In First Corinthians 4:6-7 Paul continues reasoning with the Corinthians in an attempt to identify the source of their division. The Corinthians had divided into factions based on who’s teaching they liked better. Paul had identified the problem in the first chapter:
“My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
– First Corinthians 1:11, 12
Now Paul identifies the source of the problem: Many teachers had started adding a little more flare to the message of Scripture. Some were making it more applicable, some made it more practical, some added some additional revelation or brought to light some of the supposed mysterious deep doctrines. The result of this kind of approach to ministry was that people had to choose who’s teaching they liked and whom they supported. Thus, the competition between the ministering teachers began. The people were divided as they campaigned for their favorite speaker.
Paul tells the Corinthians their problem was the result of teachers going beyond the truth of scripture in an attempt to out preach, out teach and out shine the other ministers. And the people followed:
“Learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’
Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.”
– First Corinthians 4:6
Paul then asks the Corinthians, “Why would you be different than the other churches? Why would you have additional information that the churches in Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Thessalonica, etc. do not have?” The Corinthians had nothing “new.” The Corinthians had the same revelation of Scripture that everyone else had. The same message that was given to the other churches was given to the Corinthians. The great orators and eloquent rhetoricians of Corinth had not discovered anything by their own aptitude nor had they presented anything new with their performance.
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?”
– First Corinthians 4:7
The Corinthian teachers and ministers have nothing to boast about because they are to simply relay the message of the Scripture. Ministers of the Word are simply passing down the message. It is simple and it is not glorious to the worldly believer.
Paul goes on later in the chapter to describe the ministry that brings the apostolic revelation to people. He compares the ministry of the Word of God as the fate of a captured slave being brought into Rome at the end of a triumphal procession to be taken to the arena and fed to the beast. This is the same ministry the Corinthians preachers were trying to make into a glamorous career of a celebrity.
“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.” – First Corinthians 4:9