Where Paul describes the qualities of a true apostle in contrast to the false teachers confronting the local church in 1 Cor 4:1-21, many of the reformers found valuable direction for those who sought to undertake faithful Christian ministry. In this way, Luther’s co-worker and successor as leader of the Lutheran movement, Phillip Melanchthon (1497-1560), found in Paul’s defense of his admonition a warning for all Christian leaders; while they should not hesitate to provide discipline when necessary, they should do so in a way that cares for the consciences of those whom they are correcting.

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4:1-21

[This passage] deals with the method of correction lest the harshness of a rebuke drive a person to despair. Thus Paul says here, “I do not write this to make you ashamed,” that is, not to drive you to despair. This method of correction should be carefully preserved among those who are repentant, as Isaiah 42:3 says of Christ, “A bruised reed he will not break” etc. and “a dimly burning wick he will not quench” etc. Psalm 50 [51], “a contrite heart” etc. and 2 Corinthians 2:6-11, “For this person, this punishment by the majority is enough; so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” Note how the apostle takes care that there is a limit to the punishment lest it provide an occasion for despair. Let those who hear confessions and direct consciences follow his example.

1 Corinthians, ed. Scott M. Manetsch, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. 9a, p. 80.