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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

The Bible Study New TestamentBible Study NT

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Verse 1


As Christ’s servants. Paul goes back to the question of how much honor should be given to Christian teachers. Because of the almost divine honors which Greeks gave to the philosophers who were their leaders, Paul must tell them strongly that the apostles are only servants, not rulers. “Just clerks watching the store while the boss is away.” But when he tells them this, he does not want them to misunderstand and think that Christ had not given them authority. Who have been put in charge. To understand this properly, you must know that in the ancient world, a man of wealth would have a family which included his servants and /or slaves as well as his children, and that he would appoint one servant to be in charge of and be responsible for the business affairs of the family. The servant would be given his instructions, which he would then carry out. Using this symbolism, Paul and the other apostles are put in charge (by Christ) of God’s secret truths (the Good News, see 1 Corinthians 2:7-10), to give these to the members of the family.

Verse 2


Is that he be faithful. Paul was faithful in giving out God’s secret truths, and he did this on the basis of their ability to understand (1 Corinthians 3:1; Hebrews 5:11-14). God’s servant must be faithful (James 3:1). The false teacher accused Paul of being unfaithful, because after teaching the first principles, he did not immediately give them all the deep truths of God.

Verse 3


About being judged by you. It is God who will decide who has been faithful, not the Corinthians or any human being. On myself. That is, he himself has no right to set up a standard by which to pass judgment on himself. Only God has that right! [However, Paul does intend us to measure ourselves by God’s standard (1 Corinthians 11:31; 2 Corinthians 13:5).]

Verse 4


My conscience is clear. He has no reason to feel unfaithful in what he has done at Corinth. But that does not prove. His self-approval is not proof. The Lord. Only He has the right to judge! See Romans 14:4.

Verse 5


So you. This statement is not to be applied in general to everything, since neither church nor state could maintain order and peace, if rulers did not pass judgment on the disobedient. Two things stand out here: (1) The Corinthians were not to pass judgment on Paul’s work as an apostle, until Jesus comes and judges him. (2) We have no right to pass judgment on the eternal destiny of anyone (Romans 14:10), although it is our obligation to take Jesus to our fellow man (Matthew 28:19-20). And then every man. “The Lord of all will do right!” The motives of each man’s life will be clearly seen!

Verse 6


For your sake, brothers. To teach the lesson of humility, and to show how much honor ought to be given to a teacher, Paul used himself and Apollos as examples (see note on 1 Corinthians 3:5). Observe the proper rules = Do not go beyond what is written. Paul gives the proper rules in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9; 1 Corinthians 4:1. “I have used Apollos and myself as examples, in my warning you against division, (I do not mention the names of those causing this division), that in our example you might learn to avoid the rivalry and jealousy of forming parties.” None of you. He warns them against being proud of one teacher and trying to destroy another.

Verse 7


Who made you superior to the others? MacKnight understands Paul to be speaking to the false teacher. “What gift do you have that wasn’t given to you by God through we apostles? How, then, can you brag that you are superior to us?”

Verse 8


Already you have everything! Paul speaks in irony! “Your followers have made you rich with their gifts to you. You have ruled as a king, and despise us. I would be happy if you were real kings and priests with Christ.” So that we could be kings together. So that together with the apostles, they could bring honor to Christ, and receive from Christ the honor which He gives to his servants.

Verse 9


The very last place. Paul’s experiences at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32) probably make him think of this. See also 2 Corinthians 2:14. Paul is showing the Corinthians the contrast between the false teacher and the apostles. The false teacher had riches (1 Corinthians 4:8), while the true apostles suffered (John 16:33). Gladiators fought and died in the hot sun, while the crowds sat in their comfortable seats and watched. Condemned men fought naked, and any who escaped only faced death another day. As a spectacle. Compare Ephesians 3:10-11; Luke 15:10; Psalms 90:8; Hebrews 12:1. Both men and angels were amazed to see how the apostles suffered.

Verse 10


For Christ’s sake. What the apostles did, can only be explained by their LOVE for Christ! Paul speaks in irony, as he repeats what his enemies at Corinth were saying about him. In the same spirit of irony, he honors them. If the apostles are fools, the Corinthians are wise; if the apostles are weak, and despised, the Corinthians are strong and honored.

Verse 11


To this very hour. Compare what Paul says in these verses with Hebrews 11:32-40. He tells more about his suffering in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10.

Verse 12


We work hard. See note on 1 Corinthians 9:6.

Verse 13


When we are insulted. Paul always returned good for bad, as Jesus said to do (Matthew 5:44; compare Romans 12:17-21). Garbage . . . scum. Paul is still using the symbolism of “men condemned to die in public” (1 Corinthians 4:9). It was the custom in Athens to offer a human sacrifice in times of crisis, Certain “worthless persons” were seized and thrown into the sea, in the belief that this would remove the guilt which caused the “gods” to curse the nation. Paul is saying that the world sees the apostles as men only fit to be sacrificed to the anger of the “gods.”

Verse 14


I write this to you. Paul says he has not made this contrast between himself and the false teacher just to make them ashamed. Rather, he writes as a father to his own dear children, to instruct them in the truth.

Verse 15


You have only one father. PAIDAGOGOS = guardian, one who took care of a child from the time it was a baby, feeding, clothing, and teaching it, and taking it to and from school when it is that age. Paul is gently scolding them (compare Galatians 3:25). I have become your father. The teachers of the Law said: “Whoever teaches the Law to the son of his friend, it is as if he has become his father.”

Verse 16


Follow my example. Children imitate their parents. They should imitate their spiritual father, by humility and unselfishness.

Verse 17


For this purpose. Timothy was Paul’s “son in the Lord” (Acts 16:1-3). Probably he was already on the way to Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:10), but this letter would arrive first. Of the principles which I follow. Paul’s new life in Christ Jesus was based upon the things taught in the Good News. Paul changed neither his teachings nor his life to please wicked men. He taught the same gospel everywhere he went!!!

Verse 18


Some of you. There were some at Corinth (in the church) who were hostile to Paul. He warns them not to see any weakness in the fact that he sends Timothy to them.

Verse 19


If the Lord is willing. We all should say this! Compare James 4:13-17. I will come to you soon. Compare 1 Corinthians 16:7-8. Paul intends to come in person and to punish those who will not turn away from their sin [repent].

Verse 20


For the Kingdom of God. Note the identity of church and Kingdom (compare Matthew 16:18). But of power. As an apostle, Paul had the miraculous gifts from the Spirit, which included the power to punish.

Verse 21


Which do you prefer? He is speaking to the false teacher and the group which follows him. The choice is theirs!!!

Bibliographical Information
Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "The Bible Study New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ice/1-corinthians-4.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.
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