Fighting for unity? Friday, 22nd Week in ordinary time, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Fighting for unity? Friday, 22nd Week in ordinary time, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

For Paul, the unity of the Corinthian church was paramount. He does not cease to labour the message that he so ardently desires to communicate; that a fractured Church with divided loyalties and leaders will eventually bring ruin to the Church of Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:12 tells us that there were cliques that divided themselves under four groups. Some rallied around Paul’s leadership while others stood behind the banner of Apollos or Cephas and even Christ. But what seems to emerge rather clearly was that there were two groups that really mattered; the group that hailed Paul as its leader and the group that rallied around Apollos. Paul called the Corinthians to oneness “in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10), reminding them it was Christ who was crucified for them, not their spiritual leaders.

Yet once must admit that Apollos, whose name is mentioned six times in chapter 1-4, almost stands out as a ‘suspect’ and cause for the two major rival groups? Was Paul indirectly accusing his brother and calling him out for the disunity in the Church?

We know from Acts 18:24-28 that Apollos was a masterful preacher. He had made a great impression on the Corinthians especially those of a certain high social status. Paul on the other hand himself confesses (2:1-4) that he did not come to the Corinthians with “lofty words or wisdom” but in “weakness, fear and much trembling.” In the text of today, Paul speaks of being ‘judged’ by some in the Corinthian community (4:3). Was Paul therefore concerned about his own authority in a Church that he set up? (I Paul planted; Apollos watered 3:6)

Scripture scholars have never come to a conclusion if Paul and Apollos were ‘rivals’ in the ministry in Corinth. What seems very plausible is that Paul and Apollos shared a close collaboration in the mission work; it is the Corinthians who have pitched one against the other.

But whatever be the reality, the perception was creating a public relations nightmare and Paul saw the need to fix what seemed to be the cause of descension. He does not pin the blame on any one but applies the text of today to both himself and Apollos, for he says in verse 6 (not part of our scripture text of today) “I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters.” Paul’s letter is an appeal for unity in the Church in Corinth, a unity that must transcend the personality of any particular leader.

Paul wipes the board clean; a new image of a united front needs to be presented at all cost for the good of this infantile Church. Paul declares that he and Apollos are merely “servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” He takes away the banner of leadership under which many people found refuge. If the armies of Christ must move on then there is only one banner of Christ crucified.

Being stewards, they must be ‘trustworthy’ for to them was given the mysteries of faith. A steward never owned the property or resource he dealt with; he simply managed it for his master and had to manage it faithfully. Yet it is possible (as Christ narrates) that the steward may forget what he has been tasked with and begin to fill in the boots of the master instead of keeping those boots clean.
Perhaps, some in the community judged Paul as a misguided leader and even though he himself is not aware of the truth of these accusations, he does not give himself a clean chit; that he says only God can do. It is the Lord who judges and the Lord who acquits.

Paul’s appeal is that all judgment be withheld. It is the Lord, who when he comes will judge and pronounce the truth of the matter. All things hidden will be disclosed. The intentions of the heart will be laid out for all to see. And it is God who alone can grant the commendation for he is the master and we are but stewards.

Many of us may feel judged by our peers in the ministry or in the Church. Paul lays down a great working principle; people’s estimation of you does not really matter. At the end it is God who judges and that is where our eyes should be fixed. It is His opinion that truly matters. When Jesus judges, it will be according to the motives of the heart, not only the outward action.


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