1 Corinthians 4 Study Notes


4:1-2 Paul called on the Corinthians to be aware of the responsibilities of those who manage. The church should view those in leadership as slave-stewards with a responsibility to dispatch the message of Christ.

4:3-4 Paul was aware that the examination of his stewardship with respect to “the mysteries of God” (v. 1) came from the Lord, not humans nor even himself. All believers will be tested on how faithful they have been to the foolish message of “Christ and him crucified” (2:2).

4:5 Paul cautions against passing judgment on a person’s ministry. All will be revealed only in the final judgment.

4:6 Paul did not disclose the identity of these misguided, arrogant leaders; he used himself and Apollos as a foil. Paul and Apollos had illustrated dramatically in their foolish message that they did nothing beyond what was written. Paul had determined to know nothing among the Corinthians “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:1-2). The church was not to be arrogant, favoring one person over another. They were to boast only in the Lord.

4:7 Paul offered a rhetorical response to those claiming superiority in the Corinthian church. He who receives a gift by grace has no grounds for boasting.

4:8 With a strong dose of irony, Paul says the boastful disposition of the Corinthian believers made them full and rich, as if their glorification was complete and they were already reigning as kings in eternity. In part Paul wished all of this were true, for all believers are destined to reign with Christ (2Tm 2:12).

4:9 Paul’s mention of a spectacle (Gk theatron, “theatrical display”) refers to the arena where victims (usually criminals) were led in procession before the last public show of the day, and then executed before the eager spectators. But rather than pagan or unbelieving Jewish authorities, Paul knew that ultimately it was God himself who had chosen to display the apostles in a humiliating manner.

4:10 Paul presents an alarming contrast, likely intended as a warning to the Corinthian church. While the apostles were made out to be fools as they faithfully dispatched the gospel, the spiritually immature Corinthians were wise (Gk phronimos) in their escape from ostracism, hardship, and persecution. In short, it seems they were “behaving like mere humans” (3:3).

4:11-13 Paul describes the lifestyle and character of apostolic ministry. The world with its human wisdom labeled them as scum and garbage (cp. 2Co 2:16), which is the refuse (Gk perikatharma) of chamber pots and the offscouring (Gk peripsēma) in waste vats and cesspools respectively. The Romans used these terms to describe the dregs of society. Yet Paul says they bless . . . endure, and respond graciously as Christ had taught them (Lk 6:27-36).

4:14 Paul’s warnings were as admonitions from a loving father to his children.

4:15 Paul reminded the Corinthian believers that he was their father through the gospel. In contrast to their present instructors, he had founded the church in Corinth (Ac 18).

4:16 Paul urged the Corinthian believers to imitate him, which entailed being seen as “fools” for the sake of Christ (vv. 10-13; cp. 2:1-2). Thus believers are encouraged to identify with “the scum of the earth” (4:13).

4:17 Timothy as a child with a mandate would remind the Corinthians of their father’s ways (i.e., “fools for Christ,” cp. v. 10). Timothy probably had been dispatched from Ephesus before the letter was sent (16:10-11).

4:18-20 Paul would come to examine their teaching from the standpoint of power, the standard for all those who were truly teaching the foolishness of Christ crucified—the only wisdom that has the power to save (1:18,22-24).

4:21 Rod pictures a father who is faithful to correct his disobedient children. If the Corinthian believers ignored Paul’s rebuke and admonition, they would receive the rod of chastisement upon his arrival. If they repented, however, he would come in love and a spirit of gentleness.