Paul’s intention of this letter was to combat division within the Corinthian church that was occurring in other churches. This is Paul’s fifth and final plan to promote unity by helping them to understand that church leaders are servants to the church under God. They should never be put in a position where they are considered superior because it could lead to self-conceit and pride. The leaders were just servants who were to be respected because they were entrusted by God to teach the Gospel and care for the congregation. In chapter 3, Paul addressed the issue of the Corinthians idolizing leaders who prized prestige above humility. In chapter 4, Paul comes full circle by addressing what is the correct way to regard the apostles and what it means to be a Christian leader.
THE FAITHFUL MANAGER (4:1 – 5)
For I am not conscious of anything against myself, but I am not justified by this. The One who evaluates me is the Lord. (1 Corinthians 4:4)
In this Paul states that the apostles are all managers (stewards) of Christ that are called to be faithful to God who are called to share the ways of God (mysteries). Paul realizes that the people will always evaluate the leaders because it is our nature to evaluate. Paul is challenging the Corinthians in their way of evaluating the leaders by the standards of their culture. They should not make snap judgments made from self-appointed authority because the leaders are answerable to only God and not the world, the Corinthians or themselves. Paul knows that if the leaders, including himself, are evaluated by the desires of the people and not God it will lead away from God’s will. People only can only judge based on the external, but only God can judge for He sees the internal and external (v. 5).” Christian leaders must be faithful to God, who has given their primary goal: spreading the Word of God.
THE APOSTLE’S EXAMPLE OF HUMILITY (4:6 – 13)
For who makes you so superior? What do you have that you didn’t receive? If, in fact, you did receive it, why do you boast as if you hadn’t received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Paul explains that leaders, including himself and Apollos, should be examples to the Corinthians and not allow their pride to be inflated by what they do compared to someone else. Leaders should never be put on a pedestal because they were given their role by God and not by themselves. All that they had was given by God, so how can they boast about it. All they had was given by the grace of God that was given to us freely. Paul acknowledged that they needed to praise God for His faithful love and the Gospel that gave them all that they had (Psalm 115:1).
Within verses 8 – 13, Paul emphasizes that Christian leadership means living life in the light of the cross and not the world. Paul calls attention to the irony of the Corinthians beliefs and spiritual truths of God. The Corinthians lived as if Christ has come back and thought they were kings (v. 8). Paul pierced the Corinthians’s view because the stage that Christians are a part of is the spiritual and physical (v. 9). Paul is giving them a reality check for the Christians of Corinth. He continues to show their misguided thoughts by contrasting spiritual Christians and worldly Christians (vv. 9 – 10). In verses 11 – 13, Paul contrasts the Christian versus the worldly life. The life of a Christian is not appealing from the world’s perspective because it is an inferior life that builds treasures in heaven and not the earth. As Christians, Paul acknowledges that this is why believers at the time were seen as dirt and garbage (v. 13b).
PAUL’S FATHERLY CARE (4:14 – 21)
I’m not writing this to shame you, but to warn you as my dear children. (1 Corinthians 4:14)
Paul reiterates that his purpose is not to embarrass or humiliate them, but to warn and encourage the Corinthian church because he cares for them like a father does for his child. He reminds them that he is their father in Christ Jesus because he is the first one who preached the Gospel to them. Due to this special relationship, he calls them to imitate him by living their life in light of the cross (v. 16). Due to Paul’s love and care for the Corinthian church, he sends Timothy to continue to teach the Gospel, but also to teach and be an example of how to live out the Gospel in their daily lives through their words and actions. He warns of those who have pride in the knowledge of the Word, but not living according to the Word. Paul ends by giving them a choice of how he should come to them, which would be determined by the way they live. Paul urges them to live a life worthy of the calling they have received from God (Eph. 4:1)