1 Corinthians 4
Apostles of Christ (4:1-13)
1 Paul writes that men ought to regard us (Paul, Apollos, and other apostles) as servants of Christ. Paul’s point is that the apostles are not the leaders of independent groups in the church, but all are equally the servants of one master, Christ.
All Christians are servants of Christ. If we all behaved as servants of Christ, there would be no divisions in our churches (see Matthew 23:8,10).
The apostles have been entrusted with the secret things of God. These “secret things” make up the Gospel of Christ, the way of salvation. These secret things were once hidden, but are now revealed (Romans 1:17; 1 Corinthians 2:7). And these secret things have now been handed over to the apostles; the apostles are “stewards” of these things.
2 Stewards are men who have been entrusted with something, andanyonewho has been entrusted with something must be faithful in the exercise of his responsibility. Because God has entrusted Paul with these secret things (the Gospel), Paul must faithfully preach these things to others, in order that God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16)—that is, Christ’s church—might be built up. Paul has been called to build the church, not his own party or faction.
3 In his work as an apostle, Paul does not seek the praise of men, but only the praise of God (see John 5:41,44; Galatians 1:10). Likewise, we too should not seek a good name among men. of course, we don’t need to seek a bad name either! Insof ar as possible, we shouldn’t let our name be stained, because this will then bring dishonor upon Christ’s name. But if, as we carry out God’s will, we are condemned by other men—that is, by any human court—let us not worry about it, says Paul. Men do not usually judge others fairly, because they don’t have complete knowledge about what they are judging. But God always judges fairly. Therefore, Paul cares very much about God’s judgment, but very little about man’s judgment. I do not even judge myself, Paul says. That is, he doesn’t even care about his own judgment of himself.
To examine oneself is good, but to judge oneself is useless. The reason is because we almost never judge ourselves accurately. Most of the time we judge ourselves to be innocent when, in fact, we are guilty (see 1 Corinthians 11:28,31 and comment).
4 Paul says here that he is not aware of anything against himself. That is, his conscience is clear. He has been a faithful “steward” of the Gospel; he has served Christ faithfully (2 Corinthians 1:12). But even though Paul’s conscience is clear, that doesn’t make him innocent. of ten we do not see our own sins, or we quickly forget them. But God sees everything; He knows about our secret sins. We can never declare ourselves innocent, or righteous; only God can do that (see Romans 14:4).
It is the Lord who judges me. God has given to Christ full authority to judge all men (see John 5:22-23).
5 We have no business judging either ourselves or others. At that time—that is, at the day of judgment—Christ will judge each one of us (see Matthew 13:24-30,3743). Only Jesus can judge correctly what is hidden in darkness (our sins); only Jesus can expose the motives of men’s hearts (our secret desires and purposes). Thus, only Jesus is fit to be our judge (see Romans 2:16).
We are so ready to judge one another; it is even a habit with many of us. Yet should we not rather be afraid to judge each other? Because Jesus said that as we judge others, so also shall we ourselves be judged (see Matthew 7:1-2 and comment).
At that time each (person) will receive his praise from God. Here Paul is talking about believers. Unbelievers will receive condemnation on the day of judgment, but believers will receive praise. God will praise us (reward us) according to our labor (see 1 Corinthians 3:8,13-14). What are the praises of men compared to the praise of God! (see 2 Corinthians 10:18).
6 Paul here quotes a Jewish saying: Do not go beyond what is written—that is, do not teach beyond what is written in the Bible. (In Paul’s time only the Old Testament existed; the New Testament had not yet been completed.) What is written in the Bible is the truth and wisdom of God. When we go beyond that, we will find only the wisdom of man, which is foolishness in God’s eyes (1 Corinthians 3:19).
All man’s blessings and gifts come from God. If that is so, why should we then take pride in one man over against another? Why should one man insist on following Paul, and another insist on following Apollos? (see 1 Corinthians 3:4-5,21). Taking pride in one man over another like this always leads to division; and such division is like a wound in Christ’s body (the church).
7 Everything we have is from God. We have nothing we can call our own (except our sin). Therefore, we must not take pride either in ourselves or in one man over against another.
8 In this verse, Paul sarcastically repeats what the Corinthian believers think about themselves. Because the Corinthians had received some spiritual gifts, they were acting as if they were satisfied with themselves. “We have all we want,” they thought. “We are already rich.” They were acting like kings. But, in fact, they weren’t rich at all. Spiritually they were poor; they were just infants in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; Revelation 3:17). Only in pride were they rich!
How backwards things were! These new Corinthian Christians had begun to think they were kings, while Paul and the other apostles were still mere laborers, lowly servants! if the Corinthians had truly been kings, what a nice thing that would have been, says Paul sarcastically; because then Paul himself could have been a king too! Paul, of course, did not want to be a king; in saying this, he was only trying to show the Corinthians how great their pride was.
9 Here Paul describes his own experience and that of his fellow APOSTLES. Because they were apostles, they had received all kinds of opposition not only from non-believers but from believers also. Instead of being like kings, they were like criminals sentenced to death. Every day they faced the risk of death.
In the time of the Roman Empire, criminals sentenced to die were forced to walk in a procession to the execution site; the criminals walked at the end of the procession. As the procession passed, other people would mock and insult the criminals. In other words, the criminals were put on display; they were made a spectacle. Each criminal had to carry his own cross, on which he was to be hung a few minutes later. Christ Himself had to carry His own cross in this way (John 19:17-18). Using an illustration taken from this same Roman custom of making criminals carry their own crosses, Jesus said to His disciples: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Paul is saying here that he and his fellow apostles are like those condemned criminals; they had been made a spectacle; they had been put on display (see Romans 8:36).
10 Here again Paul writes sarcastically, repeating some of the things the Corinthians were saying about themselves. The Corinthians were acting as if they were better than the apostles. They regarded themselves as wise, strong, and honored, in contrast to the apostles who were fools, weak, and dishonored.
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).
Warnings and Advice (4:14-21)
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).