster response to the reward Christ promises His followers.

"We are striving for a prize infinite]y more valuable, even the crown of everlasting life.  How much more careful should be our striving, how much more willing our sacrifice and self-denial!"--The Acts of the Apostles, p. 312.

What honors does Revelation promise to Christian victors?  In what arena will they receive these honors?  How lasting will be their rewards?  Rev. 2:7, 10, 17; 2:26-28; 3:5, 12, 21 (compare Matt. 6:19, 20).    

Friday January 23

Further Study:  First Corinthians 4:9-13 records Paul's trials and afflictions.  Also read Romans 8:35; 2 Corinthians 4:8, 9; 6:4, 5; 11:23-29; 12:10.  Why do you think Paul so frequently reviews his difficulties?

The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 30, pp 309-315, comments on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

First Corinthians 9:27 contains an important admission on Paul's part that we should not overlook.  "Paul clearly envisages the possibility that, notwithstanding his work as a preacher, he may himself fall from grace and be rejected. . . . His conversion, his baptism, his call to apostleship, his service in the Gospel, do not guarantee his eternal salvation."--C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, second ed. (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1971), p.218.  What importance does Paul's statement have for us today?  Is it possible to overemphasize either the permanency on the one hand or the fragility on the other of the relationship between Christ and His followers?


1.  Paul calls for "firm self-control, strict temperance, and unflagging zeal in service" and holds that "the Christian must put forth the utmost exertion in order to gain the victory."--The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 309, 311.  How does Paul's call for excellence in Christian living (1 Cor. 9:24-27) relate to the fact that salvation is a gift from God?   

2.  Paul's tone changes from that of sternness in 1 Corinthians 4:8-13 to a gentler, fatherly call in 1 Corinthians 4:14-21.  But this call ends firmly with Paul threatening "the stick."  What situation calls forth Paul's strong words?  Do modern Christian leaders need to follow Paul's call to "imitate me" and become more firm disciplinarians?  Envision a church In which there is an absence of all gossip and backbiting for a year.  List some possible results. Would you or your class be willing to initiate such an experiment?  

Summary:  Paul's ministry gives us insight into the ministry of all Christians.  We are all, in some sense, "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1) and have become "a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men" (1 Cor. 4:9).  Paul also reminds us that we need to support financially God's work and model his flexibility in mission strategy and his commitment to spiritual excellence.  Last of all, Paul still extends the challenge "Run to win!"   

Winning the Masai, Part 3
A Time to Build

Gwen Edwards watched from her window as her Masai friends climbed the gentle hill toward the grove of trees where they would worship God for the first time.  Gwen gathered her felt board and felts and hurried up the hill after them.  Despite her earlier fears, she enjoyed giving her first sermon. She told about Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and the lost sheep.  She truly enjoyed the worship service!  At first the Masai wanted only Gwen to lead them in worship, but in time the little congregation moved into a room on the academy campus, where others joined the Masai ministry project.

Solomon, a young Masai man who met Jesus Christ while working as a gardener at Maxwell, had translated for Gwen's story hour and Branch Sabbath School.  Now He organized a baptismal class.  And on a special Sabbath in May 1994, six Masai from the settlement near Maxwell were baptized.

One woman's husband was so impressed with the positive changes he saw in his wife, that he offered a piece of land at his primary home at Kisaju if Adventists would come and teach the people there.  Gwen asked Jan Meharry if she would like to go to Kisaju to hold a short evangelistic series.  Jan was eager to go!  When she arrived at Kisaju, Jan recognized it as the same village where she had learned to dance!  God had brought her back to minister to the very people who had accepted her four years earlier!

Gwen, Jan, and others worked with The Masai at Kisaju.  The Holy Spirit touched the hearts of the people.  They expressed their gratitude to those who came to teach and help them.  Again they asked for a church in their settlement.  Friends in America learned of the need, and within months a group from the Pacific Northwest traveled to Kenya and built a gift of love for the Masai--a simple chapel where the Masai worship God, learn to read, and learn how to improve their lives through proper health practices.

(continued next week)

The church at Kisaju (left).  Gwen Edwards works at Maxwell Adventist Academy near Nairobi, Kenya.  Jan Meharry and her family recently returned to the United States following a term as missionaries in Kenya.


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