Summary of the Text

The Servant Leader: is the hero of this text.  And the example, par excellence, is the Apostle Paul. He has never shied away from holding himself up as a person to be imitated, as a disciple to be duplicated, as a leader to be lovingly followed.  (I Cor. 11:1, “Follow by example as I follow the example of Christ.”  Phil. 3:17, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take not of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” 2 Thes. 3:7  “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.”) 

Though not openly stated, the invitation to be like Paul is implicit throughout this letter, and, especially, in this passage.  It is understandable Paul would be so clear, even repetitive, (1:3-7,  1:12-17,  4:7-12,  5:1-4,11:23-33) because his reputation has been severely smeared, assaulted, and challenged by his foes and false apostles (10:12-13,  11:3-6).

In the last half of chapter 5, Paul has made the case that all who have received the reconciliation with the Father are now the Father’s ambassadors saying, “Be reconciled to God” (5:20).  Paul then calls the Corinthians “fellow workers” and urges them not to accept God’s grace in vain, or casually, but to accept it with enthusiasm as it is so timely delivered.  It’s as if he is saying “Take this seriously, don’t procrastinate.”

Paul then writes this beautiful, almost poetic, description of his own ministry.  (verses 3-10)

These words can be divided into three sub-sections: suffering, character, paradox.  He is loath to hinder anyone, or cause anyone to stumble because of who he is.  Rather, he is not ashamed to commend himself and his work.  He then strings together 16 phrases of how he is to be emulated.  One cannot but hear the echo of his voice, “Here is what I have done, now you go and do likewise.”

The detailed list of Paul’s behavior reveals his commitment to honesty, openness, and frank talk.  Yet, they have not reciprocated, rather have acted like stubborn children.  So he makes a deal, “I’ll be open, and you too open wide your hearts. (6:13)

Ideas and themes to be explored:

  • Procrastination (6:1-2) can be a deadly disease in the life of the individual and the life of the church.  Explore the causes and the cures.
  • God’s timing (6:2, Isa 49:8) is always perfect and yet so mysterious.  Why?
  • Servant (6:4)  is the most critical and sure adjective to describe not only the life of our Lord, the life of Paul, and what every believer is to become.  (Phil. 2:1-11)
  • Being rich and possessing everything (6:10) is life in the Kingdom of God.  How does this contrast with life in the world?
  • Being a model to be copied is the life of a leader, and should be the goal of all believers.  Discuss varying roles between disciple/teacher, player/coach, apprentice/craftsman.
  • Always rejoicing (6:10) is the call to the church in contrast to the ways of the world.

Contemporary Angle to Preaching:

Without a doubt, seldom will the words “live life the way I do” be heard from any pulpit.  Too brazen, too bold, too egotistical, not meek, mild and kind, not politically correct.  Yet how is the disciple of Christ to live, who will show us the way, who will be our guide?   Who is the mentor to would-be pastors, ministers, teachers, elders, deacons?   Who should our children emulate and desire to become?  How is the next generation to be trained in godliness and servanthood.

Whether we like it or not, being a shepherd means having a flock that follows you. If we shy away from that calling, we leave our sheep in a state of disarray and disorientation. Perhaps this is why as a shepherd, we ought to regularly acknowledge when we make mistakes and hurt the body of Christ. Just as a parent needs to apologize to a child when they act in anger or by using a harsh word, so too should the pastor acknowledge where they fall short. With that said, the pastor ought to seek out the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit for his or her flock, and, like Paul, never shy away from where the Spirit is leading.

Bud Thoreen was raised in Southern California and has a BA from Wheaton College and an Mdiv. from Fuller Seminary. He spent nearly 10 years as an Area Director for Young Life. Retired after 37 years as a remodeling contractor, he now works for FaithQuest Missions, engaging believers in what God is doing around the world. He spent 40+ years as an elder, teacher, part-time preacher at Irvine Presbyterian Church. You can contact Bud at [email protected]

Sermon Resources

Key Quote

Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this:  that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ.  If we do we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always has existed and always will exist.  Christ is the Son of God.  If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God.  We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us.  He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men and women the kind of life He has – by what I call ‘good infection’.  Every Christian is to become a little Christ.  The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


What is subservient from one point of view is the main purpose from another.  No thing or event is first or highest in a sense which forbids it to be also last and lowest.  The partner who bows to Man in one movement of the dance receives Man’s reverences in another.

To be high or central means to abdicate continually:  to be low means to be raised:  all good masters are servants:  God washes the feet of men.

C. S. Lewis, Miracles

Key Illustration

Absolutely the best illustration for this sermon will be for the preacher/teacher to lay bare his or her soul and describe who has discipled them, who showed them the ropes, who modeled Christian discipleship for them.  How were they coached, encouraged, disciplined?

It would not be out of order to do a little role-playing of how to do something, copy an action,impersonate a sound, copy a magic trick.  Be creative.

They Call Me Coach, John Wooden’s  autobiography, is the finest example of how-to pass on to another generation both a skill and a life-style.  Coach Wooden embodied the ability to teach others, especially those from vastly divergent backgrounds.  His former players are relentless in extolling his virtues and his ability to communicate and demonstrate the “how to” of life.

Without question the finest example of being a servant and teacher, both at the same time, is found in John 13:1-17, the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.  He concludes his servant demonstration with these words,  “Do you understand what I have done for you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

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