While carnal allegiance to the servants of God as party chiefs was strictly forbidden, the Corinthians needed instruction as to the true attitude to be adopted towards His stewards, His administrators in the developing edifice. They were to be esteemed as those acting under the constant supervision of Christ, keeping the pioneer testimony on the move. They were also to be regarded as responsible administrators, initiating believers into the understanding of truths concerning the house of God and working for continual progress in this direction. They were to be men whom God could trust implicitly, and on whom the believers could depend at all times. How solemn are these truths relating to divinely granted stewardship!
It is said about one man of worth that he feared God so much day by day he had ceased to be tormented by the fear of man. Paul adopts this line of thought as he is confronted with a spirit of criticism on the part of the Christians. Their opinions, based on accepted values in the Day of Man (1 Cor. 4. 3 R.V. marg.), would be worthless in the Day of the Lord. Indeed Paul did not attempt to come to any definite conclusion about his own service and reward. Although, in the pathway of suffering that was his, he seemed to be walking in the footsteps of his Master and could find nothing against himself, this did not afford him any ground for complacency. He was ever conscious of the nearness of his blessed Lord, who was examining all carefully, discovering the motives, analysing the practices, and weighing the results in the divine balances.
Because of this solemn fact, it is unwise to come to conclusions about servants and service too soon. The Lord is coming! What a challenging thought! At the judgment seat of Christ, He will cause light to shine on service rendered in the obscurity for His glory. He will reveal the very sources of our intentions in the work that was reputedly done to glorify His name. What an unveiling! At that moment, every man will receive the praise equivalent to the work inspired exclusively by heart-devotion to the Christ of Calvary’s cross. There will be no praise for those whose mouths speak great swelling words and who have men’s persons in admiration because of advantage, Jude 16. There will be deep appreciation of those who, like the woman with the alabaster box of ointment, do what they can in costly, soul-absorbing endeavour. What a thrill, if only we can hear those words of gratitude from His lips, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant … enter thou into the joy of thy lord”, Matt. 25. 21.
The references in the earlier chapters to party strife, where Paul, Apollos and Peter were used as illustrations, were really aimed at several anonymous Diotrephes in Corinth, men who were inspired by fleshly ambition, vying with each other for prominent positions, 3 John 9. The remedy is again indicated, “that which is written”. The Scriptures were clear in their definition of man and his capacity; “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord”, Jer. 17. 5. Left to himself, man had always proved to be an abject failure. Any growth due to fleshly ambition would be “puffed up”, resulting in worthless inflation; when building up, true edification was urgently requisite. They must learn that spiritual gifts came from the Giver, and were to be exercised in a spirit of deep humility and total absence of self-advertisement, for the unique glory of God. This has always been, across the centuries, one of the hardest lessons to be learned by those who profess to serve Christ.
This thought was far from the minds at Corinth. In their own estimation, the members of the assembly were thoroughly nourished, having fully partaken of every spiritual food available. Mere gluttons had they become in the feast of the letter of the law. Extremely prosperous they seemed to be, endowed with every visible proof of successful, organised Christianity. Unlike the Philippians, who eagerly looked for the coming of the Deliverer, they were living as monarchs where their Lord had been crowned with a crown of thorns, sensing no reproach, the heart filled with that nauseous superiority complex of those who endeavour to dominate carnally. It makes one shudder to think that Christians can live like this.
Paul, thinking of their desire to dominate, yearns in his spirit for the true joy of the kingdom of God, not in word,but in power, v. 20, and visualises the glory of that day.
What a contrast between the Corinthians in their imaginary imperial lodge, and the apostles in the thick of the combat in the arena! Following in the footsteps of the patriarchs, the priests and the prophets of other days, they were on display in the amphitheatre, condemned to death, and apparently waging a losing battle. The angelic hosts and the multitudes of men looked on. Paul is ever conscious in this Epistle of angelic interests, 4. 9; 6. 3, and 11. 10, and it is good for us to remember the lessons those in heavenly places continually learn from the Church, Eph. 3.10. How often must those who do exploits for God follow in the steps of the apostles! Classed as fools and senseless persons, while the cowardly appear so prudent, the structure of their service seems fragile and worldly recognition totally lacking. Deprived often of the normal things of everyday living, they are denied the social standing so coveted by others, and regarded, in many foreign lands, as the scum of the earth.
Is there no short-cut available in the roadway of authentic stewardship? 2 Corinthians 6. 3-10 and 11. 23-28 again point in the same direction. Times have changed, but the world’s attitude has not; there is no truth in the expression, “popular evangelism”. But in the midst of this gruelling conflict, Paul is not downhearted; “as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ”, 2 Cor. 1. 5. “We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead”, v. 9. “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us … serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear”, Heb. 12. 28. He reminds Timothy that if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him, true administrators in an age of genuine values and of divine recognition, 2. Tim. 2. 12.
The heart of the apostle yearns for his children. He covets for them the hard pathway that loyalty to Christ must ever entail. The warning note is sounded, the trumpet calls to conflict. The Lord who drew His men from the shores of the Galilean lake to a life of abnegation and martyrdom finds a worthy successor in this courageous apostle who re-echoes that heartstirring appeal, “Follow Me!”. Ten thousand theorists, imparting knowledge culled from many sources, could never replace the example furnished by this inimitable spiritual father. If only “Like father, like son” could be true of his Corinthian children, Paul’s joy would be unlimited.
One who had followed implicitly in his footsteps, a beloved and faithful child, had come to Corinth. Timothy’s very name meant “honoured of God”, if not of men. He would again underline apostolic doctrine. Thinking that Paul would not come to Corinth, some inflated leaders were perhaps saying, “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible”, 2 Cor. 10. 10. Mere words, however, would feature little in the crucial test. Spiritual power, the evident strength of true association with God’s kingdom, would rapidly deflate the seemingly important and bombastic opposition. He refers often to the state of being puffed up, 4. 6, 18, 19; 5. 2; 8. 1; 13. 4; then in 2 Corinthians 12. 20 to the swelling of arrogance.