“Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.” (1 Corinthians 4:6, NASB95)
What things? From the beginning of the letter the major issue has been the Corinthian believer’s loyalties and boasting in their previous spiritual fathers, pastors and teachers. And from those who were mentioned, these believers had been exposed to some very well-known ones, some of whom were considered fathers of the church as God’s appointed apostles. They had learned from what they would call “the best,” and this was precisely what was at the heart of their problem. Having focused so much of their attention on the varied loyalties that they had to a particular leader who had had the most influence, they appeared to spend a great deal of time arguing over the leader and not the common gospel they taught.
“These things” which Paul had spoken of regarding humility and service to God as His fellow builders had been applied to all these men in this letter. He applied them to himself and to Apollos for their benefit. Neither man was in position to go to them at the time of the letter, so Paul wrote on behalf of both to speak to the heart of the issues which they were having as a church. And, with their strong disagreement over who they were following, it appeared that these Corinthian believers were going nowhere following none of them. It was as if they were standing on the sidelines of the field arguing over their coaches and not entering the game.
Paul wrote about the perspective that he had concerning his role in ministry, and he was writing to encourage believers to keep that same perspective. There was to be no “he is the man” in their lives. Paul understood this form of adulation. He even testified to it before the rulers of the land, and he encouraged the Philippian believers in humility pointing to the change that Christ had made. We read, “… If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,” (Philippians 3:4–8, NASB95)
Instead of standing on his previous credentials, Paul counted them “rubbish” to gain Christ. In his introduction to Romans Paul painted a new picture of how he identified himself. We read, “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,” (Romans 1:1, NASB95) First and foremost, Paul saw himself as a “bond-servant.” Jesus had paid the price for his sins and embraced him knowing all that he had done to persecute Christians. Paul understand the great gift of grace that had been given to him, and he knew that the greatest thing he could do was to give himself back to the One who had bought him at such a great price. In fact, he would write later in this Corinthian letter, “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20, NASB95) And, “For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.” (1 Corinthians 7:22–23, NASB95)
Then in the context of him being a bond-servant of Christ, Paul recognized that he had been given a special charge. He was called as an apostle. Though in the most general sense apostle means messenger, Paul was called in the more limited sense of an apostle like Peter, James, John and the others who were personally chosen by Christ to begin this great new work. But, Paul was also called different from them. It was not until after Christ ascension that He appeared to Paul and called him as an apostle to the rest of the world—the Gentiles. Paul who was the Jew of Jews, but also a Roman citizen, was sent to those who were the most far away from all that he knew and all that he thought he would be pursuing in the course of his life. Paul knew that he had been chosen and set apart to bring the message of the true gospel of God.
He did not deserve any of this. There was absolutely nothing in it for him or Apollos to boast, and in writing to the Corinthian believers he made it clear that they were not to argue over which man they followed, but having learned from them and others to then give themselves fully to continuing to grow in their knowledge of God who sent them all as messengers of the good news—the gospel of Christ.