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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for 1 Corinthians 4

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Are You Glorified Without Us?

A. How the Corinthians should consider Paul and the apostles.

1. (1Cr 4:1-2) Servants and stewards.

Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.

a. Let a man so consider us: Paul asks that he, and the other apostles (us) be regarded by the Corinthians as servants. Paul had a real problem with the Corinthians; they tended to look down on him and not respect his apostolic authority. In carefully chosen words, Paul will show the Corinthians how to have a proper regard – not too exalted and not too low – of himself and the other apostles.

b. There are several different words in the language of the New Testament to describe a servant. Here, Paul uses the word “hyperetas,” which describes a subordinate servant functioning as a free man. He does not use the more common New Testament word for a servant (doulos) which designated a common slave.

i. The word hyperetas literally means an “under-rower,” in the sense that someone is a rower on a big galley ship. So, though it is not the most lowly word for a servant, it certainly not a prestigious position. Under-rowers serve “Christ the master-pilot, helping forward the ship of the Church toward the haven of heaven.” (Trapp)

ii. Morgan describes this “under-rower” as “one who acts under direction, and asks no questions, one who does the thing he is appointed to do without hesitation, and one who reports only to the One Who is over him.”

c. And stewards: In addition to a servant, Paul asks to be considered as a steward, who was the manager of a household.

i. In relation to the master of the house, the steward was a slave; but in relation to the other slaves the steward was a master.

ii. “The steward... was the master’s deputy in regulating the concerns of the family, providing food for the household, seeing it served out at proper times and seasons, and in proper quantities. He received all the cash, expended what was necessary for the support of the family, and kept exact accounts, for which he was obliged at certain times to lay before the master.” (Clarke)

d. And stewards of the mysteries of God: What did Paul and the other apostles “manage” in the household of God? Among other things, they were stewards of the mysteries of God. They “managed” (in the sense of preserving and protecting) and “dispensed” (in the sense of distributing) the truth of God.

i. Whenever Paul would hear criticism of his style or manner, he could simply ask, “Did I give you the truth?” As a good steward, that’s what he first cared about.

e. It is required in servants that one be found faithful: For stewards, the important thing was faithfulness. They had to be efficient managers of the master’s resources. A steward never owned the property or resource he dealt with; he simply managed it for his master and had to manage it faithfully.

2. (1Cr 4:3-5) Being God’s servants, we answer only to Him.

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

a. It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you: Paul insists that their low estimation of him really mattered little; it is what God judges that is important (he who judges me is the Lord).

i. Can, or should, every Christian today have the same attitude? Should we have no or little regard for what other Christians think about us, and just say he who judges me is the Lord? We can only say this, in the full sense that Paul means it, if we are apostles. If the Corinthians claimed that Paul could not judge them, and that they would simply wait for God’s judgment, Paul would remind them that he is a father to them, and has the right to correct their behavior.

b. In fact, I do not even judge myself: Even our estimation of ourself is usually wrong. We are almost always too hard or too easy on ourselves. Paul recognizes this, and so will suspend judgment even upon himself. In the end, he who judges me is the Lord.

c. For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this: Paul also recognizes that he does not stand in a perfect state of justification or innocence just because his conscience was clear. Paul knew his righteousness came from Jesus, not from his own personal life – even though he had a godly walk.

d. Therefore judge nothing before the time: It is as if Paul were saying, “You Corinthians act like judges at athletic events, qualified to give some the trophy and to send others away as losers. But Jesus is the only judge, and you are judging before the events are over.”

e. Who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of men’s hearts: When Jesus judges, it will be according to the motives of the heart, not only the outward action. This is another reason why human judgment is often wrong, and why Paul feels free to disregard the harsh judgment of the Corinthian Christians towards himself.

f. Each one’s praise will come from God: Paul knew he had little praise from the Corinthian Christians, but that did not concern him. He knew there was a day coming when our praise will come from God, not from man.

B. A sarcastic rebuke of Corinthian pride.

1. (1Cr 4:6) The broader application of Paul’s words.

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.

a. I have figuratively transferred: In the first few verses of this chapter, Paul spoke of the apostles being servants and stewards. He does not mean this in a literal way, but in a figurative way, so the Corinthian Christians would learn a more proper way to see the apostles.

b. That you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written: Paul hopes his writing will help the Corinthian Christians learn to keep their thinking Biblical, and to not use standards beyond the Word of God to judge him or the other apostles.

i. Many people today evaluate a pastor or a minister on unbiblical standards. They judge him on his humor, his entertainment value, his appearance, or his skill at marketing and sales. But this is to think beyond what is written in the sense Paul means it here.

ii. In a broader sense, it is an important lesson: not to think beyond what is written. We must take our every cue from Scripture. It used to be that something was considered Biblical if it came from the Bible; today, people say things are “Biblical” if they can’t find a verse which specifically condemns it. This is to think beyond what is written.

c. That none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other: When the Corinthian Christians used unbiblical standards to judge the apostles, they could easily like one and hate another based on bad standards. But if they learned to not think beyond what is written, they wouldn’t proudly take sides behind certain apostles as 1 Corinthians 3:4 says they did.

2. (1Cr 4:7) Three questions to humble the proud.

For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

a. The puffed up state of the Corinthian Christians meant there was a pride problem. Though the pride was evident in the cliques around the different apostles, the cliques weren’t the problem as much as pride was the problem. Paul addresses their proud hearts with three questions.

b. Who makes you to differ from another? If there is a difference between us, it is because of what God has done in us, so there is no reason for pride.

c. And what do you have that you did not receive? Everything we have has come from God, so there is no reason for pride.

d. Why do you glory as if you had not received it? If what you have spiritually is a gift from God, why do you glory in it as if it were your own accomplishment? There is no reason for this self-glorying pride.

e. These three questions should prompt other questions in my heart: do I truly give God the credit for my salvation? Do I live with a spirit of humble gratitude? Seeing that I have received from God, what can I give to Him?

i. Augustine used this text often in proclaiming the total depravity of man against the Pelagians. He knew that it taught there is nothing good in us except what we have received from God.

3. (1Cr 4:8-13) Paul’s sarcastic rebuke.

You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us; and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you! For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.

a. You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us: “My, you Corinthians seem to have it all! Isn’t it funny that we apostles have nothing!”

i. Though Paul uses strong sarcasm, his purpose isn’t to make fun of the Corinthian Christians. He wants to shake them out of their proud, self-willed thinking. “He was laughing at them with holy laughter, and yet with utter contempt for what they had been doing.” (Morgan)

b. Indeed I could wish you did reign: Wouldn’t it be great if they really were reigning already? Then Paul also might reign with you!

c. God has displayed us: Instead of being full, and rich, and reigning as royalty, the apostles were on display in a humiliating spectacle to the world. The Corinthian Christians looked at themselves so highly, while God has displayed the apostles so low.

i. The image of 1 Corinthians 4:9 is either from the coliseum or the parade of a conquering Roman general, where he displayed his armies first, the booty second, and at the end of the procession, the defeated captives who would be condemned to die in the arena. Just as before going into the arena, the gladiators said, morituri salutamus (“we who will die salute you”), so Paul now salutes the Corinthian Christians.

ii. The word spectacle is “theatron,” from which we get our word “theater.” When Paul says we have been made a spectacle to the world, he speaks of how the apostles were publicly humiliated. This kind of humiliation was the greatest horror to the pride of the Corinthian Christians.

iii. The Corinthian Christians had two problems: they were proud of their own spirituality, and they were somewhat embarrassed of Paul because of his “weakness” and humble state. Paul is trying to address both of these problems.

d. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! With contrast after contrast, Paul sarcastically shows how foolish it is for the Corinthians to think that they are more spiritually privileged, blessed, or endowed, than the apostles were.

e. We both hunger and thirst: Paul’s description of his own ministry focuses on deprivation and humiliation. These were things that the Corinthian Christians, in their pride, wanted to avoid at all cost.

i. Today, the church is heavy with this same attitude of the Corinthian Christians. They were concerned about the image of worldly success and power, and many of them despised Paul and the other apostles because they did not display that image. Today, there is no shortage of ministers who want to display the image of worldly success and power, and no shortage of Christians who will only value that in their minister.

f. And we labor, working with our own hands: The Corinthians, in their love of Greek wisdom, embraced the Greek idea that manual labor was fit only for slaves. It would offend them that one of God’s apostles would actually work with his own hands!

g. Being defamed, we entreat: Paul is saying that when they were slandered, the apostles would reach out in kindness to the one who spoke against them. This also was offensive to the Greek ideal; they thought a man was a wimp if he didn’t fight back when slandered.

h. The offscouring of all things: Some ancient Greeks had a custom of casting certain worthless people into the sea during a time of plague or famine, while saying “Be our offscouring!” The victims were called “scrapings” in the belief that they would wipe away the communities’ guilt.

i. So Paul may have a double meaning here when using the words filth and offscouring. He may mean he is both despised and a sacrifice on their behalf.

i. It’s a little embarrassing to read Paul’s description of his ministry while working on a nice computer and surrounded by several hundred books. And especially knowing how much I, like most people, would like to have the respect and admiration of the world.

i. After all, think of Paul’s resume: bounced from church to church, run out of many towns, accused of starting riots, rarely supported by the ministry, arrested and imprisoned several times. Who today would hire Paul as a pastor?

ii. Our problem is we often want a middle road: a little popularity, a little reputation, but still the anointing of God. We want the power without the cost. God help us to choose Paul’s way, because it is really God’s way.

C. Paul’s warning and a challenge.

1. (1Cr 4:14-17) Paul asserts his right to correct as a father.

I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.

a. Shame you... warn you: With his biting sarcasm, Paul knows the Corinthian Christians might be pretty ashamed. He wants them to know his purpose hasn’t been to make them feel ashamed, but to warn them of a significant spiritual danger – pride.

b. You might have ten thousand instructors: The instructor was a “paidagogoi,” a guardian or “slave-guide,” who escorted the boys to and from school and who supervised their general conduct.

c. The instructor did have legitimate authority, but certainly not like a father. Paul had a unique place of authority and leadership among the Corinthian Christians, not only because he fathered the church itself in Corinth (I have begotten you through the gospel), but also because of his apostolic authority.

i. We don’t have apostolic authority like this. Leading someone to Christ does not give you special authority over their life, but it does give you a special relationship.

d. I urge you, imitate me: The first reaction of many of the Corinthian Christians would probably be horror. “Imitate you, Paul? You are regarded as a fool, as weak, as dishonored; you are hungry and thirsty and poorly clothed, homeless and beaten; you work hard to support yourself with manual labor. People look at you and see filth and the offscouring of all things. And you want us to imitate you?”

i. Paul might reply, “Yes, imitate me. Not because of all these difficulties, but despite them, and often because of them, the glory and power of Jesus Christ shines through me.”

ii. Because they didn’t have printing back then, Paul couldn’t just hand out Bibles. People had to learn the gospel by watching his life. Maybe that wasn’t so bad after all!

e. I have sent Timothy: Timothy seemed to be Paul’s chief “troubleshooter,” often being sent to problem churches.

2. (1Cr 4:18-21) How do you want me to come to you?

Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power. What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?

a. Some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you: Some Corinthian Christians were so arrogant they thought Paul was afraid to visit them. When they thought Paul was afraid of them, it made them all the more proud in their hearts.

b. Not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power: Those among the Corinthian Christians who loved high-sounding words and their successful image had their own word, but Paul had the true power of the gospel. The final test of wisdom is power; the word of the cross not only has the power to mentally illumine, but also to morally save.

i. Puffed up: Essentially, Paul threatens to pop the bubble of these puffed-up gasbags.

c. What do you want? Paul leaves the ball in their court. Which Paul did they want to come – the Paul with the rod of correction (used by shepherds to smack disobedient sheep), or the Paul with the spirit of gentleness? There is no doubt Paul would prefer to come in gentleness, but he’ll leave that decision up to the Corinthian Christians.

i. In this section of the letter, Paul faced some of the real challenges of ministry: how to confront sin without being too harsh, or implying that you are above sin; how to get people to conform their lives to the gospel when they think too highly of themselves. This is tough work to do in a heart, and only a great work by the Spirit can accomplish it!

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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