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1 Corinthians 4:6-21

You can read the text here.

Paul's opening volley concerning status seeking comes to a close in this section, focusing on the issue of judgment again. He knows that Paul and Apollos will be judged by God for the quality of their ministry, as will the Corinthian leaders. That is why Paul will not go on beyond "what has been written," the foolish message of God's wisdom promised in the Old Testament and revealed in the cross.[1] Human judgment is meaningless in the grand scheme of things and Paul is trying to lead by example so the Corinthians will stop posturing. After all, the status that really matters they possess as a gift from God, by his grace.[2]

Now, in biting irony, Paul accuses the Corinthians of inflated self-worth and posturing. If only they were as great as they projected themselves as, for then Paul and Apollos would certainly be great along with them! In fact the opposite is true in the eyes of the world. Paul and Apollos are as lowly as the worst criminal about to fight to the death in the arena. The Corinthians are of high status (so they say and think) but the ones they follow are despised by the world. Following these teachers will only ruin their chances of status, not help it![3] But that is the way of the cross, the pattern their Lord set.

Paul isn't trying to shame them. He knows they love him and this is a harsh rebuke; he is trying to shake them to bring them to their senses. Paul knows the path to the only status that matters, he urges the Corinthians to follow his example (which includes suffering and lowliness by the world's standard). Timothy's job is to help them on that journey by teaching and visibly displaying the Pauline lifestyle that is practiced in the church everywhere. They want Paul to visit badly, and he will, but he does not want to have to come and discipline them, he wants a pleasant visit. But if he has to he will challenge those who divide the church and have an inflated self-worth. Do they really have the spiritual power they claim?

[1] 'what is written' most likely refers to Scriptural citations from earlier in the letter which focus on the God's wisdom in opposition to human wisdom. So both Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner.

[2] In Barclay's taxonomy this would be an emphasis on grace being unconditioned (note I said unconditioned not unconditional).

[3] Except of course for the status that matters, being a co-heir with Christ.


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