1 Corinthians 4:1-21
This is a continuation of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth. Paul is writing because he has heard that they are idolizing their teachers instead of giving all glory to God. We are called to plant seeds and water them but all increase comes from God.
Paul is speaking to them as babes in Christ. The Bible tells us that we must first have milk (the fundamentals of the Word) before we can have strong meat (the deeper lessons of the Word). We go into this in more detail in the study of chapter 2.
There is division in the church and there shouldn’t be. In chapter 3 we learn that the foundation is our Rock, Jesus Christ. We are to be careful how we build upon this foundation. Is our work gold, silver, wood, etc? Whatever it is it will be declared and tested. We are to do our best to ensure our work is pleasing to God (and we know that it will be if we follow His Word).
I hope you’ll pull out your Bible and join me in a verse-by-verse study of chapter 4.
1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Paul wants people to see them as ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. What are these mysteries of God? It’s everything found in God’s Word. As a minister of Christ it is our job to be a steward of the Word. If this is what God asks of me then I certainly want to make sure I grasp exactly what it means. Let’s take the word steward back to the original Greek. We can do this using The Companion Bible and The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. The original Greek word used here in the transcripts means a manager or overseer (i.e. an employee in that capacity, figuratively a preacher of the Gospel). So as ministers of Christ we are the managers or overseers of the mysteries of God (His Word) and we are to preach it.
This is our responsibility and an important one. In chapter 3 we discussed the Parable of the Talents from Matthew. The lesson there is that we are not to hide the knowledge God grants us, but we are to share it and grow it.
2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
A steward of God’s Word should be trustworthy. He or she should do their homework so that what they teach is His Word and nothing else. You shouldn’t weave your opinions into your teaching and call it Truth. This could mislead someone and steer them away from the Word. We are to study and pray for understanding so that our words reflect His Word and nothing more.
3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.
People will judge you. This is especially true if you’re teaching and living by the Word. People who are considered wise in the ways of the world will not understand or agree with God’s ways. It doesn’t matter. No man is qualified to judge another. Only God is qualified. He is just. He is fair.
Paul is saying that he isn’t even qualified to judge himself.
4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but He that judgeth me is the Lord.
Before Paul came to know the Lord and do His work, he was a destroyer of the church. It is only through God that Paul became a teacher of God’s Word.
5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
God is the only qualified judge. The time will come when He will judge each person and we will all get what we deserve. What have we to fear when we are doing His work and living according to His teachings? We should look forward to that day!
6 And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.
This goes back to the very 1st chapter of 1 Corinthians when Paul says that he has heard the Christians in Corinth were idolizing their teachers. They were saying “I am of Paul” and “I am of Apollos” instead of giving all credit to God. There shouldn’t be any division if we’re all teaching the Word and only that. Division comes by not teaching the Word. This holds true today.
We shouldn’t put men on a pedestal. Men (and women) are flawed. It is God who gives us any abilities we may have.
God gives to each person what they can handle. Think of the Parable of Talents here. A Lord gave one man 5 talents, to another 2 talents, and to another 1 talent. The men with 5 and 2 doubled their talents. They each received the exact same reward even though one returned with 10 and the other with 4. They were given what God knew they could handle and they did something with it.
7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?
What do you have that God didn’t give you? Why brag about your gifts as though they weren’t given to you by God? These gifts aren’t your own doing at all.
Similarly we should be weary of people who claim to be teachers doing God’s work but they say that what they teach is their teaching. All Truth comes from God. So if what they teach is truly their own teaching then I certainly don’t want it.
8 Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.
Paul is telling the Christians of Corinth that they have created a big church full of people. They think themselves rich. They have (figuratively) put crowns on their heads and reign over their church. But they have left God out. They think they have a big successful ministry but do they really? Shouldn’t it be Christ’s ministry? Not theirs? Not yours and not mine? If you’re doing God’s Work and teaching God’s Word then it’s all a part of Christ’s ministry.
9 For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
Let’s take the word ‘spectacle’ back to the original Greek. It means a theater or place for public show. The apostles were teaching God’s Word and they were being mocked by those who didn’t understand. They called it strange. The same happens today when you try to live by and teach His Word. That’s okay. It doesn’t matter what the world thinks. Recall what Paul said about the wisdom of this world.
1 Corinthians 3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.”
1 Corinthians 3:20 And again, “The LORD knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.”
10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.
Were the apostles really fools or weak? Of course not. Yet that is how the world saw them. Again, it ultimately doesn’t matter because they were doing God’s work. God takes care of His own.
11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;
The word ‘naked’ is a poor translation here. Let’s look at the original Greek. It really means poorly clad. These teachers were constantly traveling. They didn’t sleep in their homes at night. They didn’t have a closet full of clothes. They traveled simply.
Can you imagine if that is what was required in order to reach people with God’s Word today? How many of us would do it? Instead I get to sit here at my computer drinking my coffee while I type this and it could potentially be read by someone on the other side of the country or even in a different country. That’s amazing!
12 And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:
13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.
Paul was a tent maker and he continued in this profession while he traveled doing his preaching. He wasn’t required to do this as we’ll learn in chapter 9 but he chose to anyway. He worked hard.
All these teachers worked hard. They were mocked and treated poorly. Even so they continued teaching God’s Word. Paul and the other teachers are planting seeds in hopes that some people will have their eyes opened to Truth. They are not deterred by how they’re treated.
This is still how the world treats those who stay true to God’s Word. The world laughs. The world calls them foolish. The wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God are two very different things. This is why only God is qualified to judge. This is also why those who are considered wise in the ways of world cannot understand the Word.
14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.
Paul is trying to toughen these Christians up not shame them. We are told throughout scripture that when you teach the Word you will be mistreated and called foolish. That’s the way of the world. We know this. He wants the Christians in Corinth to understand and be prepared.
In this day as well we shouldn’t be surprised by this. In fact, if everything you’re teaching is well received by the world shouldn’t you wonder if what you’re teaching is the Word? If we’re warned repeatedly in the Bible that the world will scoff at His Word shouldn’t we give pause if our teachings are always accepted and praised by everyone? I would. Shouldn’t we dig into the Word, study, and pray for understanding to ensure that our teaching is Truth? That we’re not watering down God’s message and only speaking the parts that we think will be well received?
I certainly don’t want to be responsible for leading someone astray. Scripture tells us that judgment starts at the pulpit. We will be held accountable for what we teach. Does that mean we should avoid teaching rather than risk teaching someone wrong? No. Read the Parable of the Talents. God is not pleased with the person who refuses to share the knowledge he’s been given. So how are we to avoid misleading someone? We study. We pray for guidance and understanding. When we fall short we ask for forgiveness and we do better.
15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
There are thousands and thousands who want to teach you about Christ. There is only Father.
16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
Let’s look at the original Greek for followers. Followers = imitators. Paul is saying to serve and love God as Paul does.
17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.
Timotheus is Timothy. He’s not Paul’s son literally but Paul is saying his feelings for him are like that of a son. Paul is giving credibility to Timothy. He says these Christians in Corinth can trust Timothy and count on him.
So why is Paul sending Timothy? Timothy shall bring them into remembrance (remind them) of Paul’s ways in Christ as Paul teaches everywhere and in every church. Many people will modify what they teach based on what their audience wants to hear. At one place they’ll teach something and at another they’ll teach something else. Paul doesn’t do this and neither should we. We are to teach God’s Word. It’s that simple. Not everyone will receive it. That’s not our job. Our job is to plant the seeds. God will provide the increase as He sees fit.
18 Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.
Some believed Paul wouldn’t come. They are feeling pretty self important. They’re proud of themselves. They believe they can do what they want and there won’t be repercussions.
19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power.
Paul will come to them if the Lord wills it. This is a great reminder of how we are to pray and make our plans. We can certainly ask God for what we want but we should always pray for God’s will above all else. I want what God wants. I trust Him. I have faith in Him. His plan is greater than any plan I could ever come up with myself. His plan is supreme. So I want His plan. I want to play whatever part He sees fit for me to play in His plan. It may be different than what I expected. That is okay. His plan is perfect.
20 For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.
21 What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?
Paul is saying that the Christians in Corinth are going to get what they have coming to them (as we all are). If they continue to feel self important and do what is counter to God’s Word then Paul will come with tough love. He’ll come to correct them. Friends, this is love. It is not love to support what someone does that you know to be wrong and just say “well whatever happens happens”. I love my children and I want the very best for them so I will teach them and I will correct them when they’re wrong. God loves me and will do the same for me. And I want that. I want Him to correct me. I pray to be corrected!
My sister recently told me that a friend of hers shared that she prays to be in the center of God’s will. How perfect is that phrase? The center of God’s will. That is what I want. I don’t want to be a little in God’s will. I don’t want to be in the periphery. I want to be right in the center of God’s will. And when I make a wrong turn, when I mess up, I pray that he corrects me so that I can be doing His work as He wants me too.