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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-13

The Humility of God’s Servants (4:1-13)

We said "not quite finally" because Paul finds this the right place to say something more about servants of God, and apostles in particular, since an argument over their respective merits was precisely what started the trouble in Corinth. It should be clear that he means to include both Apollos and Peter as "apostles." This word "apostle" in the New Testament and the Early Church did not always have the specialized meaning it has come to bear in the Church. Paul here uses the word in a broader sense than the "Twelve Apostles." He means any leader in the Church sent by God. Elsewhere (as in Galatians and Second Corinthians)

Paul insists on his right to the title "apostle," but here he high­lights other words. He has already said "workmen"; now he says "servants" and "stewards" or "trustees." This was a good time to remind the Corinthians that the apostles were by no means so conceited about themselves as their partisans were. So Paul reminds them that God is his judge, as he is of every man; that before God we all stand on level ground.

Verses 8-13 are partly sarcasm. What Paul seems to be driv­ing at is that so far from being Very Important Personages, the apostles are at the bottom of the heap. The great difference be­tween the apostles and the run-of-the-mine Corinthian Christians is that the Corinthians were dead-end receivers of grace; like babies, they thought only in terms of "What do I get out of it?" Paul and other apostles were outgivers, sharers, builders, workers.

Verses 14-21

The Authority of a Father in Christ (4:14-21)

Yet Paul does not end on any humble-come-tumble note. He reminds the Corinthians—and they needed to be told—that an apostle is a man with authority. Yet this authority is not de­scribed as if Paul were arguing, from some church constitution, just how much authority an apostle should have. He does not describe himself in the manner of a bureaucrat in the Kingdom of God or an officer in the army, his duties and responsibilities carefully laid down. Still less does he look on himself as a judge. He selects the word "father" to throw light on his authority. He is the Corinthians’ "father in Christ Jesus." In those days, more than now, a father’s word in a family was the last word; but in those days just as much as now, a father could deal with his boys "with a rod," or "with love in a spirit of gentleness" (4:21). Paul may have to use the rod (and he did), but if he does, it will be the fault of his children and not himself.

One more point in chapter 4 calls for a note. Is Paul a con­ceited egotist? His words sound like it: "Be imitators of me .. . my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere." No one in the twentieth-century Church—not even the Pope!—would talk like that today. Did Paul think of himself as sinless, perfect, incapa­ble of making a mistake? This is a sample of the places where our knowledge of the situation and background shows us how to take a remark like the one in 4:16. The people to whom he was writ­ing were completely without any Christian background. The Christian religion itself was young, younger than most Christians were. Paul could not say, imitate your Christian parents—none of them had had Christian parents. He could not say, imitate Jesus, for not a single Gospel had yet been written. He could give them rules, but if Paul made anything clear, it was that Christianity is not a rulebook religion. (Romans was largely writ­ten around that point.) The most practical way Paul had of pointing those raw, immature Christians of Corinth to a Christian example, was to point to one Christian they knew and respected —himself. As for Paul’s considering himself beyond criticism, he has just been telling them (4:3-4) that while he himself has a clear conscience, this does not prove anything, it does not ac­quit him; it is God who is his judge. Later on in this letter Paul refers to himself as a man "who by the Lord’s mercy is trust­worthy" (7:25). It is in this spirit that he can invite his friends to follow his example.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/1-corinthians-4.html.
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