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

It’s easy to read about a church 2000 years ago and judge their behavior while justifying our own. But the truth is, as a people, we haven’t changed that much. 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 comes out the winner. 

We know that the church at Corinth was favoring particular leaders over others. Their personal opinions and preferences created disunity. Paul steps in to defend his credibility while reminding them what characterizes godly leadership.  

The Corinthians wanted to be strong and respected. They wanted status and stuff. Popularity. Approval. And they wanted their leaders to be characterized in the same way. In the first verse of chapter 4, Paul states leaders are not masters, but servants. To be a godly leader, you must first be a servant of all. He contrasts his life as an apostle with their lives of status-seeking and pursuing wealth. In verse 10. Paul writes that they (the apostles) are fools for Christ. Meaning, to be a leader, you will certainly be misunderstood. Leadership doesn’t look at all the way the Corinthians thought it did. 

Paul’s heart and compassion for people is evident even in his rebuke and admonishment. He could have walked away in frustration, or argued his “rightness.” But Paul, in service to his brothers and sisters, informs them that they won’t be alone in their endeavor to pursue godly leadership. He’s sending Timothy as a helper. A teacher.

He wraps up his defense and description of true leadership with one final thought: we lead with power (vs. 20). Not our power, but power through the Holy Spirit. 

  1. What about you? Do you seek man’s approval more than God’s? How do people-pleasing tendencies get in the way of you serving God wholeheartedly?

  2. In what ways do you relate to the Corinthians? In what ways do you relate with Paul?

  3. What do you learn about godly leadership in this chapter? What is one thing you will do today to apply what you learned?

Did You Know?

In verses 8-13, Paul employs a technique many of us use today: sarcasm. He wasn’t trying to be mean, but he wanted to wake his friends up from their prideful ways of living and thinking. He’s reminding them that the way of Jesus isn’t one based on comfort, worldly wisdom, and honor; it’s a narrow path full of hardship, pain, and discomfort.

Think About It.

For a better understanding of 1 Corinthians 4:21, read this.

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