Paul says later in 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Messiah.” Too many times we try telling others how to live. It is always much better to show them. This is the essence of discipleship that Yeshua demonstrated. Whenever Yeshua found someone, what did he call them to do? … Mark recounts (10:21) that He looked at the rich young ruler, loved him, and told him, “Come, follow me.”[Read 1 Cor. 4][i]
(Vs. 1-2) When the disciples were arguing who would be greatest, Yeshua washed their feet (John 13) and demonstrated that whoever wants to be greatest in the kingdom must be the servant of all. (Matt. 20:20-28) If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, be faithful to Yeshua and serve others. My greatest prayer, is to hear the Father say to me on that last day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Paul explains to the congregants that this is the only thing that matters. There is a great scene in the Narnia movie, Prince Caspian. Lucy comes alone to the bridge and pulls out a dagger, she seems to stand alone against an entire army, but she is not alone. Aslan, the Lion, the Son of the Emperor over the sea is standing next to her. We can be rejected, despised and hated by the entire world, but if Yeshua is pleased with us, nothing else matters.
(Vs 3-4) Remember back in Acts 18 when Paul had been in Corinth and had been arrested? Now he refers to that common memory and shows that being judged by the congregation, or being judged by the court system, is not what matters. All that matters is how we stand before the Lord who will judge the living and the dead. Of course, we are blessed to live in a country where most national laws line up with God’s law, but this was not so in the time of Paul. At that time, following Yeshua was not an approved religion, and therefore was considered illegal by the Roman government. Not every ruler enforced that law, but whenever unrest rose up around the preaching of the Good News, it was always blamed on the followers of Yeshua.
(Vs. 5) Paul’s reminder to not judge motives and until the appointed time, is also a warning to those who teach. This appointed time is the same time that everything that has been built in the Kingdom of God will be tested by fire. There is nothing that is hidden that will not be revealed, and we should focus our attention on insuring that we are building with “gold, silver and precious stones,” instead of worrying that others are building with “hay, wood and stubble.” It is necessary to point out sin issues, as Paul will do in the next chapter, but we do not need to worry about people’s hidden motives. It will all be revealed in God’s timing. When Paul later talks about love covering a multitude of sins, this means that we give people the benefit of the doubt, we assume that their motives are correct.
(Vs. 6-7) Paul then goes on and tells the congregation in Corinth to apply the same standard to themselves that he has applied to Apollos and himself. We are all called to serve each other, we are all called to be faithful and trustworthy stewards of the things that the Lord has given to each of us. None of us should “go beyond what is written.” This statement most aptly refers to the Scriptures.[ii] When we stay with the written Scriptures, and read them with their most plain and simple meaning we will never go far wrong.[iii] In reading the Scriptures ourselves, and allowing the Ruach to apply them to our lives, we find the cure to the pride of glorifying one teacher over another. This comes back to what Paul is discussing. He does not want either Apollos nor himself to be elevated, because in both cases, pride is manifested within the congregation. Paul’s desire for this congregation is that they stop all forms of arrogance.[iv] Pride has a habit of not recognising the contributions into our lives of others and can even attribute to our own efforts what God has actually done.
(Vs. 8-11) In these next verses we see Paul resorting to irony and comparison, to demonstrate that the congregation was not nearly as mature as they thought they were. It appears that they felt as though they had become rulers in heavenly places, and full of the wisdom of God. Paul, almost mockingly, wishes that they were indeed that mature so that there could be a mutual benefit. He then contrasts their “maturity” with the life that he and the other apostles were living. Here is an interesting question. When you meet someone who is considered to be a “mature” believer, does their life look more like Paul’s or like the congregation in Corinth? Paul explains that the normal life of an emissary is to be “on display last of all – like men sentenced to death.” Are we considered “fools for Messiah’s sake?” Or are we considered wise? Are we considered strong believers, or weak? Are we honoured or are we dishonoured? Notice that the evidence of a leader, according to Paul, is to be hungry, thirsty, dressed in rags, mistreated and homeless. These attributes cause me to ask questions about myself
(Vs 12-13) When I am cursed, do I bless? When I am persecuted for the sake of Yeshua, do I endure patiently? When I am slandered, do I speak kindly? These are the signs of spiritual maturity. In all honestly, I have not arrived …. But at the same time, I have left. I am no longer the person I was, and when I look back at what the Lord has worked in my life, I am so thankful for the changes that He has done in me. In this way, I can say with Paul, be imitators of me. Follow me as I follow Messiah.
[i] All Scripture quotations are taken from the Tree of Life (TLV) version unless otherwise noted.
[ii] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol 11 pg. 291.
[iv] Ibid, pg. 292.