And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. 1 Cor. 4:6
1 Corinthians 4:6 is an incredible scripture. But here we will look at it in one aspect only. We will consider Paul’s humility.
When you look at the structure of the early church leadership, you get a picture of one, single team working in unity, though kaleidoscopically branching out in many different directions. One reason for the existence of such unity upon such a diverse ministerial platform, I believe, was because of the apostles’ belief in the one doctrine. We are mindful that there were other ‘teams’ prowling about, teams of false apostles. These also had their divergent doctrines. The Apostle Paul calls their teachings “6…another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” Gal. 1:6-7
The issue of “one faith” (Eph. 4:5), therefore, was central to the building of this true apostolic team.
But there was another equally important factor involved: the humility of the apostles. The apostles of Christ were extremely humble men. In spite of their weaknesses, yet we credit them with being more obedient to the leadership of the Holy Spirit than to their carnal instincts.
The classic example, of course, is the Apostle Peter, whom we see endorsing Paul’s clearly superior ministry; and yet Paul was the very man who had openly rebuked him (2 Pet. 3:15).
On his part, Paul probably did not do anything wrong for which he needed to be publicly rebuked (except when he “spoke evil” of the high priest). But this did not turn him into a proud man. On the contrary, his deep humility probably made the grace of God to be more abundant upon him.
In comparing himself to Apollos here we more clearly see Paul’s heart. Clearly, Paul was a man who walked in the footsteps of Jesus. Here Paul puts himself and Apollos on the same pedestal. But in Bible we do not see Apollos working anywhere near as hard as Paul did. The New Testament is full of Paul’s works. Apollos worked nowhere near as hard even as Christ’s apostles also, of whom Paul says that he laboured more than they all. In the natural, therefore, Apollos was not a man to compare to Paul. He was not a man whom an apostle of Paul’s calibre would even have acknowledged. Paul had been in the ministry long before Apollos arrived on the scene, and as he himself testifies, he “laboured more abundantly than they all” 1 Cor. 15:10.
Moreover, Apollos was himself a disciple of Paul’s disciples, Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18)!
In addition, Apollos probably was not even an apostle. The Bible says that Paul “planted”, but Apollos “watered”. This is explained in Acts 18:27 where it states that after Paul had planted the Corinth church and had left, Apollos came to Corinth later on and “helped them much which had believed through grace”. This indicates that Apollos probably had a lesser ministry, probably a teaching ministry. Later on, though, Paul seems to have included him amongst the apostleship (1 Cor. 4).
But there is no doubt as to the fact that Paul considered this man a part of the five-fold ministry, and that he was amongst Paul’s closest workers. He was a very industrious individual, and Paul must have been attracted to him by this very trait. The Bible gives us a glimpse of the industriousness of Apollos: “an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures” and “being fervent in the spirit he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord”.
In the ministry gifts rung, the apostle is the topnotch ministry. The Bible says in 1 Cor. 12:28: “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles…” Anyone who is an apostle therefore ought to feel mighty commanding and influential – if they are walking in the flesh. But the early apostles did not walk in the flesh. They were men of the Spirit, and they did all in their power to die to this world and its ways. All that mattered to them was the Kingdom of God. They were nothing.
When Paul therefore recognized the ministry that was in Apollos, that was enough for him. Paul was not a man who looked on the outside. He looked at things on the inside, as God looked. He saw Apollos’ capability and effectiveness in the Spirit. He therefore took him aboard his team. But he did not take him aboard as his errand boy; on the contrary, he counted him as an equal minister of God with him – an equal with him, and with Peter and the rest of the workers in God’s field.
This reminds us of Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 15:15: “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you”.
In worldly protocol, we introduce people according to their status. It is truly incredible how Paul could dispense with such protocol and write in 1 Cor. 3:21-22: “21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; 22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas”; thus putting Apollos ahead of the Apostle Peter.
But the revelation of the cross in our hearts puts us on the right foundation whereby we can humble ourselves and allow Christ to build us into a team.
[Below: In the northern highlands of Tanzania all roads lead to Mt. Kilimanjaro; and a tourist, camera in hand, takes control of the beautifully rich scenery].