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1 Corinthians 4:1–4

“I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me” (v. 4).

In light of everything that Paul has said about how not to grasp for authority or prominence in the church (1 Cor. 1:10–3:23), one might conclude that there is no place whatsoever for some to exercise authority over others in the Christian community. That, however, is not what we are to take from Paul’s teaching in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians. As we will see in chapter 4, distinctions in authority do exist in the Christian church, with Apostolic authority reigning supreme.

The Apostle deals with Apostolic authority in 1 Corinthians 4 because some of the Corinthian believers objected to or at least questioned Paul’s authority. This is particularly clear in 2 Corinthians, where Paul directly responds to accusations that he was somehow inferior to “super-apostles” also working in the first-century church (see 2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11). Yet, his response in 2 Corinthians reflects a problem that was current even when he wrote 1 Corinthians. After all, 1 Corinthians 4:9–13 evidently responds to people who thought the poor treatment that the Apostles received from the Roman government and citizens somehow called their authority into question.

Since Paul has just stressed that grasping for authority by worldly means is at odds with the way of the cross (1 Cor. 1:10–3:23), his defense of his authority must demonstrate that he exercises authority in keeping with the truth of Christ crucified. Thus, he begins his defense by explaining that his Apostolic office is the office of servant and steward. The Greek words translated “servant” and “steward” in 1 Corinthians 4:1 were used for individuals who were given authority by a master to look over the affairs of a household and to care for the household. Paul himself—indeed, all the Apostles—had no intrinsic authority in the church; rather, authority was delegated to them by Christ and they were called to manage and direct the church for the sake of Christ and according to the way of Christ.

Since Paul was not the owner of the Master’s house, he had to be faithful to the Master’s plan and desires for the house, the church of God (1 Cor. 4:2). The question remains, Had Paul been faithful? Perhaps some had accused him of being unfaithful. Regardless of the specific charge, the final judgment of faithfulness belongs to God (v. 3). Even Paul could not render the final evaluation of his own ministry, for that would be the job of the Lord, to be rendered on the final day (v. 4).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

We are not Apostles, but as we saw in 1 Corinthians 3:10–15, God will evaluate our service to Him for the sake of the church, and especially the service of church leaders. Our great hope is that we will be found faithful. Thus, we must make commitments carefully, do what we have promised in the church, and seek to follow what the Lord has told us in His Word as we work for His kingdom.

For Further Study
  • Genesis 2
  • Psalm 84:10
  • Luke 17:7–10
  • 1 Peter 4:7–11

Bringing Outsiders In

The Right Time for Judgment

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From the February 2021 Issue
Feb 2021 Issue