1 Corinthians 4
I’m coming to set you straight
Judging people isn’t your job1 Think of me and Apollos as the Messiah’s workers, assigned to tell people about the mysteries of God. 2 You have to be trustworthy to get a job like this. 3 So as far as I’m concerned, it’s no big deal that you or any other folks would judge me. I don’t trust your judgment about that any more than I trust my own. 4 I’ve got a clear conscience, but that doesn’t clear me of anything. It’s the Lord who judges me.
5 So stop passing judgment on people. Wait until the Lord comes back. He’ll shine a light into the dark corners, revealing the true motives. And he’ll praise all the folks who deserve a kind word. 6 I want you to know, dear family, that what I just said also applies to me and Apollos. Follow our example in the way we practice what I’ve just preached. That way you won’t proudly pick one leader over another. 7 Tell me, what makes you better than anyone else? What do you have in your life that wasn’t given to you? And since it was given to you, why are you bragging as though it wasn’t given to you?
You are so much better than we are8 So there you are with everything you need, rich and reigning like kings—with no need of us. I wish you were reigning. Then we would be reigning, too. 9 It seems to me that God has put us apostles on display. Of all the prisoners doomed to die in a spectacle watched by angels and humans alike, we apostles have been saved for last—as the grand finale. 10 We are fools in the way we serve the Messiah, but you are wise in the ways of the Messiah. We are weak, but you are strong. We are disgraced, but you are honored.
11 Even as I write these words, we’re hungry and thirsty. We don’t have adequate clothing. We’re treated roughly. We have no place to call home. 12 We work ourselves to exhaustion, in the manual labor that we do. When we are treated meanly, we treat kindly. When persecuted, we suffer through it. 13 When badmouthed, we respond with good words. In a way, the world has taken us out with the trash. They treat us like garbage.
This isn’t “shame on you”14 I’m not writing this to make you feel ashamed. I’m trying to give you some instruction, as a father would to his dear children. 15 You have countless people teaching you about the Messiah. But you don’t have countless fathers. I became your father when I brought the Good News to you, and introduced you to Jesus the Messiah. 16 Please, follow my example. 17 I sent Timothy to remind you about how to do this. He’s my dear and devoted child in the Lord. He’ll tell you how I live my life devoted to Jesus the Messiah. I teach that lifestyle wherever I go, to churches everywhere.
I’ll be back, Lord willing18 Some of you grew a big head—as though you think I’m never coming back and you’re never going to have to deal with me again. 19 I’m coming soon, if it’s okay with the Lord. I’ll find out if these arrogant people have the power of God. I don’t care if they have the power to blow words out of their mouth.
20 God’s kingdom isn’t talk. It’s power. 21 What do you want me to bring when I come back? A club to knock some sense into you? Or a gentle spirit to show you some love?
This is one of those vague and awkwardly phrased Bible verses that perplexes Bible experts. Commentaries that generally offer just a few sentences or paragraphs of explanation on each Bible verse will often produce an essay about this verse. To get a sense of how diverse the interpretations are, compare a few of the Bible translations, from the more scholarly New American Standard Bible to the more reader friendly New Living Translation.
The implication is that it was God doing the giving.
Paul seems to send mixed messages in this letter, when it comes to judging others. He says “It’s the Lord who judges me. So stop passing judgment on people” (4:4-5). Yet in the very next chapter, he is going to urge the congregation to excommunicate one of their members—a gent who seems to be sleeping with his stepmother (5:5). That sounds like judgment. How should we justify this apparent inconsistency?
It might seem a bit bold and even arrogant of Paul to tell the Christians in Corinth to follow his example by not judging others in the hurtful way some of the people in Corinth have judged him: “What I just said also applies to me and Apollos. Follow our example in the way we practice what I’ve just preached” (4:6). That’s not the way we talk. We don’t tell people to follow our example. So why do you think Paul should be allowed to get away with this?
Let’s say Paul is a friend of yours and he has come to you with a draft of his chapter, which he plans to send to one of the churches you have attended in your lifetime. You pick the church. He wants you to read the draft and help him do the best job possible in getting his point across. Based on the experiences you’ve had with the people in that church, what suggestions would you give him for improving the letter?
Paul said, “God’s kingdom isn’t talk. It’s power” (4:20). What do you think he means by this?
LIFE APPLICATION. How do you think a church board of leaders would respond to a pastor who told them what Paul said to the church at Corinth: “As far as I’m concerned, it’s no big deal that you or any other folks would judge me. I don’t trust your judgment about that any more than I trust my own” (4:3)?