1 Corinthians 4

1 Corinthians 4  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 6
THE MEN OF THIS WORLD, and—sad to say—especially modernistic preachers, are often remarkably like “Muckrake” of Bunyan’s great allegory. They have no eye for the things of heaven. They boast a purely earthly religion, which aims at producing a little more order amongst the sticks and stones and refuse of the floor. But Paul and Apollos? Who and what are they? May we not glory in them? They are but servants and stewards. And the fourth chapter opens with a reminder of this, and with the statement that the essential virtue of a steward is faithfulness. This again raises the thought of THE DAY, which is to declare all things, as the 13th verse of the previous chapter told us.
In verse 3 the words, “man’s judgment,” (ch. 4:3) should read “man’s day,” and thus the connection and contrast is made plain. In the light of “the day,” Paul was not overmuch troubled or concerned about the judgment of “man’s day,” or even of the Corinthians themselves. Had they been in a spiritual condition he would doubtless have listened patiently to any criticism of himself which they wished to proffer. But they were carnal and consequently their judgment was of but little worth. Paul lets them know this.
Moreover Paul had a good conscience. The opening of verse 4 has been translated, “For I am conscious of nothing in myself; but I am not justified by this” (ch. 4:4). How good it would be if we could each speak thus: if we were each so true to what we have learned of the mind of God that we are not conscious of anything amiss. Yet even a Paul had to admit that this did not justify him, for he is to be judged not by what he knew, but by the Lord and what He knows. So have we all; and there is a vast difference between the standard erected by our consciousness and that erected by the omniscience of the Lord.
What does the Lord know? Let verse 5 tell us—one of the most searching verses in the Bible. When the Lord comes He will usher in the day, and the beams of its light will have X-ray properties. This verse is written, not in view of the enormous evils of the world without, but of the actions that take place within the Christian circle.
Oh! what painful episodes—in their uncountable thousands—have taken place amongst the saints of God. Many of them more or less private in nature; some of them public and ecclesiastical. We may form our judgments and even become violent partisans; and all the while there may be dark corners hidden from our eyes in which hidden things are secreted. There may be secret motives in hearts, altogether veiled from us. All is coming out in the light of the day. The final court of appeal lies in the presence of the Lord. His verdict may irrevocably upset all the verdicts of the courts below. So, if we feel ourselves wronged, let us have patience. If inclined to take some drastic action, let us take great care. Search well the dark corners lest there be some hidden things which should see the light. Search your own heart lest a wrong motive lurk there. Think twice and thrice before launching the thunderbolt, especially if it be an ecclesiastical one which may affect many.
The last clause of verse 5 is rather, “then shall each have praise from God” (ch. 4:5). That is to say, the point is not that every man is going to be praised, but that each who is praised will have his praise from GOD, and not from some few of his fellow-creatures. The Corinthians had their party leaders. They praised this one extravagantly, and these they condemned; and vice versa. It was all worthless. God give us grace to avoid this kind of thing. The only praise worth having is praise from God.
Verse 6 shows us that the real party leaders at Corinth were other than Paul or Apollos, probably gifted local leaders, or even visiting brethren of Judaizing tendencies, to whom he alludes more plainly in his second epistle. Paul avoided the use of their names, but he wanted all to learn the lesson, not to be puffed up for one as against another. No one has any ground for boasting, however shining their gift, for all that they have they have received from God.
Now this glorying in man is of the spirit of the world. And if the world creeps in at one point, it will soon creep in at another. So it had at Corinth. They were full and rich, and reigning like kings, having a real “good time,” while their Lord was still rejected, and the apostles of the Lord were sharing His rejection. There is a tinge of holy sarcasm in that word, “I would to God ye did reign, that we also [Paul and his companions] might reign with you” (ch. 4:8). The saints will reign when Christ reigns, and the apostles will not be missing from their thrones.
What a picture of the apostles, as they were then, do verses 9 to 13 present! Comment is not needed. We only need to let the picture be engraved on our minds. Paul painted the picture not to shame us but to warn us. But without a doubt we shall be both warned and shamed. He was a spiritual father to the Corinthians and not merely an instructor, for he had been used to their conversion. We, too, as Gentiles, have been converted through him, though indirectly, and he is our instructor through his inspired writings. So let us also take him as our model, and imitate his faith and devotedness.
The closing verses of our chapter show that some amongst the Corinthians were not only running after party leaders, and worldly in life, but they were conceited and puffed up. To such the Apostle writes very plain words. For the moment Timothy had come to remind them of what was right and becoming, but he anticipated coming shortly himself. When he came in the power of God’s kingdom, of God’s authority, these conceited brethren might measure themselves against it, if they so desired.
Did they desire it? How effectively it would puncture their inflated pretensions! Would it not be better to humble themselves before God, and enable Paul to visit them in a far happier spirit?
And will it not be well for us all to be searched and humbled as we close this chapter?