To put this passage into context, Paul is referencing back to verse 5 in 1 Corinthians 3. "What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one." A division had formed in the church, with some members taking a liking to the teachings of Apollos over Paul and vice versa. Paul continues his message to the church in Corinth, appealing for unity among its members. In this section, Paul writes to the Corinthians, reminding them that the apostles are merely "servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God," meaning they were people responsible for showing love and kindness as Jesus would to others (Matthew 25:40, "The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'") and for keeping track of and teaching the knowledge and understanding given to them by God about God to the rest of His people. Paul says it is important that he or Apollos or whoever is teaching speaks the truth of God as accurately as possible, but he reminds the Corinthian church that the knowledge they are teaching does not come from them. It comes from God.
Therefore, there is no reason to compare or judge one teacher better than another or try to be the best teacher of God's knowledge, because "What do you have that you did not receive?" At the end of the 13 verses, Paul seems to lovingly rebuke the church for its focus on earthly intelligence and earthly pleasures. Paul says the apostles are considered fools for Jesus' sake while the Corinthians claim to be wise. He describes how they already live like kings while the apostles "are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed."
I think what we can take out of this letter from Paul to the Corinthians is a reminder not to focus on how the world views us and not to view things from a world mind-set. We don't look at ourselves and deem us more holy or less holy than someone else, and in the same way, we don't look at someone else and say they are more or less holy than me. We do this because "every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above," James 1:17. As Paul says in the passage above, this includes the wisdom and knowledge of the mysteries of God.
How do we do this? We recognize, even say out loud, that God has granted each of us with the particular giftings or knowledge. We don't covet someone else for the understandings that they have, and we steward our understandings of God well by sharing them lovingly with other people. We do not judge others for what they do or do not do, or say or do not say. We leave the opinion up to God.
Lord, thank you for your word and for the lessons you reveal to us there. Would you transform our hearts to think and act more purely toward other people? We thank you for the perfect way you created each of us and for the things you reveal to us to make us more like you. Would you give us courage and boldness to love others the way you would? We love you. Amen.
Author | Lindsey Conway