1 Corinthians Chapter 4: True Apostleship and the Source of Our Gifts
Key Verses (1 Corinthians 4:1–7)
1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.
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?
9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. 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! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world — right up to this moment.
Paul makes ample use of irony and even sarcasm in chapter 4 of his first letter to the Corinthians. He does so to make the point that he and his followers are not the high-profile, flamboyant personalities of the revered religious leaders of the time. Rather, they are humble servants of the Lord and communicators of the mysteries of God that have been revealed to them.
Paul is not being boastful or arrogant. Quite to the contrary, he indicates that the most important qualities of a servant of the Lord are obedience and loyalty, regardless of what the judgment of other humans (or even himself or herself) might be.
He questions the pride and boastfulness of those who follow Apollos or others who don’t recognize and acknowledge that their gifts in Christian service are “received” from God and are not of their own doing.
Verses 9–13 are dripping with sarcasm as Paul refers to himself the way many in Corinth are viewing him and his followers. They are like the last gladiators brought out into the arena and condemned to death. Yet when they are cursed, they bless, when they are persecuted, they endure it and when they are slandered, they answer kindly. To many, they are the “scum of the earth.”
A Moment to Reflect:
Even today, the Western church often reveres its spiritual leaders by the force of their personalities, the size of their churches, their presence on TV or radio or by the books they have published. All of these indicators can be signs of a healthy and vibrant ministry and an obedient and loyal church leader. However, Paul is telling us there are more important indicators. Servant leadership is best embodied by Christ and by modeling our service after His example. Christ exemplified willingness to humble Himself and to lay down His life for His followers.
As you think about church leaders who have most impacted your faith journey, my guess is, the ones who come to mind are not those with flamboyant personalities, those who have a strong media presence or those who have published numerous books. More likely, they are humble and loyal servants of the Lord who aren’t judged by worldly standards.