8 You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. 9 For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools 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. 11 To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12 and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13 when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. – 1 Cor. 4:8-13
The Corinthian church of Christ was in trouble because of division. The division was rooted in pride of the flesh, which is why Paul said if they were going to boast, “to boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31). This boasting in the flesh was causing jealousy and strife which could split the church (1 Cor. 3:3) and it flew in the face of the humble spirit of the Apostle Paul. To get to the heart of the matter at Corinth, Paul figuratively applied the issue to himself and other prominent Christians. He said,
“I have figuratively applied these things to myself and to Apollos so that you might learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.” 1 Cor. 4:6
He hinted to the real problem three times before in 1 Cor. 3:5,22 and 1:10ff. With each reference to himself and the others, Paul says they are nothing, but Christ is everything. The Corinthians lost sight of that when you boast in and exalt men, you hurt Christ. Paul said in chapter 1 that, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ”, and he asks, “Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” This was divisive. Paul points them again to Christ in 3:5 saying,
“5What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.“
Again, Paul diminishes the importance of people who the Corinthians would boast in. In 3:21-23 Paul says,
“So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, 22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.“
When Paul gets to chapter 4, he says, “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” 1 Cor. 4:1. For four chapters Paul has now dealt with how the Corinthians who are boasting in human beings. Because he says he “figuratively applied these things” to himself and others, it was now time for the Corinthians to address their particular problem. Paul shows that,
“For who regards YOU (emphasis mine) as superior? What do you have that YOU did not received? And if YOU did receive it, why do you BOAST as ifyou had not received it?” 1 Cor. 4:7
There were strong personalities in Corinth who sought attention and their were Christians in Corinth willing to give it. The flesh was endangering the spirit and unity of the Church.
What can we learn from this? Realize as Paul says later in Corinthians that the body of Christ is composed of many parts – all are important. Only those who appreciate Jesus Christ and care for his Church will humble themselves as Paul did. Humble servants, no matter how gifted and important they are, have the attitude “less of me, more of Thee”. By following the word of God, not adding to or taking from it, by not “exceeding what is written”, we have an objective foundation on which to build the body of Christ. There is no other way to bring glory to God than to humble ourselves and to submit to the will of God. Paul was glad to be considered the fool for Christ – something the proud boasters don’t understand – that Christ might be glorified.