1 Corinthians 4:6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. 7 For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? 8 You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us--and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you! 9 For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! 11 To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. 12 And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; 13 being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now. (NKJV)
In the preceding passage Paul has cautioned us not to judge ourselves or others who teach the Gospel. Since God is the only One who calls His teachers, He is the only One who can judge them.
Now, in this passage, Paul speaks for himself and Apollos, as the primary teachers of the Corinthians (v. 6a). He cautions the Corinthian believers “not to think beyond what is written” (v. 6b). In other words, he is urging them to focus on the Scriptures and not on the teachers.
Some of the believers were “puffed up on behalf of one against the other”, favoring Paul’s teachings over Apollos’ or vice versa (v. 6c). Paul is calling on them to stop playing favorites and just focus on the teachings of Paul and Apollos.
Paul then calls out the Corinthian believers for the attitudes that have caused these dissensions. The Corinthians were acting as “mere men” (1 Cor. 3:3). They were resorting to “the wisdom of this world”, which Paul has labeled “foolishness” (1 Cor. 3:19). Specifically, the worldly wisdom he is referring to is to “boast in men” (1 Cor. 3:21). Neither of these two groups, those who were puffed up over Paul’s teachings or Apollos’, were better than the other (v. 7a).
Neither group could claim superiority because neither group achieved their own status as believers. They “received” any perceived status, not through their own efforts but solely through the grace of God (v. 7b). These Corinthian believers had no right to “boast” in anything (v. 7c).
Paul criticizes the Corinthian believers for their worldly attitude of acting “full”, “rich”, and reigning “as kings”, when Christ Himself had not yet claimed His crown, reigning over the world, and won’t until His return (v. 8a). In fact, Paul wishes that they “did reign” because that would mean that Christ had returned and all of them, including himself, would be reigning with Christ (v. 8b).
Paul further condemns this worldly attitude among the Corinthian believers by contrasting their attitude with the actual worldly circumstances of the apostles. Paul describes the apostles in one word, as being “last” (v. 9a). The reality is that the apostles were being persecuted, as “men condemned to death”, and disrespected, as “a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men” (v. 9b).
The apostles were “fools for Christ’s sake”, “weak” and “dishonored”, while the Corinthian believers were acting as if they were “wise in Christ”, “strong”, and “distinguished” (v. 10). They were still acting as “mere men” and not understanding the huge task ahead.
Paul and the other apostles were experiencing “hunger and thirst”, were “poorly clothed”, were “beaten”, and were “homeless” (v. 11). They labored, “working with our own hands” to earn their living (v. 12a). They were being “reviled” while blessing others, were “being persecuted” while enduring in their mission, and were being defamed, while they were begging men to accept Christ (vv. 12b-13a). The apostles had “been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now” (v. 13b).
Paul’s vivid description of the treatment of the apostles in the first century is still true of the plight of todays’ apostles as they carry the Gospel to the far corners of the world. This is not the time for Christians to rest on their laurels. Battles have been won but the victory won’t be claimed until Christ returns. There is much work yet to be done.
So this is not the time to be “puffed up”. Those who faithfully teach the Gospel know this. As Christians, our focus should be on Scripture and spreading the Gospel, and not on boasting about our teachers, or ourselves.
Online Bible Commentary