The Expository Files


 Servants & Stewards
"What Is Written"

1 Corinthians 4:1-8

In the first four chapters of First Corinthians the apostle Paul has one primary object: to respond to the division in the church. Men, acting on carnal ambition, had torn the church apart into factions - naming their competing factions after men who did not intend for their names to be used to divide: Paul, Apollos, Cephas. {See 1:11,12; 3:4}.

This division in Corinth showed their ignorance of how men should be regarded. The servitude and stewardship of men like Paul, Apollos and Cephas, they were not clear about. They were absorbed in men; boasting about men; exalting human wisdom, thinking and acting way out of good perspective.

Paul wrote this:

Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God.
1 Cor. 4:1-5

Fidelity to God is the indispensable virtue! Whether you are talking about the apostles and evangelists who delivered the gospel in the first century or the members of the church at Corinth, fidelity is vital. Likewise, every preacher today; every elder, every teacher; every disciple - Fidelity to God is the indispensable virtue!

IT IS NOT ABOUT my little group defeating another group. It is not about men being elevated to celebrity status. It is not about popularity. It is about faithfulness; fidelity to God in every way that fidelity should be expressed. The true dignity of any servant of the Lord is found in his or her fidelity to God. Paul wrote: " is required in stewards that one be found faithful."

"Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other." Verse 6.

Observe, in that last phrase in verse 6, how Paul exposes their sin in the church at Corinth: being "puffed up on behalf of one another against." One translation has this: being proud of one man, and hating another (New Century Version).

Their was a destructive attitude. "This is my man; he's the best, and we need to stick with him against the others."

In responding to this error Paul explains something in verse 6. He uses his name and the name of Apollos - but only "figuratively." He wants to make it clear he is not endorsing the misuse of their names. Paul and Apollos wanted nothing to do with the factions claiming their names. It was only in a figurative sense, not literal, that Paul used his name and that of Apollos in his letter to them.

Carefully observe this: "that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written." You know what this says, clearly and immediately? In the writing Paul and the other writers did - resulting in the New Testament - God was revealing a standard! His written will has been given. Our thinking, our perspectives, our belief, teaching and practice - ought to be according to what is written. Paul was willing to call his own name and the name of Apollos - not to endorse their division, but to expose it - and teach them not to go beyond what is written!

God was communicating to the Corinthians through the writing of Paul and they were obligated to not go beyond what is written. This verse teaches, when men form parties or factions, even though they may name them after good men, they are wrong; they have gone beyond what is written. This implies an obligation each of us need to acknowledge not to go beyond what is written.

Verse 7 is full of questions and I believe the purpose is to stimulate thought; to get the Corinthians to stop and think about their attitudes and actions.

For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

Sometimes, when people are engaged in wrong behavior, one thing you do is try to get them to think about what they are doing and the basis of what they are doing. The Corinthians were boasting about their favored men - puffed up on behalf of one against another and torn apart by pride, envy and carnal competition. These questions were put to them to get them to stop and think.

Who makes you differ from another? Of course the answer is, nobody makes you divide a church! You have wrong attitudes and make wrong choices. Nobody makes you divide a church.

What do you have that you did not receive? This is really a good question for every disciple. We are undeserving recipients of grace. We didn't build the church; we don't own the people; we cannot claim allegiance to our party. We are recipients of grace and that fact should awaken within us, genuine gratitude and humility (with the obedience that should attend such virtues).

Why do you boast? If we are recipients of grace; if we are not owners but stewards and servants, why do we boast? Do you see what Paul is doing? He is getting people to think about what they are doing; he wants the Corinthians - in answering these questions - to think, to repent and become the humble servants they should be.

Verse 8 follows up and this sounds humiliating, because Paul wants them to see their folly.

You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us; and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you!

Perspective! These brethren did not have a good, healthy perspective about who they were and who the apostles were; they were all mixed up - boasting, forming rival parties, with all the envy and strife. Verse 8 places great stress on what they had; the riches they should use and enjoy, instead of dividing, boasting and competing.

Christians are people who enjoy great fullness from God. Christians are rich. Christians are people who reign as kings; this is not literal, but descriptive of the high privilege of citizenship in the kingdom. The apostles and the Christians in Corinth jointly held the privilege of citizenship in the kingdom. To participate in the blessings of citizenship, then form rival parties, boast about men and seek your own ambition is to go beyond what is written.

The humble sense of grace received, and the burden of responsibility in so high a trust, should keep all Christian teachers in their right place.

R. Tuck, Pulpit Commentary

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 13.6; June 2006