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1 Corinthians 4:6–7

“I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another” (v. 6).

Continuing our study of 1 Corinthians 4, we come today to a text that commentators note is difficult to interpret. However, remembering the context will help us understand what Paul is getting at in verses 6–7. The fundamental problem that the Apostle addresses in 1 Corinthians 1–3 is that various factions in the Corinthian church were appealing to personal associations in order to gain status or authority in the church. By the time we get to 1 Corinthians 4, however, we see that they did not merely say that knowing one Apostle or servant of Christ—be it Peter, Apollos, or someone else—gave a particular group more rights than others. Instead, they were also pitting these noted figures against one another. That much is clear from 1 Corinthians 4, where Paul confronts those who rejected or at least questioned his Apostleship.

Because Paul mentions Apollos specifically in verse 6, Paul’s strongest opposition may have come from those who claimed an association with Apollos, the well-spoken and wise disciple first mentioned in Acts 18:24–28. If so, they may have been rejecting Paul because he did not speak with the same refined eloquence as Apollos (see 1 Cor. 1:17). But to set Apollos against Paul was wrong, not only because it is worldly to use personal associations to gain power in the church but also because, ultimately, both Paul and Apollos were stewards and servants. That is Paul’s effective point in 1 Corinthians 4:6. All believers—and ministers, elders, and teachers especially—are servants of God, as the Apostle told us in verses 1–5. None should be set against another when they are executing their tasks faithfully.

Those who do this “go beyond what is written” (v. 6). Paul’s reference here is to the Scriptures, and probably the texts quoted in 1 Corinthians 1:19; 2:9; and 3:19–20 in particular. Those texts make it clear that God does not prize worldly wisdom in His servants or anything in their teaching or actions that would deny the sovereign work of God to save His people in the manner He chooses. But when we set those who proclaim the same message against one another because one is more talented than the other, we have forgotten that God saves not through the giftings of His servants but through the word of the cross. To esteem one minister above another is to go beyond what is written because it means we are not viewing teachers as servants and stewards as we should. Instead, we are beginning to attribute glory to them and not to the gospel.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Charles Hodge comments on today’s passage, “The Corinthians were not to think of their ministers more highly than the Bible authorized them to think.” Let us respect and esteem other believers, especially our leaders and teachers in the church. Yet we dare not set orthodox teachers against one another in our hearts and minds. Instead, let us esteem them all as servants and be grateful to God for them.

For Further Study
  • Deuteronomy 34:5
  • Judges 2:8
  • Romans 12:3
  • 1 Corinthians 3:5

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From the February 2021 Issue
Feb 2021 Issue