Paul’s Relationship with the Corinthians
4 So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining God’s mysteries. 2 Now, a person who is put in charge as a manager must be faithful. 3 As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. 4 My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.
5 So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.
6 Dear brothers and sisters, I have used Apollos and myself to illustrate what I’ve been saying. If you pay attention to what I have quoted from the Scriptures, you won’t be proud of one of your leaders at the expense of another. 7 For what gives you the right to make such a judgment? What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?
8 You think you already have everything you need. You think you are already rich. You have begun to reign in God’s kingdom without us! I wish you really were reigning already, for then we would be reigning with you. 9 Instead, I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world—to people and angels alike.
10 Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you claim to be so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are honored, but we are ridiculed. 11 Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don’t have enough clothes to keep warm. We are often beaten and have no home. 12 We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. 13 We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash—right up to the present moment.
14 I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children. 15 For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you. 16 So I urge you to imitate me.
17 That’s why I have sent Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord. He will remind you of how I follow Christ Jesus, just as I teach in all the churches wherever I go.
18 Some of you have become arrogant, thinking I will not visit you again. 19 But I will come—and soon—if the Lord lets me, and then I’ll find out whether these arrogant people just give pretentious speeches or whether they really have God’s power. 20 For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. 21 Which do you choose? Should I come with a rod to punish you, or should I come with love and a gentle spirit?
One thing is clear, division in the church was a big issue, and the authority of Paul as an apostle was being greatly disrespected. Paul continues to try and re-establish this authority in this chapter and gives us some great truths which could be compared to church leaders today.
- put in charge of explaining God’s mysteries
- found faithful
- not consumed by human opinions
- steward of God’s Word
A minister of Christ is to be a steward entrusted with what Paul calls God’s mysteries, that secret and hidden wisdom of God, these valuable truths which are only found in the revelation of the Word of God and nowhere else. Ministers are responsible to dispense these truths continually to the congregation so that lives are changed and lived on the basis of these remarkable truths. These are truths about life, about our families, about God, and ourselves. Paul says that stewards are to be found faithful. Faithful at what? Faithful at dispensing the mysteries so people understand them.
Now on the other side of the coin, Paul also warns the Corinthians (and us) of a few things we need to avoid, especially to himself as the authority figure
- Being judgemental
Though Paul claims that he isn’t writing to shame the Corinthians, I’m not convinced. I think that’s exactly what he was doing. But he is saying here, I think, that mere shame is not his goal. He wants to warn them — as a father would his sons — that their rejection of him is a big mistake.
“For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. (4:15)
“Others” Some translations say “Guardians” (NIV, NRSV), “instructors” (KJV)
But Paul is more than a guide or instructor for them. He led them to Christ. He founded the church. He has become their “father through the gospel.” As their father, he has more authority than a guardian or instructor. So he boldly says to them:
“Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” (4:16)
He also tells us in further writings:
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1)
Children learn by imitating their parents (Ephesians 5:1).
Paul never claimed to be perfect. He knew he was merely a man with weaknesses. But he also knew God had appointed him to preach the Good news and was entrusted as a steward of His Word. Today our pastors and leaders do not claim to be perfect either, but our job is not to grumble or gossip about them, but rather, if we think they are weak or struggling with something, uphold them in prayer. I heard a pastor this week say this to his congregation: “we all have our own burdens that we carry, the difference is God has called me to carry yours too”. Uphold, bless and pray for your leaders, especially in their weaknesses.
God we thank you for who you are. Thank you for our Pastor, may you bless and keep him safe from the attacks of the enemy. Help him stay encouraged and energized today. Help him to focus on you only and not the opinions of those around him. Give him courage and focus to speak your word of truth. In Jesus name, amen.