1 Corinthians 4 is a beautiful chapter but oft-overlooked when one ponders this magnificent epistle. I would love to compose a half dozen blogs on this chapter, but my chapter a day format won’t permit it. Here are a few summary thoughts:
Verses 1-6: The text of our title. The opening line cannot be separated from the preceding context, namely unity. Paul pleads with the brethren to consider Apollos and himself as nothing more than servants (those who own nothing) and stewards (those entrusted with the things of another). In this case, Paul and Apollos are servants of Christ and stewards of the gospel (the mysteries of God – cf 2:7-10). Finally, Paul pleads that no man think of another above the things that are written (the Scriptures), as all men’s praise should come from God (vv 5-6).
Verse 7: Paul introduces a thought of equality that will be revisited in chapters 12-14 and his corrective teaching concerning the miraculous manifestations of the Spirit. Paul commands that all men think soberly of one another and of oneself as any gifts were not the result of human will, but were just that, gifts from God.
Verse 8: One of the beauties of biblical literature is the use of every form of language. In verses 8 and 10 we find Paul using sarcasm to cut to the heart of these brethren who have exalted themselves in the view of the humility displayed by Paul and other true servants of God. While Clarke and Jamieson, Fausset & Brown refer to the language as irony, A.T. Robertson calls it “withering sarcasm.”
Verses 14-16: Despite Paul’s stinging rebuke, he reaffirms his love for the brethren, saying it was not his intent to shame but to warn. Note also that like the Corinthians, we are born of God through the gospel (cf 1 Peter 1:22-23).
Verse 17: Paul affirms that what he taught the Corinthians is what he taught in every church. I have wondered aloud (without response), “If it is acceptable for six different preachers to preach six differing and contradictory doctrines of baptism… why isn’t it acceptable for one man to teach six differing and contradictory doctrines of baptism? Why are the six excused while the one is condemned as an inconsistent crackpot?
Verses 18-21: Love does not exclude rebuke and discipline. In fact, it is unloving to fail to rebuke and correct those in error (cf Rev 3:19).