“For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign, and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings”.1 Corinthians 4-7-9
In this passage of Scripture, the apostle Paul asks: “What makes you so different? Why are you so puffed up?” What makes you different? We should know that anything of our lives that is worthwhile, it came to us from God. Like Paul we should realize that in our flesh, there dwells no good thing. Anything that is of worth and value has been given to us by God. If it has been given to us by God, then God help us not to go around and act as though it was not. It has come as a gift from God, and as such, then you cannot really glory in it as though it was not a gift from God.
What have you but what you received, if you have received it, then why do you act like you didn’t receive it? ( 1 Corinthians 4:7). The apostle asks: “For who makes you differ”. The puffed up state of the Corinthian Christians meant there was a pride problem. Though the pride was evident in the cliques around the different apostles, the cliques were not the problem as much as pride was the problem. Paul addresses their proud hearts with three questions.
1) Who makes you to differ from another? If there is a difference between us, it is because of what God has done in us, so there is no reason for pride.
2) What do you have that you did not receive? Everything we have has come from God, so there is no reason for pride.
3) Why do you glory as if you had not received it? If what you have spiritually is a gift from God, why do you glory in it as if it were your own accomplishment?
There is no reason for this self-glorying pride. These three questions should prompt other questions in our hearts: do we truly give God the credit for our salvation? Do we live with a spirit of humble gratitude? Seeing that we have received from God, what can we give to Him?
Though Paul uses strong sarcasm, his purpose is not to make fun of the Corinthian Christians. He wants to shake them out of their proud, self-willed thinking. “He was laughing at them with holy laughter, and yet with utter contempt for what they had been doing. God has displayed us: Instead of being full, and rich, and reigning as royalty, the apostles were on display in a humiliating spectacle to the world. The Corinthian Christians looked at themselves so highly, while God has displayed the apostles so low.
The Corinthian Christians had two problems: they were proud of their own spirituality, and they were somewhat embarrassed of Paul because of his “weakness” and humble state. Paul was, therefore, trying to address both of these problems. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! With contrast after contrast, Paul sarcastically shows how foolish it is for the Corinthians to think that they are more spiritually privileged, blessed, or endowed, than the apostles were. Paul now asks pithy, pointed questions to puncture their bubble of spiritual pride.
By asking: “For who makes you differ from another? Paul attacks the Corinthian church’s spiritual pride by asking them who gave them the right to superior judgment over others. No one gave these people the right to judge others. The Greek answers the question, “no one”. They had no right to consider themselves superior to others. They claimed this so-called “right” but got it from themselves. Paul sarcastically punches a hole in their claim of superiority over others.
All gifts and advantages come from God. They are special graces from God. We do not earn or deserve them. An understanding of the grace of God puts an end to pride. 1 Corinthians 1:4-5 says: “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in Him you have been enriched in every way, with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge”. First Corinthians 1:4–9 is about God’s grace to the Corinthians. Before beginning to address problems in the church, Paul first declares his thanks to God for the people. Specifically, he is thankful for God’s grace and the good gifts God has given to them.
Now Paul adds that God’s grace to these Christians in Corinth included being made rich in Christ in all speech and all knowledge. The word “speech” as used here may refer to speaking in tongues by the power of the Holy Spirit, something Paul will deal with at length later in his letter. Or, he may have in mind the idea of “speaking well:” being able to express ideas about Christ clearly and articulately. Such skill in communication was highly valued in the Greek and Roman culture of the day.
Verse 7 says: “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”. As noted above, Paul attacks the Corinthian church’s spiritual pride by asking them who gave them the right to superior judgment over others. No one gave these people the right to judge others. He sarcastically punches a hole in their claim of superiority over others.
We need to realize that all gifts and advantages come from God. They are special graces from God. We do not earn or deserve them. An understanding of the grace of God puts an end to pride.
The apostle asks: “Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”
Three times Paul uses the word “receive”. The word carries the idea of something we get that we do not deserve. If everything we have is an act of grace from God that we did not earn or deserve, why do we brag as if we are the cause of our giftedness or power? We are not the source of what we possess. If we make that claim, then we ascribe arrogance to ourselves and diminish the gifts that God gives us. The principle here is that grace orientation dissipates pride.
All of us are different. We have different degrees of handsomeness or beauty. We have different builds and physical prowess. We differ mentally. We must know that God loves variety. God loves dark people, and He loves white people. We did not manufacture our birth or the place of our birth. All of that is strictly of God’s grace. He donated whatever giftedness, ability, or beauty we possess.
Why then should we brag about what we did nothing to get? All we can do about our gifts is to cultivate them, but the gift comes strictly from God. Grace always brings glory to God, not to us. The ego always orients a Christian away from grace. Pride always robs us of spiritual power. God will take us out of the game and put us into the stands devoid of effective ministry. There we sit critical of the referees, players, and coaches, all the while sitting with totally ineffective ministries. Beloved, Paul has stated outright that division between Christians based on which minister they favour is an act of pride. Given that both are preaching the real gospel (Galatians 1:8-9), such divisions are sinful (Titus 3:9, John 17:22 and 1 Corinthians 1:10). The believers of Corinth effectively declared themselves judges without being given that job by the Lord and without being qualified to do so. They puffed themselves up in their own minds, making their own opinions the most important thing to them.
Paul now begins to show, with a series of pointed questions, how their attitude of superiority makes little sense. His tone here is rhetorical, making the expected answer clear and even sarcastic. First, he asks: who sees anything different in them? What is it that makes them so special, above and beyond anyone else? What qualities do they have that other Christians lack, giving them the right to judge their ministers and each other? The answer, of course, is that they are not different from other Christians; they are equally as significant in the eyes of Christ. Next Paul asks what they have that they did not receive? In other words, what valuable qualities or abilities do any of them have that have not been given to them by God? That answer should be even more obvious. Every good thing any of us have is a gift from God (James 1:17), including every talent and personality trait. Finally, Paul asks if the only good in them that they have was received as a gift from God, how can it possibly make any sense to boast about it? How can they take pride and elevate their own opinion above that of other believers if every bit of good in them came from outside of themselves by God’s grace?
Verse 8 says: “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign, and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!
Paul now launched scathing sarcasm and satire against the stuffy pride of the Corinth church. He tried to shake them from their schism and divisions with withering and biting irony. He says:
“You are already full!”. The word “already” is emphatic in this phrase and the next. They had reached the goal of perfection in time on earth! They had arrived spiritually. The word “full” here means satisfy or satiate. They supposedly reached a state of spiritual satiation! Paul viewed their state as imperturbable self-satisfaction. This was a blow to their pride and ego!
Paul also stated: “You are already rich!” By so saying, he continued to castigate their spiritual delusion. “Rich” may refer to their giftedness as a church. They were in want of nothing, so they deemed themselves self-sufficient. They were under the illusion that they needed nothing more spiritually. This was spiritual arrogance.
The apostle also added: “You have reigned as kings without us”. He asserts this with tongue in cheek, Paul asserts that they have already reached the millennial state where they reign over others. They reached a place of residing in the kingdom even “without us”, that is, the apostles. Paul and the other apostles were in a place of pain, but the Corinthian church was in a place of triumph! With a special sting, Paul marvels at their so-called spirituality. They were so spiritual that they did not need the apostles. So, to them he says: “and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you!”
The Corinthian church was in a place of pitiful shame, an unrealized wish. This is the climax of Paul’s cutting sarcasm. Paul had such a small place beside the Corinthians. This is pure sarcasm. There is no way we can get to glory without going through the gory. It would have been nice for the apostle to circumvent the gory aspects of life.
We live in a day when we denounce sarcasm and irony. That is because we are overly sensitive and victim oriented in our thinking. Sometimes we need a jolt to change the direction of our lives. Paul tries to bring them back to reality through sarcasm. The principle here is that rebuke is necessary to correct spiritual pride. Beloved, rebuke is bitter medicine but good for spiritual restoration. Spiritual pride takes a special form of rebuke because it is so difficult to break. It is crucial that, when God sends bitter medicine into our lives, we take the medicine so that He can heal the spiritual disease of pride. We cannot settle for the illusion that we are all that God wants us to be; else, we will slide into spiritual complacency. In the previous verse, Paul asked a series of pointed questions to show how foolish it was for the Corinthian Christians to be so proud and arrogant in their judgments of other people. Now he used a series of emphatic remarks here. Justifiably, many translations place exclamation points at the end of each of these sentences. Paul used pointed words, even sarcasm.
His intent was to show that the Corinthians felt they did not need anything from anyone, including those serving as ministers. They had come to a wrong conclusion about life in Christ on this earth, thinking that it could be an easy road full of pleasure, possessions, and power. Paul stated that the Corinthian Christians were so self-reliant that they were acting as wealthy people who already had all they wanted instead of as people who had much to gain from Christ. They were living as if they were kings, passing judgment on others and doing as they pleased when they pleased. They were not living as people under authority and in submission to God’s will.
Paul’s last statement in this verse was cutting and highly satirical: “That reality sounds good to me! I wish it were true so I could live that way, too!” He would show in the following verses that his lifestyle is quite different from theirs.
Some Bible teachers believe the Corinthians began to misunderstand Christian teachings, thinking they should be experiencing the pleasure and authority of heaven on this side of eternity. Others believed Paul and this means that they were simply acting as if they did not need and were not accountable to Christ. Either way, their “puffed up” attitudes (1 Corinthians 4:6) showed that they had a flawed view of their own place in the kingdom of God.
Verse 9 says: “For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings”. Beloved, God “displayed” the apostles last as men condemned to death. The word “displayed” here means to show forth. Displayed is a technical term used for exhibiting gladiators in an arena to give awesome entertainment to spectators. God displayed the apostles to come last in a parade as gladiators condemned to death. Some fought wild animals. We should note that the word “condemned” means God put the apostles at death’s door to be paraded before public gaze as objects of scorn. God put them into a place where they were viewed as criminals and the dregs of society. What a super contrast to the Corinthians who were reigning as kings (1 Corinthians 4:1-8)!
He tells the Corinthian believers: “for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men”. Beloved, the word “spectacle” is literally theatre. The apostles were made a spectacle as in an amphitheatre of old. God put them on stage in a vast exhibition before the lost. The principle here is that sometimes Christian service requires being placed into public scorn.
There are two kinds of people in life: Those on the field, and Those in the stands.
Those on the field take hits from the opposition. They are often the subject of criticism and blame. Those in the stands do all the yielding and hurling of abusive epithets. That is the way it is in the local church as well. There are those on the field who give their all while those in the stands criticize what they do. We would rather be criticized for what we do rather than for what we do not do. We cannot fear shame for Christ since this will immobilize us from courageous service for our Lord. Jesus Himself was placed on public display and was made a laughingstock to the world. It comes as a great shock for some Christians to realize that God sometimes designs pain for their lives.Paul called out the Corinthian Christians for their arrogance in judging others and for their lavish lifestyles of self-reliant wealth and self-appointed power. Sarcastically, the apostle Paul had said that they were living as if they were kings, and he wished he could do the same!
Now Paul pointed to himself and the other apostles of Jesus to show the contrast between their lifestyles and attitudes and that of the Corinthians. He wanted the believers in Corinth to see the true path of those who lived as servants of Christ. Beloved, Paul wrote that God had made him and the other apostles an exhibit of life at the bottom, in terms of earthly values. Therefore, instead of living as kings, as the Corinthians seemed to be trying to do, Paul and the other apostles lived as condemned men living on death row. Their lives were on display as a spectacle for all to see in both the natural and supernatural worlds. Both angels and men were watching how poorly they lived in human terms and making judgments about their choices.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to see two things. For one, he wants them to understand how much those who serve them have sacrificed in order to do the will of God. Second, he wanted them to expect that a life spent in service to Christ may include pain and loss of comfort instead of wealth and power.