1 Corinthians Chapter 4: Stewardship and Judgment and Inflated Egos

Jan 30th, 2010 | By | Category: 1 & 2 Corinthians, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

1 Corinthians Chapter 4: Stewardship and Judgment and Inflated Egos

1 Cor. 4:1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

Verse 1 is based on the reasoning of preceding chapters. Paul had spoken of the class at Corinth as being “yet carnal” and in need of instruction because of their divisions (1 Cor. 3:3).

In wanting to bring them up higher, he raised an interesting point here in verse 1. Paul, Apollos, and Cephas were the three prime examples used in the earlier lesson (1 Cor. 3:22). Of the three, only Paul and Cephas (Peter) were apostles, yet the brethren were to account all three as “ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” Paul could have taken the tack that Apollos was not an apostle, and then the contest would have been between Peter and him. However, Paul did not attempt to judge along that line. Because the Corinthians needed another lesson, he did not say here, “Since I am an apostle, you should listen to me.” With some favoring Paul and others favoring Peter, a personality cult could have developed. To feed on admiration for Paul might lead to deprecating Peter, and vice versa. Generally speaking, there would be a danger in thinking more and more favorably of one and less and less favorably of the other. Paul did not want to pursue the issue on this apostolic level, for the higher lesson was to recognize all three as ministers of God and Jesus. Earlier in this epistle, Paul raised the issue to the even higher level that the mysteries are of God and by Jesus. At a lower level, the mysteries are by the apostles, and at an even lower level, they are by teachers, prophets, etc. The whole class at Corinth should have had their hearts and minds centered in God and looked to Him for teaching and guidance in all of their affairs. In the final analysis, the Father does the teaching, and all of the others are His ministers in helping to develop the Church to make their calling and election sure.

Today, whether the brethren know it or not, they tend to idolize Pastor Russell, who was not an apostle. But even if he were an apostle, it would not be proper to say, “Bro. Russell said this” and “Bro. Russell said that.” Paul cautioned the brethren not to say, “I am of Paul,” and then think of only him, for that would be giving him inordinate credit. He was trying to raise their thinking to the highest possible level that the truth is of God. Teaching and guidance come through the ministers and mouthpieces of God.

Paul commended those of Berea for hearing with all readiness of mind and then searching the Word of God before judging whether these things were so (Acts 17:10,11). He commended them for critically analyzing his teaching, even though he, an apostle, was doing the instructing. The Bereans tried to square Paul’s teachings with God’s Word. Thus we should not be concerned about what others may think. We need the whole Word of God, including the Old Testament, and should not specialize in just certain books of the Bible. An elder may be blessed with talents along one line, but he should not teach that all Christians are being judged on the level of that specialty.

Paul, Apollos, and Cephas were “ministers of Christ”—representatives, messengers, and servants sent by Christ to minister to the spiritual needs of the brethren at Corinth—and they were accountable as “stewards of the mysteries of God.” Down through history, stewards have been on different levels. For example, in Egypt, Joseph was a steward of Potiphar, a high government official. In that capacity, Joseph’s responsibilities were to take care of the estate, make sure food provisions were ample, see that wages were paid to the laborers, and keep a record of revenues and expenditures. A steward in Greece was even responsible for bringing up the children in his master’s family and for obtaining the best tutors for their education.

Hence the term “steward” had much more significance in the past than it does today. The point is that stewards have a lot of responsibility, particularly special messengers sent of God, and as a steward, Paul was concerned about the welfare of the Corinthian brethren.

In summary, verse 1 gives the proper perspective: we are of God, and Christ is the wisdom of God to us. Paul wanted the consecration of the brethren to be based on God and not on personalities, not even an apostle.

1 Cor. 4:2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

In the Church at large, “stewards” are representatives of Christ, but in the highest sense, they are chargeable to God. Therefore, whether or not they will be rewarded for their work would depend on how God measures their performance. It is required of stewards that they be “found faithful.” There is always that doubt in the present life, but God and His Word are sure.

We must be careful, for we can fail—and so can others.

1 Cor. 4:3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.

For Paul to say, “With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you,” suggests that certain members of the ecclesia were judging him. Some judged him favorably, thinking “I am of Paul,” and some judged him unfavorably, putting Apollos or Cephas above him. But Paul was saying, “I will not be a man-pleaser, trying to favor the clique that favors me, for my stewardship is not in this ecclesia at all but is of God.” He was not frightened as to how the brethren in Corinth might judge him, for his salvation and standing were predicated on what God thought of him, not man. Many ministers, wanting to be regarded highly, tickle the ears of their congregation by saying pleasant and comfortable things (2 Tim. 4:3). And brethren sometimes compromise truth and try to speak in between viewpoints in order to attract both the liberal and the conservative elements. In contrast, Paul spoke the plain, unvarnished truth with no animosity or partiality to any of the brethren.

“I judge not mine own self.” Paul was saying, “I have tried to be as faithful as possible, but God will make the determination. I recognize the responsibility of my position, but in the final analysis, the One who sent me will adjudicate as to whether I have been faithful to His Word.”

Comment: Paul wrote to Titus, “A bishop [an elder] must be blameless, as the steward of God” (Titus 1:7). A list of additional qualifications follows.

Reply: The requirements for elders, as stated in Titus and 1 Timothy, are given as guidelines for those in the ecclesia who vote by raising the hand.

With regard to all of the consecrated, the proper opinion is what God thinks of us, not what others think or even what we think of ourselves. Whether we think too highly or too lowly of self, what really matters is God’s opinion of us. We should try to be balanced in our assessment of self, but in the final analysis, God will do the judging.

1 Cor. 4:4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

The Revised Standard reads, “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted [justified]. It is the Lord who judges me [either favorably or unfavorably regardless of what I think].” In other words, “As far as I am concerned, I am innocent of any charges, but in the final analysis, whether or not I am approved is up to God.” Paul was not aware of anything particularly wrong he had done wrong, but he was not justified thereby, for God might think otherwise.

Paul was not trying to justify himself, but he was trying to show he regarded his responsibility very seriously. Therefore, he was trying to be as faithful and as impartial as possible. He would speak as needed and try to rectify the situation in the class so that there would be harmony without any compromise of principle or favoritism to one side or the other. And God would judge him, not the members of the ecclesia.

Paul was taking a neutral position, for God was judging him. Some viewed Paul unfavorably and some favorably, but at the end of the age, God will make manifest, in the true evaluation, whom He approves and whom He disapproves.

1 Cor. 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

“Therefore judge nothing before the time” in the condemnatory or unfavorable sense. With regard to a severe judgment, where one has done evil, Romans 12:19 comes to mind, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Paul was referring to things done in the dark, but we are an open book to God, for He knows the counsel of our hearts. As we try to do His will and please Him, we are at least trying to overcome our evil propensities.

In the dispute between Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, the brethren contended for one above the others. For example, those who contended that Paul gave the best advice favored him and denigrated the others—an improper attitude.

God “will make manifest the counsels of the hearts,” that is, the purposes and motives of the heart. Even though imperfectly expressed or manifested by the deeds of the flesh, the intention could be perfect. Although an onlooker may judge rightly in most cases, there are errors in judgment. One may have thorough approval of God but not thorough approval down here by fellow man or even fellow brethren.

Comment: If taken out of context, the admonition to “judge nothing before the time” could be damaging and, therefore, needs to be qualified. We may observe and judge certain things, but we are not to judge final destiny or verdict.

Reply: That is right, for later on in the epistle, Paul talked of the type of judging we should do. We may observe certain matters, but we cannot render the verdict.

The caution was not to overjudge, not to “hyperjudge.” For example, all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution, and generally speaking, the Lord’s servants have all experienced persecution even by fellow brethren, and thus are judged incorrectly (2 Tim. 3:12).

Comment: “Until the Lord come” would be after the marriage, when The Christ is complete and returns to earth’s atmosphere. At that time, every man’s work—that is, the work of the consecrated—will be made apparent, and the Lord “will bring to light the hidden things of darkness.”

Reply: In the Kingdom, it will be seen that the Great Company have nothing commendable on the foundation, no lasting superstructure, and the Little Flock have a palace. Thus the day will make manifest as to who has the house and who does not have the house, as to who gets the “praise of God” and who does not. Paul was not emphasizing Second Death here but was trying to encourage the brethren. He was saying that of the faithful, some are really faithful, and others are a little negligent. He was trying to repair the damage between these two classes.

“Then shall every man have praise of God.” Here Paul was speaking favorably about Apollos, Cephas, and himself. All three were sincere representatives who did a good work along one line or another.

1 Cor. 4:6 And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.

Paul was saying, “By purposely speaking in a language you can understand, I am taking the bull by the horns. I am bringing in two personalities, Apollos and myself, to give you a practical illustration rather than to talk about a nebulous hypothetical principle. By my speaking about the nitty-gritty situation in the class, you should be able to judge it.”

Comment: The RSV reads, “I have applied all this to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brethren, that you may learn by us to live according to scripture, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.”

Worldly wisdom would say to attack the proponents of error, but instead of speaking about the particular personalities in the class, Paul intentionally made Apollos, Cephas, and himself the objects of attention. What a wise method to avoid stirring up antagonisms among the various divisions in the class! Paul did not talk about the special credentials the class attributed to Apollos, Cephas, and himself but simply said, “I planted, Apollos watered, and God gives the increase.” Here he gave no further details and avoided other personalities in the class.

(Later, however, Paul had to mention personalities because some persisted in opposition.) “That ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.” Being “puffed up for one against another” is the principle that being for one person is usually at the expense of someone else. Moreover, Paul gave the admonition “not to think of men above that which is written.” There are differences of honor: God first, His Word second, Jesus Christ third, the apostles fourth, the messengers to the Church fifth, and then prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Eph. 4:11). Paul was now trying to show that he was an apostle, not just a member of the class who was doing a lot of talking and criticizing. The various ones were “puffed up” and forgetting certain things that he would subsequently call attention to and strike a raw nerve.

1 Cor. 4:7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?

The puffed-up leaders were taking sides for or against another individual with the result that cliques were developing. Paul used himself to show that such judgment was wrong. He was coming down to their level and talking plainly about the realities of the situation, for he wanted them to see the need for unity in the one common salvation.

Not only did leaders get the Corinthians to take sides initially, but swaying the brethren to think their way might have been just an expediency for subsequently forgetting Paul, Apollos, and/or whoever the personality was and assuming improper leadership themselves. In other words, the leaders used the favoring of Paul, Apollos, etc., as a platform to advance themselves. This same spirit led to the development of the clergy. Instead there should have been common communication and understanding, based on God’s providence and Jesus Christ, that others, including the apostles, are just ministers.

The same principle applies to Bro. Russell’s teaching. Some could say, “We want to set the spiritual food in order and have a nice clean table.” But who would decide what is the clean provender to be used? Even the Pastor did not set up a platform on the reign, the smiting of the image, and the Church’s share in the sin offering because they are not proper criteria for an ecclesia basis. Teachers are another matter, however, for the brethren elect the teachers. If the level of the brethren is lower, then the quality of the leadership is lower. As the brethren develop, they should expect better leaders so that they do not stagnate on that level.

Comment: An Old Testament example is Korah’s rebellion. When Korah magnified himself as a leader, Aaron’s rod budded to show whom God favored for leadership.

Reply: The democratic principle was ostensibly being used to grasp improper leadership. Paul had brought the message of truth to Corinth, and this message was miraculous. When Jesus asked, “Whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:15-17). In other words, “You were called out of darkness into this favorable light because of God’s providence in coming your way and drawing you.” Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father … [first] draw him” (John 6:44).

Paul had introduced the gospel of the crucified Christ, the Redeemer of mankind, in Corinth and was steadfast under the most severe conditions. Observers knew he was convinced of what he was teaching, and holding fast cost him a lot. Even Crispus, ruler of the synagogue, was converted by the power of the message. Paul was saying, “You have forgotten that all of you got the truth through my ministry, and now some of you are preaching as if you are apostles.” Some from Corinth happened to be in Israel during Jesus’ First Advent, and because they had personally seen and heard him—even though they were not converted then—they later claimed to be apostles and felt Paul was not an apostle. However, Paul not only heard Jesus’ voice and saw him but saw him in a way nobody else did—as one “born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8). The Corinthians had to be acquainted with the facts.

“Why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” Due recognition is to be given to the one whom God or Jesus used to bring us into the truth—unless, of course, that individual goes astray.

1 Cor. 4:8 Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.

Paul used constructive sarcasm in speaking of the attitude of the Corinthians—their boastings, their pride, their glory. They felt that they did not need anyone and that they were on their own, whereas there was much they still needed to learn, especially from an apostle. Paul said in effect, “Even now you are reigning as kings, yet at this present hour, we are having the opposite experience.” They thought that they were “full” and “rich” and at the mark of perfect love, and that now they could sit back on their laurels as mature Christians.

Comment: Verse 8 is similar to the message to the Laodicean period of the Church (Rev. 3:17).

Reply: Yes, much of the wording is the same. “You think you are rich, but you are poor. You think you are clothed, but you are naked. You think you can see, but you need ointment to make you see.”

Comment: To say we have “the truth” is a way of saying we are rich.

Reply: Although Jesus’ criticism of Laodicea applies to the nominal Church, the spirit of nominalism can creep into our midst with the attitude that we have everything we need through the Pastor’s writings. Jesus said, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). “Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off” (1 Kings 20:11). We must not be satisfied, feel we have secured the crown, or think we can enjoy the fruits of victory and do not need the armor anymore.

Verse 8 also shows, in a secondary lesson, that when the reign of Christ begins, the true Church will be with him. Accordingly, Paul was saying that if the Corinthians were reigning, he would be reigning too, but how could that be when he was having persecuting experiences?

Paul had to draw attention to himself and to others like him in order to get his point across.

Comment: There must have been a lot of worldliness in the Corinthian church, since the brethren were not being persecuted for their beliefs.

Reply: Yes, that is true. The brethren were prosperous, for Corinth, a wealthy urban center, was on the mercantile route with a lot of traffic.

1 Cor. 4:9 For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.

“God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death.” The doctrine, character, and lives of the apostles gave the brethren a “manual” on how to put the gospel into practice. They demonstrated that the Christian life entails suffering privation, persecution, etc.

With regard to being “appointed to death,” being set forth last for destruction, Paul used an illustration of a practice in those days when Rome was the ascendant power. The Romans built amphitheaters, or stadiums, in many of the prominent cities for theatrical purposes and gladiatorial contests. The contests early in the day were between professional gladiators, who had a means of protecting themselves. The gladiator who won received honors, and the one who lost died. The contests could be long or short depending on the skill of the gladiators. As the day proceeded, the contests became more and more vicious. Next, the gladiators were not given anything to protect themselves, and they were even put in the arena naked and given knives or spears to fight among themselves. The blood from every wound that was received could be seen by the cheering crowd. Then, to fill up the day with entertainment, imprisoned Christians were forced into the gladiatorial ring against overwhelming and hopeless odds of hungry lions, for example. These Christians, who were doomed for death, satisfied the lust of the crowd. And if Christians were pitted against each other to see if one would break his principle by murdering the other, the victor was turned over to the lions anyway. Meanwhile, the spectators ridiculed the hapless victims. These practices show that wrong doctrines and philosophies are like drugs and intoxicants when imbibed inordinately. By feeding on these doctrines, the adherents became increasingly sadistic. In rare cases, a gladiator was successful for a number of years, until he was advanced in age; then the public felt he should be honored, acclaimed by the ruler, released, and given money for “retirement.”

Paul used this illustration of gladiators from the standpoint of the spectators who watched the contests; that is, the life, doctrine, and death of the apostles were of instructional value to both men and angels. The apostles all died violently (like Christians in the ring with lions) and did not budge from their faith. They were all condemned in the sense that they would die anyway, being “appointed [un]to death.”

While men (the public) and angels needed to consider the lives of the apostles, Paul saw that the Corinthian class needed these lessons as well. Some in the class were not being persecuted but were honorable, well esteemed, and affluent, while the apostles, who were having the opposite experience, were examples of how to carry out Christian living. The Corinthians should have analyzed the situation to see that persecution and suffering were proper for a Christian and proof of his faithfulness. A Christian should not be esteemed for his knowledge and lack of persecution.

“For we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.” In several translations and also in the King James margin, the word “spectacle” is “theater.” The apostles were a spectacle in the sense of an amphitheater, as explained above. Therefore, Paul was saying, “Your standing with Christ is based on the principle that if you suffer with him, you will reign with him.” We live in a very unusual day, for Christians 250 years ago had to pay a price just to be a Christian. To not be a Catholic was to be a heretic. One’s life was in jeopardy because he did not know from one day to the next when the end would come. Today’s libertine society is one of “love,” in which doctrinal differences and principles do not matter, generally speaking. But conditions will change in the coming church-state hour of power (Rev. 17:12).

Comment: Romans 8:36 reads, “As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

1 Cor. 4:10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.

Verse 10 is sarcasm. Some of the Corinthians thought they were “wise in Christ”; that is, they had a high opinion of their interpretation of principles, and they thought they had excellent understanding.

Not only will Paul be rewarded for his suffering with Christ, but he will occupy a high place in the Little Flock. He was trying to show that faithfulness to Christ and God is not a popularity contest, which it was with the Greeks. The Greeks honored the orators, who were put on a pedestal and almost worshipped because of their eloquence—and not because of suffering for righteousness’ sake. The Greeks looked for wisdom, and the Jews were stumbled by the Cross.

1 Cor. 4:11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;

1 Cor. 4:12 And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:

1 Cor. 4:13 Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.

“Even unto this present hour” when Paul was writing this epistle to the Corinthians, the apostles hungered, thirsted, were naked, were buffeted, had no certain dwelling place, labored, were reviled, were persecuted, were defamed, and were made as the filth of the world. If the apostles had not been examples of suffering, it is possible that Christians could have read the Gospels and concluded that Jesus did all the suffering for us.

Notice the contrast. “Being defamed, we entreat.” The apostles exhorted and entreated on ordinary life principles, whereas some of the Corinthians commanded. For example, “I beseech you, brethren” (1 Cor. 1:10; 4:16; 16:15; 2 Cor. 10:1). Of course Paul was talking along general lines, for later he had to command with regard to a very serious matter.

1 Cor. 4:14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.

“I write not these things to shame you.” On other occasions, Paul did use shame as a tool. For example, Paul used shame and sarcasm when he asked, “Do you have to go into court brother against brother? You are called to be the judges of the world, yet you cannot judge even the smallest matter. Must you go to court before the unconsecrated instead of trying to settle the matter among the brethren?” (1 Cor. 6:1,2 paraphrase). But here in verse 14, Paul’s purpose was to admonish, not shame, because he wanted the Corinthians to receive a lesson and thus change their conduct and policy in life. He was warning against teachers who gloried in their own sense of importance, even above the apostles. Instead of feeling it was necessary for the Christian to suffer, these teachers gloried in their love, generosity of spirit, and oratorical ability. They felt rich and satisfied. However, Paul taught otherwise, and he was warning of the danger of the doctrine that the reign had already begun. He reasoned that the reign could not begin while the Church was still in the flesh. Incidentally, the issue of the reign is with us today, and how we view it has a bearing on other related truths.

1 Cor. 4:15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

1 Cor. 4:16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.

Because of their knowledge, the brethren in Corinth had an inflated view of their position with God, but Paul was more knowledgeable in correct doctrine than they were. And Paul sacrificed for and instructed them in love as a father. The Corinthians had only one “father,” for he had started the class. Paul applied the term “father” in a modified sense, for God had used him to found that particular ecclesia in Christ Jesus through the message of the gospel. Paul said the Corinthians had “ten thousand instructors.” In reality, they may have had 20 or 30, but he purposely exaggerated the situation to get his point across.

Q: Since Jesus said in Matthew 23:9, “Call no man your father upon the earth,” how do we harmonize Paul’s statement here?

A: Paul’s being a father is a lot different from being called “Father.” Paul certainly did not want the title. “Pope,” meaning “father of fathers,” is especially obnoxious. “Pope John” and “Father O’Brien,” for example, are forbidden titles, and individuals accepting them are showing off in order to get the admiration and support of others. The Corinthian teachers were puffed up with “vainglory,” whereas Paul was willing to suffer anything for Christ (Phil. 2:3). Paul was using the term “father” in an emotional sense in that he was interested in the spiritual welfare of the brethren, their destiny. He humiliated himself in some cases in order to exhort them as a concerned parent would his own children. The biggest title Paul used was “apostle,” which means in Greek “one sent out” by Jesus.

Comment: Paul called Timothy “my own son,” and he travailed over his “little children” (1 Tim. 1:2; Gal. 4:19).

Comment: Paul was concerned for the spiritual welfare of the brethren, whereas the others were not. The same principle was stated by Jesus in John 10:13, “The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.”

Reply: Yes, the motive is very important.

“Wherefore [because God used me to introduce the truth to you] I beseech you, be ye followers [imitators] of me.” In other words, “Listen to what I am saying and observe my behavior because this other teaching is not only wrong but also dangerous. I am warning you.” Paul’s teaching and conduct were scriptural, whereas others were leading astray. Based on the Greek, “imitators” is the preferable translation. The brethren were to gain lessons from noticing Paul’s behavior.

1 Cor. 4:17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.

Timothy would bring the Corinthians into remembrance of Paul’s ways, which were in Christ and taught “in every church.” In other words, Timothy would remind the brethren of Paul’s instruction and doctrine, which were consistent.

1 Cor. 4:18 Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.

1 Cor. 4:19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power.

Imagine if Paul came to the Corinthians in power! He warned that he would come to them later and manifest his power, if need be, to correct them. There are times when admonition is necessary and not brotherly kindness in the sense of sweet talk. (Sometimes tact and sweetness are more effective, and at other times, they are not.) Here Paul did not intend to reason and debate with the brethren. The issue was serious, and it needed to be terminated quickly one way or the other. Thus there are times when it is not advisable to delve into a subject to try to straighten out someone.

1 Cor. 4:20 For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.

1 Cor. 4:21 What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?

Since knowledge and clarity in the truth are important, why did Paul say, “For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power”? The strength and spirit of God must be behind the words; otherwise, they are empty. Those teachers in the class who were given to oratory and drawing elaborate pictures without the spirit or power of God and without suffering experiences in their lives were speaking without substance. They were following a course of emptiness.

What Paul meant in verse 20 was, “The kingdom of God is not in word [merely], but [is also] in power.” For example, Peter was sent to Cornelius with the “word” that Jesus is the Messiah. The “kingdom of God” is not just in word, for it has power. When Paul came to the Corinthians the next time, he would use his apostolic power as a “rod,” if necessary. In other words, if the Corinthians received his admonition, Paul would come to them in “love, and … meekness.”

Otherwise, he would have to come with a rod. An example of a rod on other occasions was when Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead or when Paul struck Elymas with blindness (Acts 5:1-10; 13:8-11).

The Corinthians did not think Paul would come back to Corinth because certain providential happenings delayed his visit. However, he did eventually go, as related in the Book of Acts.

The Corinthians attached different motives to his not coming earlier, as will be seen in later chapters of this epistle.

In summary, in chapter 4, Paul gloried in his sufferings for Christ. He tried to say that since such sufferings do not bring wealth, fame, or health, those who suffer for Christ must have some other ulterior, superior motive than self-aggrandizement. Thus the sincerity of professed Christians can be seen to a certain extent by analyzing their lifestyle. Paul was saying to the brethren in Corinth, “Look at those who are doing all the talking and are so popular. Who are they? They are nobodies because they are living like kings and not suffering for Christ.” Paul was using sanctified common sense and speaking in a very earnest, open way. He did not glorify himself but said that God gives the increase. Yes, he planted and Apollos watered, but God gives the increase—and all are to be accountable to Him as stewards.

Comment: Verse 20 helps on the subject of the reign. “The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” Many say Jesus is reigning, but when that happens, it will be with power.

(1979, 1997, and 2001 Studies)

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