1So then you must perceive us—not as leaders of factions, but as servants # 4:1 Paul uses an unusual Greek word, huperetes, which means “subordinate” or “personal assistant.” The compound word huperetes literally means “under-rowers,” and it is used in classical Greek to describe those who sit on benches in the lower parts of the ship rowing. Apostolic ministry does not mean that an apostle is seen as important and in first place, but as one who will often be in a hidden role of moving a church and region forward as a subordinate of our captain, Jesus Christ. of the Anointed One, those who have been entrusted # 4:1 Or “stewards” (“estate managers,” “trustees”). Paul is here referring to the apostles who helped establish and set in order the church at Corinth. with God’s mysteries. 2The most important quality of one entrusted with such secrets is that they are faithful and trustworthy. 3But personally, I’m not the least bit concerned if I’m judged by you or any verdict I receive from any human court. In fact, I don’t even assume to be my own judge, 4even though my conscience is clear. But that doesn’t mean I stand acquitted before the Lord, # 4:4 Both here and in v. 5, the Aramaic can be translated “Lord Yahweh.” for the only judge I care about is him!
5So resist the temptation to pronounce premature judgment on anything before the appointed time when all will be fully revealed. Instead, wait until the Lord makes his appearance, for he will bring all that is hidden in darkness to light # 4:5 The Aramaic can be translated “He will pour light upon the hidden things of darkness.” and unveil every secret motive of everyone’s heart. Then, when the whole truth is known, each will receive praise from God. # 4:5 The clear inference is that God will bring to light the secret motives of love, faithfulness, righteousness, kindness, etc.—not only evil motives, but the pure motives of believers. When the Lord judges his godly lovers, their secret devotion and sacrifices will all be brought into the light and God will praise them for their faithful love. The reward of eternity will be that God affirms them. The word for “praise” can actually be translated, “thanks from God.” Can you imagine the day coming when God praises his faithful servants? See also 1 John 4:17–19.
The Ministry of True Apostles
6Dear brothers and sisters, I’ve been referring allusively to myself and Apollos in order to illustrate what I’ve been saying. It is futile to move beyond what is written in the Scriptures and be inflated with self-importance by following and promoting one leader in competition with another. 7For what makes a distinction between you and someone else? # 4:7 Or “Who sees anything different in you?” The answer to this rhetorical question is “God.” And what do you have that grace has not given you? # 4:7 Or “What do you have that you have not received?” The answer to this rhetorical question is “Nothing.” And if you received it as a gift, why do you boast as though there is something special about you? # 4:7 Or “Why do you boast as though you did not receive it because of grace?” The church at Corinth was split into different factions, each following a different leader. Apparently, each clique thought they had the truth because they had a more anointed leader. But Paul exhorts them not to put their confidence in their hero-leader, because each leader is nothing more than a servant who receives God’s grace to minister according to his or her gift. No leader has a greater status than another.
8Oh, I know, you already have all you need! # 4:8 The Greek text uses a metaphor of overfed farmyard animals. They were stuffed with self-importance. Since when did you become so content and rich without us? You’ve already crowned yourselves as royalty, reigning on your thrones, leaving us lowly apostles far behind! # 4:8 See Rev. 3:17. A smug, religious self-satisfaction is to have no place in our hearts. We must continually thirst for more of God. We have all things in Christ, but not all that he has given us has filled our hearts. Though we have every blessing, we must walk it out in our daily lives. With biting irony Paul uncovers their pride in thinking they have left the poor apostles behind and have become independent—greater and with more kingdom wealth than they. The deprivations and struggles of the apostles were looked down upon by the Corinthians. See also 2 Cor. 11:12–12:1. Although v. 8 is in the form of posing rhetorical questions (irony), it is possible to translate it this way: “You have already become full [like at a feast] and fully satisfied. You are already suddenly rich. You suddenly reign as kings apart from us.” How I wish indeed that you really were reigning as kings already, for that would mean we would be reigning as kings alongside of you. # 4:8 The Aramaic continues the irony. “Come, share your royal reign with us so we too can rule with you!”
Apostolic Model of Ministry
9It seems to me that God has appointed us apostles to be at the end of the line. We are like those on display at the end of the procession, as doomed gladiators soon to be killed. We have become a theatrical spectacle to all creation, both to people and to angels. 10We are fools for Christ, but you are wise in Christ! We are the frail; you are the powerful. You are celebrated; # 4:10 Or “famous.” we are humiliated. 11If you could see us now, you’d find that we are hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, # 4:11 Or “wearing rags” (tattered and threadbare). brutally treated, # 4:11 Or “brutally beaten” (hit with fists). See Matt. 26:67; 2 Cor. 11:26. and with no roof over our heads. # 4:11 Or “homeless.” 12We work hard, toiling with our own hands. When people abuse and insult us, we respond with a blessing, and when severely persecuted, we endure it with patience. 13When we are slandered incessantly, we always answer gently, # 4:13 Or “We appeal to them” (directly). ready to reconcile. Even now, in the world’s opinion, we are nothing but filth # 4:13 Or “scapegoats.” and the lowest scum.
A Father’s Warning
14I’m not writing this to embarrass you or to shame you, but to correct you as the children I love. 15For although you could have countless babysitters # 4:15 Or “guardians” (or “tutors”). in Christ telling you what you’re doing wrong, you don’t have many fathers who correct you in love. But I’m a true father to you, for I became your father when I gave you the gospel and brought you into union with Jesus, the Anointed One. 16So I encourage you, my children, to follow the example that I live before you. # 4:16 Or “imitate me.” The Aramaic can be translated “I want you to resemble me.” Paul is saying, “Prove your parentage by your conduct; follow me like a father.”
17That’s why I’ve sent my dear son Timothy, whom I love. He is faithful to the Lord Yahweh # 4:17 As translated from the Aramaic. The Greek is “He is faithful [dependable] in the Lord.” and will remind you of how I conduct myself as one who lives in union with Jesus, the Anointed One, and of the teachings that I bring to every church everywhere.
18There are some among you who have exalted themselves as if I were not coming back to you. 19But I will come soon, if it pleases the Lord, and I will find out not only what these arrogant ones are saying, but also if they have power to back up their words! 20For the kingdom realm of God comes with power, not simply impressive words. 21So which would you prefer? Shall I come carrying the rod of authority to discipline or with an embrace in love with a gentle spirit?