Summary: In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul brings to a conclusion the arguments he has been making since chapter one, as he seeks to bring unity to the divided church at Corinth.
A. There’s an old fable that goes like this…
1. A servant had two large water pots that he carried on either end of a pole slung across his shoulders.
2. One of the pots had a crack in it, so every day as he carried water to his master’s house, he arrived with one full pot and one only half full.
3. This went on for several years.
4. The pot without the crack was very proud of his accomplishments, while the imperfect pot was embarrassed by his failure.
5. One day the cracked pot spoke to the servant, “I’m so ashamed of my failures. I can only accomplish half of what the other pot can do.”
6. The servant looked kindly at the cracked pot and said, “As we return to my master’s house today, I want you to look at the beautiful flowers along the path.”
7. So as they came from the stream, the pot looked at the beautiful flowers along the way.
8. The servant asked the pot, “Did you notice that the flowers were only on your side of the path?”
9. The servant continued, “I’ve always known about your flaw and I took advantage of it. I planted seeds on your side of the path and as we walked back each day from the stream, you watered them.”
10. The servant concluded, “For two years now I have been able to pick fresh, beautiful flowers for my master’s table. Without your being just the way you are, this beauty would not have graced this house.”
B. For the past month we have been studying the Apostle Paul’s letter called 1 Corinthians.
1. We have come to realize that the church at Corinth had its problems.
2. They were very immature and even worldly.
3. They were full of pride and were putting their faith in human wisdom.
4. Based on unspiritual, human wisdom, they were making wrong judgments.
5. And in the end, all of this was leading to division – different groups in the church had aligned themselves with certain leaders.
C. As Paul has tried to address these problems, he has pointed their attention in several important directions.
1. Paul has pointed them to the centrality of the Cross.
2. Paul has pointed them to the wisdom of the Spirit.
3. And in our message last week, we noticed how Paul helped them see the church for what it is – God’s field, God’s building, and God’s Temple.
4. All of this helps us keep things in proper perspective:
a. God is God, He owns everything, and He makes everything possible.
b. We are simply God’s servants – His field hands and subcontractors.
c. And God uses our strengths and weaknesses to His glory.
D. As we come to 1 Corinthians chapter 4, we see that Paul is concluding his appeal for unity among the Corinthian factions.
1. Up until this point, much of Paul’s discourse has been artfully indirect as he employed metaphors and irony to provoke the Corinthians to rethink their position.
2. In chapter 4, however, Paul takes off his “kid gloves,” so to speak, and he confronts them bluntly in a number of ways.
3. First, he confronts their presumptuous judging of Paul himself (vv. 1-5).
4. Second, he confronts them about their arrogant boasting of their own wisdom and status (vv. 6-13).
5. In the final sentences of the chapter, Paul brings this first major unit of the letter to a close.
6. Paul adopts a warmer tone as a father appealing to his children (vv. 14-17).
7. But then Paul concludes with a stern warning to those at Corinth who may be inclined to resist his authority (vv. 18-21).
8. Let’s summarize four points that Paul is making.
I. Point One – Servants are to be Judged Only by their Master (4:1-5)
A. Here Paul reintroduces the servant metaphor, just like he did back in chapter 3, verses 5-9, but this time with a different purpose.
1. In chapter 3, Paul’s point was that God’s servants are all serving a common purpose.
2. Here in chapter 4, Paul’s point is that he and the other apostles, as God’s servants, are accountable to no one but God.
3. So the thing that matters is not whether they are winning popularity contests with the Corinthians, but whether they are being trustworthy in following their master’s instructions.
B. Within the social world of Paul’s time, servants of powerful masters often enjoyed positions of considerable delegated authority.
1. So Paul is not using the word and concept of the common slave (doulos), but rather is employing the Greek noun oikonomos, which means “steward,”or “house manager,” the highest ranking servant of a wealthy landowner, who was in charge of the entire estate.