This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Having taken his readers to the woodshed, now Paul, as any good father might do, explains things again so that his errant children might learn the right way to go about things. Paul himself, and Apollos, Peter and any other person in leadership, are servants of Christ, entrusted with certain things. Among those things, although not directly mentioned here, would be the care and edification of those in their care. Of course, what he mentions more or less specifically are “mysteries” that God has revealed.
Again with mystery! The real “mystery” here is whatever it is Paul is referring to!
Then Paul continues, as if we already knew what this big “mystery” is, to tell the arrogant children of Corinth that he really doesn’t care what they think of him. Don’t forget that this letter is written for the entire congregation, and that includes both those who say they follow Paul and those who say they follow someone else, so apparently his detractors will be receiving his words along with his fans− both are being corrected.
As these few verses continue, Paul makes it clear that we are to withhold our judgements about others, and wait until Jesus returns, when all is revealed, and all will receive their praise. Please note that he didn’t say that all will receive their just due, as in some will get praise while others fry in hell.
He is writing to Christians, after all.
Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
1 Corinthians 4:6-7
Once again Paul is speaking rather bluntly here: He and Apollos are merely the Lord’s servants, and the Corinthians mustn’t try to gain by choosing one over the other and divide the church, for no one of them has any right or business acting like someone greater than they are. All Christians are followers of the Lord, His humble servants, no more, no less.
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.
1 Corinthians 4:8-13
This is kind of a fun little passage, don’t you think? Of course, we could go on a very lengthy analysis of the whole thing, line-by-line. Yet something gets lost when you start to analyze things too much. This isn’t that complicated: Paul begins with sarcasm.
They are so smart, they are so important, they are reigning with Christ. Just ask them, they have the tiger by the tail!
How are their “leaders” doing? Did they somehow miss the boat? Did Jesus return and not tell Paul, the guy entrusted with all those mysteries of God?
Looks like we’ve gone back to the woodshed to me, how about you?
OK, some might be mortified that I said Paul is being sarcastic in Scripture. We think of sarcasm as being nasty and negative… and it can be. Yet it doesn’t need to be, for it is a communicative tool that can also be extremely valuable in making a tough point to get a person’s attention onto something they might find inconvenient to face. Usually it is used, as in this case, to say: For Heaven’s sake wake up!
By the way, do you know what the mystery is yet?