Chapter 4

 

God's Stewards.

 

1. One should think about us this way -- as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

 

The church ought to consider Paul, Apollos, and the other apostles as bond slaves of Christ (the word Paul uses denotes a manual labourer); that is, in relation to Christ. Yet in relation to the church, Paul and his companions were stewards of the revealed word of God. The steward was a well known figure in Roman culture. If a wealthy man had many servants and business interests he did not take on the work of overseeing them himself. Otherwise there would have been no end to his labour. Instead, he chose a reliable and trustworthy slave to oversee all the others and put him in charge of his affairs. The steward would be responsible even for the master's own children and their education. So in relation to the household they were overseers, with no mean authority, yet as for their relationship to their master, they were still slaves. Their authority was derived only from their master and was used only in the discharge of their duties. In this way the Christian preacher is a slave to Christ but an overseer in the Church, particularly in the matter of revealing the mind and will of God through His Word.

 

2,3. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful. So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.

 

Since the steward had charge of the whole house, it was very essential that he be trustworthy and reliable. The master wanted to have no cause for anxiety about his estate; so he needed to know it was in safe hands. The efficiency or faithfulness of the steward is not the concern of the other slaves. He is about his master's business and so answers to his master alone. So the cross examination and judging which Paul and his fellow ministers had been subjected to at Corinth (who was best, and who followed who) was of no concern to him. Human judgment did not matter; Paul was responsible to God alone for his actions.  He did not even trust his own judgment, for this was flawed, not having the benefit of omniscience.Morris says: "It is tremendously difficult to come to an accurate assessment of one's own achievement..and in any case it does not matter..many think that they know their spiritual state and what their service for God has effected...it is not our task to pass such judgments ..but to get on with the job of serving the Lord."

 

4. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord.

 

Although Paul was not aware of any great error he had made in his service for Christ, this was not sufficient grounds for him to suppose that he had done well. Christ's appraisal, not his, would be of final importance. In so saying he rebukes the Corinthians for passing judgment on their ministers.

 

5. So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.

 

It is time to stop judging and criticizing each other, says Paul. We know that our Lord Jesus will come again, and it is at that time that He shall pass judgment. Only He knows "the things now hidden in darkness" and the "purposes of the heart". The motives and desires of our hearts are of more concern to Christ than the result of our ministry. His is the only judgment that really counts. The man who is praised in that day will have the praise of God, and that is the only praise that matters. "Well done, good and faithful servant" is the commendation which all Christ's servants long to hear. This appraisal of a person's work will be final; with no appeal, for none shall be needed. Christ's appraisal is faultless and perfect.

 

6. I have applied these things to myself and Apollos because of you, brothers and sisters, so that through us you may learn "not to go beyond what is written," so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of the one against the other.

 

Paul wrote personally about himself and Apollos in order to make a general point.  He wanted the Corinthians to stop taking an unscriptural view of their teachers; to stop putting them on pedestals (Psa. 146:3 & Psa. 8:4).The sin of pride beset the young Corinthian church. Paul did not want them to be proud of their association with certain ministers. When they preferred one they were inevitably against another. In order to exalt one they had to put another down. This kind of thinking is alien to the spirit of the Gospel.

 

Reigning in Christ.

 

7. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (NKJVTM)

 

Paul addresses three questions to every individual in the church at Corinth. Firstly, "who made you different to another?" The answer, of course, is that God made you, and any way in which you differ from another is His doing. Secondly, "What do you have that you did not receive?" No man has anything which he did not receive from God. After all, in the beginning, man received everything from God. The very life we have is an impartation of the Divine (Gen. 2:7); there is nothing intrinsic in man.Paul's third question "now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" highlights how absurd it is for a man to boast in what has been given to him, as if it were his own achievement. Human beings have nothing but what God has endowed them with. Our new found spiritual life has been given to us by God's grace in Jesus Christ and is not ours by our own ability or effort.

 

8. Already you are satisfied! Already you are rich! You have become kings without us! I wish you had become kings so that we could reign with you!

 

As a consequence of their pride, the Corinthians were suffering from the same spiritual illness as the Laodicaen Church. In Rev. 3:17 Jesus said: "For you say, 'I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.' You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." Jesus had previously said "blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness" (Matt. 5:6). The Corinthians were "full" for they had stopped hungering and thirsting. They thought they had everything and did needed nothing more; considering themselves the kings of Christianity, the real pick of the bunch. The second part of the verse may mean, "without our help" or "without our company". The Corinthians laid claim to a position which neither Paul nor the apostles claimed, and they maintained that they had achieved it without the apostles' help. None of us brought ourselves to Christ, and none of us has ever taught himself the things of God; we were instructed in the faith by others, just as the apostles had taught the Corinthians. When we realise how dependent we are on each other, there is no room for pride.Paul wishes that the Corinthians really did reign; that is, live in spiritual victory through Jesus Christ. He explains to them the way in which he and the apostles were "reigning in life by one Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:17). Paul knew that if the Corinthians were to share his experience in the spiritual life, then they must also share affliction for Christ's sake; for we simply cannot grow in the Christian life without trouble.

 

9. For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to die, because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to people.

 

Paul accepted his afflictions as coming from God. He compares the apostles to the men who were brought in last to the Roman arena, during the games. These men (gladiators) were put on show in front of the vast audience of the Coliseum and forced to fight to the death for the amusement of others. Even if they won, their lives were not secure - they lived or died at  the whim of Caesar. We are led out by God onto the world stage, says Paul, so that men and angels will take note that we are appointed to die for Christ's sake. We constantly spend our lives for him and are ready to lose our lives for him. On this stage, our sufferings and death are not for the amusement of others, but for the glory of God. A God who has won the hearts of his followers so that they gladly give their lives for Him is a God worth knowing; especially when His servants regard death as a doorway to life.

 

10. We are fools for Christ, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, we are dishonored!

 

The apostles were regarded as foolish by the world, whereas the Corinthians considered themselves to be wise. Similarly, the Corinthians thought themselves  strong and honorable, whilst Paul knew himself to be weak and despised. The word "despised" was used to describe those who had been deprived of citizenship. Paul knew that the world was no longer his home and so the world - quite rightly - regarded him as an outcast. Jesus said, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19 NKJVTM) Let this be a warning to anyone who thinks that the Church ought to work for the honour and admiration of the world outside. We may earn their respect, but we will never receive their praise; and if we do, something is clearly wrong with our testimony, for Jesus said "woe to you when all men speak well of you" (Luke 6:26). Standing for the truth will never make us friends of the world, and preaching the Gospel will never make us popular.

 

11. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, brutally treated, and without a roof over our heads.

 

As outcasts, the apostles were (at the time of writing) going without adequate food, drink, and clothing. They were treated roughly and beaten with fists as Christ was in Matt. 26:67. They were vagabonds, having no fixed dwelling place.

 

12. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure. (NKJVTM)

 

Paul often referred to the fact that he earned his living with his own hands (1 Thess. 2:9). The Greeks despised manual labour. This same spirit of pride is made evident today in countries where immigrant staff are hired to do menial jobs which the indigenous population consider to be beneath them. The word Paul uses for "labor" means to work really hard, to the point of weariness. They were cursed, as Christ was (Matt. 26:68); yet as Christ did, they blessed, loved, and forgave their enemies.

 

13. When slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.(NRSV)

 

They refrained from becoming angry when slandered and insulted, answering kindly. Yet they were still regarded as the vilest of men. When the pagans offered human sacrifices to their gods, they often used the most worthless in the community , those who could be easily spared. This is how Paul and the apostles were regarded - "the rubbish of the world." The Living Bible reads: We have worked wearily with our hands to earn our living. We have blessed those who cursed us.We have been patient with those who injured us. We have replied quietly when evil things have been said about us. Yet right up to the present moment we are like dirt underfoot, like garbage.  1 Cor. 4:12-13 (Living).Living as Jesus Christ did in this world, experiencing the rejection he face, and yet responding to it as He did is truly what it means to "reign in life by one Jesus Christ."

 

A Fatherly Admonition.

 

14,15. I am not writing these things to shame you, but to correct you as my dear children. For though you may have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, because I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

 

When children were young, the wealthy father of Greek and Roman times employed a number of slaves to teach and train his children and prepare them for adulthood. In the case of an eldest son, it would be to train him to take over the estate after his father. Even so, the boy was still his father's son, and the father still had responsibility for him. Since Paul had founded the church at Corinth, he considered the believers to be his own spiritual sons. Although they now had many teachers, he still felt a great affection and responsibility for them. If they listened to other teachers, shouldn't they also listen to their spiritual father? Paul was not trying to make them feel ashamed when he told them of his hardships, but warn them against the path of ease and self satisfaction.

 

16. I encourage you, then, be imitators of me.

 

Paul urges the believers to follow him, just as a son learns from his father. Paul is not demanding personal allegiance; that would cut entirely across the teaching of this letter so far. Rather, he wants the young converts to follow his way of life, the same pattern which Christ lived and taught. Paul always found setting an example to be the best method of teaching. All fathers should set good examples for their children, and if they fail to do so they should not be surprised when their children go astray. Those who want to see others saved and Christians growing in their relationship with God must follow Christ's example, so that they might see the benefits the Gospel brings. Paul, like Christ, was unselfish, offering his life every day to set an example for others to follow (Rom. 15:2-3).

 

17. For this reason, I have sent Timothy to you, who is my dear and faithful son in the Lord. He will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.

 

Paul was unable to come to Corinth at that time due to ministry commitments at Ephesus, but he sent Timothy who had already learned from Paul's example how to follow Christ. Timothy would teach them the word of God, and live among them, just as Paul had done. Eminent British evangelist Robert Cox has said of Timothy, "he was a carbon copy of Paul."  Paul and Timothy would teach them nothing particular to Corinth, for their teaching agreed with their teaching and way of life in every church.

 

18. Some have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you.

 

Those who opposed Paul did so because of their own pride. They tried to bolster their own position in the church by saying that Paul would not return to Corinth, that he was not interested in them and that his motives were not true and so on. Paul realized that the fact that Timothy was coming on his own could add fuel to this argument.

 

19. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord is willing, and I will find out not only the talk of these arrogant people, but also their power.

 

So, Paul says, if it is the Lord's will, I will come to you as soon as I can. Paul was not delayed by any laxity on his part, but by the will of God. Most probably this letter was written during Paul's second and prolonged stay at Ephesus, when he says "a great door and effectual has been opened to me" (Acts 19:8-12). It was the importance of this evangelistic ministry which kept Paul from Corinth and nothing else. As Paul was enjoying a powerful time of blessing at Ephesus, he was certainly in a position to challenge his proud opponents. As Calvin says, "Any one can rattle on eloquently!", but can they demonstrate that the power of Christ in their lives?

 

20. For the kingdom of God is demonstrated not in idle talk but with power.

 

The kingdom of God is not a matter of empty talk but of God's power. This power was demonstrated in Christ's ministry by the healing of the sick and casting out of devils. These signs also accompanied Paul's ministry. This very same power was also evidenced in a different way, by the meek and gentle lives of the apostles. Would the puffed up believers at Corinth be able to display a similar power at work in them?

 

21. What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline or with love and a spirit of gentleness?

 

By the time Paul returns to Corinth he wants to see humility and a different attitude among the believers at Corinth. So he gives a stern warning. He could come to sort the proud out with rebuke and discipline; but if they repented before his coming, then he would be far happier to deal with them in love and gentleness. The choice was theirs. If they refused to humble themselves then they would be humbled by God, and Paul would quite unwillingly be the instrument of their abasement (2 Cor. 12:20-21).

 

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