- Review the assignment on the concept of “judging.”
- Are all judgments bad? Can some judgments be good?
- What are some of the incorrect judgments being made by the Corinthians? Why are they incorrect?
- What are some proper judgments being made? Why are they correct?
The Apostles Work for Jesus (I Corinthians 4:1-2)
The Corinthians, and all people for that matter, need to understand that the apostles are servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. By declaring himself to be a servant, Paul is stating that his life is not his own. He works for a Master who directs his actions. As a steward, he is entrusted with things that belong to the Master and which he uses to profit the Master. But in stewardship, those things used are not his own and he must give an account of what he has done with the Master’s possession at the appropriate time.
The mysteries of God is one of many descriptive terms for the Gospel (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 4:3; I Timothy 3:16). Paul already mentioned it in I Corinthians 2:7. It is called a mystery because everything about God’s will had not been revealed to men through the ages. Even as God revealed His will, it remained a mystery to many because they could not understand it (Ephesians 1:9; 3:1-9; Colossians 1:25-27; 2:2).
The position of a steward is based on being trustworthy or faithful to his master’s will. Thus his primary focus is on pleasing his master and not other people (Galatians 1:10).
God Judges a Man’s Work, Not Man (I Corinthians 4:3-5)
Because Paul works for the Lord, he understands that only the Lord’s opinion of him and his work matters. What other people think, or even what he thinks of himself isn’t important because other people are not in charge, and he is not in charge. This is not to say that Paul did not wish to be thought favorably by his fellow Christians, but in the larger scheme of things, Paul realized that only God’s judgment matters.
Even though Paul knows nothing against himself, that isn’t proof that he is justified in God’s sight. The danger of self-judgment is that the judge is biased (Proverbs 21:2). The better attitude is to let God have the final say. In the judgment, we will be judge by what we do and by what our motivations were when we did them. It will be a fair and accurate judgment, something people cannot fully do since we cannot see into other people’s hearts (Deuteronomy 29:29).
- Is Paul stating that all judgments are wrong?
- Is it possible to live life without making any judgments?
- So, what kinds of judgments are wrong?
- When a person decides why a person acted as they did, without direct information from the person, is that a good or bad judgment?
Men Should Not Think They Are Better Than Others (I Corinthians 4:6-8)
Paul states that he is using himself and Apollos as examples, not necessarily because they are at the center of the controversy in Corinth, but more to provide a neutral example of how people ought to be viewed. If it is improper to make well-known figures into supposed heads of sects, it is more clearly wrong to do so with lesser-known figures (Jeremiah 17:5-6).
Pride has no place in the church. Each person should see himself as he is and not to strive to elevate themselves above others (Romans 12:3). The standard we measure ourselves against is the word of God. To go beyond that and use any other standard will get us into trouble, especially a standard of my own opinion because such is based on pride.
Each Christian is like another. Their dividing isn’t because of God’s demands on them. The things that they have don’t actually originate with themselves but were given to them by God (James 1:17; John 3:27). But the Corinthians were falling into the trap of thinking that what they had was the result of their own efforts. Even though the various gifts given them differ, a subject Paul returns to discuss at length in chapter 12, those differences were not a reason for pride being used against each other.
Using irony, Paul declares that they must already be full and need nothing more (Revelation 3:17). In their own minds, they reign as kings! And they think they accomplished it without the apostles. Dropping the irony, Paul expresses his wish that they did reign as kings along with the apostles (II Timothy 2:11-12; I Thessalonians 2:19). Such a reign would mean that the apostles were successful in their duties.
Literary Styles: Irony and Sarcasm
Irony is a sarcastic or humorous statement designed to state the opposite of what is strictly said. The “bite” to the statement is found in the inconsistency between what is said and what is meant. It is not done to conceal a person’s meaning but to give force to his words. For example, a doctor telling a patient in the recovery room, “The bad news is that the operation was successful.” Elijah’s taunt of the prophets of Baal is a famous example (I Kings 18:27). David’s condemnation of the man who had taken his neighbor’s lamb is an example of God using irony to get someone to see his sin. Jesus used irony frequently (Luke 13:33 and John 3:10 are two examples). Paul also used it (II Corinthians 12:13).
Sarcasm is a form of irony where something is stated in the form of praise, but it is intended to express disapproval. Proverbs 26:16 demonstrates good use of sarcasm. Sarcasm can also express something in the form of an insult to express praise. Paul used sarcasm in both directions in I Corinthians 4:10. It is often used incorrectly by people to tear another person down or to insult them, such as Michal's use of sarcasm against David (II Samuel 6:20).
The Burden of the Apostles (I Corinthians 4:9-13)
Paul reveals that the position of an apostle in the church isn’t nearly as glorious as people might suppose. They have been made a mockery by the world and know that what they stand for will very likely lead to their early death. Paul illustrates this by alluding to the Roman gladiator games. Condemned criminals were sent out in a theater (coliseum) to face wild animals without any weapons or armor. In the afternoon, they were sent out with weapons, but no protection of any sort to fight each other. Thus the condemned killed themselves. Some were offered the chance for their freedom if they won, but the last to be released were those who had no chance for freedom. These often were sent out without even a weapon to defend themselves. If one of the last did perchance win, he could only look forward to fighting again the next day. Paul compares the apostles to men in the hopeless position of never leaving the theater alive.
Again speaking in satire, Paul states that the apostles are fools, weak, and dishonored because of their commitment to Christ, while the Corinthians are so wise, strong, and distinguished. Clearly, this is not true, but what Paul is charging is that the Corinthians are acting as if they were superior to the apostles (Revelation 3:17).
Listing out what the life of an apostle is like, Paul points out that they often suffer hunger and thirst, are ill-clothed, and have no place to call home. They typically support themselves. They endure being reviled by those they bless. They are beaten. They entreat those who try to defame them. In many ways, they are treated as the filth of the world. The word Paul uses refers to the dirt swept out of a house.
- Was there glamor in being an apostle?
- Seeing the apostles in this light, why would anyone desire their position?
- What point is Paul trying to across?
The Apostles and Preachers Are There to Teach the Way (I Corinthians 4:14-17)
Paul’s purpose was not to make the Corinthians feel bad about the way they had been treating Paul. Paul wrote this as a warning that what they were divided over was not what they were taught. He is admonishing as a father would his own children. In a sense, the Corinthians were his children. He gave birth to them by teaching them the gospel through which they were converted. They have many other teachers, but Paul is in the unique position of speaking to them as their spiritual father. And so he urges them to follow his example.
To make sure they remember what they ought to do, Paul has arranged to have Timothy come and teach them. He is also a son of Paul through the gospel (Philippians 2:22; I Timothy 1:2, 18; II Timothy 1:2). This letter probably was delivered across the sea by ship, while Timothy was traveling around the sea, so it would arrive before Timothy (I Corinthians 16:10). Paul is confident that Timothy will faithfully and accurately teach the truth. The things he will be teaching are the same things Paul has been teaching in all the other churches.
Concept Study: Power
- Make a list of all the verses in I Corinthians where some form of the word “power” or its synonyms are used.
- Jot beside each reference what you learn from the verse about power.
- Organize those ideas. Which verses address the ideas of who, what, where, when, why, and how?
- Write a paragraph about what “power” means, addressing who, what, where, when, why, and how.