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Stewards of God's Mysteries
Paul next said that inspired spokesmen should simply be thought of as servants and stewards. Vine says the word servant should be thought of as "an under rower." Further, he says it "came to denote any subordinate acting under another's direction." The idea included in the word "steward" is that of a servant in charge of food distribution in God's household. He is not responsible for providing the food, but is held accountable for it being properly dispensed to all in the household. They were given the food and were simply expected to do a good job distributing such. They did not have to discover truth, simply teach what was revealed to them ( 1Co_4:1-2 ; 1Pe_4:10 ; Luk_16:1-12 ).
A man of God can only be judged by God. He does not have to please other men, the courts of men or even himself. Paul did not know of any wrong he had committed, but that did not make him right ( Psa_19:12 ; 1Jn_3:19-21 ). God is the only just judge. As Paul told the Romans, "God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel" ( Rom_2:16 ). God's judgment is fair because all facts are known to him. Paul would urge Christians, therefore, not to pass judgment on motives and hidden thoughts, but leave it to the Lord ( 1Co_4:3-5 ). "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" ( 2Co_5:10 ).
Thoughts on the Corinthians' Boasting
No one man, even Paul or Apollos, should be followed in things not revealed by God. Paul used his and Apollos' name to avoid hurting the real leaders of the divisions ( 1Co_4:6 ). In Gal_1:6-9 , the apostle warned against those who would draw Christians away from Christ's gospel to a different gospel. Of course, it was not really a different gospel, since there is only one message which can truly be called good news. "But there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed."
No one has room to boast of his abilities since all abilities came from God ( Rom_12:3-8 ). Yet, the Corinthians were full of self-satisfaction and "rich" with pride in their own wisdom, as McGarvey suggests. They thought themselves mighty in the church without need of the apostles, who they seemingly looked down on. Paul really wished they were as great as they thought, since he rejoiced in their growth and gloried in it ( 1Co_4:7-8 ).
Paul's View of the Apostles' Position
In contrast to the Corinthians' lofty thoughts of themselves, Paul gives his thoughts on the apostles' state. They suffered persecution and would continue to suffer till they died. The comparison is made between the apostles' state and those condemned criminals the Romans brought into the amphitheater, after the contests were over, to be stared at. Both men and angels gazed at them in their plight ( 1Co_4:9 ).
Once again, Paul used satire to drive home the ridiculous position in which the brethren had placed themselves. He contrasted their high opinion of themselves with the real status of the apostles. They went without food and water on some occasions for the sake of the gospel ( 2Co_11:27 ). They also had insufficient clothing. They were slapped out of contempt ( Act_23:2 ). Not having permanent homes, they wandered, or were driven, from one place to another ( 1Co_4:10-11 ; Mat_8:20 ).
Paul made tents rather than require the Corinthians to support him. He never asked money of them, but received it from other places ( 2Co_11:7-9 ). The apostles responded to ill treatment as Christians should ( Mat_5:44 ; Luk_6:27-30 ; 1Pe_2:21-23 ). Like the Lord, they did not revile those who reviled them but blessed them instead. They endured persecution rather than lashing out in retaliation. People treated the apostles with contempt and acted like their houses would need a complete cleaning after they were gone. Filth means scum or rubbish of humanity, that which would be wiped or scraped off ( 1Co_4:12-13 ).
Paul Loved the Church in Corinth Like a Father
Paul did not try to make the brethren feel bad because they added to his problems. Rather, he wanted to warn them so they would change. He wrote to them much as a loving father would write to one of his children who had begun participating in things which would hurt him. Paul also warned them against their strong desire for teachers. One wonders if he was thinking about the same thing he would later tell Timothy. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers" ( 2Ti_4:3 ).
Christians are, of course, born of God's will ( Joh_1:13 ; Jam_1:18 ). In a lesser sense, they are begotten by the teacher who brings them the gospel. First, Christians should follow God the Father. "Therefore be followers of God as dear children" ( Eph_5:1 ). Second, Paul told the Corinthians they could do well, as could we, to imitate Paul's sacrificing his life for the gospel ( 1Co_4:14-16 ; 1Th_1:6 ).
Paul sent Timothy to remind the church at Corinth of his teaching and uncompromising stand on the gospel. Some were proud of themselves and apparently thought Paul was afraid to face them himself. But, Paul promised to come. He did not plan to test the word of those vain speakers, but their power (to work miracles). That, he said, would show whether God was with them. God's kingdom did not, and does not, stand on man's wisdom, but a Spirit supported word. Paul said he would come and gave the brethren the choice as to the nature of his coming. They could choose whether he was to come with a rod to punish or with love, as a father receiving a penitent child ( 1Co_4:17-21 ).
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Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter