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1 Corinthians 4


When Paul describes the actual situation of the apostles, he is not being sarcastic. The apostles had indeed become fools for Christ (2 Corinthians 12:11); they had indeed become weak and dishonored (1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 13:9).

11-13 In these verses, Paul continues to describe the life of an apostle. And this description doesn’t apply only to the life of apostles; it applies to the life of every true Christian (see 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 11:2329). This description also applies to the life of Jesus Himself.

When we, like Paul, are cursed, persecuted, and slandered (verse 12), how do we behave in return? Can we say, like Paul, that when such trouble comes to us, we bless, endure, and answer kindly? For this is the behavior which God expects from every Christian (see Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27; 1 Peter 2:21-23; 3:9 and comments).

Paul says in verse 12: We work hard with our own hands. In addition to preaching, Paul made tents as a prof ession (Acts 18:1-3). Wherever Paul went, he earned his own livelihood by making tents in his spare time (see 1 Thessalonians 2:9).

In writing these verses, is Paul complaining? No, he’s not complaining. Paul is happy to have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world for Christ’s sake (see Matthew 5:10-12; 20:16; 23:1112; Mark 9:35; Philippians 3:7-8 and comments).

14-15 In verse 15, Paul writes that the Corinthian believers have ten thousand guardians.9 A guardian in Paul’s day was really a special high-ranking servant, paid to look after the master’s children and take them to school. Thus Paul is saying that the Corinthians have many (ten thousand) of these spiritual “guardians” to look after them. However, these guardians are not the same as the children’s own father. The Corinthians don’t have many spiritual “fathers.” Certainly Paul was their chief “father.” Paul became their spiritual father through the gospel, which he had first preached to them. Therefore, Paul can call the Corinthian believers my dear children (verse 14).

16 Children should imitate their fathers. Paul imitated Christ; therefore, the Corinthian believers should imitate Paul (1 Corinthians 11:1). In doing so, however, they shouldn’t become Paul’s disciples; they should become disciples only of Christ. So closely did Paul imitate Christ that to imitate Paul was essentially the same as imitating Christ. How many of us, with Paul, can say that about ourselves?

What is involved in imitating Paul is described quite well in verses 11-13.

17 Paul plans to send Timothy to Corinth. Timothy was Paul’s spiritual son (Acts 16:1-5; 1 Corinthians 16:10-11).

Paul writes here: … my way of life … agrees with what I teach everywhere. In other words, Paul practices what he preaches. As was his preaching, so was his life. Timothy will testif y that this is true. Perhaps some of the Corinthians had falsely accused Paul of not practicing what he preached. But when Timothy gets to Corinth, he will take Paul’s side and put an end to such false accusations.

Paul also says here that his teaching is the same in every church. He doesn’t preach something to please people in one church, and then turn around and preach something different to please people in another church. Wherever Paul goes, he preaches the same truths.

Let us also imitate Paul. By our lives let us each give witness that we are faithful servants of Christ. Just as we preach, so let our lives be. And at all times, let us keep on boldly proclaiming the same truths of the Gospel, no matter whether people oppose us or not.

18 Some of the Corinthians who had become arrogant said that Paul didn’t dare come to Corinth. Why doesn’t he come himself? they asked. Why does he send Timothy in his place? Probably those who said this belonged to a party in the Corinthian church that opposed Paul and refused to accept his authority (1 Corinthians 1:12). Such people only wanted to increase their own authority.

19 But Paul wasn’t afraid of his enemies at Corinth. He was planning to go himself to Corinth. Here he tells the Corinthians that he will come to them very soon—if the Lord is willing. All of Paul’s plans depended on God’s will; he didn’t do anything according to his own will.

When Paul goes to Corinth, he will face those arrogant Corinthians. At that time he will find out if they have any real power or if they are only talking (2 Corinthians 12:11).

20 True apostles like Paul demonstrate God’s power. One can identif y true apostles, because they perform signs, wonders and miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12).

For the KINDGDOM OF GOD is not a matter of talk only. We can listen to hundreds of sermons, and we can discuss the kingdom of God all day long; but for our lives to be holy, the thing we need is power, the power of the Holy Spirit.

21 Depending on the attitude and behavior of the Corinthian Christians, Paul will come either with a whip, or he will come in love (that is, with loving words) and with a gentle spirit. The choice is the Corinthians’. If their arrogant behavior continues, Paul will certainly come to them with a whip.

Like any other father, Paul continues to hope that his spiritual children at Corinth will repent. Paul doesn’t want to use the “whip.” He much prefers to meet them with a loving and gentle spirit.

But even if Paul has to bring the whip, he will still come to them in love. A father who truly loves his children will not hesitate, when necessary, to use the “whip” (see 2 Samuel 7:14; Hebrews 12:6 and comment).

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