4:1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Paul described himself, Apollos, and Peter as…
 “servants” – from the Greek word “huperatas” meaning “under-rower.” An “under-rower” was an oarsman who served in the lowest level of a trireme or three-banked ship. These men were hidden from view. They were generally slaves who were chained to their post and often perished when ships sank. This word emphasizes service. This word is also used in Acts 26:16.
 “stewards” – from the Greek word “oikonomos” or “house manager.” The steward of a household (e.g., Joseph in Genesis 39:4-5) supervised the affairs of a household and was held accountable for the affairs of a household by the owner or master of the house. This word emphasizes responsibility.
Paul employed the terms “servants” and “stewards” to point the Corinthians away from personalities to Christ. The “mysteries of God” is a reference to the revelation of God’s plan of salvation.
We should regard ourselves as servants and stewards. Paul likened himself to an under-rower, a galley slave who served as an oarsman at the bottom of a ship. As such, his life was devoted to the service of a higher authority. Paul also likened himself to a steward, an individual charged with the responsibility of overseeing the affairs of a household. As such, he labored to serve his master and with the understanding that he would be held accountable for the condition of the household. We too, should regard ourselves in this manner. Only then can we serve humbly and faithfully, knowing that we are under authority of the captain of the ship and the owner of the house.
4:2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.
The most basic requirement for a steward is faithfulness, honesty, dependability, trustworthiness. Notice that Paul did not say it is required of stewards to be eloquent, gifted, good-looking, or popular. The steward of the mysteries of God must faithfully discharge his responsibilities and make the saving message of Christ known to all men. The steward was subject to audit and accountability by his master. A steward should be more concerned about pleasing his master than pleasing other servants or members of the household. We must ask, “Have I been faithful to do the work God has assigned to me?”
4:3 But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.
4:4 for I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.
4:5 Therefore do not go on passing judgement before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
There were people who were critical of Paul, but the opinions of others were not as important to Paul as what the Lord thought. No man can look into another man’s heart and judge his motives. It is too easy to misread situations and misjudge people. Phillips paraphrases this verse: “But, as a matter of fact, it matters very little to me what you, or any man, thinks of me…”
Even Paul’s opinion of himself was not as important as the Lord’s. Phillips paraphrases this verse, “I don’t even value my opinion of myself…but that doesn’t justify me before God.” Paul knew that although he was aware of no wrong-doing on his part, he might be mistaken. No man can accurately judge himself.
It was the Lord’s judgement that mattered most to Paul. He knew that one day he would be called to give an account of his stewardship. Only God can judge us. He knows absolutely everything there is to know about us (see Psalm 139:1-6).
4:6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written [be careful lest you judge by the wrong standards], in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other [be careful lest you judge with the wrong motives].
4:7 For who regards you as superior? And what do you have [e.g., the Gospel, spiritual gifts] that you did not receive? But if you did receive it [since God is the giver of all gifts], why do you boast as if you had not received it [there is no room for boasting and pride!]?
4:8 You are already filled [Used ironically, “you think you already have all the spiritual food you need.”-Rienecker/Rogers], you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and I would indeed that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you.
4:9 For, I think, God has exhibited us [as persons in an arena] apostles last of all, as men condemned to death [as criminals sentenced to death in an arena]; because we have become a spectacle to the world [Paul uses the picture to illustrate the humility and indignity to which the apostles are subjected. God is the one who set up this spectacle and He uses the weakness of His servants in order to demonstrate His power and strength.-Rienecker/Rogers], both to angels and to men.
The series of contrasts beginning in verse 8 was an effort on Paul’s part to humble his proud readers. Paul employed a bit of sarcasm to get his point across to believers who thought they had already arrived!. He likened the Corinthians to kings who thought they were very important and himself/apostles as prisoners who must suffer for Christ in the arena and who live lives of self-giving and sacrifice as we see in the following verses.
4:10 We are fool’s for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor.
4:11 To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless;
4:12 and we toil, working with our own hands [“A practice highly regarded by the Jews but held in contempt by Greeks, including some of the Corinthians.” – Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 10]; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure;
4:13 when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum [“Used to designate despised men sacrificed to gods to ward off calamity…some scholars suggest it should be translated scapegoats.” -BBC, Vol. 10] of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.
The Corinthians proudly associated themselves with their favorite leader (see 1 Corinthians 1:12 and 3:4), but they did not realize what it meant to be associated with an apostle. Warren Wiersbe captures the thought: “If you associate with us, you had better be ready for suffering. We apostles are not held in honor – we are despised!”
4:14 I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.
Paul’s motive was not to shame the Corinthians, but to help them to realize and understand what they were doing and how their attitudes and actions were destroying them.
4:15 For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.
4:16 I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me.
Paul felt that he had the right to speak to the Corinthians as he did because of his unique relation to them. Though they might have many instructors, he alone was their spiritual father. He had founded the church at Corinth. He had taken the light of the Gospel to them. As such, Paul urged them to imitate him. Paul’s example was certainly worthy of imitation because Paul imitated Christ (see 1 Corinthians 11:1 and Philippians 3:17). Paul’s admonition was born out of his love for his spiritual children.
4:17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.
It was kind of Paul to use the word “remind” in this verse. He gave the Corinthians the benefit of the doubt by suggesting “that they had not deliberately disregarded his teachings, merely that they had forgotten them and needed to be reminded.” (M.J. Berquist) Timothy was faithful and qualified to remind them of Paul’s spiritual and moral teachings. Some interpreted that since Paul was sending Timothy, he was afraid to come to them. This caused some to become arrogant and to continue to offer wrong leadership to the church.
4:18 Now some have become arrogant [puffed up like a pair of bellows], as though I were not coming to you [the reason why some had become arrogant].
4:19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills [Paul’s agenda was directed by God], and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant, but their [spiritual] power.
4:20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in words [especially in the empty talk the Corinthians engaged in], but in [spiritual] power.
4:21 What do you desire [the choice is yours, because I am coming – see 1 Corinthians 16:5-9]? Shall I come to you with a rod [The figure indicates severity and is intended as a warning. -Lenski. As their spiritual father, Paul was responsible for disciplining his spiritual children.] or with love and a spirit of gentleness?