1 Corinthians 4:1-5, 9-20 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday June 13, 2010 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series.

Books referenced in these notes are:

1. NIGTC: First Epistle to the Corinthians by Anthony Thiselton

2. BECNT: 1 Corinthians by David Garland

3. IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament by Craig Keener

4. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged edited by Geoffrey Bromiley

1 Cor 4:1

This verse refers back to 3:5-9 and 3:21-23, which mention servants (diakonoi) and co-workers (sunergoi), which roughly correspond to this verse’s servants (huperetai) and managers (oikonomoi). “Us” refers back to 3:22, and thereby refers to all Christian ministers. Paul repeats Jesus’ teaching about ministers: they are leaders who act as servants. (Mark 9:35, 10:42-45; Matt 23:8-12).(Garland)

Huperetes, “servant” may have started out as a word for a lower deck gallery rower, by Paul’s day it came to mean an assistant, like John Mark in Acts 13:5. TDNT separates the huperetes from the slave (doulos) in that the huperetes is free and is sometimes even compensated for his work, and from the minister (diakonos) in that he willing takes orders and maintains his dignity doing so. (Garland)

Stewards, Greek oikonomos were slaves or freedmen trusted to manage the master’s household (chief slave), especially financial matters, and had great authority and prestige as essentially the empowered lieutenant or delegate of the master. But they were always responsible to their owner in the end, and had to keep his wishes in mind as they did their duty. Some ancient philosophers called themselves stewards of divine truths. (BBCNT, Garland)

1 Cor 4:2

Because stewards handled their masters’ finances, including purchasing slaves and other goods, as well as making investments, it was extremely important they be trustworthy. This note about faithfulness harks back to 3:8, 14-15,which hints at the future judgment of God of his servants.(BBCNT)

1 Cor 4:3-4

In light of God’s forthcoming judgment, Paul implies any human judge’s assessment of his Christian ministry is both inadequate and inconsequential. Indeed, Paul goes so far as to declare his own conscience a poor judge of his worth in comparison with God, based on painful experience. Once Paul knew he was doing the right thing persecuting Christians, and felt himself a righteous man as he did so.(Phlp 3:6) He learned differently at Damascus. One is not justified/acquitted by having a clear conscience, an obvious point but also a common fallacious belief. As Paul says, only God’s final judgment is worth worrying about or attempting to satisfy. (Garland)

The OT speaks of the day of God’s judgment as “the day of God”. (Is 13:6; Joel 1:15; Zeph 1:14) “Day” can be a metaphor for “court”, as here, where Paul uses legal terminology in several places. Most ancient philosophers, especially Cynics, disregarded what others thought of them. (BBCNT)

1 Cor 4:5

Jesus and other Jewish teachers of the first century said God would reveal secret thoughts at the Final Judgment. God’s judgment will be more complete and more just because He will judge not only deeds, but the motives behind the deeds. Ancient society was very obsessed with public honor and praise, so much so that there are ancient documents testifying to Greco-Roman hopes for praise/recognition even in the afterlife. Paul says only God’s good opinion at the end of the world would truly matter, and that is what Christians are being led to. (1 Pet 1:6-7) (BBCNT, Garland)

1 Cor 4:9

Stoic philosophers said they won the admiration of gods and men by their perseverance in suffering. Paul says apostles became a spectacle, using the Roman games as a metaphor for the apostles’ calling, deeming them objects of scorn like the gladiators and victims of Roman games. “Last of all” compares the apostles to the final show of the day in Roman games, which normally featured the worst condemned criminals, who would be put in deadly combat until their death sentences were carried out. “World”, “angels and to men” say the same thing: that the apostles are put on display for all creation to see, in Heaven and Earth.(BBCNT, Thiselton)

1 Cor 4:10

Philosophers in ancient times claimed to be wise in conduct, strong in morals, and honorably virtuous. Ancient society thought much less of them, especially the Cynic beggars. Here Paul ironically suggests that the factions that think so well of themselves are actually not as wonderful as they think, especially by God’s standards. Paul harks back to 1 Cor 1:26-28 to bitingly criticize the Corinthians’ good opinion of themselves, implying that the apostles are the proper disciples of Christ, for they specifically follow His example by inverting the world’s ideals for eternal reward(BBCNT, Garland)

1 Cor 4:11

Paul’s description of he and his fellow apostles as lacking the basics of normal life like regular food and drink, respectable clothes, treated with disrespect by regular society and having no regular home but wandering around dependent on work and charity. Bearing up under these conditions for Christ is the example Paul intends to set.(BBCNT)

“Up to the present hour” emphasizes that the apostles continue to suffer, and that these conditions are in fact to a great extent the apostles chosen method of operation.

“Roughly treated” can mean being beaten with fists, but it is likely inclusive of physical violence and verbal abuse; being treated like a slave, a worthless human being. (Garland, Thiselton)

1 Cor 4:12

Labor: “Labor”, Greek kopian, is not just work but hard work to the point of exhaustion.(Garland, Thiselton)

With our own hands: Ancient Greco-Roman culture despised manual labor; even beggar philosophers would beg or charge fees to students rather than work with their hands. Paul is identifying with the church’s least well-to-do members and setting an example of self-sufficiency, but in doing so he makes it harder for the well-to-do members of the church to introduce him to their friends, who would be appalled at Paul’s being a “common laborer”. Thus Paul and his fellow apostles would be reviled and persecuted both as low class types as well as spreaders of a novel strange religion.(BBCNT)

Bless: Greek eulogeo. There is little doubt Paul prayed for persecutors of all sorts, but eulogeo in non-religious settings meant “reply with good words”. (Thiselton)

Entreat: Greek parakaleo “call alongside”. The word has a wide range of meanings, but here seems likely to mean “to win them over by speaking directly to them”. (Thiselton, TDNT)

1 Cor 4:13

Garbage and filth: Words used universally for things worthless and rejected. Garbage is the Greek perikatharma, what is removed by scraping off a utensil. Filth, Greek peripsema refers to scraps scrubbed from something. These same words were used to describe human sacrifices of criminals and the malformed in order to ward off some evil in Greek cities. It is possible Paul had a double meaning in mind here, but it seems most likely that instead of referring to apostles as “scapegoats” here he was simply using the most shocking, insulting terms he could think of to show how poorly apostles were treated by society. (Thiselton, Garland)

Some ancient philosophers thought of the general public as garbage/filth; more often the public thought it of most philosophers. Cynic beggar philosophers were known to insult their audiences, even unprovoked, just to prove their independence. Paul reverses this, and intimates that Christians are morally superior because they endure slander and suffering with gentleness.(BBCNT)

1 Cor 4:14

Ancient philosophers, rhetors, and moralists in general had two courses open to them to correct behavior: they might shame their audience and thus humiliate them, or admonish them, in a show of caring for them. Paul calls the Corinthians “my dear children”, both a reflection of his feeling for them and a reminder that Roman fathers were responsible for seeing their children properly educated. (BBCNT)

Paul’s “tough love” here is meant to change their behavior, not make them feel worthless. The Corinthians lived in ancient public honor culture, different from our modern individualistic guilt culture. People in honor cultures are always jockeying for public display of their honor/worth, to increase the status in the eyes of others. Paul is attempting to change the Corinthians’ notion of honor to the Christian ideal of service and even suffering as glory, in imitation of Christ’s service and lack of worldly glory.(Thiselton)

1 Cor 4:15

Ten thousand: A literal translation, but the common understanding of Greek myrias was of the highest number imaginable: a bajillion zillion, etc. (Garland, Thiselton)

Instructors, guardians- Greek paidagogos, source of the English pedagogue. A slave or paid attendant detailed to escort boy(s) to and from school, not usually a teacher though responsible for teaching the boy proper behavior. The paidagogos was a figure of fun in ancient culture, stereotyped as a fellow always carrying a rod, harsher and more stupid than he believed himself to be, who would often hinder his charge’s actual education to protect his pride in his own knowledge.(BBCNT, Garland)

“Father” Paul uses his parenthood (father or mother) of the churches he writes to in all letters except Romans. Slaves, servants, and teachers may come and go, but there is only one father, and the relationship is thereby special and unique.(Garland)

1 Cor 4:16

Imitate: Philosophers, rabbis and teachers of the ancient world expected students to not only do as they said, but also as they did. Imitation was a common ancient form of instruction. It may sound egotistical of Paul now, but the previous verses (4:9-13) are calling the Corinthians to be the kind of people looked down upon by ordinary society, to a sort of behavior is so different from the norm that there really is no other model for the Corinthians to follow but Paul and the other Christian leaders.(BBCNT, Garland)

1 Cor 4:17

Timothy, Paul’s “faithful son in the Lord” was doubtless a close imitator of Paul. Thus through him the Corinthians could follow Paul’s example.(BBCNT)

“My ways” can be straightforward, but “way” in ancient times was a metaphor for divine law or proper behavior, as demonstrated in the early Christian document the Didache, where life was split into two “ways”, behavior that lead to salvation or damnation.(BBCNT)

Everywhere in every church: Paul is not going to require more of the Corinthians than he requires of everyone else.

Paul seems to have a standard practice for dealing with his churches:

Send a letter

Send an emissary

Come himself(Thiselton)

1 Cor 4:18-21

Roman fathers might have the gentlest of motives in raising their children, but the common picture of the father was of a somewhat removed, revered figure respected for his power. (BBCNT)

Pride, that striving for public honor seems to be the Corinthians’ main vice. Those “inflated with pride” are like children with the run of the house while the parents are away. Now, Paul says, father is coming home, and things had better be in order. “Soon” means “before long”, because Paul says in 1 Cor 16:8 he will be in Ephesus until Pentecost.

Talk is contrasted with power in verses nineteen and twenty, not in the sense of talk versus miracles (often the meaning of power when referring to apostles and the kingdom) but rather in the sense of talk versus action, what one says versus what one does. Which way is reflecting the truth of God’s power on lives: Paul’s or the Corinthians? (Garland, Thiselton)


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