Did you know that there is sarcasm in the Bible? Paul gives us a good dose of it here!
Paul points out that he and the other leaders should be thought of as stewards. They are to be faithful servants of God’s word (“the mysteries of God“), and not worry about accolades and affirmations. God is the judge, and God will reward. Paul doesn’t exalt himself, and neither does Apollos! But that’s not how the factions in Corinth are behaving. And here is where Paul is sarcastic. The factions are proud. They are “wise.” They are “strong.” They are “distinguished.” And they shouldn’t be! Everything they understand and believe was received from others, so they have no reason to boast, either in their own knowledge or in any particular teacher (4:7). In contrast, Paul and the other leaders are fools, weak, and dishonored. They don’t think highly of themselves, nor do they expect special treatment. In fact, because of their faithfulness they are: “hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, brutally treated, and without a roof over our heads.” They are the world’s dirt and scum (4:13), and are condemned to die (4:9). Their very lives and testimonies stand in contrast to the lives of those who are involved in the factions in Corinth. Living for Christ doesn’t mean living as honored kings in the world (4:8). It means humility, servanthood, and faithfulness.
Paul is spending so much time on this at the beginning of the letter because he loves them. He is their spiritual father, and he is warning them that they are not behaving properly (4:14). He also cautions them because he is concerned that their arrogance while he is away will keep them from listening to him. Although he has sent Timothy with his letter, he is planning on coming back shortly. To they want to be disciplined or encouraged when he returns (4:21)?
Sometimes we need a spiritual parent in the faith. Someone who can both encourage and confront us. Someone that we’re willing to listen to. If you don’t have that in your own life right now, perhaps you should seek out someone you respect who is mature in the faith and try to develop that type of relationship with them.