Category Archives: 1 CORINTHIANS 4

1 CORINTHIANS 4

SURVEY OF THE CHAPTER

This is a bridging chapter, completing the teaching about wisdom, and introducing the doctrine of apostolic authority before the sensitive matters regarding assembly discipline and the purity of marriage are dealt with.

STRUCTURE OF THE CHAPTER

The apostle uses three illustrations of himself:

(a) Verses 1-7 A steward in God’s house: The importance of faithfulness.
(b) Verses 8-13 A spectacle in the Gentile’s arena: the importance of understanding the nature of the age.
(c) Verses 14-21 A father in the Corinthian assembly: the importance of likeness to Christ.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 4, VERSES 1 TO 7

4:1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

4:2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

4:3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.

4:4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

4:6 And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.

4:7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?

(a) Verses 1-7 Steward in God’s House.- the importance of faithfulness.

4:1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

Let a man so account of us- having adjusted the way the Corinthians were thinking by the teaching given in chapters 1-3, the apostle now exhorts them to apply the lessons he has taught them in relation to himself and Barnabas.

As of the ministers of Christ- they were servants for Christ, and because of that, servants of the Corinthians. They were not masters, but ministers. They should be recognised, but not idolised, for Paul is as much guarding against making him into a party-leader, as against rejecting his authority altogether.

And stewards of the mysteries of God- they deserved special acknowledgement, since they were entrusted with the truths that had been hid in God since the creation of the world, but were now revealed, Ephesians 3:5,9. To be trusted with such a treasure surely indicated they were worthy of respect. God trusted them, why not the Corinthians?

4:2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful- the principal and dominant feature of a steward is that he is thought by the one appointing him to be capable of trustworthy dealings. The mention of the word “found” reminds us that at the judgement seat of Christ there will be a search made, and one of the principal things Christ will be looking for in the records of His people is faithfulness.

4:3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgement: yea, I judge not mine own self.

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you- as far as Paul was concerned, the opinion of the Corinthians about him was of small account. He was much more concerned about their reaction to the truth he brought.

Or of man’s judgement- even less did he worry about the opinions of unsaved men, who have no way of assessing the labours of an apostle aright. Paul did not alter his methods on the basis of the thoughts of men, and nor should we.

Yea, I judge not mine own self- this is not to say he did not constantly assess his activities in the light of God’s will. What it does mean is that he did not pre-judge the verdict of the Bema as to his faithfulness or otherwise.

4:4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but He that judgeth me is the Lord.

For I know nothing by myself- he was not conscious of anything in himself that would be disapproved of in the judgement day. It is good to have a clear conscience about our actions and attitudes. This can only come about when we walk in conformity with the leading of the Spirit of God.

Yet am I not hereby justified- even though this was the case, that judgement was not the one that counted, for he could not vindicate himself as to the rightness or otherwise of his service. He was but the minister and servant of Another, and He must decide.

But He that judgeth me is the Lord- he puts the judging in the present, as if the judgement seat was always just ahead. It is good to live our lives in view of the coming appraisal of our lives and service by the Lord Himself.

4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

Therefore judge nothing before the time- the Corinthians were making judgements about Paul and Barnabas, and were doing so on their own. They should have waited to the Bema, then they would hear the Lord’s true verdict.

Until the Lord come- this fixes the time of the Bema as being immediately after the rapture of the saints. Since we shall have changed bodies and no sinful nature at that time, we shall agree wholeheartedly with the Lord’s verdict then, for nothing of fleshly wisdom will cloud our judgement. It would be much better for believers to wait for that time, and not prejudge matters relative to other people. On the other hand, we should always have the Bema in view, that our behaviour might be such as can be approved of at that time of assessment.

Who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness- this is relevant in general, but possibly is an allusion to their party-spirit, which, because it is in effect doing the Devil’s work for him, is tantamount to a hidden work of darkness. Satan loves to divide the saints and we should do all in our power to thwart him.

And will make manifest the counsels of the hearts- whether they were well-intentioned or not. Christ will not only judge actions, but what motivated the actions, even those counsels which are formulated in the heart, and which lead to the actions. “Keep thine heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life”, Proverbs 4:23.

And then shall every man have praise of God- but only, of course, if deserved. It goes without saying that Christ will not reward anything contrary to Himself.

4:6 And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.

And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes- “these things” being matters relevant to the judgement of others and their motives. In order to prevent the Corinthians thinking that he was criticising Peter in any way, he refers only to himself and Apollos, the other person who was being made into a party-leader, 1:12.

That ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written- these two would provide the illustration of the principle, without involving a third party in the matter. It is not simply that we should not think of Paul and Apollos more than was merited, but the principle applies to men generally. The scriptures provide many sayings about the need for humility and meekness.

That no one of you be puffed up for one against another- each believer is to assess his attitude, and decide whether there is bias for one person, and againstanother. This is a subtle form of pride, for each would wish for the prominence of “their” favourite.

4:7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?

For who maketh thee to differ from another? They must ask themselves where the desire to divide up God’s people comes from. It is certainly not of God, so must be of Satan. Why should they think it necessary to rank prominent men in order of preference, for each member of the body is necessary, and has a vital role to play. They must resist the temptation to adhere to their favourite preacher, for that will deprive them of the benefit the others they do not favour can bring.

And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? All that they have received by way of light and understanding has come from God via the apostles. So they should not act as if they were the fount of wisdom, able to differentiate between servants of the Lord, when all were sent by Him for a purpose.

Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? They were acting as if the truth originated with them, and therefore they had exclusive rights on venturing an opinion.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 4, VERSES 8 TO 13

4:8 Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.

4:9 For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.

4:10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.

4:11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;

4:12 And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:

4:13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.

(b) Verses 8-13 Spectacle in Gentile’s arena- the importance of understanding the nature of the age.

4:8 Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.

Now ye are full- they were acting as if the resurrection had taken place, and the full enjoyment of the gospel had been attained in this world, whereas that is reserved for heaven.

Now ye are rich- they were acting as if the rewards had been handed out, and they were loaded with glory.

Ye have reigned as kings without usthe Corinthians were behaving as if the reign of Christ had begun, and the time of suffering for His name was over. If they were doing this, they were doing it without the apostles joining in, for they knew the character of the age.

And I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you- it was not that the apostles enjoyed suffering; they were longing that the reign of Christ might begin, but they were happy to wait God’s time, and not relax too soon. They knew that suffering must precede the glory.

In the next verse the word “spectacle” will be used, which is the word that gives us “theatre”, which in Bible times was a spectacular event put on in an arena. The Corinthians were in the royal box, as honoured guest of the visiting Emperor, arrayed in rich attire, and full as a result of the sumptuous feast put on for their benefit. What the apostles were doing in the same theatre is told us in the next verse.

4:9 For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.

For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last- it seemed to the apostle that he and his fellow-workers were the climax to the show, reserved until the end to make a grand finale.

As it were appointed to death- such was the blood-thirsty nature of the Roman games, that the spectators were not satisfied until some had been thrown to the lions.

For we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men- as far as the world of sinners is concerned, believers are fools, and apostles especially, since they suffer for the sake of that which the world thinks to be foolishness. The sufferings of the apostles was not for any natural reason, but spiritual, and therefore the angels looked on, and thereby learned something of the wisdom of God; see Ephesians 3:10. The mention of men after the reference to the world might seem to be superfluous, until we remember that the apostle had to rebuke the Corinthians for walking as men, 3:3; in other words, thinking and acting as the men of the world do, and not as believers should do. They will be exhorted to be imitators of the apostle in 11:1, for he sought to imitate Christ.

4:10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.

We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ- note the difference between “for Christ” and “in Christ”. As far as the world was concerned, the apostles were thought to be stupid to risk their lives for the gospel- but the secret is that it is for Christ’s sake. He Himself said, “And everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first”, Matthew 19:29,30.

The Corinthians were, in principle, wise in Christ, for He is “made unto us wisdom”, 1:30. They failed to use the wisdom they had as being in Him, and acted unwisely instead.

We are weak, but ye are strong- the apostles were physically and mentally drained as they lived their lives, suffering for Christ. The Corinthians were not like this, even though they should have been. Christ is “the power of God”, 1:24, by which the successful Christian life is lived, and they had that power at their disposal, so were as strong, potentially, as the apostles were.

Ye are honourable, but we are despised- as to their standing with Christ they were honoured. As far as their standing with the world, the apostles were despised. The only reason why the Corinthians were not like the apostles in practice was because they were failing to act upon what God had made them in principle. They had failed to grasp the true import of what association with a rejected Christ involved. “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets”, Luke 6:26. “If they have persecuted Me, they will persecute you”, John 15:20.

4:11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place;

Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst- the hardships they endured were not passing and brief, but constant and prolonged, even up to the time of writing. Hunger and thirst, deprivation of basic necessities, is physical hardship.

And are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place- these are emotional hardships which prey upon the mind if that mind is not set upon Christ. In these things they followed in the steps of the faithful of Old Testament times, as Hebrews 11:37,38 describes. Even though they had not literally been thrown to the lions, they suffered in severe ways, and that hardship was ongoing.

4:12 And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:

And labour, working with our own hands- it was not that they had opportunity to relax and build up their strength, for they worked to sustain themselves, and in the case of Paul, those that were with him, Acts 20:33,34. He does not mention this as though it were a matter of shame. In fact, it was an honourable thing to do. He will have more to say on this subject in chapter 9.

Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it- we now find out the attitude of the apostles as they suffered hardship. Did it make them bitter and resentful? Not at all, for they behaved like their Lord and Saviour did when He was reviled. On the cross both thieves started off by reviling Him, but in the end one found that the Man on the central cross was only there to bless him. So it was with Paul and his companions, for they brought a message that could bring men into the highest blessing. Instead of being of vengeful spirit when persecuted, they patiently endured it for Christ’s sake, for they were showing the world His attitude even though He has gone back to heaven.

4:13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.

Being defamed, we intreat- even when men slandered them the apostles responded, not by defending their own name, but by pleading with men in the name of Christ to be saved.

We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day- the word filth was used of criminals of the worst sort who were kept in prison until some sort of calamity threatened the community, and then they were thrown into the sea to appease the gods. Superstitious men thinking that by purifying themselves of the scum, they would merit the favour of their gods. It is as if the world classed the apostles in the same way, and regarded their ill-treatment as gaining favour with heaven. This showed the character of the times in which the gospel first began to penetrate into the heathen world. It succeeded in many hearts then, and so we have no excuse in our day.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 4, VERSES 14 TO 20

4:14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.

4:15 For though ye have ten thousand instructers in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

4:16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.

4:17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.

4:18 Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.

4:19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power.

4:20 For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.

4:21 What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?

(c) Verses 14-21 Father in Corinthian assembly- the importance of likeness to Christ.

4:14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.

I write not these things to shame you- there are better ways of adjusting the lives of believers than “naming and shaming”. Christianity is an attracting force, drawing to Christ. The good shepherd goes before his sheep and gives them the example to follow. The law could only fence men in and restrict them, and by fear of retribution force them to comply. See Exodus 20:20. Love to Christ will result in obedience to His commands, John 14:15.

But as my beloved sons I warn you- he does not shame them into conformity, but warns them as his children in the faith. They owed their salvation, under God, to him, so they should be responsive to things other than the gospel message. They needed to be warned because they were in danger of missing the main point of being the Lord’s, and were living their lives in isolation from Him and His interests. They should learn from the example of the apostles as they suffered for the name of Christ, not seeking to please themselves. We should not become so complacent that we do not see the need to be warned.

4:15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ-teaching is very necessary, so that we may grow in Christian things, but the example of those who are more mature in spiritual things is highly valuable too.

Yet have ye not many fathers- in fact, they only had one, for it seems that Paul went to Corinth to evangelise on his own. Apollos came along later, Acts 18:27-19:1, hence the letter is sent from them both. But Apollos was a teacher, whereas Paul was a teacher andtheir evangelist-father in the faith.

For in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel-the situation was similar to that at Galatia, where Paul had to travail in birth again for them so that Christ might be formed in them, Galatians 4:19. Ideally, new converts will grow in likeness to Christ without interruption. But if they are hindered in some way, those responsible for their spiritual growth will have to work again to encourage them to mature, so that the likeness of Christ is produced in them.

4:16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.

Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me children imitate their parents, for good or ill. But it would be a safe thing for the Corinthians to imitate Paul, for he, in his turn, imitated Christ, as he will write later, in 11:1. They are not to be followers in the sense that they were his disciples, for that would contradict all he had said in the earlier chapters about the dangers of making a particular man their party-leader.

4:17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.

For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord- it is as an example of one who has imitated the apostle that Timothy is now sent to them. He also is a convert of the apostle, it seems, and so is a double example to them, for he is not only an imitator of Paul but a son of Paul, but one who had reached a more advanced state of spiritual maturity than they had. It is doubtful if the apostle could have sent any of the Corinthians to another assembly so as to help them, for they badly needed help themselves. They would be able to see first-hand Timothy’s maturity, and also why the apostle thought him to be beloved, and faithful to the Lord.

Who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ- “in Christ” here may mean “in the pathway Christ trod”, rather than the technical term for the Christian’s position; in other words, in Christ’s steps”. Paul was confident that the principles marked out by the Lord Jesus when He was here in the flesh were exemplified in his life. Peter reminds us that Christ has left us an example that we should follow His steps, 1 Peter 2:21. We should constantly ask ourselves, as we embark on some course of action, “Would Christ have done this?”

As I teach every where in every church- note there is no conflict between his ways and his teaching. He is like his Lord, of whom Luke says He “began to do and teach”, Acts 1:1, the doing being perfectly in line with the teaching, and the teaching in harmony with the doing. The apostle showed great consistency. He did not vary his message according to the hearers. Every assembly was therefore grounded in the same truth.

4:18 Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.

Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you in chapter 5 the apostle will show that they are puffed up in pride because of their liberal thinking about morality. Here they are proud enough to think that they can get on very well without the apostle’s presence. Some resented his input to the assembly, classing it as interference, whereas he only sought their spiritual welfare. It is a very sad and dangerous thing for an assembly to turn from those who can be used of the Lord for their spiritual well-being and progress. And also sad when they turn from the apostle in the sense that they reject his teaching as recorded in the Scriptures.

4:19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power.

But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will- note that the will even of an apostle is subject to the will of the Lord. He would make plans in accordance with spiritual insight, but only put those plans into effect if the Lord’s will would be done thereby. There might be two spiritual options open in any one situation; the believer must wait upon the Lord as to which, if either, to choose. James is very direct about the will of God, and insists that we must not make our plans independently of it, in self-will and pride. See James 4;13-16.

And will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power- the presence of an apostle amongst them would highlight the difference between the carnal and the spiritual, for he would represent the standard God expects. The apostle John made it clear that “he that is of God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us”, the “us” meaning the apostles. Anyone who is not prepared to conform to apostolic doctrine and practice is in danger of being thought of as “not of God”, or in other words an unbeliever.

Talk is easy and cheap, but the hard discipline of seeking to be conformed to the teaching of Scripture is only accomplished in the power of the Spirit of God. If those who opposed the apostle were marked by the power of the Spirit in their lives then it would be very evident. No amount of speaking can substitute for spiritual realities.

4:20 For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.

For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power- in verse 8 the apostle had accused the Corinthians of reigning as kings, acting as if the suffering time was over, and the time to be at ease and enjoy glory had come. They had turned the assembly into their little kingdom, and thought of Christianity as the means of having a good time together. Many so-called assemblies, which once were centres for the maintenance of the truth of the word of God, have become little more than social clubs, where man is central, and not Christ. The apostle warned that in the last days men would love pleasures rather than love God, Timothy 3:4, and so it has come to pass. We should remember that in that passage he was referring to those who claim to be believers.

The sight of the apostles struggling against the forces of evil were a rebuke to the at-ease Corinthians. The apostle now brings them up with a start again, as he refers to the real kingdom, that of God. In that kingdom all is spiritual, and all centres around Christ, not men and their wants. It is a kingdom not of vain and proud talk, but of the manifestation of the power of the Spirit. This should be the character of the local assembly too, for it is composed of those who are born again, and as such are in the kingdom of God, John 3:3,5.

4:21 What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?

What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod- as an apostle Paul had the authority to act as Christ would act in any circumstance. The Corinthians certainly deserved the rod of discipline as wayward children. The apostle has just reminded them that they are his children, verse 14, and “what son is he that the father chasteneth not?”, Hebrews 12:7. Yet he gives them the option of him coming in a different way.

Or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?  If they repented of their failures, and earnestly sought the Lord’s help to do better, they would find that his love would be free to flow out to them, and in a spirit of meekness, which does not delight in being harsh, he would be able to help them further. The Lord Jesus said to the Laodiceans, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous therefore, and repent”, Revelation 3:19. This the Corinthians needed to do also, in order that spiritual normality might be established in the assembly.