1 Corinthians 4

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Read 1 Corinthians 4

The Nature of True Apostleship

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

Paul’s Appeal and Warning

14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children.15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have.20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?

Go Deeper

This chapter is a glimpse into what the earliest version of consumerism in the church looked like. What Paul was dealing with 2000 years ago is not just a sin of the past, it is very much happening today. The Corinthians favored one leader over another and created groups from it. Some favored Cephas, others Apollos, and still others Paul. Their favoritism from personal preference created division within the church. Why was Paul so rampant about fighting for unity? For no other reason than because Jesus is. Jesus gave His life to unite us back to Him so as followers of Jesus, we must always be fighting for unity. 

In the church today this is still happening. We still favor one Christian author over another. We like one pastor’s style more than another. We compare Christian leaders against one another, hoping our favorite “wins” the battle for our opinion on who is “better”. One of the scariest things about this particular issue is that it is often hidden under the banner of spirituality. We convince one another that it is simply a preference of the leader but in reality, it may be worship of man. It is wrapped in the lie that we can only learn from some leaders and not others. 

So, how does Paul plan to solve this? Not how one might expect. He addresses how he found freedom from living from man’s approval. In verses 1-5, Paul uses the word judge 4 times. This word has the same meaning as the word verdict. Paul is using language one would use in a courtroom intentionally. He is explaining that the solution to being liberated from man’s approval is not in a discipline but in an eternal truth. Paul does not care what others think about him or what thinks about himself. How did Paul get there? He understood the Judge’s gavel had gone down on his life. The Judge is God and the verdict on Paul’s life is washed by the blood. The way to break free from caring about what others and you think about yourself is to know what God says about you. We are His beloved children whom He died for, we need no other approval but God alone.

  1. Is there anyone you need to go and fight for unity with?
  2. In what ways are you living from man’s approval?
  3. Who could you remind today that the verdict is over and Christ has declared them righteous through faith in Christ?
Did You Know?

The Greek word “servant” in verse 1 often refers to the rower on a ship, listening to and obeying the orders of a supervisor. As long as the rowers listened and obeyed, the ship moved smoothly toward its destination. With that humble language, Paul made clear that he, Apollos, and Cephas (aka Peter) were merely servants of the true teacher: Jesus Christ.

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5 thoughts on “1 Corinthians 4”

  1. No matter our thoughts, opinions or preferences what God says trumps them all. By human nature we are quick to judge by appearances, but not one of us knows exactly what lies hidden beyond the exterior of one’s heart, but God does. Paul directly calls out divisiveness and attachment to any one leader, which results in strife and broken relationships that cause harm to the cause of Christ. Anything we focus on other than Christ will prove futile, leaving us in bondage, empty and distracted from our true mission, to make much of Him. The antidote is to remain close to Jesus by spending time in the Word, prayer and repentance, seeking God’s presence and fellowship above all else. In the words of John 3:30, the front runner of Jesus, John the Baptist, declared “He must increase, and I must decrease.” This will never happen without humility. Today, let’s set aside every entanglement that strangles our relationship with Christ and his church and find genuine peace that settles our hearts.

  2. One of the smallest books that has had a profound impact on my life was Timothy Keller’s little 46 page book – “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” in which he unpacks 1 Corinthians 3:21 through 4:7.

    I will not try to summarize it here, but rather hope you find the opportunity to read this to further experience and live out the Freedom in Christ in this world that seeks to bind you.


  3. Paul was surely trying to bring the church back to basics – it isn’t about which apostle we they preferred or which leader they followed. It was and is always about JESUS. I definitely see the connection to so much of that today – I’ve observed disagreements over favorite pastors, what songs we sing in worship, and preaching styles. It’s actually disheartening because we haven’t appeared to learn the lesson Paul worked hard to teach 2000 years ago. He even tries to remind them in verse 4 that God is who will judge (not the earthly leaders we follow).

  4. 4 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.(ESV)
    Stewards are servants that manage everything for their masters, but he himself owns nothing. A steward is to be a faithful servant to his master. He may not please other members of his household, or other servants but his goal is to please his master. There will always be man’s judgement and Paul felt comfortable in his own clear conscience (but we must be aware of self-righteous attitude).But the most important judgement is God’s judgement. We are to be faithful, we are to be humble, and to be tender as a father correcting his child. In all things we are to respond in love. We are to not talk the talk but we are to walk the talk, with integrity, humbleness, truth, and love. Faithful to God’s holiness.

    God thank You for Your complete love towards me. Even when I feel puffed up, You let the air out of gently in love. Thank You for bringing to light the darkness in my heart. Thank You for me being humble when You do this, to be able to serve You in a greater capacity and to LOVE You more and more. Your will be done in my life. More of You less of me in Jesus name amen.

  5. Diane Frances Rogers

    Only God knows a person’s heart and He is the only one with the right to judge. Our/my arrogance in judging others invariably is we/I consider ourselves better than others. (This in my case is pride that I repent of every day.) We are all representatives of Christ, and we should imitate only Him. The sweetness that comes from loving all like Jesus is like honey, twofold.

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