1 Corinthians 4

In this next chapter, Paul is exhorting the authority he has in the Church Jesus has established.
Paul does not look for his own will, and the authority he is using is of a different sort than what
we usually think of. It is an authority of a father as we will see. The very first verse in Chapter
four already sets the tone of his authority, “Men should regard us as servants of Christ and
administrators of the mysteries of God.” He is establishing the authority is not of his own. He did
not pay anybody to gain leverage over them. It comes from the true God. Since he calls himself
an “administrator,” there is some sort of structure of this Church he is referring to. The very next
verse, Paul admits that he must be “trustworthy” to his Lord. There is something very different
that he has been entrusted with than what others do. There is a strong hint of hierarchy in the
Church Paul is laboring for and with.
But since the Church is God’s possession, no mere human owns it. Even the Pope is charged
before God to do His bidding. The Pope cannot simply do whatever he wants. He is responsible
before God and will be judged before God, and no one else. Paul has a responsibility before
God to discern the truth and is answerable to God. “It matters little to me whether you or any
human court pass judgement on me,” Paul says, “I do not even pass judgment on myself” (v3).
It is Paul that feels the full weight of his own decisions, knowing it may mean his own
condemnation. Better to fear the one who can condemn to hell than the ones who cannot (Mt
10:28). Therefore, Paul’s comment does not say he is declaring himself innocent, but rather is a
process of discernment.
If Paul had to listen to people and get their approval, then he could be led in the wrong direction.
Not all people have the interest of the community at heart. How easy it would be to be deceived.
But God does not deceive. He can rely on God telling him the truth and giving him direction for
His holy Church. Paul has clear discernment; he is focused like a laser on God’s holy will. He is
giving warning to the people to not be deceived either. The salvation of souls depends on this.
That is why he seems very severe about this issue. How souls spend eternity is more serious by
far than any matter here on earth. In the end, all things are revealed after we die, and we will all
have to deal with our actions for all of eternity. God “will bring to light what is hidden in darkness
and manifest the intentions of hearts” (v5). Knowing this is a motivation to do always the good
God wants, no matter what is seen or not, for those who believe. It keeps a person honest.
Passing judgement on those in authority can be a very serious sin of pride. Paul says, “May you
learn from us not to go beyond what is set down, so that none of you may grow self-
important…” (v6). A couple things are going on here. Some people were associating themselves
with one apostle or another. They would follow them as an opposition of another. Paul would not
have anything to do with this. When people follow certain priests or pastors, it can be a form of
flattery which can be aimed at self-interest on the part of the priest or preacher. It in turn makes
them dependent on the flattery and they slowly get manipulated by people. This is not of God.
Apollos, whom Paul is being compared to, does not want this sort of thing happening either.
Politics has entered the church. But Paul is undaunted.
Then Paul has a logic he presents to the Corinthians. He points out that everything is a gift from
God. The only things we can truly say are ours are the things we have by our nature. Everything
else is gift. So all the food we have, the roofs over our heads, the jobs we have – everything is a
gift. We have nothing we can claim to be our own and therefore, we have no claim to anything
(v7-8). In fact, Paul sees this authority as what we began with, servants. Paul says, “God has
put us apostles at the end of the line” (v9). He is willing to put up with much abuse so that his
spiritual fatherhood (v15) may be fruitful (v16). He comes with a stern warning, hoping for their