Do Not Exceed What Is Written

Hand on Bible

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other” (1 Corinthians 4:6).

Paul had to address several problems in his first letter to Corinth. One had to do with the brethren elevating men and regarding them as more important than they were. The apostle used himself and Apollos as an example in order to teach them “not to exceed what is written.” His warning was for them to not go beyond the limits of what God’s word allows. This principle is found throughout the letter. In this article, we will consider some points that Paul addressed in this letter in order to teach us – or remind us – not to exceed what is written and go beyond the boundaries of God’s word.

Do Not Exceed What is Written with Regard to Your Opinion of Men

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).

Paul made an appeal for unity, but there was division in Corinth. Unity comes as we “speak the same thing” (1 Corinthians 1:10, KJV). This is the “unity of the Spirit” that he described to the Ephesians (Ephesians 4:3). But the church in Corinth was divided because they were following men (1 Corinthians 1:12).

When this problem arises, we need to remember that men are only servants of God (1 Corinthians 3:4-5) – at least that is what they ought to be. We are to follow them only as they follow Christ. We are not to follow men because of their personality, influence, preaching style, or any of the other reasons why some are tempted to be loyal to certain individuals. Paul said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). If he stopped imitating Christ, they were also to stop imitating him.

We are to be disciples (followers) of Christ (Matthew 28:19). Paul explained that the reason why we follow Christ is because He is the only one who was crucified for us and we were baptized in His name (1 Corinthians 1:13). Since He was crucified for us, we must “no longer live for [ourselves], but for Him who died and rose again on [our] behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Those who are Christians “have been buried with Him through baptism” and raised to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

Do not exceed what is written. Jesus has been given “all authority” (Matthew 28:18). Therefore, we must follow His word, not the teachings and practices of men.

Do Not Exceed What is Written with Regard to Wisdom

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Paul made a contrast between the wisdom of the world and the gospel of Christ. He began this discussion in the previous chapter (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). The gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16) and represents the “wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24).

However, for many people, the simple gospel of Christ is not enough. They refuse to “abide in the teaching of Christ” (2 John 9), going beyond this into the realm of human philosophy and cultural relevance. When they do this, they have no fellowship with God. John wrote, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God” (2 John 9). Paul described these individuals in his letter to Rome: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Romans 1:21-23). Those who follow worldly wisdom do “not come to know God” (1 Corinthians 1:21), but rather serve a “god” of their own invention.

Why did Paul preach in the way that he did? It was so that their “faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5). Man’s wisdom leads to destruction (Proverbs 14:12). God’s word leads to eternal life (John 6:68).

Do not exceed what is written. We need to follow the gospel instead of pursuing worldly wisdom.

Do Not Exceed What is Written with Regard to Doctrine

For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17).

Paul told the brethren that he was sending Timothy to them and that he would confirm Paul’s message. The message taught by Timothy and Paul was consistent with the message that Paul taught “everywhere in every church.

Jesus’ message is meant for the whole world. This is why He told His apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). The same standard would apply to all people throughout the world. This is why Peter told the household of Cornelius, “God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35). That which is right – the standard of righteousness – is found in the gospel (Romans 1:16). That same standard was meant for all. Wherever we are, we must “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2) and “hold fast the pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13, NKJV).

Paul was not at liberty to change the message based upon where he was. Of course, certain teachings may need to be emphasized more in certain places and specific issues addressed, but the teaching is the same. “The whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27) must be taught “everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17).

Do not exceed what is written. We must not change God’s message to fit the church where we are.

Do Not Exceed What is Written with Regard to Tolerance

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not even exist among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. […] But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 11).

Paul addressed a report of immorality that existed in Corinth. Their attitude was like many today – not only tolerance, but also arrogance over how tolerant they were. Their attitude should have been one of mourning and refusing to associate with the brother who refused to repent of his sin.

Sin is to be mourned, not celebrated. The reason for this is because sin leads to death (Romans 6:23). Tolerating sin does nothing to help the sinner. James wrote, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). One cannot turn from sin if his sin is not pointed out to him. Jesus said it was an act of love to “reprove and discipline” those who needed to “repent” (Revelation 3:19). But sadly, too many people want to “call evil good” (Isaiah 5:20) instead of trying to lead someone out of sin.

John wrote, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:5-6). God cannot have fellowship with those in darkness – we should not have fellowship with them either (1 Corinthians 5:2; Ephesians 5:11).

Do not exceed what is written and attempt to be more tolerant than God.

Do Not Exceed What is Written with Regard to Liberty

Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:4-9).

Paul discussed liberty as it related to the eating of meats sacrificed to idols. Since idols were nothing, they could eat the food without sin (1 Corinthians 8:4, 8). It was a matter of liberty (1 Corinthians 8:9), but they were warned to be careful because not all men understood this (1 Corinthians 8:7). By exercising this liberty, they could embolden others to sin against their conscience (1 Corinthians 8:10; Romans 14:23).

In God’s word, He has revealed what He wants us to do (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But some matters are of no concern to God. Paul wrote, “One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him” (Romans 14:2-3). In the example given by Paul, no sin was committed by one eating meat or by one choosing not to eat meat. We have liberty in such matters, provided that we do not bind rules that God never made. If we do this, we “fall away from the faith” and become guilty of following the “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1-3).

However, in exercising our liberty, we must not forget to act in love. When Paul first started discussing the topic of eating meat sacrificed to idols, he said, “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1). But a few verses later, he said, “Not all men have this knowledge… [and] eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled” (1 Corinthians 8:7). If the exercise of a particular liberty (which we understand to be inconsequential to God) causes a brother to stumble (because he believes it to be sinful), we must abstain (1 Corinthians 8:13). Paul told the saints in Rome, “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15). All that we do must be “done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Do not exceed what is written. We must not take liberties that God never gave us or that harm our brethren.

Do Not Exceed What is Written with Regard to Pride

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Paul reminded these brethren about the failings of the Israelites (1 Corinthians 10:5-11). They serve “as examples for us” (1 Corinthians 10:6) so that we will not fall as they did.

The wise man warned that pride leads to one’s downfall: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16:18). Paul said we are “not to think more highly of [ourselves] than [we] ought to think” (Romans 12:3).

As we remember the warnings that have been given in Scripture, we need to also remember that each one applies to us individually. It is easy to read these examples and see how others can fall, but we need to take these warnings personally. Each one must “take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Peter said, “Be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Peter 3:17). This is a possibility for each one of us. We have all sinned in the past (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:10), so we should recognize the fact that we could do so again. We need to remember the example of God’s people who fell and were punished. If we fall, we will “come short” of the rest that God has promised us (Hebrews 4:1). Each of us needs to take this to heart and so that we will “be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11).

Do not exceed what is written. Let us never think that the warnings in Scripture do not apply to us.

Do Not Exceed What is Written with Regard to Worship

But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Corinthians 14:40).

Finally, Paul taught about doing things properly in the assembly. In this chapter, he emphasized the importance of edification in our assemblies (1 Corinthians 14:26). But our assemblies are also for worship. This must be done properly (John 4:24).

When we think about edification, we need to keep in mind that we are edified according to the word. Paul told the Ephesian elders, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). The way they could be built up was through the word. In his letter to this church, Paul said, “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Apostles and prophets revealed God’s word – we have their words preserved for us in the Bible. Evangelists, pastors, and teachers teach God’s word. Through the work of these individuals in making known the word of God, Christians can be built up (edified). If we want edifying assemblies today, we need to emphasize the word of God in them.

As we come together to worship, we must be sure that we are worshiping according to what the word of God reveals. Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). We are not at liberty to do whatever we want in our worship and expect God to be pleased. We must “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). This means we must do all things by His authority (Matthew 7:21-23). We cannot do what is unauthorized (i.e. use instrumental music, allow women preachers, observe the Lord’s Supper on Saturday, etc.) and expect God to be pleased.

Do not exceed what is written. We must be sure that our worship is in harmony with what has been revealed in the New Testament.


The only way we can know how to please God is by what He has revealed in His word (1 Corinthians 2:10-13). Therefore, we must be content to remain within the bounds of Scripture – “abide in the teaching of Christ” (2 John 9) – and not “exceed what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6) so that we can be pleasing to Him.

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  1. merle Pope says

    I signed up for your emails because your take on the Holy Spirit was good and I realize that the prevalent teaching held of a literal indwelling is clearly false, however I would take you to task on the use of instruments. It is clear that you, like many, are still fighting the civil war and stuck in the worldview of the 1800s. Rather than carefully interpreting the scriptures on that issue you are the product of indoctrination and exceeding the written word.

  2. Merle, if you want to affirm that the use of instrumental music in worship is acceptable, the burden of proof is on you to show from the Scriptures that it is authorized. It does not matter what “the worldview of the 1800s” is, whatever you mean by that. What matters is what the Scriptures teach. If you cannot show where the New Testament authorizes instrumental music in worship, then you are the one who is exceeding what is written by using the instruments.

  3. Larry DeVore says

    Another splendid article. I have no need to take you to task over anything you have written. Keep on keeping on!

  4. Thanks, Larry!

  5. merle Pope says

    The authorization argument sounds good to those in the “party”, however those who preach it don’t even live by it. Your debate is really with yourself, for the conflict between your position and your own actions is obvious others who see the many thing you allow without any written authority. Now as for the authorization for instruments; I suggest you do a unbiased study on the Greek word “ado” for in doing so I think you will see the main pillar of the anti-instrument position fall.

    Now as for my original comments; The civil war was difficult on the nation and the church was not exempt from the hate and party spirit that accompanied it. In the Millennial Harbinger one (as through a window) looking back to the war and years shortly thereafter can see a sharp increase in the number of articles regarding instrumental music. One also can establish that the arguments against instruments used in that day were overwhelmingly mindset rather than the result of a careful unbiased evaluation of scripture. I admire Campbell, but his foolish “cow bell in a concert” statement is clearly 1800s anti-emotionalism mindset rather than carefully study. His is just one of many such quotes that have no scriptural value and yet are used in an attempt to advance the anti-instrument indoctrination efforts.

    I await your study on “ado”

  6. Merle, I asked you to show where the New Testament authorizes the use of instrumental music in worship and you’ve produced no passage that provides that authority. I understand that considering history in context can be helpful, but what Campbell taught or what Christians on different sides of the Civil War taught are irrelevant. What does the New Testament authorize? If you believe instrumental music is authorized, demonstrate that from the Scriptures.

    Regarding the study on “ado,” do you mean the usage of the word in the New Testament, or the way it was used elsewhere? Words can mean different things based on the context. So it goes back to the same question: Where is the use of instrumental music in worship authorized in the New Testament?

  7. merle Pope says

    If you will carefully read my comment; you will see that my reply regarding “ado” answers your question about the authorization of instrumental music. Perform a sound unbiased study of “ado”, and you will not only have your authorization , but also find that your “sing only” position exceeds what is written.

    Oddly enough most anti-instrument preachers haven’t even heard of the word “ado”, and yet by misusing passages (Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19) that contain it they are quick to divide the kingdom and condemn others who have obeyed have the Gospel. Students of scripture should always evaluate word usage. In the case of “ado” there are readily available sources such as a Greek NT and the Greek OT “Septuagint” that should prove helpful to an unbiased student.

  8. Merle,
    Again, you have produced no passage that authorizes instrumental music in worship. Not only that, but you haven’t even begun to show that “ado” – in context – allows for musical instruments. I have performed an unbiased study on this topic, and have adjusted my thinking accordingly. But it certainly hasn’t led me to conclude that instruments are authorized.

    I agree that word definitions are important, but so is context. Just because a word might be used one way at times does not mean it was used that way every time. The New Testament talks about singing, not playing of instruments, in worship. Therefore, to advocate the use of instruments is the very definition of going beyond what is written, and to insist that they be used is divisive.

  9. Greetings;
    It would have been admirable and for you to share the results of the study you “claim” to have done on “ado” , and let your readers know what adjustments you actually made. But I have my doubts about you, for you treat a study of “ado” like a mere yawn, when the ground should be shaking under your feet!

    An unbiased study of “ado: will reveal to the honest heart that the word doesn’t carry the idea of “sing only” like the anti-instrument people have had it pounded into them. Like our English word sing “ado” is used in many contexts where both voice and instrument are clearly present, used and commanded to be used. The 1st century church was made up largely of Jews who for their entire life had been instructed that instrumental music was pleasing to God from the OT scriptures , and they would not of taken the “ado” in Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16 as “sing only”.

    More could be said, but enough has been given for the honest of heart to advance their learning. As for the blind; if the blind lead the blind they both will fall in the ditch.

  10. Merle,
    Rather than make an argument from the Scriptures that provide authority for the use of instrumental music in worship to God, you have resorted to personal attacks because you have nothing left. You seem to agree that “ado” can be used for singing with or without instruments. Yet there is no hint in the contexts of the passages that discuss singing done by Christians in the early church that they used instruments. None. Even though the Jews were familiar with instruments in temple worship, we find none in the church.

    If you’re really curious about what adjustments I’ve made in my thinking about singing, it’s that I used to believe those passages in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 were limited to assemblies of the church, meaning that one could use instrumental music with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs outside of the assembly. However, I’ve come to realize that the context of those passages says nothing about an assembly, which means it applies in and out of the assembly. In other words, if we’re singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we have no authority for musical instruments whether we’re in the assembly of the church or not. So my study has actually led the opposite direction than what you insist that it should have.

    The bottom line is this: You have still produced no Bible passage that authorizes the use of instrumental music. You have produced no contextual evidence that “ado” in any of the passages includes musical instruments. Instead, you attack me as being disingenuous. If that’s all you have, then our discussion is over.