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1 Corinthians 4:8–9

“For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men” (v. 9).

Once believers start pitting orthodox church leaders against one another based on the gifts and talents of said leaders, many problems can ensue. A church may split into rival factions (1 Cor. 1:10–17). People can start judging the faithfulness of others based on their gifts or try to evaluate their motives. We might think God would surely bless rightly motivated ministers with eloquence of speech and great success according to the world’s standards (1 Cor. 4:1–5). It can also lead us to esteem our own gifts wrongly. If we focus on our gifts, we can begin to view ourselves as better than others who lack our particular gifts. That was one of the issues in Corinth, as Paul corrected the Corinthians for feeling superior to one another based on their spiritual gifts (chs. 12–14).

First Corinthians 4:7 hints at this problem, for Paul reminds them that their gifts are from God, and thus that they cannot boast in the gifts because the gifts are not theirs, properly speaking. Believers are only stewards of their gifts. The Corinthians were not viewing themselves as stewards, and they were not viewing church leaders that way (vv. 1–6). In turn, forgetting that they were stewards of God’s gifts led them to boast in their talents and then to question the authority of the “less talented” (in their eyes) Apostle Paul. In today’s passage, Paul responds to their boasting and questioning.

Paul repeats some of the slogans of those who doubted him. They were claiming to be kings and to be rich (4:8). That is, they asserted that the fullness of God’s kingdom had arrived and that they had begun to judge the world (see 6:2), including God’s servants the Apostles. Of course, the authority that belongs to kings and judges already belongs to Christians in principle, so we need not grasp for it (3:21–23). However, possessing something in principle is not the same as having the right to use it in the present. The latter seems to be what Paul’s opponents claimed for themselves.

First Corinthians 4:9 indicates that Paul’s opponents were judging him at the wrong time and in a worldly way, for the Apostle speaks of himself and other Apostles as those who are “exhibited last of all, like men sentenced to death.” Paul is likening Apostles to Roman prisoners of war, who were paraded before others just before being put to death. Some of the Corinthians viewed Paul as no better than such prisoners, defeated and disgraced, but the Apostle will turn this view on its head.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Wisdom requires that we exercise the gifts and rights given to us by God at the proper time and in the proper way. If we make judgments too quickly or according to worldly standards, we have greatly erred. Let us pray that God will give us, and indeed the rest of the church, the wisdom to judge and evaluate rightly.

For Further Study
  • 1 Kings 1
  • Isaiah 61
  • 1 Corinthians 1:31
  • Galatians 6:14

Not Going beyond What Is Written

Fools for Christ

Keep Reading Providence

From the February 2021 Issue
Feb 2021 Issue