Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentMahan's Commentary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verses 1-8

Stewards of the grace of God

1 Corinthians 4:1-8

It was a matter of grave concern to Paul to see the church torn by factions because of liking or disliking certain ministers, so he continues his discussion as to the ministry of the word. Four things are especially prominent:

1. Paul describes the office of a pastor.

2. He sets forth the duty of a pastor.

3. He calls all servants of Christ before the only true judgement-seat.

4. He ascribes every gift to the grace of God.

1 Corinthians 4:1. Let pastors and teachers be looked upon as ministering servants of Christ qualified, called and sent forth by him to preach his gospel. Since they are his servants (his ambassadors), they are to apply themselves to his work, not their own! (2 Corinthians 5:18-21.) Since they are servants, they are to be respected, esteemed and heard for his sake. When ministers are treated with contempt, contempt for the word of God follows; but when they are exalted above measure, they are in danger of abusing the office.

These ministers are stewards (a person put in charge of the affairs of an estate) ‘of the mysteries,’ or the secret purposes, ‘of God.’ It is their business to dispense and make known the mysteries of divine grace. Through them God communicates to men his word, his gospel, and the directions for his church (Acts 8:30-31; Ephesians 4:11-15).

1 Corinthians 4:2. It is not enough for a pastor to fill an office, undertake the duties of the ministry, or be a steward, if he is not a good and faithful servant faithful to God's word, to the gospel to those under his care (Acts 20:18-21; Acts 20:24-27). Everyone who knows and preaches the truth is not necessarily faithful; only he who studies, prays, labors and gives his whole life to this glorious calling.

1 Corinthians 4:3. Paul knew his call to the apostleship (1 Timothy 1:12-13; 1 Corinthians 1:1). He examined his own heart, ways and motives, determined that he had indeed been faithful to his charge (2 Timothy 4:5-8). Therefore, it mattered very little to him personally that these Corinthians should judge him and his ministry. He chose not to stand or fall by their judgment, or any other human judgment (even his own).

1 Corinthians 4:4 . Staying with the context, which is ‘faithful in the ministry of the word,’ Paul says, ‘I know nothing against myself; I am free from the blood of all men; I have kept back nothing profitable to you. However, I am not vindicated by my own opinion; it is the Lord himself who examines and judges me as a servant and minister.’

1 Corinthians 4:5 . ‘Therefore, be slow in your judgment and be not hasty to pass sentence nor to censure one another, particularly your ministers.’ There is a time fixed for the judgment of all things, that is, the day of our Lord's return. When he comes, he will bring to light the secret things that are now hidden in darkness and will disclose the aims, motives and purposes of hearts. Then every regenerate soul, every true believer and every faithful minister will hear God say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ However much a true minister is despised and criticized now, in that day he will be exalted.

1 Corinthians 4:6 . ‘I have applied all this discussion about factions and divisions to myself and Apollos (1 Corinthians 3:4-7) for your sakes, so that, from what I have said of us, as illustrations, you may learn to think of ministers and all men according to the Scriptures’ (Romans 12:3). Learn to appreciate men's gifts and usefulness; yet do not ascribe too much to them lest some be puffed up, inflated with pride and begin to set one against another.

1 Corinthians 4:7 . This question and that which follows are addressed to the members of this church who were glorying in and setting one minister against another. ‘Who distinguished you? Who called you out of darkness into his grace? Who gave you the gift to minister, to hear, or to believe? Therefore, you ought not to glory in yourselves nor in your ministers, but in God!’ He is the fountain of all grace and knowledge. To glory in any mercy, favour, or blessing, as if it were owing to human wisdom or power, betrays wretched pride and ignorance (John 3:27; James 1:17).

1 Corinthians 4:8 . ‘In your opinion you are full, you have arrived, you feel no need of growth, instruction and correction. Like the Laodiceans you say, ‘We are rich and have need of nothing.’ You think yourselves rich in spiritual gifts and graces. You think you reign as kings, without any need for counsel or instructions from the apostles and ministers. You have ascended your throne and come into your kingdom, I wish the reigning time for the church had come, then we would all reign with Christ and you! But alas, it is evident from your behavior that you are neither full, rich, nor do you reign, but rather you have need of much teaching and correction. You are but children in understanding, needing milk instead of meat. You are far from being what you think yourselves to be’ (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).

Verses 9-21

Be ye followers of me

1 Corinthians 4:9-21

These Corinthians were lifted up with pride. In their opinion they had arrived and needed no instructions, correction, nor guidance from Paul and the other apostles. They thought themselves rich in gifts, knowledge and grace. It was evident from their behavior that they were neither full nor rich, but were children in understanding, far from being what they thought themselves to be (Romans 12:3).

1 Corinthians 4:9 . ‘It seems to be that God has made an exhibit of us apostles.’ He may refer to the great triumphal processions when conquering armies marched through the city. Their slaves and enemies, sentenced to death, were at the end of the line, taunted, prosecuted and jeered by all spectators. ‘We are made a sport and spectacle to wicked men and before the angels.’

1 Corinthians 4:10 . ‘We are looked upon as fools for our devotion to and our preaching of Christ crucified, but you, supposedly, have made such use of worldly wisdom and carnal policy in your religion that you have gained the favour of the world and escaped persecution. We are weak in body, influence, worldly goods and fame, but you are strong! You have property, earthly credentials, friends in high places and much influence and acclaim. You are honored among men for your learning, your riches and your success, but we are held in contempt and despised of men.’

1 Corinthians 4:11-13 . In an effort to curb their pride and to warn them against the friendship of this world, Paul continues to describe the real attitude toward and the treatment of a devoted witness of Christ by this world (Isaiah 53:3; Luke 6:22-26; John 15:18-19). ‘We have gone both hungry and thirsty; we have few clothes; we are scourged and beaten and wander about having no place to call home. We have to work with our hands to make a living. When men revile, curse and ridicule us, we bless them. When we are persecuted for Christ's sake, we take it patiently. When we are slandered, we try to answer softly. We are considered to be the rubbish and the filth of this world the scum of the earth.’

1 Corinthians 4:14 . Paul did not write these things to put the Corinthians to shame, though they certainly should have been ashamed of the vain opinion they had of themselves. He wrote to warn them of the dangers of compromise, worldly wisdom, being lifted up with pride and discounting the ministry of the apostles (Galatians 3:1-3; Galatians 3:9-11).

1 Corinthians 4:15 . ‘Though you have many preachers and teachers (some false and some true), yet you only have one spiritual father, who was the instrument of God to bring you to a knowledge of Christ. It was under my ministry that you were regenerated and brought to faith. It was not the ministry of law and works but the gospel of Christ which was the means of your salvation’ (Romans 3:19-26).

1 Corinthians 4:16 . ‘So I urge and implore you not to depart from my teaching but to abide in the doctrine of Christ. Do not follow those who would draw you away and cause divisions among you. Follow me as I follow Christ’ (Hebrews 13:7).

1 Corinthians 4:17 . ‘Because I care for you and your spiritual welfare and growth, I sent Timothy unto you. Timothy is like a son to me and is a faithful steward of grace and the gospel of Christ. Timothy will bring to your remembrance my way of preaching, the doctrines I taught and what should be the manner of life and conversation of believers. He will remind you that the sum and substance of faith, life and hope is Christ. This I teach and preach everything in all churches.’

1 Corinthians 4:18 . ‘Some are conceited, arrogant and puffed up over their gifts, their stations in the church and their human wisdom, hoping that I will not come back and call them to account for their errors.’

1 Corinthians 4:19 . ‘But I will come if the Lord is willing, and I will understand the truth about these proud boasters, not observe the outward show, the fine words and the claims to fame, but I will expose the truth about them that their power is not to the glory of God, the good of the church and the conversion of sinners’ (2 Timothy 3:5).

1 Corinthians 4:20 . The kingdom of God consists not of fine talk, human words and wisdom, philosophy and vain show, but in the powerful efficacy of the Spirit attending the preaching of the gospel. God awakens, convicts, converts and brings men to Christ, making them new creatures inwardly (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

1 Corinthians 4:21 . ‘Now which do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod as an apostle of Christ, to set things straight in the church? Or shall I come to you with the affection of a father, with a pleasant countenance and a meek spirit, rejoicing over your determination to set matters straight?’

Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 2013.