1 Cor. 4
Paul had a very clear understanding of who he was and who the Christ that he served was. There was no wishy-washy thinking when it came to Paul telling his disciples who he was and what he was sent to do. What is astonishing is the many titles he gave himself and how he understood who he was. Paul sees himself from three perspectives.
In Relation to God:
He is first and foremost an apostle by the will of God, ch. 1 verse 1. He is also a servant of God and a steward of the mystery of Christ. Seldom is the servant also the steward of his master’s dominion. This is not so when we serve God. We are at work to expand the Kingdom and to declare that King Jesus is indeed king of the entire universe. On the other side of the same coin, we are co-heirs with him. Daniel 7 goes into great lengths to explain how the entire creation will be given to the Son of Man. At the end of the chapter, the same dominion is handed to his servants. Therefore, we have been entrusted, as his servants, to have dominion over the earth (cf. Gen. 1:28f). We are not merely lackeys in the Kingdom, but we are entrusted with the glorious riches of God’s possession.
This stewardship doesn’t merely relate to the seen, but also to the mysteries in Jesus. The mystery of Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27 – mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.) Not only is the mystery, Christ in you, but it is Christ himself! (Col. 2:2f – God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.) The Gentiles are fellow heirs with the chosen people of God (Eph. 3:6). The intimacy that is displayed in marriage as it reflects Christ’s love for the Church (Eph. 5:32). This mystery will also be “fulfilled” (Rev. 10:7). Sometimes Paul leaves “the mystery of Christ” ambiguous so as to envelope all the glories that are contained in the phrase (Col. 4:6f).
One of the telltale signs that a man is a true steward is that he is trustworthy. And so Paul appeals to his integrity as a sign of his true stewardship of this grace.
In Relation to the World:
They are a spectacle to the world (a freak show as it were; 1 Cor. 4:9). They are fools for the sake of Christ (v. 10) in order that their hearers might be wise. They are weak (v. 11) so their beloved will be strong. They are have a bad reputation (v.11) while their hearers are being honored. They are the scum (περικάθαρμα) of the world (v. 13); the price of expiation or redemption, Prov. 21:18, because the Greeks used to apply the term katharmata to victims sacrificed to make expiation for the people, and even to criminals who were maintained at the public expense, that on the outbreak of a pestilence or other calamity they might be offered as sacrifices to make expiation for the state.). They are the refuse (περίψημα) of all things (v. 13); It is used of a man who in behalf of religion undergoes dire trials for the salvation of others, Ignatius ad Eph. 8,1; 18,1; (see Lightfoot’s note on the former passage)!
In Relation to the Hearers:
Although Paul uses such strong language to show how he is despicable in the eyes of the world, he shows the amazing contrast between who he is and how he is viewed. Because he truly is a servant and steward, he also qualifies as a father of his hearers (v. 15). They are strong because he has lowered himself and taken the pain of slander. He is a model for their faith (v. 16). That is, although they are presently strong, honored, and wise, they should become like Paul. What does this mean? They are to count all things as loss in comparison to serving God and stewarding his mysteries.
There is a great disparity between who we are and how the world views us. Paul has shown that what the world deems valuable and wise, is actually worthless and ignorant. The Cross of Christ crucifies any boasting in who we are. We have received everything (v.5). That is, whatever we think we could boast in turns out to indict our insolent pride. Status: it was given to us. Money: the very strength to earn it was given to us. Wisdom: if based on the world, it is folly. Salvation: it has been given to us. Faith: it has been gifted to us. Perseverance: the Holy Spirit quickens our stale souls.
Oh! That we would be gripped anew with humility in the free gift of faith and joy! That we would be foolish for the sake of Christ. That we would stop jockeying for position and honor. Instead, would that we press on towards Jesus. He was derided, mocked, and murdered. May we not scoff, but rest in his sufficiency to meet all our needs…even the need for rest.