1 Corinthians 4:1-13 (Galatians 3:1-14)


1 Corinthians 4:1 So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

Does "so then" point backwards or forwards? If the latter, it is correlative to the following. KJV and NKJV, Lenski and Bengel say it points backwards.

Bengel: It defines and resumes from what precedes.

Lenski notes that it ties the two genitives "of Christ" and "of God" from those in 3:23 to those in this verse. That makes these genitives emphatic: "servants, not of men, but of Christ," "Stewards, not of the mysteries of men, but of God." "Men" simply means "a person." 

Rienecker: 'Entrusted' emphasizes that one is entrusted with great responsibility and accountability.
Morris: This man had a responsible position. He was set over others and had a big task to discharge. But he was also subject to a master, and must render account of himself. In relation to the master, he was a slave; in relation to the slaves he was an overseer.
Lenski: In both terms 'attendants' and 'stewards' the prominent idea is that of complete subordination to a master and in the latter also that of special accountability.

On "those entrusted" the  Apology, XXIV, Tappert 264.80 interprets: "Ministers of Christ and dispensers of the sacraments of God, that is, of the Word and Sacraments." 

Luther: What, then, are these mysteries of God? Nothing but Christ Himself, that is, faith and the Gospel of Christ; for everything that is preached in the Gospel, is placed at a distance for the senses and reason and hidden before all the world; nor may they be obtained except only through faith, as He Himself says Matthew 11:25.

1 Corinthians 4:2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

TEV paraphrases: "The one thing required of the man in charge is that he be faithful to his master." 

Morris: Paul is appealing to well-known contemporary practice with regard to stewards. The prime requisite is that they be faithful. The work of a steward was not closely supervised. The first essential then was that the steward be trustworthy.
Bengel: What God requires, and men too, in their stewards, is that a man be found faithful. . . . The Corinthians were not content with mere faithfulness.

Note that Paul moves from the plural to the singular. Earlier he had spoken of Paul, Apollos, and Peter. Verse 2 ends with the singular. Each must examine himself. God makes only one demand on His apostles and ministers: faithfulness.

1 Corinthians 4:3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.

The verse comprises a compound sentence. The subject of the first is introduced by "if," meaning "that." Note the emphatic "I."  "I care very little" is actually predicate: "To me it is a small matter."  "Judged" is used of a judicial examination before the final verdict is given.

Lenski: The verb used thrice in succession, means 'to institute a juridical inquiry' and the passive means 'to be subjected to such an inquiry.' . . . The procedure implied in 'judged' always precedes the activity indicated in rendering the verdict.
Morris: It is tremendously difficult to come to an accurate assessment of one's own achievement, and Paul points out that in any case it does not matter. His own views on himself are as irrelevant as those of anyone else. . . . It is not our task to pass such judgments. We should get on with the job of serving the Lord. It is an attempt to anticipate the judgment of the Lord that Paul is condemning.
Kretzmann: Paul was, in a manner of speaking on trial in Corinth: the members were passing judgment upon his talents, upon his motives, upon his administration. But it does not cause him serious concern that this is the case, that his person and work were being investigated; he thinks lightly of any human judgment, does not even ask his own, does not even try himself.

1 Corinthians 4:4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

Here we have another compound sentence, but this time "but" means "however, but." Compare these two translations: NIV:  "My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent." But AAT:  "I don't know of anything that is against me, but that doesn't make me righteous." The difference is indicated by the emphasized words. The majority of our versions follow NIV. But KJV and NKJV follow AAT. The Apology, IV, Tappert 129.163, takes it as does AAT:

Christ remains the mediator. We must always be sure that for his sake we have a gracious God in spite of our unworthiness. Paul clearly teaches this when he says (1 Corinthians 4:4) 'I am not aware of anything against me, but I am not thereby justified.' But he believes that he is accounted righteous by faith for Christ's sake (Psalm 32:1; Romans 4:7).
Expositor's: Since Paul accepted justification by faith in Christ, not his innocence, but his Savior's merit has become his fixed ground of assurance.

Lenski is of the opinion that Paul is speaking about the final divine acquittal on the last day in the third sentence of this verse. We do not agree with that. But we do agree when Lenski says:  "What Paul says is that men must not usurp the Lord's judgment-seat and judge the Lord's ministers according to their own wisdom." 

1 Corinthians 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

"Therefore" draws an inference from what precedes.

Bengel: He does not say 'decide,' he alludes more closely to the judgment which the Lord will give.
Lenski: The decision to which Paul has referred naturally issues from the judging, the pronouncement of a verdict either favorable or unfavorable . . . The worst feature about it was that the Corinthians were acting in a way highly derogatory to Christ.

Not only will Christ judge but also bring to light. The two genitives are likely both adjectival:  "hidden" and "of the inmost being." 

Morris: In this context it seems better to take 'darkness' of all those deeds which in this present darkness are kept hidden. 'The counsels of the hearts' refers rather to men's secret desires and motives, good and evil alike. This is the judgment that really counts.

On the last sentence in verse 5 Bengel says:

Paul looks entirely away from those who merit no praise.
Lenski: He speaks only about praise. As to others who may be unfaithful, and those who may receive no reward at all, enough is said in 3:12-17.

Paul is implying that he, Apollos, and Peter are, by God's grace, faithful. He is here not speaking about unfaithful apostles or pastors. Therefore, let the people neither judge nor praise the apostles or pastors. Leave that to God. Paul is criticizing an attitude in the Corinthians of assuming the position and prerogative of God alone. He is  not  saying that if a pastor is guilty of persistent false doctrine and ungodly, offensive living, the congregation should do nothing about it.

1 Corinthians 4:6 Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written." Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.

"Now:" the preceding matters. Note that he addresses them as "brothers" though they need Law at the moment. Rienecker translates as follows: "I have applied these figures of speech to myself and Apollos." AAT has: "In a special way of speaking I have referred only to myself and Apollo." 

Paul was deeply concerned about their sinful pride.

Morris: Paul's expression is something like 'that you might learn in us the  not beyond what is written. 
Bengel: 'Written:' That is, in the whole Scripture, from which some quotations, 3:19-20, have just been made. For we ought not to have thoughts beside it and beyond it, Romans 12:3.

The second "then" can either denote purpose or mean "that," explaining what is prohibited by Scripture. Note how specific Paul is: "That each, on behalf of one against another, be not puffed up." Note that the subject is singular but the verb is plural.

Morris: When they find themselves so much in favor of one leader that they are against another they have overstepped the bounds. 'Puffed up' is a verb which Paul uses frequently in this Epistle (4:18-19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4), but elsewhere only once . . . They, more than others, were addicted to the sin of pride.
Kretzmann: They should observe the rule of Scripture, they should follow the injunction which is repeated so often, that all honor be given to God.
Lenski: Old Testament Scriptures in so many ways urge us not to be proud or contentious.

AAT translates the latter part of this verse thus: "But I want you to learn from us not to get away from the Bible and not to brag about one man at the expense of another." 

1 Corinthians 4:7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

This verse contains three rhetorical questions which are searching Law, second use of the Law. Remarkably, we have three questions: "Who? What? Why?" To the first they had to answer: "No one." To the second: "Nothing." To the third the only possible answer is: "Because of my sinful pride." Their sin was a massive disregard for the first commandment. Note how the questions are addressed to the individual for self-examination. To make one's self superior, to act as giver rather than receiver and to boast despite the fact that all is a gift, means to deny the grace of God in Christ.

Lenski: The first question deals with an imaginary possession, the second with an actual possession which one may misuse for puffing himself up. . . It surely is reprehensible to receive something and then to act as though one had not received it. And it is more reprehensible to boast and to glory.

1 Corinthians 4:8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings--and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you!

Note "already" twice. Note the perfect participle of existing state. And note the two ingressive aorists. And, finally, note the unattainable wish. This whole verse is biting irony and sarcasm.

Luther: Paul mocks them, for he means the opposite of what he says.
Morris: The Corinthians felt no lack. They were in a dangerous state . . . The Corinthians held that they had attained a position to which neither Paul nor the other apostles laid claim.
Bengel: Through fulness they became fastidious; through opulence, insolent; through kingly power, proud.
Kretzmann: The apostle brings out an intentional climax in deriding their false contentment, their vain self-sufficiency, their lofty learning. They thought they knew it all in Spiritual matter, that all further instruction was superfluous and therefore unwelcome. So soon did they have their fill, so fully instructed they believe themselves to be, so abounding in knowledge . . . But the height of their complacent foolishness was reached in this, that some of the Corinthian Christians believed themselves to have attained to a state in which they fondly and fatuously considered themselves in full possession of the promised kingdom . . . For them the kingdom had begun, not the demonstration of the Spirit and of power, but in outward observation. . . But Paul, in his great grief over the blindness of the Corinthians, calls out: 'And I would indeed that you had come into your kingdom!'
Lenski: These prideful Corinthians, Paul implies, act as though they are already in the great Kingdom to come, instead realizing that they are still in this poor miserable world. Full satiety, riches, and honor are three blessings promised the coming eon to the hungry, the poor, and the despised. . . . A special sting lies in this emphatic phrase 'all without us.' . . . Paul adds with a climax of irony 'in order that we too might get to reign with your help' have just a humble little place by your side!

Paul is bursting the bubble of their arrogant illusion of satiety and mistaken theology of glory.

1 Corinthians 4:9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men.

But Paul's is a theology of the cross. Paul uses a picture to illustrate the humiliation and indignity to which the apostles are subjected.

Morris: 'Whole universe' is used in its wide sense, the universe of intelligent beings. . . The New Testament often think of angels as spectators of human happening. The combination of angels and men embraces the totality of personal existence.
Lenski: What Paul states is the cold and deliberate fact, though the Corinthians seem to forget it altogether . . . The first stress is on 'God' for he it is who did this astounding thing with the apostles. . . . 'As men sentenced to die' as criminals condemned like Christ to capital punishment.

Verse 8 shows how un-Christlike the Corinthians thought of themselves, the very opposite of the Beatitudes. Verse 9 shows us how similar to Christ Paul's thinking was. To be a Christian means to submit to the humiliation, indignity and tribulation which God permits to come upon a person.

1 Corinthians 4:10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!

Actually we have six independent clauses, grouped under three heads, but no verbs. Note the six emphatic pronouns and that the third pair is the reverse of the first two. Here Paul draws the sharp contrast between himself, Peter, and Apollos on the one hand and the deluded Corinthians on the other.

Morris: Once again the incompatibility between what the world counts as wisdom and what Christians esteem is in mind. . . . Paul does not mean that his friends are actually wise, but that they thought they had treasures of wisdom which Paul could not claim for himself.

The adjectives which are applied to the Corinthians all show their self-delusion. Bengel feels that the prepositional phrases found in the first pair should be repeated with the other two. The "for Christ" phrase means that Christ caused it. The "in Christ" phrase is normally used of the faith relationship. Here it likely is meant ironically.

Kretzmann: Note that the apostle speaks in a tone of irony and scorn throughout . . . The conduct of the Corinthians intimated that they did not think Paul had made use of the proper energy in his work, that the mere preaching of the Gospel was not sufficient in their learned city.
Lenski: Now come the bitter antitheses . . . they still maintain connection with Christ, but as smart people, who know how to use even Christ for their advantage. . . . 'You, refulgent honored, enveloped in glory already crowned as it were, with a halo about your heads.'

God resists the proud but is gracious to the humble. He lives in the heart of the contrite person.

1 Corinthians 4:11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.

In verse 8 Paul spoke of them. In verse 9 he spoke of the apostles. In verse 10 he compared the two. And in verses 11-13 he spoke only of the apostles. This is beautiful symmetry.  "To this present moment" (which is repeated in verse 13) is in contrast to "already" in verse 8. Paul pictures a person who is scantily clothed, physically beaten in an insulting manner, and homeless.

Morris: Dropping comparisons, Paul now concentrates on the hardships suffered by the apostles. . . . The reference to hunger is in sharp contrast with the earlier 'you are full' (verse 8). 'Buffeted' is used of the ill-treatment according Christ (Matthew 26:67).
Kretzmann: Paul shared the fate of the people poor in this world's good, as so many of his followers have since his time.
Lenski: As they travelled from place to place, after having broken with their Jewish past and connections, and yet not having become Gentiles, the apostles found no welcome in any of the new places to which they came.

By the way, in America a person who does not keep up with the Joneses so far as house, car, food, etc. are concerned is despised. This statement is not made to aid laziness. But it is plain to us all that there is a lot of Corinthian arrogance and worldliness, even in the visible church. That hurts but it's true.

1 Corinthians 4:12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;

Note that we have three verbs, the first two active, the third dependent, each attended by a participle, all in the present tense. The first participle denotes means, the last two temporal (when). The first is deponent, the last three passive.

The Greeks despised manual labor, which was left to slaves. St. Paul glories in it. Look at 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8. The word used here means toil of hard work. Though ministers are entitled to wages, Paul never burdened congregations.

Rienecker: 'Cursed': To abuse with words. It was a common practice of speakers and politicians to insult and abuse the opponents.
Morris: They were reviled, another word used of Christ Himself, 1 Peter 2:23.

Noting the last two verbs in this verse, and the first in the next verse, Bengel says:

We bless, we suffer it, we entreat, which the world considers contemptible.
Kretzmann: What the world believes to be abject, cowardly spirit is the mark of the servants of Christ.

1 Corinthians 4:13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.

The first sentence in this verse is really a continuation of the latter part of verse 12. The three participles are temporal.  "When we are slandered, we speak well." 

Morris: Such conduct did not commend itself to the Greeks. To them it was evidence of pusillanimity. Though out this whole passage Paul is concerned to emphasize the contradiction between the values of the Christian, and those of the worldly-wise Greeks.

"Scum" is "filth-offscouring" in KJV and NKJV, and  "scum-dregs" in NEB and NASB. "Earth" and "world" denote all people, not merely unbelievers. The world and all men consider Christians as filth and offscouring.

Morris: Paul's point is that the apostles were regarded as being the vilest of men.
Bengel: The world hates us; all men despise.
Lenski: In this sentence we have two pairs of plurals and singulars, arranged chiastically: like the rubbish-heaps (plural) of the world (singular), the offscouring (singular) of all men (plural).

If Paul were living today or if I had been in Corinth in his day, how would I have treated Paul? Would it have been necessary or him to scold me as he did the Corinthian Christians?


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1983, pp. 66-70. Used with permission.

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