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1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 4

By Pastor Doug
Stewards of the mysteries of God; Fools for Christ's sake; Pauls Paternal care.

There were people at Corinth who had no respect for Paul.  It's hard to determine how widespread this thinking was within the church; whether it was a few leaders or if everyone had this same attitude.  They were holding to worldly wisdom and not to the wisdom of God.  Some of these folks simply thought too much of themselves.  They had not arrived at some spiritual high plain; a place to be honored and served by others.  But, if they were in Christ, as it seems they were, they had supposedly died to themselves and trusted in Christ. 

They apparently thought too highly of themselves and looked down on Paul.  Barclay cites and old proverb:
'He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool; avoid him. He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a wise man; teach him.'


This seems to be consistent with what Paul is speaking to these folks about.  To be of use to God, we have to forsake the wisdom of the world; the response to our salvation should be humility; then we are teachable.  The end result is service to God for His kingdom. 


1 Corinthians 4:1-2

The beginning of this chapter ties very closely to chapter 3.  Paul had said they weren't to boast in men.  In the first few chapters he told them how these divisions were unhealthy in their fellowship.  Nothing good could happen by having divisions of people saying they follow one man while others said they followed someone else.

Now with that dealt with Paul said, "Let a man so consider us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God."  Paul is saying that the saints in Corinth should look on him and the other apostles as servants.  There were many in Corinth that looked down on Paul.  They didn't respect his authority as an apostle.

Paul said, "Let a man so consider us…….."  The 'us' are the apostles.  They couldn't reject Paul as an apostle without rejecting the apostleship of others.  They were all of the same calling from the same Lord.  You can't follow one without following all and you can't reject one without rejecting all.

These men that rejected Paul wanted to say they followed some apostles but not others.  Paul's instruction was to consider them all as servants equally.  The word Paul used for Servant is interesting.  In many other places we know Paul used the word doulos …….we know that as a bondslave or servant and we might expect it here also.  Instead, Paul uses the word hyperetas.  And it is defined as an "under-rower."  The under-rower is the guy in the galley of the ship with his oar in the water.  He rows when he is told to row and stops when he is told to stop.  This is one who acts under direction and asks no questions.  He is one who does the thing he is appointed to do without hesitation and one who reports only to the One Who is over him.  He doesn't know where he is going because he doesn't need to know to remain faithful and true.  The under rower was in the galley.  His job isn't steering its rowing.  He has one boss and does as that boss so directs.

Paul wants these saints in Corinth to consider him and all the other apostles to be under-rowers of Christ.  He also wanted to be considered a steward.  A steward was the master of the household.  The master of the household was many times also a slave.  This guy managed all the affairs of the household including paying the bills and taking in food.  To the master of the house, he was a slave.  To the slaves he was a master.

Paul was an under-rower of Christ but he wanted them to know he was the master of the other slaves.  This is Paul's subtle way of showing his apostolic authority over these men.  This wasn't Paul's authority taken for himself.  It was the authority given to all the apostles by Jesus Christ; it was part of his stewardship, it was the oar he rowed. 

That authority was given to him to be a good steward with the mysteries of God.  To be a good steward of the mystery of God Paul had to speak the truth of God.  Paul alludes to this many times in his letters.  He wasn't trying to win friends and influence people; he was simply giving them the truths of God.  That's what was required to be a good steward.  You had to be faithful because you had to account for your service and actions to the master.


1 Corinthians 4:3-5

For Paul to be a faithful steward for the Lord and as an apostle, it was his job to correct those entrusted to him.  Paul says in verse 3 that it really doesn't matter if these guys judge him and didn't respect him or agree with him.  He wasn't under their judgment and wasn't concerned about it.  He said he didn't even judge himself and he was no doubt harder on himself than these guys would be.  Even at that his conscience was clear.  He knew of nothing he had done, yet, none of that mattered because it didn't matter what he thought of himself.  He knew his own view of himself was incorrect and he couldn't justify himself.  He who judges me is the Lord Paul said.

So these guys didn't need to waste time and effort judging Paul.  Because he was their steward they needed to be concerned with his judgment.  Even though Paul was a servant he was still their master. 

Paul advises them to judge nothing before the time.  They had the Isthmian games in Corinth.  These were just like the Olympics and they had men sit in judgment of the contest to declare winners.  To 'judge before the time' was to determine a winner before the race was over.  They weren't qualified to judge before the race was over.

Paul said the race is over when the Lord comes.  Then He will be the ultimate judge and see the hidden things; the intentions, motives and counsels of the heart.  Paul knew his motives for judging them was with the best intentions.  Yet, these men were judging Paul harshly because he stood against their worldly ways.  When the real judge comes the motives will be revealed. 


1 Corinthians 4:6-7
Paul used these figurative lessons about under-rowers and stewards so they would come to a right understanding of the apostles.  It was for their sakes, so they would learn not to place their own values and judgments but to stick with what was written.  Stick to scripture.  When they went beyond scripture they ended up making judgments based on other things.  They'd end up puffed up and choosing sides against each other.  One chose Paul, one chose Apollos and another Cephas.  They were making these decisions based on all the wrong things.

All these apostles delivered scripture and the gospel message.  They all were stewards to the mysteries of God.  Yet the men of Corinth were choosing sides based on their looks, their entertainment value, ability to speak well, or their marketing strategy, ability to draw a crowd or ability to squeeze the sheep for large offerings.  Actually we don't really know what the basis for their judgments were, but we certainly see these worldly things in our time.

The men of Corinth suffered from a pride problem.  They had chosen sides by making judgments based on their preferences and worldly standards.  Paul asks them, "Who makes you differ from another?  And what do you have that you did not receive?"  Paul might have went so fas as to ask, "What makes you think you are so smart?"  If you truly do have a spiritual gift from God that sets you apart from another man, then you have nothing to boast about, it's a gift from God.

Do we recognize that all we have is from our heavenly Father?  Every breath and heartbeat is a gift; but most of all the gift of salvation is by grace alone.  These thoughts should humble us that a God so high would bless people like us.  As God blessed David, he asked:
14         But who am I, and who are my people,
That we should be able to offer so willingly as this?
For all things come from You,
And of Your own we have given You.
15         For we are aliens and pilgrims before You,
As were all our fathers;
Our days on earth are as a shadow,
And without hope.  (1 Chron 29:14-15)


1 Corinthians 4:8-9
Paul turns to sarcasm here (you get the feeling Paul used sarcasm frequently); not to make fun of these people but to shake them out of this comfortable little place they'd created for themselves.  Here Paul is as an apostle having virtually nothing and these folks were living lives that were full and rich.  They had it all and they were boasting about it.  They looked down their religious nose on Paul and the others as inferior.

Paul's resume said he had walked away from a life as an elitist.  He caused problems and riots.  He had been stoned, arrested and imprisoned.  He had bounced from city to city and was never welcome very long.  He was found leaving in the night or leaving battered and wounded.  This man, living the life of an apostle as he was called by God, was now being looked down on by the Corinthians.  Paul wasn't meeting the standard their church had established.  Paul says, yea, now you are full and rich and you have it all.  You boast as if you somehow deserve it or have earned it and you reign as kings; and they reigned without Paul and without the other spiritual leaders.

And the sarcasm switches to sadness and concern.  When he says, "And indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you!"  He wishes it were that way.  Wouldn't it be nice if it were that easy?  You get saved, we gather together, celebrate, build a big church and we all live rich and happy lives and nothing ever goes wrong.

These men of Corinth had placed themselves high in ranking because of their worldly standing.  The Greeks despised manual labor and doing without the finer things of life.  With their uppity attitude, they looked at Paul as being the other end of the spectrum.  He didn't meet their standards. 

When Paul said "God has displayed us"; it means God has put them on display or exhibit.  The picture that would go with this Greek word would be a parade of a conquering Roman general.  Everyone comes out to the parade and there is great excitement and great pageantry.  The general leads the parade and he leads his victorious armies and then the booty is behind them, then the spoils of victory are paraded.  Bringing up the rear of this procession are the defeated captives who would be condemned to die in the arena. 

This is the apostles.  They were displayed last, men condemned to death, to be fed to the lions or made sport of before all men and angels before all heaven and earth.  Paul said the apostles had been made a spectacle to the world.  The word for spectacle is "Theatron" in which we get the word theater.  The apostles were on display to the whole world to see.

Paul's weakness and humility were on display to demonstrate the power of Jesus Christ.  And instead of this church saying," That's Paul, he's one of us.  He loves the Lord.  We hope we can grow to love the lord and pursue Him as well as Paul has."  Instead of aspiring to a similar low position, they looked at Paul as something lesser than they.  He wasn't good enough to be in their church.  He didn't wear the right clothes, have the right friends or have any wealth.

Paul has been consistent dealing with this thought.  He taught that God uses the weak and poor to shame the strong, the rich and wise.  In weakness we are made strong.  Those who are last will be made first.  Those at the end of this worldly procession will be first in the heavenly one.

None of these things make any sense or even matter when you are puffed up with pride.  When you see where and how you stand as some great stronghold against all else, and you think your spirituality can't be touched by anything, then you are blinded to that truth.  And humility is just a weakness and an offense.


1 Corinthians 4:10-13

There were vast differences between the apostles and the church of Corinth.  Paul had started that church and had given them a strong foundation and started them on their way.  Now, some time later, he finds they had built something strange on that foundation.  Paul didn't understand the tremendous differences and discrepancies he saw in the church.  Their attitude toward him was strange and he couldn't understand where it was coming from.  Paul begins to show them the contrast between himself and them to see if he could bring them to an understanding of what he is trying to tell them.

The Corinthians saw themselves wise in Christ; they were strong and distinguished; they had money, ate well and were clothed well and in want of nothing.  In general, they had soft and easy lives.  They were the shiny church on the corner with everything in its place.  If we stopped right here and didn't know there was a contrast, we might say that sounds like a nice church. 

Paul said the apostles were fools for Christ sake.  They were weak and dishonored; they were hungry and thirsty; they hardly had any decent clothes; they had been beaten and were homeless; they worked hard with their hands and would never get ahead but just eek out an existence all their lives.  They were reviled and their response was to bless the revilers.  They were persecuted and their response was to endure.  They were defamed and slandered and they reached out and spoke kindly to those who did so.  Paul said they were the filth of the world.  The filth of the world literally means 'dirty bath water'.  It was what was left after cleaning, the floor sweepings, the lint in the bottom of your pocket, the stuff in your vacuum cleaner bag.  You get the picture!

This word was also used to describe a human sacrifce; one offered so others might be cleansed.  Once a year the Greeks would throw some worthless soul into the sea as a sacrifice to the god Poseidon.  They believed the life of this person that was worthless in the world would bring a better life for them.  Paul said that's what the apostles were; refuse, an offering made that others might be saved.  He was a sacrifice to the world, so they could grow in the Lord.

Paul went on to say they were the offscouring.  This word was used to describe the worthless refuse that was left after cleaning or scraping.  That which is scraped from the pot and put in the garbage disposal might come to mind.  It was also used to describe this worthless person offered to better the life of another.  The filth and the offscouring were things that have no value and are thrown away without thought. 


1 Corinthians 4:14-15

It wasn't Paul's intention to hurt these saints in Corinth or to shame them.  He was just trying to correct them.  They were going the wrong way and continuing on was dangerous.  They were holding too tightly to the ways or the world and they would end up being wooed back into the world if they weren't careful.

Paul felt responsible for the Church of Corinth.  He is the one who brought the gospel message to them and planted the church.  Paul is careful here, he didn't do this of his own will or power.  He is their spiritual father because he was in Christ and doing what he was called to do which was bring that message to them.

Teachers will come and teachers will go but they would only have one spiritual father.  Since he is the one that the Lord worked through to bring the message to them.  Why would they not now listen to what he was saying?  Paul's gospel message was received by them in the beginning.  They perceived it and believed it and found it good for them but now they chose to ignore his message and look down on him as inferior.  This seem like a very arrogant stance.


1 Corinthians 4:16-17

Paul wants those in Corinth to imitate him and he sends Timothy who should remind them of Paul.  Timothy was Paul's spiritual offspring so his ways should look just like Paul's ways.  He was a son in the Lord who learned and was mentored by Paul.

Paul instructed these saints to imitate him.  Then he sent one who was imitating Paul so they could see.  Timothy was a good example of what these leaders in the church of Corinth needed to be.  However, they already looked down on Paul.  Now he told them to imitate him; the one they saw as weak and dishonored; hungry; thirsty poorly clothed; beaten; homeless; those who work hard with their hands.  They had to be saying," No thanks, I kind of like it the way it is."


1 Corinthians 4:18

Some of these puffed up leaders thought Paul was scared to come to them.  They thought this meek and lowly Paul would stay away.  In their arrogance they had disrespected their spiritual father as if they had outgrown him.


1 Corinthians 4:19-21

Paul was planning on coming to them if God allowed him.  He gave them a choice.  He would come in a spirit of gentleness or he could come with a rod of correction.  It was up to them.

He said he'll know the power when he gets there.  He'll see what means they are operating under.  Was it the word of those men who were puffed up with pride and leading with high sounding words of their own or was it the power of the Jesus Christ.

These men thought Paul was afraid of them.  It turns out he wasn't and I imagine his words here rocked these men back on their heels.  They were going to have to deal with the man they had been badmouthing.  It would cause them to examine their standing in the Lord.

Rejecting Paul's authority as an apostle and because of his life circumstances in his absence was one thing.  But rejecting those things and the power of God through the authority and word of Jesus Christ while standing face to face with him would be something entirely different.  Would they stand before Paul and make the accusations and put him down?  It would be a test of their arrogance and pride.  If their pride stood against Paul, it would be an indication of how dire their circumstances were.


©2016 Doug Ford