1 Corinthians 4 Commentary: Divine Stewardship

1 Corinthians 4 offers a unique perspective on Christian leadership and the values that should guide believers. It delves deep into the essence of Christian stewardship, juxtaposing the humility of true apostles with the emerging arrogance observed among the Corinthians.

Within its verses, Paul expresses paternal concern, illuminating the foundational principles of Christian service. He calls for selfless devotion, genuine faith, and an unwavering commitment to God’s mysteries, urging believers to reflect on their roles and responsibilities in the grand tapestry of faith.

Key Takeaways

  • Paul emphasizes stewards faithfully managing God’s mysteries and truths
  • Stewards are evaluated by God based on their faithfulness; humans shouldn’t judge prematurely
  • The apostles, guided by divine wisdom, embody humility amidst church divisions
  • Paul underscores the difference between the apostles’ sacrifices and the Corinthians’ complacency
  • As a spiritual father, Paul expresses deep concern and cautions the Corinthians against arrogance
  • Paul’s upcoming visit reinforces his authority and challenges the Corinthians to assess the genuineness of their faith


The apostle Paul underscores the vital role of God’s servants as stewards of divine mysteries, urging believers to withhold judgment until the Lord’s return. In this, Paul illuminates the profound depths of spiritual truths that humans may not fully grasp.

This aligns with Hebrews 4:12, which speaks to the penetrating power of the “word of God”, capable of discerning even the most hidden thoughts and intentions of the heart.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12, KJV

As we delve into the intricacies of 1 Corinthians 4, let us remember that it is the word of God, sharp and discerning, that serves as our ultimate guide and judge.

Brief background on the book of 1 Corinthians

In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul addresses a variety of issues facing the church in Corinth. This book, one of the books of the Bible, provides valuable insights into the challenges and struggles faced by early Christian communities.

Here is a brief background on the book of 1 Corinthians:

  • Authorship: The book of 1 Corinthians is attributed to the Apostle Paul, who founded the church in Corinth during his missionary journeys.
  • Purpose: Paul wrote this letter to address various problems within the Corinthian church, including divisions, immorality, and confusion regarding spiritual gifts.
  • Content: The book covers a wide range of topics, such as marriage, idolatry, church discipline, and the resurrection of the dead.
  • Key Themes: Throughout the book, Paul emphasizes the importance of unity, love, and the centrality of Christ’s message.
  • Relevance: The issues faced by the Corinthian church are still relevant today, offering valuable lessons for modern Christians.

The significance of Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church

Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church hold significant importance in understanding the challenges faced by early Christian communities and provide valuable guidance for addressing them.

In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses various issues within the Corinthian church, such as divisions, immorality, lawsuits, and improper conduct during worship.

These letters offer insights into the struggles and conflicts that were present in the early Christian community, allowing readers to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of early church life.

Additionally, Paul’s letters provide guidance on how to handle these challenges, offering practical advice and spiritual wisdom. They also emphasize the importance of unity, love, and spiritual gifts within the church.

Overview of the main themes of chapter 4

Chapter 4 of 1 Corinthians delves into foundational aspects that shaped the beliefs and practices of early Christian communities.

It meticulously unpacks the role of apostles in revealing the mysteries of faith and emphasizes the significance of Christ’s judgment seat, holding believers to a standard of responsibility and faithfulness.

Key themes from this chapter include:

  • The unveiling of hidden things and mysteries of faith
  • The apostles as servants of Christ entrusted with the word of the cross
  • The importance of faithfulness and stewardship in the apostles’ ministry
  • The concept of the judgment seat of Christ and the ultimate accountability of believers
  • The contrast between worldly wisdom and the wisdom of God

These themes provide profound insights into the early Christian communities and continue to resonate with believers today.

1 Corinthians 4 Commentary

The meaning of 1 Corinthians 4 can be explored through several key points.

  • First, it examines the role of God’s servants and their responsibility to be faithful stewards.
  • Second, it delves into the concept of judging and the importance of leaving judgment to God.
  • Third, it highlights the apostles as examples of humility and dependence on God.
  • Fourth, it contrasts the apostles’ suffering with the Corinthians’ pride and self-sufficiency.
  • Finally, it addresses Paul’s fatherly role and his warning against arrogance and disobedience.

These points provide a comprehensive understanding of the meaning and lessons found in Corinthians 4.

The Role of God’s Servants (1 Corinthians 4:1-2)

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

1 Corinthians 4:1-2, ESV

God’s servants play a vital role in Corinthians 4:1-2, being entrusted with the responsibility of managing God’s mysteries. In this passage, the apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of faithful servants who are called to be stewards of God’s truth.

The role of God’s servants can be understood through the following points:

  • Bringing to light the hidden: God’s servants are tasked with revealing the hidden truths of the gospel to believers, helping them understand the deeper mysteries of God’s plan.
  • Set forth us the apostles: These servants are called to exemplify the life and teachings of the apostles, acting as living examples of Christ’s message.
  • God hath set forth us: Paul emphasizes that God has appointed servants to carry out His work, indicating the divine nature of their role.
  • Bible commentaries: Scholars suggest that Paul may be referring to the apostles and those who’ve been appointed to teach the Scriptures accurately, providing commentary and guidance to believers.
  • Responsibility and accountability: God’s servants are accountable for their stewardship, as they’re entrusted with the responsibility of faithfully conveying God’s truth to others.

Judging Faithful Stewards (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)

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. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 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.

1 Corinthians 4:3-5, ESV

Faithful stewards in Corinthians 4:3-5 are evaluated and judged based on their handling of God’s mysteries.

The apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of being found faithful in the stewardship of these divine secrets. He warns against the temptation to judge others prematurely, as only God has the ultimate authority to judge.

Paul uses vivid language to describe the role of faithful stewards, stating that they’re entrusted with the responsibility to shed light on the hidden things of God. He contrasts this with those who’ve reigned as kings without the apostles’ involvement, suggesting that they may lack the true understanding and wisdom of God’s mysteries.

Paul acknowledges that there are many instructors in Christ, but true faithful stewards are those who teach everywhere in every church, faithfully sharing the profound truths of God.

Ultimately, it’s God who sees and evaluates the faithfulness of stewards in their handling of His mysteries.

The Apostles as Examples (1 Corinthians 4:6-7)

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. 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?

1 Corinthians 4:6-7, ESV

The apostles serve as exemplars of humility and wisdom in Corinthians 4:6-7, demonstrating the importance of not boasting in human wisdom but recognizing that all good gifts come from above.

In this passage, Paul addresses the issue of divisions within the Corinthian church and emphasizes the need for humility and unity among believers.

The apostles are presented as examples to follow, as they’ve received their wisdom and understanding from God. Contextually relevant ideas in this passage include the apostles’ humility and recognition of their dependence on God, the contrast between human wisdom and divine wisdom, the source of all good gifts being from God, the importance of not boasting in human achievements or abilities, and the call for unity and the rejection of divisions within the church.

The Contrast of Apostles and Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:8-13)

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! 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. 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. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

1 Corinthians 4:8-13, ESV

Paul continues the discussion by contrasting the humility and suffering of the apostles with the pride and self-sufficiency of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4:8-13. In this passage, Paul expresses his concern for the Corinthians’ misguided sense of superiority.

He reminds them that the apostles, including himself and Timothy, were experiencing great hardships and persecution for the sake of the gospel. Meanwhile, the Corinthians were living comfortably and boasting in their own wisdom and status.

Paul urges them to imitate the apostles’ example of sacrificial service and endurance. He likens the Corinthians to ‘kings’ and the apostles to ‘fools,’ emphasizing the stark contrast between their attitudes and lifestyles.

His intention is to humble the Corinthians and remind them of the true cost of discipleship, as he did with the Thessalonians in his previous letter. Later building on this theme in 2 Corinthians, Paul provides a more detailed account of the trials and sufferings he has faced in his ministry, further underscoring the sacrifices made for the gospel.

Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.

2 Corinthians 11:23, KJV

Paul’s Fatherly Role and Warning (1 Corinthians 4:14-17)

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 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. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 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.

1 Corinthians 4:14-17, ESV

In 1 Corinthians 4:14-17, Paul assumes a fatherly role and issues a warning to the Corinthians. He expresses his concern for their well-being and addresses their behavior as a spiritual father would.

Paul’s Fatherly Role: Paul sees himself as a spiritual father to the Corinthian church, having planted and nurtured their faith. He has a deep affection for them and desires their spiritual growth and maturity.

Warning: Paul issues a warning to the Corinthians, urging them to imitate him and follow his teachings. He cautions them against self-deception and boasting, earlier stating “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.” 1 Corinthians 3:18, KJV. He reminds them that he’ll be coming to them soon and hopes to see a change in their behavior.

Church: Paul’s role as a spiritual father is tied to his concern for the well-being of the church as a whole. He wants to see the church thrive and live according to the teachings of Christ.

Servants: Paul emphasizes that he and his fellow apostles are servants of Christ, seeking to faithfully serve and lead the church.

This passage specifically highlights Paul’s intention to correct their misconduct and guide them in the right direction.

Paul’s Coming and Authority (1 Corinthians 4:18-21)

Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 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. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

1 Corinthians 4:18-21, ESV

Continuing on, Paul asserts his imminent arrival and asserts his authority over the Corinthians.

In these verses, he addresses those who are arrogant and puffed up, warning them that his visit won’t be a pleasant one. He states that some have become fools on account of Christ, while others have become wise. Paul emphasizes that his authority doesn’t come from mere words but from the power of God.

He challenges the Corinthians to consider the true nature of their faith and to examine whether it’s based on empty talk or the demonstration of God’s power.

Paul’s coming serves as a reminder that Christ makes us look like fools in the eyes of the world, but in reality, it’s through Him that we find true wisdom and authority.

The overarching message of 1 Corinthians 4

The message conveyed in 1 Corinthians 4 centers around the importance of maintaining humility and refraining from making premature judgments. This message is particularly relevant in the context of the Corinthian church, which was characterized by divisions and a lack of unity.

The apostle Paul, as one of the key figures in the early Christian movement, sought to address these issues by reminding the Corinthians of their role as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.

The overarching message of 1 Corinthians 4 can be summarized as follows:

  • Humility: The Corinthians are urged to avoid pride and arrogance, recognizing that all their abilities and achievements are gifts from God.
  • Avoid Judgments: They’re encouraged not to make premature judgments about others, leaving the final judgment to God.
  • Servanthood: The Corinthians are reminded that they’re servants of Christ, called to faithfully carry out their responsibilities. The message of servant leadership relates to Christ’s calling in Mark 10:43-45 to be a servant and slave of all. This emphasis on humility and service is a core theme.
  • The Last Word: Paul emphasizes that the final judgment and reward belongs to God, not to human beings.
  • The Message: The Corinthians are urged to remain faithful to the message of the gospel, rather than being swayed by the opinions of others.

But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:

And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.

For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Mark 10:43-45, KJV

Applying 1 Corinthians 4 as a Modern Christian

When applying 1 Corinthians 4 as a modern Christian, there are three key points that emerge: faithfulness, humility, and unity.

  • First, believers are called to remain faithful to God’s teachings and live out their faith with integrity.
  • Second, humility is emphasized as a virtue, reminding Christians to recognize that all their abilities and successes come from God.
  • Lastly, unity among believers is crucial, as Paul urges the Corinthians to set aside divisions and work together for the advancement of God’s kingdom.

These principles continue to hold relevance for Christians today, guiding them in their daily lives and interactions with others.

A call to faithfulness, humility, and unity

As modern Christians, it’s essential to heed the call of 1 Corinthians 4, applying its teachings of faithfulness, humility, and unity in our daily lives. This chapter serves as a reminder for believers to remain faithful to God’s calling, to humbly recognize that all our abilities and achievements come from Him, and to prioritize unity within the body of Christ.

To apply these teachings, Christians can:

  • Cultivate a deep sense of faithfulness by staying committed to God’s Word and His commandments.
  • Embrace humility by recognizing that everything we’ve is a gift from God and by serving others selflessly.
  • Foster unity by actively seeking reconciliation, promoting understanding, and embracing diversity within the church family.
  • View ourselves as servants of Christ, understanding that our purpose is to serve God and others, rather than seeking personal glory.
  • Strive to build a strong and unified church community by valuing each member’s unique gifts and contributions.

Related Verses

2 Corinthians 5:20 reminds us that as ambassadors of Christ, we are entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation and unity among believers. This relates to the call for unity in 1 Corinthians 4.

Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:20, KJV

1 Thessalonians 2:4-7 highlights how as believers we should strive to be gentle and not seek human glory, similar to the humility called for in 1 Corinthians 4.

But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.

For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness:

Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.

But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:

1 Thessalonians 2:4-7, KJV

2 Timothy 4:2 instructs us to preach the word persistently, which connects to remaining faithful stewards.

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.

2 Timothy 4:2, KJV