1 Corinthians 4:1-21 (ESV)
1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.
3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.
4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.
5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.
7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!
9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.
10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.
11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless,
12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure;
13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.
15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.
18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you.
19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power.
20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.
21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
Paul taught the Corinthians the significance and shared equality of the church’s leadership. Just sentences before in the letter he reminded them, “let no one boast in men” (1 Cor 3:21), which was similar to a previous statement, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31). Now he wants the Corinthians to view its leaders as servants. Paul and Apollos were not leaders to be hyped but lowly servants to honor God and help the people of God.
To further the image of leaders as servants, Paul called them stewards (1 Cor 4:1) to signify again the leaders were not masters; there is only one master – Jesus Christ. Stewards are required to be trustworthy. Obviously, an untrustworthy or unfaithful servant would be a contradiction in terms. Such a character quality is consistently judged (evaluated or examined). Contrary to modern Christianity that promotes a “Don’t judge me” mindset is the reality that 1) it’s ironically judgmental, and 2) Christianity is called to accountable relationships with one another, especially inside the local church.
The Apostles, as all Christian leaders, were under scrutiny to see if their leadership position would claim authority or power. Paul notes their position was received by God, everything they have was given to them by God (1 Cor 4:7). In other words, one’s calling is from God but such a calling is still accountable through the local church. The entire book of Corinthians is Paul “judging” and holding Christians in this church accountable to a specific standard within God’s calling.
The Corinthians were puffed up with pride. They took God’s grace for granted, indulging in immorality (ch 5-9). They used their gifts for self-gratification rather than the glory of God (ch. 10-14). They considered their own spiritual gifts and sought others to help them while they neglected others (ch. 11-16).
Paul showed his vulnerability noting that the Apostles had a death sentence in the worlds eyes and were spectacles to the world, fools for Christ, weak, held in disrepute, hungry, thirsty, poorly dressed, beaten, homeless, persecuted and slandered, and even scum or refuse. Essentially, Paul is saying that to follow Christ is going to be counter-cultural. It will not be easy. Being sanctified means you are being “set apart” to be different.
Paul’s letter is instructive and perhaps intimidating, but more it is intimate. He cares for these people. He wants the best for them. He loves them enough to speak the truth. His goal was not to shame but to siren an alarm on their lifestyle. He was admonishing (1 Cor 4:7) them. He says they have countless (literally 10K) guides but he was their only spiritual father. As a loving father delights in his child, so a spiritual father delights to instruct. He wanted to show them the difference between the broad wrong road and the narrow right path.
In all, we should not be deceived into thinking Christians cannot judge one another. The very next portion of the letter Paul explicitly says, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil from among you” (1 Cor 5:12-13). Under the authority of God’s word, the church judges inside the church, and God judges outside. Thankfully, there is grace for all!
Pastors and friends, let us use spiritual correction with humility but with urgency. The bride of Christ is called to be holy, and its lifestyle of worship does matter. While discipline may sting, its purpose is to save. The goal of discipline is never rejection but restoration. Paul’s admonishment aimed for the mind; to change the behavior you must change the belief system. Therefore, correction should not emotionally humiliate but equip the person to understand why and how to change. This is the call of the pastors to handle God’s word accurately and not their out of context messages. This is the call of all Christians to care for the spiritual growth and witness of their local church.