Paul has been reminding the Corinthians that since God is the only master, believers should not take pride in men. Paul now goes further in addressing the pride of the Corinthians by discussing himself and the other apostles. He demonstrates by his own example that no one should think too highly of himself or of any of God’s workers because it is the Lord who will judge everyone at the end. He then sets himself and the rest of the apostles in stark contrast with the Corinthians by citing the sufferings and humiliations the apostles have endured. He ends this passage by urging his readers to imitate him, who loves them dearly as their father, and by warning those who are arrogant of his pending visit.
Did You Know...?
- Servants (4:1): the word denotes someone who functions as a helper, frequently in a subordinate capacity. [ref]
- Stewards (4:1): The word was commonly used in the Hellenistic period of the person in charge of an estate belonging to an absentee landlord. [ref]
- “For who sees anything different in you?” (4:7): The Greek word for “see anything different” means “separate” or “differentiate.” [ref] The sentence may be translated as “who separates you from anyone else” or “who separates one from another among you?” [ref]
- “I became your father” (4:15) is literally “I begot you.”
What analogies does Paul use in this chapter to describe himself and all apostles in general?Hide Answer
Servants and stewards (1); men sentenced to death and spectacles (9); fools (10); father (15, 17).
What does this segment teach about the meaning of being faithful?Hide Answer
To be faithful is to be accountable to our Master in all things. What matters ultimately is not how others judge us or even how we judge ourselves, but how the Lord will judge us when He comes. The Lord will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart (vs. 5). This truth should remind us to serve from the heart with a pure motive rather than only putting on a facade to win men’s praise.
Verse 5 may be literally translated “do not judge anything.” What kind of judgment is Paul speaking of here?Hide Answer
Paul is not telling his readers to refrain from judgment about anything at all. In other parts of the same letter he will ask the believers to judge about various things (
1 Cor 10:15, 11:13, 31). To understand verse 5, we need to read it in its context. In view of the fact that we will all have to answer to the Lord when He comes to judge, we ought not presume to take His place and pronounce judgment on others or even ourselves. We are all servants; each one of us will each give an account to our Master. Therefore, we should leave the judgment to the Lord. Paul also gives similar exhortations in Romans 14:1–13.
If we answer only to the Lord, does it mean that we can ignore the opinions and input of others? Please explain.Hide Answer
Once again, Paul’s words are not to be taken out of their context. Paul’s point is not that we must disregard all authority or the opinions of others. Elsewhere in his letters Paul reminds believers that we are to submit to authorities and to one another, as well as consider the edification of others in the choices we make (cf. Rom 13:1–7, 14:13–22;
1 Cor 8:9–13, 9:–23; Eph 5:21). While we are not to compromise the truth in order to please men, faithfulness to God requires that we be submissive and loving toward others for the Lord’s sake. Paul’s message in this segment is that rather than judge each other, we must be personally accountable to the Lord and faithfully carry out our duties.
How does the teaching that the Lord will be the final judge encourage you in your ministry?Hide Answer
We do not need to be disheartened or frustrated when people do not appreciate or see our effort or good intentions. The Lord knows all things and He sees what is in our heart. Even when others misunderstand us, we can find solace in the fact that we will eventually receive commendation from the Lord if we remain faithful in our ministry.
How does this segment address the problem of division?Hide Answer
This segment continues the notion from the previous chapter that all things are of God. Leaders in the church, like all other believers, are servants. We all have to give account before the Lord one day. To think of one person more highly than another or to favor one leader over another runs contrary to the truth that we are all servants and that judgment belongs to God alone. How we evaluate each other is not only unreliable but also presumptuous in light of our roles as fellow servants.
How is favoring one leader over another a sign of being puffed up?Hide Answer
When a person announces his allegiance to a particular leader, he is implying that he is better than others. That is why no one would boast about following someone people look down on. The Corinthians have used the names of prominent leaders as status symbols to feed their own pride.
According to Paul’s rhetorical questions in verse 7, why do we tend to be proud of things we have or are good at?Hide Answer
We become proud when we forget that all the things that we take pride in are in fact given to us by the Lord. When we know to give credit to Whom credit is due, we naturally become humble.
What is the tone of verse 8? Explain Paul’s point.
What is the point of the contrast between the apostles and the Corinthians in verse 10?Hide Answer
We may infer from the contrast that Paul is helping his readers see how their wisdom and riches in Christ had been given by God as a result of the sacrifices of the apostles. As Paul reminds them in verse 7, since they have received all these, there is no reason for them to boast.
See the next question for a further discussion on why Paul describes extensively the lowliness of the apostles.
Why does Paul speak about all the mistreatment and humiliation he and other apostles suffered?Hide Answer
By looking at the humiliation and persecutions the apostles endure for the sake of Christ, the Corinthians should see that there is so much more to being servants of Christ than to be merely recipients of good things. A mature Christian ought to learn to rejoice in being counted worthy to suffer humiliation for Christ (cf. Acts 5:41;
1 Pet 4:12–19). That is the mark of faithfulness and a goal for every servant of Christ. True wisdom is recognizing the greatness in humility.
Paul tells the Corinthians that they have countless guides in Christ but not many fathers.
What is the difference between guides and fathers?Hide Answer
A guide is hired and works for a pay. A father, on the other hand, cares for his own children and makes sacrifices for them out of love.
Why are there more guides than fathers in Christ?Hide Answer
It is easier to be guides than fathers. Guides can simply tell people what to do. But they do not need to feel the pain of others the way parents ache for their children when their children suffer or do wrong.
What does this contrast teach you about serving?
Does Paul’s exhortation to imitate him contradict with his earlier admonition against following leaders in church?Hide Answer
Paul is not asking the believers to imitate him so as to take pride in their allegiance to him. Instead, he is asking them to love and serve others humbly just as he loves and serves believers. Such an attitude is opposite the Corinthians’ boasting in siding with prominent figures.
Is your life characterized more by “talk” or by “power”? Explain the meaning of this contrast.Hide Answer
Talk without action is worth little. Simply telling others what they ought to do may earn a person prestige but hardly benefits anyone (cf. Mt 23:2–4). The gospel of Christ is not mere talk but is the power of God (Rom 1:16;
1 Cor 1:18). By the atoning death of Christ we are saved and become new creations. The ministry that we have received, in turn, also carries the power of God ( 2 Cor 4:7; 1 Thess 1:5). Such power encompasses miraculous signs that follow our preaching (Lk 10:19; Heb 2:4) as well as the transformation of lives through the message we preach (cf. 2 Tim 3:5; 2 Pet 1:3).
How does verse 21 relate to Paul’s being a spiritual father?Hide Answer
Paul here speaks as a father who has to assume the role of a stern disciplinarian when his child misbehaves and that of a gentle and loving parent when his child is obedient.