1 Corinthians 4:1-13 — Apostles of Christ

1. In Verse 1, Paul says “men ought to regard us as servants...” Who is he referring to as “us?”

A: Look back to verse 3:21 and you’ll see that Paul is not talking about himself or Apollos or Cephas. He is speaking of all Christians.

2. He goes on to say that says that you’ve been entrusted with the “secret things of God.” What are the secret things is he talking about? (1 Timothy 3:16)

A: Paul is speaking of things that human wisdom cannot discover but are now revealed by God to his people. The so-called mystery religions of Paul’s day used the Greek word mysterion in the sense of something that was only to be revealed to the initiated, but Paul used it to refer to something formerly hidden or obscure but now revealed by God for all to know and understand. Paul spells out the meaning of this mystery in at least five places such as Romans 11:25, Ephesians, Colossians, but it is perhaps best explained in 1 Timothy 3:16.

“Here is the great mystery of our religion: Christ came as a human. The Spirit proved that he pleased God, and he was seen by angels. Christ was preached to the nations. People in this world put their faith in him, and he was taken up to glory. One commentator concluded that this mystery has 5 steps: 1) the miraculous incarnation, 2) the death of Christ, 3) God’s purpose to sum up all things in Christ, 4) the change that will take place at the resurrection, and 5) the plan of God by which both Jew and Gentile after a period of disobedience by both, will by his mercy be included in his kingdom.

3. Paul says in verse 2 that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. Were you ever unworthy of trust put in you (babysitting, house sitting, keys to the family car, preparing a special meal, caring for a pet, etc.)? What happened?

4. In verses 3 to 5, can you explain what Paul says about judging himself? (I don’t care if others judge me. I don’t judge myself. I have a clear conscience but I may be guilty. Do not judge before the “appointed time.”) (Habakkuk 2:3)

A: Paul’s judgement, like the judgement of other people, is only human and even his conscience may be mistaken. Only God can see the true motives in your heart. Can you see the distinction between a “clear conscience” and being “innocent?”
Habakkuk 2:3 “explains” abaout the “appointed time.” At the time I have decided, my words will come true. You can trust what I say about the future. It may take a long time, but keep on waiting—it will happen!

5. Corinthian factions judged one another by the reputation of the leader they followed. What then does Paul mean by the saying he quotes in Verse 6 (“Do not go beyond what is written.”)? How does this apply today?

A: There seem to be two meanings here. First, he is saying, do not go beyond what is written in Scripture. The rabbis added huge volumes of interpretation to the OT law. Today, religions like the Mormons and Islam add the writings of their founders to the Bible.

Second, Paul has quoted several passages earlier in this letter (1:19, 1:31, 3:19-20) which reinforce his view that our view of man should be Biblical. That is, we should recognize man’s weaknesses and limitations. And we should recognize that pride causes divisions in the church.

6. Pride is a theme that runs through much of Paul’s writings. Verses 4:6-7 are the second time in this book that Paul mentions pride (also in 1:26-31). How would you sum up how a Christian should view pride? (Proverbs 11:2, John 13:14-17)

A: Proverbs 11:2. When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

John 13:14-17. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

7. It is important to understand Verses 8 and 10 in the way Paul intended. These are ironic and sarcastic statements (ironic means happening in the opposite way to what is expected). Why does he do this?

A: First let’s read the verses with the sense of irony and sarcasm. [Leader: re-read the verses.]

Paul uses irony and sarcasm here to get the Corinthians to see how poor they really are because of their haughtiness and spiritual immaturity in comparison with the apostles. In Verse 9, he pictures the apostles being brought into a gladiatorial contest in an arena at the end of the procession as all the world and even the angles look on. The apostles are brought in last for the fight to the death.

Then in verse 10, he goes back to sarcasm to effectively say, the apostles are the heroes here and you should want to be like them, but instead, you think you’re better than they are. You’re the real fools, not the apostles.

8. In verses 11 to 13, Paul gives a graphic description of his three years in Ephesus from his arrival there right up to the writing of this letter to the Corinthians. In contrast to the self-centered, power-oriented message that some Corinthians believed and followed, what does Paul’s life exemplify?

9. If all people were in a line between Corinthians (prideful, self-centered, power-oriented) on one end and Paul (humble, persecuted, slandered, scum of the earth) on the other end, where would you be? Would you like to be in a different place than you actually are? Is it easier to be like Paul or the Corinthians?

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