1 Corinthians 4

The Humility and Honor of God's Ministers


Let everyone regard us as ministers of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:1).

The word “minister” refers to a helper or assistant. In other literature, the word was used to describe things like a physician’s assistant, the role of a lictor beside a consul, a priest’s helper, or a synagogue attendant. The figure in this image is a magistrate’s helper, known as a lictor. Such persons were tasked with carrying out the commands of the magistrate. They carried a bundle of rods known as a fasces as a symbol of their delegated authority. The officers of the priests and even judges in Jerusalem in Jesus’s day had a similar role and were also described by this same word (cf. Matt 5:25; Mark 14:54).

A Tribune

The one who examines me is the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:4).

The word “examine” in this context refers to a judicial hearing (cf. Acts 12:19). The object shown in this photo is the tribune from the sanctuary of Eshmun. A tribune was the raised platform from which a praetor or magistrate exercised his authority. Although such a seat is not mentioned specifically in this verse, its function as a place of authority and judgment calls to mind the examination by God of His servants when they give account for their actions (Rom 14:12; Heb 13:17).

Going Beyond Scripture

In order that in us you might learn not to go beyond the things which are written (1 Corinthians 4:6).

In every other instance in 1 Corinthians where Paul uses the word “written,” it is an explicit reference to Scripture. This strongly indicates that Paul is admonishing the Corinthians to rest on the authority of the canon of Scripture and not go beyond it. The Hebrew Bible is represented in this photo by a number of Medieval copies of the book of Esther.

The Apostles' Death Sentence

For I think God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men sentenced to death (1 Corinthians 4:9).

Paul and all of the twelve apostles (except John) are said to have been martyred. This statue depicts Simon the Zealot with a saw and a book, since he is supposed to have been martyred by being sawed in two. The book is a gospel book, which symbolizes his work as an apostle. This statue was photographed at the Papal Archbasilica of St. John in the Lateran in Rome.

Paul's Return

But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills (1 Corinthians 4:19).

When Paul returned to Corinth, his journey took him from Ephesus to Troas to Macedonia (2 Cor 2:12-13). He likely traveled by ship from Troas to Neapolis, then walked the Via Egnatia from Neapolis to Philippi (cf. Acts 16:11-12). This photo shows the Roman road known as the Via Egnatia, almost certainly used by Paul as he travelled.

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