Have you ever learned anything through someone’s use of sarcasm or irony? I know I have. Some of the lessons I learned well I learned this way. Mind you I didn’t like it but it was a lesson learned. Learning through this method provokes an emotional response and engages the mind to think about something from an alternative angle. This method is used to teach the reader critical elements of the south in the 1950’s and 60’s through the fictional novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, considered one of the best books in American fiction.
The apostle Paul uses the method of sarcasm and irony to teach the Corinthian church humility in 1 Corinthians 4:6-13. I am currently reading though 1 and 2 Corinthians in my scripture reading, and when I encountered these few verses in 1 Cor. chapter 4 I was a bit confused at first. I then remembered how my own senior pastor sometimes uses sarcasm to drive home points in his sermons. Using this method the passage was made very clear.
Paul is teaching the Corinthian church not to be puffed up or proud by favoring one member over another. He is making it clear to the Corinthians that he is well aware of their wealth and riches. But this position of wealth and status was causing pride in the local church. The stinging sarcasm comes in verse 8 by writing:
Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you.
Ouch! He contrasts their attitude and position with that of the apostles, including himself, beginning in verse 9. Paul goes on to write that he does not write these things to shame them but to admonish them as beloved children. Webster’s dictionary defines admonish this way:
to express warning or disapproval to, especially in a gentle, earnest, or solicitous manner.
I believe that is the attitude of Paul toward the Corinthians. The Corinthians did not recognize that everything they had was a gift of grace from God. By recognizing and acknowledging that you actually have nothing. That anything you do have, you have received by God’s grace. Understanding this truth can have a truly humbling effect on how you live your life. I believe this is what Paul is trying to get across to the Corinthian church. It is a lesson we all need to learn.
Check out this sermon by C. J. Mahaney as an additional reference on these verses. It is excellent.