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1Corinthians 4 (web)

Regard Christian Workers with Humility

4:1 So let a man think of us as Christ's servants, and stewards of God's mysteries.

4:2 Here, moreover, it is required of stewards, that they be found faithful.
4:3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you,
or by man's judgment. Yes, I don't judge my own self.
4:4 For I know nothing against myself.
Yet I am not justified by this, but he who judges me is the Lord.

4:5 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 man will get his praise from God.
4:6 Now these things, brothers,
I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes,
that in us you might learn not to think beyond the things which are written,
that none of you be puffed up against one another.
4:7 For who makes you different? And what do you have that you didn't receive?
But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
4:8 You are already filled. You have already become rich.
You have come to reign without us.
Yes, and I wish that you did reign, that we also might reign with you.
4:9 For, I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last of all,
like men sentenced to death.
For we are made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and men.
4:10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ.
We are weak, but you are strong.
You have honor, but we have dishonor.
4:11 Even to this present hour we hunger, thirst,
are naked, are beaten, and have no certain dwelling place.
4:12 We toil, working with our own hands.
When people curse us, we bless. Being persecuted, we endure.
4:13 Being defamed, we entreat.
We are made as the filth of the world,
the dirt wiped off by all, even until now.

Speaking as a Father

4:14 I don't write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.
4:15 For though you have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet not many fathers.
For in Christ Jesus, I became your father through the gospel.
4:16 I beg you therefore, be imitators of me.
4:17 Because of this I have sent Timothy to you,
who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord,
who will remind you of my ways which are in Christ,
even as I teach everywhere in every assembly.
4:18 Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you.
4:19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord is willing.
And I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up,
but the power.
4:20 For the Kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.
4:21 What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod,
or in love and a spirit of gentleness?

Discussion Questions

vs 1 How would you expect servants to be treated?
vs 2 What "trust" was Paul given? And you?
vs 3 What benefits would result from not caring what others think of you?
vs 4 Does having a clear conscience mean that we are innocent?
vs 5 What are examples of inappropriately judging others motivation?
vs 6 What are examples of going beyond what is written?
vs 7-13 How would you describe the role that we Christians are to play here for now?
vs 15 Have you been a "father" or "guardian" over some other Christian?


Be Accountable Servants

1Cor 4:1,2  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

It goes against human nature for those reckoned celebrities to give up their celebrity status. Through pride, popularity corrupts the popular. But recall John the Baptist who in the midst of his popularity said, "He (Christ) must become greater; I must become less." John 3:30 So also here Paul relinquishes his popularity to Christ. There are to be no celebrities among the saints. There is to be no "veneration" of one saint over that of another saint. All are blessed, but all are servants subordinate to Christ.

Recall when Peter visited Cornelius. The Gentile fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man myself." Acts 10:26 In contrast there have always been religious figures who love the praise of men. They loved to be called by religious titles. They may dress up in religious garb to distinguish themselves as religious celebrities. They refuse to view themselves as servants of God no greater than the rest of the Christian community.

But those who embrace a role as Christ's subordinate - a minister to the Christian community - don't obsess over their popularity or lack thereof. Rather they focus on fulfilling their responsibilities in view of their being called to account. And to those under their authority,  "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account" Heb 13:17a

Let Your Praise Come From God

1Cor 4:3-5  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 till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

In the end, people's evaluation of you, whether good or bad, is irrelevant. What matters is that your praise comes from God. It's vain to do things to impress people. When your motives are revealed, you will lose face. But even if you act in a clear conscience, that is, you don't feel guilty, that does not clear you. For our conscience can be corrupted by sin. In particular popularity can corrupt the conscience - driving one to love the praise of men.

John 12:42,43 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue;  for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? John 5:44

Sola Scriptura

1Cor 4:6 Now, brothers, 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 take pride in one man over against another.

Another way of saying "do not go beyong what is written" is "Sola Scriptura" (The Scriptures alone), which was later the cry of the Reformers over that of  Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity who followed the writings of their post-Biblical theologians - their "celebrities". Nonetheless, Protestant/Evangelical Christianity has historically been involved in doing  the same kind of  thing. "Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar." Pr 30:5,6

However while the Word of God - the Bible - is not to be added on in terms of content, it must be added on by way of application, but with such applications which conform to the scriptures. And in doing so one must think about the meaning, which is the point of these commentaries. But opinion must never be relegated the status of scripture.

What do you attribute to God?

1Cor 4:7,8  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 become kings— and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you!

Those who are born rich often have a sense of entitlement to their wealth and look down upon those born less fortunate, as if wealth and social status were merely a function of human effort. And even for those who worked to get rich, to whom do they attribute thier wealth but themselves. But it's God who "determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." Acts 17:26b-27 And though "you may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth." Deut 8:17,18

Likewise with those born-again. The saints inherit great riches in Christ, including having overseers and spiritual gifts. But beware of having a sense of entitlement, and beware of attributing your giftedness, the products of your labors, and your influence on others to yourself. God's grace provides all these.

Apostle TV

1Cor 4:9,10  For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 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!

Obviously Paul is speaking facetiously here. We cannot live the Christian life vicariously. The lives of the apostles serve as examples to live by, and don't  merely serve as a form of entertainment or something to vainly worship. They are not to be made statues and bowed down to. They are to be imitated.  The real history of Biblical Christianity is not a history of merely a few famous men, but is dominated by ordinary Christians moved by the Spirit of God to live the Christian life according to the Bible.

Like little children playing at home, unaware of the struggles their parents must face in the world, so is many a saint dwelling the church. Facing the world with the gospel is much different than facing other Christians with the gospel. If you're simply among those who agree with you, then what challenges have you faced? What risks have you taken for the gospel and what risks have you been avoiding unnecessarily? What sacrifices have you made and what have you unnecessarily withheld?

A Christian Response to Mistreatment

1Cor 4:11-13  To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;  when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.

Such a lifestyle conforms to Jesus' sermon on the mount where he said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Mt 5:10-12

Likewise Paul wrote Timothy saying, "You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance,  persecutions, sufferings— what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.  In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" 2Tim 3:10-12

An interesting nuance in the Greek concerning that phrase "refuse of the world." The word is "peripsema" (literally "concerning Poseidon") which had its derivation from an event in which the Athenians, in order to avert public calamities, yearly threw a criminal into the sea as an offering to Poseidon; hence the term became used for an expiatory offering, a ransom, for our child, i.e. in comparison with the saving of our son’s life let it be to us a despicable and worthless thing. It is used of a man who in behalf of religion undergoes dire trials for the salvation of others.

And likewise concerning the word "filth" (perikatharma) which was used in Greek as the price of expiation or redemption, because the Greeks used to apply the term "katharmata" to victims sacrificed to make expiation for the people, and even to criminals who were maintained at the public expense, that on the outbreak of a pestilence or other calamity they might be offered as sacrifices to make expiation for the state

Sometimes we Christians are called to be the scum of the earth, the refuse of this world ultimately for the benefit of those who mistreat us, that they too may know of the grace of God.

Parental Discipleship

1Cor 4:14-16  I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

There are denominations which use the title "father" in a religious sense contrary to what Jesus taught saying, "do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven." Mt 23:9 Jesus was speaking of the religous elite of his day who loved to go by religious titles, seeking the praise of men, just as there are those today who do likewise. Paul was not using "father" as a religous title here but rather was describing his function.

Spiritual parenting is part of the Christian life, which is incorporated in Jesus' command, "go and make disciples of all nations" Mt 28:19 Paul was such an example, not only with regards to his relationship with his churches, but also in particular with regards to his relationship with Timothy. But what is the difference between a guardian and a parent? Most Christian ministers take the role of guardian. You might come to their church, stay for few years and leave, and they're not affected one way or another. They may not even notice you're gone.

But spiritual parenting is largely neglected. I think the reason why this has been is because few Christian leaders had themselves been discipled in such a sense. And so no surprise that those they teach never catch the concept of discipleship. Indeed "discipleship" itself has been largely relegated to programs. Personal "parental" discipleship was what Christian discipleship was meant to be. Consider Jesus' relationship with his disciples. That's a picture of what was intended for every Christian. And likewise the very role of father and the family unit was to be a picture of discipleship just as marriage is a metaphor for the church's relationship with Christ. (Eph 5:31,32) And Paul commanded we imitate him in this regards.

But just as there is a need for parental discipleship, so also there is a need for the saints to submit themselves to it. That is, at least in my experience, rarely can one find any Christian willing to be so discipled. Sign of the times?

A Role Model

1Cor 4:17,18  For this reason I am sending 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. Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you.

Timothy served as an example of one who had been parentally discipled by Paul and as such served as an object lesson in disciplemaking, and Timothy was outstanding in the respect. To the Philippians Paul spoke of Timothy saying, "I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel." Php 2:20-22

It was not simply that Timothy knew about Paul. Rather he lived as Paul did in life and doctrine. So to remind them of Paul's way of life was not simply to talk about Paul, but rather to live Paul's life in front of them. Paul needed to send him because a message like disciplemaking is more caught than taught. It's not just about knowledge, it's about a lifestyle. There have been plenty who don't practice what they teach, but teaching is more than telling and learning is more than listening.

The Arrogant Merely Talk

1Cor 4:19-21 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. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit?

 "The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day." Isa 2:11

Just as with parenting, there's room in Christian discipleship both for rebuke and encouragement - for a "whip" and for a gentle spirit, as it is written, "My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."  Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Heb 12:5-8 One way in which a father shows he hates his son is by not disciplining him. "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." Pr 13:24

Much division is brought about by mere armchair theology, where there is much talk but little practice. Power is shown by application and character and holding to one's convictions in the midst of hostility. Paul writes to Timothy saying, "God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life" 2Tim 1:7

In what way is your practice of Christianity more than mere talk?

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

Jan 28,2022