“And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:6–7, AV)
When I was young, I spent a lot of time in Hightstown NJ with my grandmother. She had a house on three acres of property in what was then farm country. She once told me that you could catch a bird by putting salt on its tail. I wanted a pet bird, so I ran around the yard with a salt shaker, but never got close enough to get the salt on the tail. I don’t know if she enjoyed sending me on this wild bird chase or just wanted to keep me occupied.
Then I came up with another scheme. I got a cardboard box, a stick and some string. I figured I would make a trap to catch a bird. The only problem was that no bird ever went under the box. Most likely the problem was that I did not bait the trap. It is probably best that I did not catch a small bird anyway. Yet, I know that the best way to get a prey into a trap is to bait it.
There is a deadly trap for churches. Paul has been speaking about this trap for some time in the letter. It is a trap that will cause division in the church. It is sprung by pride. The church at Corinth had a problem with factions based upon one group’s favorite teacher over another’s. There was boasting about such things and thus, further division.
The trap is baited in a variety of ways. It can be baited with a charismatic teacher. It can be baited by one who claims a new revelation. It can be baited by a teacher who claims ecstatic experiences. Ultimately it is triggered by pride and the result is not good.
Here, Paul indicated that he used Apollos and himself as an example of teachers who would not bait the trap. How did they do this? Primarily it was an attitude of their hearts. Their teaching did not come from human wisdom, ecstatic experiences, worldly opinions, etc. What they communicated to the church was that which they had received from the Lord. The power of their communication was not in eloquent speech or crafty manipulation, but by the power of God’s Spirit, presenting the truths that they received.
The fact that they only communicated that which they had received by the power that God granted to them by His grace meant that there was no room for boasting. Thus, they could not glory in themselves. Paul’s hope was that the factions at Corinth would cease. For if these factions did not cease, the animosity created would hurt the work of the church. It might even destroy it.
In my day, I have seen these types of factions. They often resulted in church splits. A group of people in the church would just up and leave to follow a teacher. When this happened, in most cases both groups struggled. The church’s reputation in some cases did also.
How do we unbait the trap? It is by maintaining a humble perspective. First, preachers and teachers must remember that their teaching and preaching is only because of that which they have received. Even their successes are by God’s grace. He deserves all the praise and honor. Second, parishioners must be careful not to put men on a pedestal over others.