I Corinthians 4:1-5

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

Text: I Corinthians 4:1-5



In I Corinthians 1:10-17 we saw that there were contentions in the church at Corinth. We have seen that there were two reasons for these divisions. First, we saw in I Corinthians 1:18-3:4 that there was a misconception of the message. Secondly, we are in the process of looking at I Corinthians 3:5-4:5 in which we see that there was also a misconception of the ministry.

We have seen that believers should not be glorying in men. We see in I Corinthians 4:1-5 how the people in the church in Corinth should be viewing Paul, Apollos, and Peter. In the same way we see how people in local churches today should be viewing their pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and other Christian workers.

People have all kinds of preconceived ideas regarding the ministry, but we must conform all our ideas to the Word of God.


I Corinthians 4:1 a - 1a Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ. . . .

Let a man so account of us is a third person imperative or command which means that a man must certainly account of us. This is always done as the result of an evaluation of the person.

A man is the generic term for man or human being and may refer to a female or to a male.

Account = consider, regard, think

Of us is of Paul and of Apollos

As of the ministers = as of the servants; the term suggests that they are servants, helpers, assistants, or subordinates of someone who serves a master or superior. In this case it is servants of Christ rather than servants of some church, of some board, of some individual, etc.

As of implies as he thinks of, (i.e. as he accounts of, as he considers, as he evaluates, or simply as being).

Christian workers are not only ministers of Christ -


I Corinthians 4:1 b-4 - 1b Let a man so account of us, as . . . stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. 4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

I Corinthians 4:1 b - 1b Let a man so account of us, as . . . stewards of the mysteries of God.

And introduces a second characteristic of Paul and Apollos: they were also stewards of the mysteries of God.

Stewards were house-stewards or managers. They had been entrusted with responsibilities for which they would one day give account to their master or superior.

What they had been entrusted with or were managing was the mysteries of God.

Mysteries were secrets or secret teachings, teachings which had not been made known in Old Testament times but which had been made known in the New Testament era.

Rather than overly exalting Paul and Apollos, the believers in the church at Corinth needed to understand that Paul and Apollos were merely Christ's servants and managers of God's mysteries. Instead, the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father were to be highly exalted.

As stewards they are required to be faithful to their stewardship.

I Corinthians 4:2 2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

As stewards ministers are not ultimately responsible to man and they should not worry as if they were. They are required to be faithful . . . to the one who entrusted them with their stewardship. As stewards they are ultimately responsible to God.

Moreover is as far as this is concerned.

It is required is it is asked for, (i.e. requested or demanded). The content of it is the noun clause that a man be found faithful, which actually functions as the subject of is required.

The tense of is required indicates that this is a timeless truth, something which is always true under all circumstances. It is one of those truths which goes without saying. It is commonly recognized as true.

In stewards introduces the group of persons who are always required to be found faithful.

They were house-stewards (or managers) of the mysteries of God. They were charged with the responsibility of proclaiming the mysteries of God through the preaching of the gospel. As long as they discharged their individual responsibilities, they were doing what they were supposed to do; and they should not be idolized as if they were doing more than carrying out their appointed duties. Glory was instead to be given to the Lord.

That introduces the noun clause functioning as the subject of is required.

A man is indefinite and used in the sense of anyone, someone, or somebody.

Be found suggests that this must be true whenever his work is inspected.

Of course, as a steward, his work is subject to inspection by his master or superior at any and all times. If he is unfaithful, he may be removed from his stewardship.

It is also expected that he will be required to give an account of his stewardship when it is completed.

Faithful is trustworthy, dependable, or reliable.

In a very real sense all believers, including Paul and Apollos, have been entrusted with something for which they are required to be faithful; and they will be judged on the basis of their faithfulness. Therefore, to elevate Paul or Silas above the level of servants or stewards and divide the church over them is unwise.

Furthermore, it is also unwise for an individual believer to begin to think of himself more highly than the fact that he is merely one of the Lord's many servants and stewards. He is to be far more concerned with the Lord's evaluation of his service than he is with how people regard him.

Regardless of his position within the ranks of Bible-believing people, he should frequently remind himself that he is nothing more than one of the Lord's servants and stewards whose service will be judged on the basis of his faithfulness. Along this line Jesus said in Luke 17:10 - So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

Similarly, pastors have a stewardship for which we are ultimately responsible to God. We recognize that we are responsible to the local church as a whole but that we are not responsible to some board or individual within the church.

Paul discusses this stewardship in Acts 20:28 .

Acts 20:28 - 28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

Peter discusses this stewardship in I Peter 5:1-3 .

I Peter 5:1-3 - 1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

Paul discusses more of stewardship entrusted to pastors in the pastoral epistles - I Timothy, II Timothy, and Titus - but we do not have time to deal with everything mentioned in the pastoral epistles in this message.

I Corinthians 4:3 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.

In verse 3 Paul hints that the believers in the church at Corinth have judged him and his ministry in their divisions over their various heroes and lets them know that their judgment of him is not very high on his list of priorities or of great concern to him. He is not ultimately responsible to any man, and he does not even judge himself.

But introduces a statement in mild contrast to what he has written in verse 2.

With me, where me is Paul, suggests for me or as far as I am concerned.

It, which does not actually appear in the Greek text, has for its content that I should be judged of you, which actually functions as the subject of is. The Greek text reads, But with me that I should be judged by you, or by man's judgment, is a very small thing.

Is indicates something which is always true of Paul. It is ongoing and will not change.

A very small thing is very small, quite unimportant, or very insignificant.

That introduces the noun clause, which functions in the Greek text as the subject of is.

I should be judged is used of judicial hearings and understood in the sense of I should be being judged, (i.e. examined or questioned).

Of you is by you and indicates direct agency.

Or of man's judgment is literally or by a human day, which implies or by a human judgment day.

Man's is human, and judgment is an interpretive translation of the word day based on the implied meaning taken from this context.

Paul has little concern regarding any human judgment because his concern is the Lord's judgment of him.

Yea is emphatic and understood as indeed, in fact, or certainly.

I judge not mine own self refers to Paul. Judge is used of judicial hearings. Combined with not it means I am not judging, (i.e. questioning or examining).

Mine own self is myself.

I Corinthians 4:4 4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

Verse 4 explains why Paul does not even judge himself. His understanding of things which have happened is limited. He believes he is right with the Lord, but this does not make it so. The Lord is the One Who judges him; so, it is to the Lord that he is ultimately responsible and not to man.

I know is I know with myself or I am conscious.

Nothing indicates what Paul knows for certain against himself.

By myself is with respect to myself. As far as he is concerned, he has been faithful in the ministry to which God has called him, his heart is right with the Lord and with everybody else, God's rule is in power, which Paul has as an apostle; but these arrogant individuals in Corinth do not know anything, possibly including God.

All believers should desire to remain in this state where they are right in their Christian service, right with God, and right with everyone else as well. However, Paul, knowing that what Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 17:9 was true of him, was cautious not to assert his righteousness too boldly but stated that he was conscious of nothing which needed to be straightened out in his life.

Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

Although the believer may not be conscious of something which is not right in his life, it may be there; and the Lord will one day bring this to his conscious mind so that he may straighten it out; or the Lord will eventually judge him for it. In either case, the Lord will deal with it. Praise the Lord for I John 1:9 !

I John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Yet introduces a strong contrast. It is the word ordinarily translated but, and it is occasionally translated nevertheless or except.

Am I not . . . justified is I have not been justified or I have not been declared righteous. It is understood in this verse in the legal, non-technical sense of I have not been acquitted.

Hereby, i.e. by this, i.e. by the fact that he was not conscious of anything which was not right in his life. However, the fact that he was not aware of anything wrong does not declare him to be righteous. It merely declares his ignorance of something which may actually be there.

But introduces a statement in mild contrast to what has been stated in all of verse 3 and to the first two-thirds of verse 4.

He that judgeth is the same term used two times in verse 3. It is used of judicial hearings, meaning the one who judges, the one who questions, or the one who examines.

Me refers to Paul.

Is indicates a timeless truth, something which is true at all times under all circumstances.

The Lord in Paul's writings typically refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. In Paul's mind He is the only One Who counts, and in Paul's mind His judgment is the only judgment that matters.

As ministers of Christ and as stewards of the mysteries of God -


I Corinthians 4:5 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

Paul and Apollos should not be judged prematurely. When they are judged by the Lord, He will reveal things others do not know; and God will properly approve His servants in accordance with what is right.

Therefore introduces a conclusion drawn from what Paul has written in verses 1-4 and is understood in the sense of for this reason or so.

Judge nothing is an imperative or command with a negative and is understood as stop judging something or do not continue judging anything.

The subject of judge is you, i.e. the believers in the church at Corinth. They were judging Paul, Apollos, and Peter; and it was not their place to be doing so. They had intruded into forbidden territory and were attempting to do what God alone could do.

Before the time is clarified by until the Lord come.

Until the Lord come identifies the time before which the believers should judge nothing. Of course, they should also not judge anything after that time because it is not their place to judge. Human beings do not know all the facts and cannot make accurate judgments when these judgments are based on a limited knowledge and understanding. What appears to be so may not actually be so. One is reminded of Paul's words to the believers in Rome in Romans 14:1-13 ,

Romans 14:1-13 - (1) Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.

(2) For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.

(3) Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.

(4) Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

(5) One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

(6) He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

(7) For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.

(8) For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.

(9) For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.

(10) But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

(11) For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

(12) So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

(13) Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.

Until the Lord come suggests certainty regarding the fact that Lord will be coming but uncertainty regarding its time. He is coming back for believers to take them to be with Himself, but it is not clear when He will be coming. It could be at any time, or it could instead be many years into the future. Believers are to be ready for His coming as if He were coming today.

The Lord is Christ, and come refers to His coming at the rapture.

Who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts describes the Lord.

Who is the Lord.

Both . . . and introduce two things the Lord is going to do when He comes. He will bring to light the hidden things, and He will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.

Will bring to light is understood in the sense of will reveal or will make known.

What He will bring to light, reveal, or make known is the hidden things of darkness, i.e. things previously unknown. The appears before hidden things in the Greek text, which suggests the sum total of all the hidden things in existence. Nothing will remain unknown. The revealing of the whole truth will shed new light on many things.

Christ will also make manifest the counsels of the hearts.

Will make manifest means will reveal, will make known, or will show. What He will reveal is the counsels, i.e. the purposes or the motives, of the hearts. It suggests that the thoughts behind the actions, which come from deep within the people, will become clear to all.

The use of the before counsels suggests the sum total of all the counsels, purposes, or motives; and the use of the before hearts suggests the sum total of all the hearts. The Lord is going to judge. His judgment will be thorough, accurate, and righteous; and many wrongs will be made right.

And introduces another thought: then shall every man have praise of God.

Then is at that time and refers to the time when the Lord will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and when He will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.

Then shall every man have praise of God is literally, At that time the praise shall be to each one from God.

Shall . . . have praise is the praise (i.e. the recognition or the approval) shall be. The appears before praise in the Greek text in order to particularize it as the praise, approval, or recognition which is properly the believer's as the result of the hidden things being brought to light and the counsels of the hearts being revealed. Some may receive much praise; whereas, others may receive little or none.

Every man is each one or everyone and is not limited to adult males. Every faithful servant will have praise from God. He will hear that well done, thou good and faithful servant!

Of God is literally from the God and refers to God the Father, Who will properly praise, approve, or recognize the individual believer in accordance with what is right.


Christians are frequently guilty of heaping undue praise or undue criticism on Christian workers. We should bear in mind that our opinions are really of very little consequence. It is God who has called Christian workers into His service and who has entrusted them with spiritual gifts of His choosing. It is they who are responsible to God for the use they make of their spiritual gifts. We, instead, should be more concerned with being faithful to whatever area of service God has called us.

We should view Christian workers as subordinates of Christ who have been entrusted by God with certain spiritual gifts and responsibilities, and we should pray that God would help them to be faithful to him and to their calling.