Chapter four is a mixture of harsh correction and urgent pleading for these believers to change their hearts and ways. After mentioning multiple times about the personality factions in this congregation, Paul said that there was nothing they could say to affect him (1 Corinthians 4:1-5). As far as he was concerned he simply needed to remain faithful to Christ, who will be the ultimate judge. He was sure that Jesus had nothing against him at that time, so what the Corinthians thought was “a minor matter.”
Yet what they thought was also a major matter, because it revealed their hearts and immaturity, so he attacked their sinful actions (1 Corinthians 4:6-13). He noted that it was arrogance and condescension at the heart of the matter. Paul insisted that they “learn ‘not to go beyond what is written,’” something he and Apollos practiced. 1 This obviously refers to the Scriptures available to them, which probably speaks to the special revelation they had received (1 Corinthians 1:5-7). Since everything they had was given to them, why did they think they had reason to boast about anything?
They continually flaunted themselves, parading around as if there were something special about them. Paul, on the other hand, remarked that the apostles were noticed only as “a spectacle…fools…weak…dishonored” by the world’s standards. In fact, while the Corinthians enjoyed their wealth and privileges, all the while exhibiting self-righteousness, Paul’s team was “hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, brutally treated, and without a roof over [their] heads.” They worked hard, were verbally abused, persecuted, and lied about. His conclusion: “We are the world’s scum.”
Now, that rant was not meant to shame his readers, just point out the nature of things, and to correct their thinking and grow them (1 Corinthians 4:14-21). No matter how many great heroes of the faith they could point to, only one could they call their “father,” and he deserved their respect. So, in order to not have to come to them himself “with a rod of discipline,” Paul sent Timothy ahead to help bring them back to where they were when Paul had left them.
One interesting point Paul made was to remind them that God’s work comes with God’s power. When he was there, he performed demonstrations of God’s power to identify himself as a genuine apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12). He wondered if these so-called leaders in the congregation, who were stirring things up, could do anything more than talk. He doubted it.
- This should be held as a defining principle for Christians today as well. What the Bible says, it means. What it does not say, we should be very careful in saying or demanding of ourselves and others. ↩