Lesson 22: "Learn. . .Not to Think of Men Above That Which is Written" (I Corinthians 4:6)
I Corinthians 4:1-21
Paul's Missionary Journey Epistles. This is lesson # 22. Welcome again! In our last lesson we did not quite finish discussing chapter three. Let's pick up in v.16 of ch. 3. Can you find that? After Paul's illustration of the church as a building; Paul asked the question in v. 16, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" The ASV says, "Know ye not that ye are a temple of God..." In either case, I think it is clear that this has reference to the Corinthian congregation, i.e. the church to which Paul was writing, Even though a church is made up of individual members; the thought here is undoubtedly as a congregation. Pauls question makes two or three points. First of all it shows that Jesus Christ is the head, i.e. Jesus Christ was the foundation upon which the temple of God is built (v. 11). In second place. God's people make up God's temple, i.e. God's dwelling place. Do you remember studying the last day Jesus left the temple at Jerusalem, on the Tuesday before Jesus was crucified on Friday? Jesus said to the Jews (Matt. 23:38) "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." That is, God was removing his name from the temple in Jerusalem and that house was becoming desolate or empty. The Jews of course, some twenty years after Jesus said that, at the time of this writing, the Jews still considered that Jerusalem structure built originally by Solomon as the temple of God. That was no longer true. Thus, the Corinthians should continually be aware OF THAT as they dwelt with the Jews, Sosthenes and the synagogue at Corinth, that crowd that had taken Paul before deputy Gallic. Finally, in third place. Paul's illustration shows the absurdity of the division and factionalism that existed within the Corinthian church. In other words the Corinthians by their preacheritis affliction were presenting a building of God disjoined and not fitly framed together as Paul added to his illustration at a later time (Eph. 2:21). Then in v.17, Paul warns them that if they defiled God's temple, then God would destroy them. Quite a pointed warning to put it mildly. To cap it off, Paul said, "which temple ye are." If you continued to divide and thus defile God's temple, you see, you'll be lost. Then look at v. 18-19-20-21-22. "Let no man deceive himself, i.e. be careful that no one lead you astray on this point. Some think they are wise when they are contending for this preacher or that preacher, this worldly wisdom or that worldly wisdom. Be careful, you'll make yourself a spiritual fool by trying to show your worldly wisdom (v. 18). Don't forget, the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God (v. 19). Then at the end of v. 19, Paul quoted from Job 5:13 to make his point. The Lord knows our thoughts (v.20). Let no man glory in men (v.21). Can you see how this all ties into the Corinthian problem? Once Paul got going, he didn't let up. Every sentence was one more blow in driving home his point. They should not glory in Paul or Apollos or Peter or any other preacher. Now get that, "all things are yours" idea that starts in v.21. You see, all those preachers were there for their benefit. They may learn one point from one preacher and another point from another preacher. They should use all to their profit. Even the world (v.22), that part that is not sinful can be used to your spiritual prosperity. Look at life the same way, great opportunities to sow eternal seeds. It may be hard for you to think of death in a positive way; but, when pain and terror reach unbearable levels, even physical death can be gain. The Christian should see these things in a positive way. Paul said in Phil. 1:21, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain." What about: things present and things to come? The present and the future are in your hands to use as you see fit. Learn to use them in a positive way; but don't forget (v.23) that you belong to Christ. All these things, preachers, the world, life and death, the present and the future are ours; but, we belong to Christ. And that determines the way we use these things.
Let's read ch. 4! Beginning at I Cor. 4.1, we'll read the whole chapter of 21 verses. Are you ready? Let's read. "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another? For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honorable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the off scouring of all things unto this day. I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timothy, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church. Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you. But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?"
O.K, back to the drawing board, focus on v. 1. In v.21 of ch. 3; Paul had said, "let no man glory in men..." That of course was because some were saying: I am of Paul, I am of Apallos, and I am of Cephas, etc. Then, the question undoubtedly arises in your mind; how SHOULD THEY think of and esteem the apostles? Undoubtedly Paul anticipated that question? Here's the answer (v.l). "Let a man so account of us..." and Paul goes ahead to explain; and as so many times he does, Paul answers in metaphorical language, or in other words, Paul illustrates the point. They should think of the apostles and their associates as (1) "ministers of Christ" or (2) as "stewards of the mysteries of God." I can't read the Greek; but Bro. McGarvey in his commentary says the word translated minister here literally has reference to the rower of a boat. Not a sailboat now; but, one of those boats in their day that operated by muscle power, several men lined up with oars or paddles that worked as a team. Thus, Paul apparently was saying, think of the church as such a boat and Christ as the captain or ship master. Think of the apostles as rowers of that boat; i.e. men who have a job to do and men who work together with one purpose. Then (2) in the second illustration, Paul said, think of us (apostles) as "stewards" or what I suppose we would call foremen today. A steward in that day, as I understand it, was a man in charge of the storeroom, i.e. food, and other supplies that belonged to a householder or a large land owner. The apostles, you see in a similar way, had access to the mysteries of God, i.e. through the Holy Spirit they had knowledge and understanding of the inner workings of God, which Paul described as "the wisdom of God in a mystery" back in 2:7. So he here draws upon that figure again and compares that knowledge to the supplies that a steward would dispense to the family, workers and servants of a householder. Thus, the point is; the Corinthians (and all Christians for that matter) should think of the apostles and their evangelistic associates as dispensers of spiritual information. They were laborers together (3:9) and not to be elevated to some lofty position like the pope is today. Stewards were entrusted with the householder's goods and thus must be faithful men (v.2). Paul emphasizes (v.4) that the spiritual information he dispensed did not come from himself; he said: "I know nothing of myself." Then in v.3-4-5, Paul reveals that some had judged and criticized him, undoubtedly. Re-read those verses to yourself. Paul is saying that they had no basis by which to judge him or to criticize the apostles and their prophetic associates. They, therefore must trust Paul for the time. Don't judge before the time (beginning of v.5)) but, ultimately the Lord "will bring to light the hidden things of darkness...and then shall every man have praise of God" (end of v.5). In other words, in the end we shall ultimately understand. In v.6, Paul said he had used himself and Apollos to point out these things. What for Paul? "That ye might learn in us  not to think of men above that which is written, and  that no one of you be puffed up for one against another." In other words, when they began to see the apostles and think of themselves in the proper light; that would eliminate that "one against another" bit: I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas. Then v.7, every man is different. Some have better intellect, intuition and reasoning powers than others. Just like some women have more beauty than others. Does that mean we should line them up like a cattle show and have a beauty contest or an intellect contest? Where did they get those traits? Look at Paul's question in v.7: "who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?" Then comes the over powering question: "why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?" In other words, you are glorying in something you didn't have any part in making, creating or causing. Thus, here is an example of that worldly wisdom Paul had already slammed down back at the end of ch. 1 and in ch. 2. As you thumb through the rest of this book; this thought also applies (no doubt) to those at Corinth who had received spiritual gifts and were competing and glorying in his position. We'll get to that in ch. 12.
Right now let's go to v.8. V.8 is a sarcastic way of saying, I think you are mighty conceited my friends; then the last part of the verse, Paul breaks into a genuine concern for their welfare and says in essence: I wish you were as high and mighty in reality as you are in your conceit. Then in v.9-10-11-12-13 Paul attempted to get them to see the other side of the coin, so-to-speak; i.e. how the Corinthian attitude had made it very difficult for the apostles and their associates. Paul had just gone over the Corinthian's conceited thoughts, i.e. judging the apostles and glorying in their own worldly wisdom. In contrast to that, in v.9, Paul started off, "For I think...." and Paul proceeded to paint the picture from his point of view in an effort to get them to see the apostles from a more realistic point of view. Verse 9-10-11 -12-13 is quite a picture, very revealing. I'm going to let you read, analyze and digest that. In v.14, Paul was somewhat apologetic; in that he did not want these things to embarrass them for their shameful treatment and neglect of Paul and his fellow workers. That was not purpose of his writing these things. At the end of v.14 Paul said his purpose was to warn them as a father would warn his sons. In v.l 6, Paul plainly declares he is begging them to follow him.
The reference in v.l5 to them having 10,000 instructors in Christ is another of Paul's satirical and sarcastic ways of calling to their attention their craving and craze for teachers with so-called worldly wisdom. In the primary sense, of course, when they obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ they became children of the Heavenly Father and thus God is our Father. In a secondary sense, Paul was the one that had come to Corinth and preached that gospel; thus, Paul was in that sense their progenitor. Their preacheritis had suddenly caused them to think they were smarter than their teacher; so, Paul pleaded with them in v. 16 to return to the old paths and follow him.
We looked at v.l7 back in our introduction. Paul sent Timothy from Ephesus to Corinth to assist the Corinthians in following Paul. Verse 17 is in essence Paul's recommendation of Timothy. This young preacher would help them to remember Paul's ways, not just as Paul had taught at Corinth but as he had taught in all the churches, meaning of course, Thessalonica, Philippi, Berea and possibly the churches of Galatia (Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derby) from whence Timothy had originated. You might remember at this point also that not only had Paul received information about the problems of the Corinthian church through the house of Cbloe; but, it would appear that Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (16:17) had come for the very purpose of conferring with Paul concerning their recent splits and divisions at Corinth. Undoubtedly, Paul anticipated that some at Corinth would be disappointed that he sent Timothy instead of coming himself. V. 18 would suggest that the brethren from Corinth had probably already reported to Paul that some at Corinth had made such statements, i.e. they were puffed up, as though Paul would not come to them (v. 18). However, in v. 19, Paul promised he would visit them again in the near future, "if the Lord will." Do you remember what James said in James 4:15? James said we should not say we're going to do so and so; but "ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that." So, Paul said, "If the Lord will" he would come to Corinth shortly. Then Paul challenged them to get things corrected before he came. One of the marks of an apostle possessing the Holy Spirit was demonstrated or confirmed (remember Mark 16:20?) by their ability to do miracles. Some teachers were undoubtedly claiming to be as great or greater than Paul. Remember, some were undoubtedly challenging Paul's apostleship; we have already said. Thus, Paul was saying, when I come, I'll test them, if they insist, and it involves more than eloquence of speech. I will test their spiritual powers as well. Then Paul closes out by asking in essence; which would you prefer? Do you want me to come to punish you? or wouldn't it be better to repent now and let me come in love and in a spirit of meekness? That's chapter 4! Have a good day!