Tonight’s Bible study looked at 1 Cor 4:1-13. Paul continues his exposition of the true nature of apostleship, reminding the Corinthians that apostles are primarily servants of Christ and stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God. The word used for servant here is different from in 1 Cor 3:5 and means ‘under-rower’: ‘not the captains of the ship but the galley slaves who are under orders’ (Warren Wiersbe). In echoing Jesus’s words on servanthood (see John 13:1-17), Paul emphasises the true nature of discipleship. Stewards were managers for their masters (like Joseph in Potiphar’s household), often with great responsibility, but their role was to faithfully obey whatever their master commanded. In Peter’s words, we are to ‘use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.’ (1 Pet 4:10)

God is looking for faithfulness (1 Cor 4:2, Luke 16:10, Matt 25:21), ‘extended obedience’, because He Himself is faithful (Lam 3:23, Hos 2:20, Zech 8:8) and we are called to reflect His image. Paul knows ultimately that it is God’s approval which matters, not people’s or even his own opinion. Judgment has to be based on Scripture, as he urges the Corinthians not to ‘go beyond what is written.’ (1 Cor 4:6) Clearly, there are things God expects us to evaluate (character, based on the descriptions given in the Word (eg Matt 7:16-19); sin which is clearly defined in the Scriptures (see 1 Cor 11:17-31, 1 Cor 5); the doctrinal truth of what we are taught (Acts 17:10-11)). However, we must always remember that we cannot judge other people’s motives and must not judge other people’s convictions on issues which the Scriptures have not defined as sin (see Rom 14:4, James 4:11-12). Only the Lord can fully investigate our hearts (see 1 Sam 16:7) and we must be prepared to leave final judgments to Him. It is impossible to judge the motives behind other people’s actions and we must be humble enough to accept there are many things we cannot fully evaluate.

The Corinthians had allowed pride to slant their opinions. They were ‘puffed up’, inflated like balloons, full of hot air, arrogant (1 Cor 4:6, 18, 19). Paul reminds them that grace cuts away pride, for all we are and have are gifts from God. Pride leads to strife and downfall (see Prov 18:12, Prov 13:10). Paul urges the Corinthians to see themselves as Christ sees them and to understand that suffering and adversity are an inevitable part of discipleship (see John 15:18-19, John 16:33, Acts 14:22, Phil 3:10-11, 1 Pet 4:12-13, 2 Tim 3:12). The apostles might be considered ‘scum’ or ‘refuse’, but they were following Christ’s example when they blessed those who cursed them and spoke kindly to all. Following Christ will inevitably mean living in a radically different way to the way the world tells us will prosper.