Letters to the Corinthians: How to Treat your Leaders

Now that Paul has dealt with the leadership problem – there’s still one question left to resolve. I’ll be in 1 Corinthians 4:1-13 …

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.

Servants – those entrusted – those who have been given a trust, some Bibles might use the word ‘steward’ or ‘overseer’ these words suggest that Paul doesn’t see himself as a leader, a head of the church with authority over the rest. He certainly doesn’t want to be treated that way. This is a bit of a dangerous idea here ‘judge nothing … until the Lord comes’. After reading about so many church ministries imploding, I think we have to carefully consider what Paul means. He knows that there are false teachers that are doing more harm than good. He doesn’t authorize a search-and-destroy mission to deal with them, probably because the sort of people who just don’t like particular teachers could easily accuse one of the sound teachers and whip up the church into a frenzy to kick them out. I think he wants us to avoid treating our leaders as celebrities or more important than Jesus, but he also wants us to avoid judging them in such a way as to put them in an order or rank from best to worst or more authoritative than the rest. What does it mean to treat a leader as a servant anyway? Call them up at all hours of the night to tell them what they can do for us? Give them a list of tasks and expect them to complete it in a few hours? Treat them as if they’re not good enough to sit down at the dinner table with us?

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?

What I love about this section is that Paul doesn’t set himself on a level different from Apollos. We have an Apostle and a believer who is likely a Pastor. Either the Apostle laid down his power to the level of a Pastor, or the Apostle promoted the Pastor up to his level, but he wants equal treatment for the two of them. There’s really not a clear concept on what is meant by the saying “Do not go beyond what is written.” It could be referring to the quotes from other sections of the Bibles or perhaps a code that the Corinthians are familiar with. But it is clear that Paul doesn’t want the believers to be in fan clubs for different teachers boasting about their favorite teachings.

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.

Hyperbole is one of those things that I just don’t have a knack for picking up or understanding – but it’s clearly evident here. Paul contrasts himself with the Corinthians. The spectacles – or Roman Triumph makes for an interesting picture when you read up on them – Paul being slowly marched through the city in chains, shown off as a captive from the defeated army, once he reaches the destination – there’s only one fate left in store for him … death. There is a church out there that borrows it’s name from this passage – Scum of the Earth Church. I think they get the irony employed here – that the opposite is the reality and the Corinthians who think of themselves as those who have begun to reign aren’t really rulers; they’re far from it. Which end this section with 30 mentions or references to Jesus.

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