1 Corinthians chapter 4

Leaders are to be faithful stewards. The resume of an authentic apostle is not what we would imagine. Leaders care for people like a parent. [UPDATED]





VERSE 1. So let a man think of us as Christ’s servants, and stewards of God’s mysteries.

as Christ’s servants. Church leaders are servants, not masters or lords or kings.

stewards of God’s mysteries. Church leaders teach people about the LORD God.


VERSE 2. Here, moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

stewards. People trust the leaders of their church. There is a fiduciary relationship between member and leader, like the fiduciary relationship people have with their doctor or banker.

be found faithful. The church leader needs to not misuse people’s trust.


VERSE 3. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you, or by man’s judgment. Yes, I don’t judge my own self.

be judged by you. Paul did not care if people judged him. He did not answer to human leaders. This is a very favorable position to be in.

by you. Many church leaders pander to their congregants. Being popular, and preaching what people want to hear, is key to their “success.”

However, Paul had no interest in being popular. He did not preach things that people wanted to hear.

or by man’s judgment. Even the idea of being judged by church leaders does not shake Paul’s confidence. Not at all.

Nobody at all can mess up Paul’s“career” as an apostle. Nobody can mess up his inner peace.


VERSE 4. For I know nothing against myself. Yet I am not justified by this, but he who judges me is the Lord.


VERSE 5. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each man will get his praise from God.


VERSE 6. Now these things, brothers, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to think beyond the things which are written, that none of you be puffed up against one another.

not to think beyond. They were not to be proud of their leaders at the expense of one another. This is the core issue Paul is hammering away at.

Their partisanship was destroying their congregation and their faith itself.

In our day, partisanship runs rampant. Believers are highly polarized and divisive.


VERSE 7. For who makes you different? And what do you have that you didn’t receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

who makes you different. At the heart of partisanship is the belief that one’s personal opinion is better than everyone else’s.



SUMMARY: The believers in Corinth thought that being a church leader meant prestige and influence, power and wealth. Paul tells them it means none of those things.

Be sure to check out these great parallel passages: 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 and 2 Corinthians 11:16-33.


VERSE 8. You are already filled. You have already become rich. You have come to reign without us. Yes, and I wish that you did reign, that we also might reign with you.

you have come to reign without us. The believers were quite impressed with themselves. They thought quite highly of themselves and their precious opinions.

I wish that you did reign. Those believers had deluded themselves. The opinions they were so fervent about were nothing, really.


VERSE 9. For, I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last of all, like men sentenced to death. For we are made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and men.

Apostles last. Many people feel that their church leader is the most important people in their church.

However, Paul saw it quite differently. To Paul, the church leader is the least important believer of all.

we are made a spectacle to the world. Everybody notices what church leaders do.


VERSE 10. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You have honor, but we have dishonor.

We are fools for Christ. Anybody can criticize their pastor. Anybody can be a Monday-morning quarterback and nitpick what their pastor preached about.

you are wise in Christ. Paul is being facetious. The believers were being arrogant about their own knowledge. However, they had pretty much everything wrong.


VERSE 11. Even to this present hour we hunger, thirst, are naked, are beaten, and have no certain dwelling place.

we hunger, thirst. Paul and the other apostles went hungry.

This does not mean that their busy schedules prevented them from having time to eat a proper meal. No, it meant that they were so poor that they could not afford food.

are naked. Unlike most of today’s church leaders, Paul and the apostles wore tattered old raggedy clothing. Or went without clothing.

are brutally treated. They were brutally treated. However, in our day, clerics are treated with respect.

we are homeless. How many of us would be eager to have some homeless person as our pastor?

In our day, our church leaders have majestic homes. But in those early days, the leader was poor and homeless.


VERSE 12. We toil, working with our own hands. When people curse us, we bless. Being persecuted, we endure.

We toil, working with our own hands. For an income, Paul and the other apostles did manual labor. Paul was a tentmaker.


VERSE 13. Being defamed, we entreat. We are made as the filth of the world, the dirt wiped off by all, even until now.

NIV translation: Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.

This verse is fantastic! Would you consider memorizing it? More great verses to memorize from First Corinthians.

the filth of the world. In those days, apostles were treated as the scum of the earth. Being a church leader was not a thing of popularity or esteem like it is today.

the dirt wiped off by all. They were treated as a pile of refuse.




VERSE 14. I don’t write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.

to admonish you. The believers in Corinth had it all wrong. They were wrong about a very important matter. Their partisanship needed to be corrected. This was a matter of grave importance.

1 Corinthians 4:14. I don’t write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.

Galatians 4:19. My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ is formed in you—

Philipplians 2:22. But you know the proof of him, that as a child serves a father, so he served with me in furtherance of the Good News.

1 Thessalonians 3:7. for this cause, brothers, we were comforted over you in all our distress and affliction through your faith.

3 John 1:4. I have no greater joy than this: to hear about my children walking in truth.


VERSE 15. For though you have ten thousand tutors in Christ, you don’t have many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, I became your father through the Good News.

tutors. That is, teachers. Over the course of their lives, individual believers will have quite a few leaders who will tutor them.

father. In Greek, πατήρ (patér). Paul sees himself as their “father.” This is because he led these people to their initial faith in Jesus Christ. Through Paul, so to speak, they got saved. So Paul calls himself their father.

This is a problem. Jesus Christ told us to use the word “father” only for God the Father. But here, Paul is using the term for himself.

Matthew 23:9. Call no man on the earth your father, for one is your Father, he who is in heaven.


VERSE 16. I beg you therefore, be imitators of me.

be imitators of me. Some Christians follow Paul instead of Jesus Christ. We do not believe that’s what Paul had in mind in this verse.

1 Corinthians 1:12-13. Now I mean this, that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” “I follow Cephas,” and, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?

1 Corinthians 4:16. I beg you therefore, be imitators of me.

1 Corinthians 11:1. Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ (KJV translation).

Philippians 3:17. Brothers, be imitators together of me, and note those who walk this way, even as you have us for an example.

1 Thessalonians 1:6. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,


VERSE 17. Because of this I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, even as I teach everywhere in every assembly.

will remind you of my ways. This partisanship thing needed to be corrected. It was so important that Paul sent to them his “son” Timothy.

Timothy would oversee their discipleship training to make sure they got this point down.

I teach everywhere. Paul’s teaching about avoiding partisanship: it wasn’t just for Corinth. No, it was for all churches. And for us in our day.


VERSE 18. Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you.

some are puffed up. The most strong-willed believers in Corinth acted as though they knew what was right. They lorded it over other people.

as though I were not coming to you. There is a saying that when the cat goes away, the mice will play.

That was the case in Corinth. They thought Paul would never return. So the most bossy people took charge. They asserted their own will over other believers.


VERSE 19. But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord is willing. And I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power.

if the Lord is willing. Lots of us plan for the future. But we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. We should say “God-willing” and speak tentatively of our future. Read  more »

those who are puffed up. You can spend the rest of your life dissecting the words of arrogant people. Paul did not waste his time on such a thing.

but the power. Paul looked for evidence of the power of God in the lives of people. They are arrogant. They only have words.

God will rarely favor them with his power. Thus their lives are almost always devoid of the power of God.

See the next verse . . .


VERSE 20. For God’s Kingdom is not in word, but in power.

This verse is fantastic! Would you consider memorizing it? More great verses to memorize from First Corinthians.

NAB translation: For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

1 Thessalonians 1:5. and that our Good News came to you not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance. You know what kind of men we showed ourselves to be among you for your sake.

word. The Greek word for “talk” here is λόγος (logos). It means word, speech, utterance, analogy.

In our day, most preachers preach with analogies and stories. Their teaching consists of “talk.” What they offer is words.

power. The Greek word here for “power” is δύναμις (dunamis). It means might, miraculous power, marvelous works.

Paul says the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but rather a matter of might, power, marvelous works. The Holy Spirit gives you real power, and not just words. Miracles are probably taking place.


VERSE 21. What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?

Shall I come to you with a rod. The believers needed radical correction.

If they did not correct themselves after reading this letter, Paul would arrive in-person and personally oversee their correction. This would not be delightful for them.

love and a spirit of gentleness. If they are able to correct themselves, then when Paul arrives, he will not have to be the enforcer.


next chapter »

« previous chapter


CHAPTERS: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

RESOURCES: SummaryOutline, Memorize

Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.


Author: todd

At Explore the Faith, I share insights into the Bible and theological writings. If you like what I write, become my partner by donating. Help me reach the world for the Lord Jesus Christ.