1 Corinthians 4
1Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Paul sums up his exhortation to the Corinthians by telling them to think of him and Apollos as servants of Christ and servants of the gospel of God. God and Christ are the unifying pieces and Who should be worshipped. Paul and Apollos are merely helpers, fellow workers with the Corinthians. Thus, the Corinthians need to unify their allegiance to Christ, rather than with men.
2In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.
3But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.
4For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.
5Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God.
Paul explains that servants and stewards of God need to be trustworthy. Just because God is the centerpiece does not mean that man is not accountable for his influence and leadership. Man can either direct people to God or away from God, and the way to point them to God is to serve faithfully and in a trustworthy manner by faith. Paul is not aware of any error in his heart, so he doesn’t need to bother examining himself at this point. If an error comes up, he would be sure to deal with it immediately. Thus, he fears no earthly court or examination, not even one by the Corinthians. He knows that he is a reliable shepherd, but still God must be the issue. Paul makes the important point that just because he thinks he is innocent doesn’t mean he is innocent. It is what God thinks of him that renders him guilty or innocent. He doesn’t believe that the Spirit of God has shown him any error of sin, and this is what makes him feel acquitted. But still the final say is not his belief but the judgment seat of Christ, for at that time the Lord will bring to light the inner motives of the heart. He knows all things now, but then He will judge how we have lived. Those who have done well and who have been faithful will receive praise from God. God is the ultimate Judge, and we should examine ourselves now to be sure that we are ready for His examination.
6Now 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.
7For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
Paul has used various analogies up to this point to emphasize the truth that he and Apollos are mere men. They are fellow workers, builders, farmers, laborers, servants, and stewards, but they are not Jesus. Jesus is to be the center of attention, and this will bring unity and reconciliation at the church at Corinth. It is imperative that man does not think more highly of himself than the Bible describes. The Bible is plain that Christ is the power and the Judge, and we need to revere and respect Him as the authority over all and the One Who makes ministry even possible. Paul and Apollos are not on any kind of power trip or ego trip, and this is an important example as shepherds. The Corinthians had fallen into the trap of pride in that they were thinking of themselves as being better than others. They looked down on others whom they didn’t view as superior as themselves. Obviously, this caused strife and division in the church. They were also acting self-sufficiently as if they could rely upon themselves, their own abilities, and their own resources rather than upon God. They didn’t understand that everything that they had was given to them by God. They didn’t honor Him as God which is a step toward destruction, and they boasted in what they did have, insulting the God Who gave them what they have. Paul was aware that they were in a very fleshly position and in danger of really going astray, so the rebuke had to continue.
8You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you.
9For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.
10We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor.
11To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless;
12and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure;
13when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.
The Corinthians were acting as if they needed no instruction because they thought they knew all that they needed to know. They were puffed up, self-righteous, prideful, and self-sufficient. Since they acted as the kings of their own lives, Paul sarcastically referred to them as kings who had advanced so far beyond him and the other apostles. One day believers will reign with Christ, and this is a good thing to look forward to. But we are not kings yet, and if we think we are, we have likely lost sight of the King of Kings. Paul explains that, as an apostle, he doesn’t think of himself highly or gloat in his status as the Corinthians did in theirs, and they aren’t even apostles. They thought so much more highly of themselves than where they actually were. They thought they were spiritually advanced when they were mere infants in Christ. Paul explains that he thinks God has put the apostles on display to the world for ridicule and condemnation unto death, and most of them did die as martyrs. Even the angels would witness their suffering and persecution. They were not gloating in earthly fame and glory, but they were laying their lives and well-being aside for the sake of the gospel. They were servants, not kings. They were fools, weak, and without honor by the world’s standards, while the Corinthians thought they were wise, strong, and distinguished among men, a very dangerous place to be because it is filled with pride and arrogance. The church is not to try to win the praise of the world, but it is to preach the message of foolishness to the world. The apostles were poorly clothed, hungry, thirsty, roughly treated, and homeless. They were not wealthy or successful in the world’s eyes at all, but they had joy, they got along with each other, and they glorified God. The Corinthians were failing where it mattered, and they weren’t even recognizing it or being bothered by it. The apostles’ lives were difficult, working to have sustenance and yet to have time to do ministry. They gave up all the comforts of life for the sake of the Name. When they were reviled and mocked, they blessed and loved. When they were persecuted, they endured. The Corinthians couldn’t even get along with one another, let along some unbeliever who persecuted them. When people spoke ill of them, the apostles tried to reconcile the relationship. The Corinthians, on the other hand, just kept fighting with one another and furthering the slander. Paul refers to himself and the apostles as the scum of the world and the dregs of all things, meaning that they are the least desirable part of the world. Their lives weren’t very desirable as far as comfort and ease, and the world thought extremely little of them. An apostle was not a position of prestige, though it carried great responsibility. Paul was going to be rich in heaven, but for now, he was despised and suffering. Such is going to be the life of those who serve Christ unashamedly and without becoming fleshly (2 Timothy 3:12). The truth about the Christian life is in no way seeker-friendly, unless one has a mind to value eternity over the temporal world, which would be evidence of God’s grace at work.
14I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.
So Paul has gone on at length rebuking the Corinthians and exhorting them to look at his example as one of lowliness and humility, one which learned to love and get along with others, even those who persecuted him. His purpose in saying this was for the good of the Corinthians because he wanted them to repent and grow to maturity such that they would have an abundance of rewards in heaven. They needed this admonishment, and it was in their best interest. Paul loved them as a father loves his children, and his purpose was not to shame them or to enjoy making them feel bad. It was to give them the truth which would set them free and lead them into life that is truly to the full, which is a life of surrender and sacrifice. It is a difficult message to give, but Paul, in great love, delivered it to the Corinthians.
15For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.
16Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.
Paul views himself as a sort of spiritual father of the Corinthian church because it was he who first went to them with the gospel. It was he who led them to faith by the grace of God. Thus, given how much he loves them and the instrumental role he has played in their lives, he desires to give them direction and to be an example of godliness for them. Others may come who will teach them about Christ, but only Paul was there at the beginning. Thus, he wants to be sure to lead them in the right way and to set a good example for them. Yet the Corinthians must watch, learn, and follow him (Philippians 4:9).
17For 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.
Paul sent Timothy to them, another person whom he loves and has discipled in the Lord, to remind them of Paul’s ways, example, and instruction in Christ. What Paul teaches consistently to churches everywhere, he wants Timothy to teach to them.
18Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you.
19But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power.
20For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.
Some of the Corinthians were feeling the power of not having Paul there to confront them, so they acted arrogantly and furthered the strife and division that was present. Paul does desire and expect to visit them soon, if God wills and allows him to, and when he does he plans to find out who the troublemakers are. Those who oppose the will of God are not serving God but the enemy, and Paul will find out who is of the enemy. Their words will reveal them, but the issue is whether they are of the kingdom of God or not and seeking to advance it. Those who are not working for the kingdom will need to be challenged and confronted. The kingdom of God is a spiritual reality with the power of God behind it. Those who oppose this reality serve a different power, and this must be dealt with.
21What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?
Paul issues a firm challenge to those who are doing evil. He can come gently and lovingly to those who have received this exhortation, or, if they remain hardened and fleshly, he may have to come with a rod, invoking his apostolic authority to put people out of the fellowship and turn them over to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:5, Matthew 18:15-18).