The true character of gospel ministers. (1-6) Cautions against despising the apostle. (7-13) He claims their regard as their spiritual father in Christ, and shows his concern for them. (14-21)
Verses 1-6 Apostles were no more than servants of Christ, but they were not to be undervalued. They had a great trust, and for that reason, had an honourable office. Paul had a just concern for his own reputation, but he knew that he who chiefly aimed to please men, would not prove himself a faithful servant of Christ. It is a comfort that men are not to be our final judges. And it is not judging well of ourselves, or justifying ourselves, that will prove us safe and happy. Our own judgment is not to be depended upon as to our faithfulness, any more than our own works for our justification. There is a day coming, that will bring men's secret sins into open day, and discover the secrets of their hearts. Then every slandered believer will be justified, and every faithful servant approved and rewarded. The word of God is the best rule by which to judge as to men. Pride commonly is at the bottom of quarrels. Self-conceit contributes to produce undue esteem of our teachers, as well as of ourselves. We shall not be puffed up for one against another, if we remember that all are instruments, employed by God, and endowed by him with various talents.
Verses 7-13 We have no reason to be proud; all we have, or are, or do, that is good, is owing to the free and rich grace of God. A sinner snatched from destruction by sovereign grace alone, must be very absurd and inconsistent, if proud of the free gifts of God. St. Paul sets forth his own circumstances, ver. 9. Allusion is made to the cruel spectacles in the Roman games; where men were forced to cut one another to pieces, to divert the people; and where the victor did not escape with his life, though he should destroy his adversary, but was only kept for another combat, and must be killed at last. The thought that many eyes are upon believers, when struggling with difficulties or temptations, should encourage constancy and patience. "We are weak, but ye are strong." All Christians are not alike exposed. Some suffer greater hardships than others. The apostle enters into particulars of their sufferings. And how glorious the charity and devotion that carried them through all these hardships! They suffered in their persons and characters as the worst and vilest of men; as the very dirt of the world, that was to be swept away: nay, as the offscouring of all things, the dross of all things. And every one who would be faithful in Christ Jesus, must be prepared for poverty and contempt. Whatever the disciples of Christ suffer from men, they must follow the example, and fulfil the will and precepts of their Lord. They must be content, with him and for him, to be despised and abused. It is much better to be rejected, despised, and ill used, as St. Paul was, than to have the good opinion and favour of the world. Though cast off by the world as vile, yet we may be precious to God, gathered up with his own hand, and placed upon his throne.
Verses 14-21 In reproving for sin, we should distinguish between sinners and their sins. Reproofs that kindly and affectionately warn, are likely to reform. Though the apostle spoke with authority as a parent, he would rather beseech them in love. And as ministers are to set an example, others must follow them, as far as they follow Christ in faith and practice. Christians may mistake and differ in their views, but Christ and Christian truth are the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Whenever the gospel is effectual, it comes not in word only, but also in power, by the Holy Spirit, quickening dead sinners, delivering persons from the slavery of sin and Satan, renewing them both inwardly and outwardly, and comforting, strengthening, and establishing the saints, which cannot be done by the persuasive language of men, but by the power of God. And it is a happy temper, to have the spirit of love and meekness bear the rule, yet to maintain just authority.
1 Corinthians 4:1-21 . TRUE VIEW OF MINISTERS: THE JUDGMENT IS NOT TO BE FORESTALLED; MEANWHILE THE APOSTLES' LOW STATE CONTRASTS WITH THE CORINTHIANS' PARTY PRIDE, NOT THAT PAUL WOULD SHAME THEM, BUT AS A FATHER WARN THEM; FOR WHICH END HE SENT TIMOTHY, AND WILL SOON COME HIMSELF.
1. account . . . us--Paul and Apollos.
ministers of Christ--not heads of the Church in whom ye are severally to glory ( 1 Corinthians 1:12 ); the headship belongs to Christ alone; we are but His servants ministering to you ( 1 Corinthians 1:13 , 1 Corinthians 3:5 1 Corinthians 3:22 ).
stewards--( Luke 12:42 , 1 Peter 4:10 ). Not the depositories of grace, but dispensers of it ("rightly dividing" or dispensing it), so far as God gives us it, to others. The chazan, or "overseer," in the synagogue answered to the bishop or "angel" of the Church, who called seven of the synagogue to read the law every sabbath, and oversaw them. The parnasin of the synagogue, like the ancient "deacon" of the Church, took care of the poor ( Acts 6:1-7 ) and subsequently preached in subordination to the presbyters or bishops, as Stephen and Philip did. The Church is not the appendage to the priesthood; but the minister is the steward of God to the Church. Man shrinks from too close contact with God; hence he willingly puts a priesthood between, and would serve God by deputy. The pagan (like the modern Romish) priest was rather to conceal than to explain "the mysteries of God." The minister's office is to "preach" (literally, "proclaim as a herald," Matthew 10:27 ) the deep truths of God ("mysteries," heavenly truths, only known by revelation), so far as they have been revealed, and so far as his hearers are disposed to receive them. JOSEPHUS says that the Jewish religion made known to all the people the mysteries of their religion, while the pagans concealed from all but the "initiated" few, the mysteries of theirs.
2. Moreover--The oldest manuscripts read, "Moreover here" (that is, on earth). The contrast thus is between man's usage as to stewards ( 1 Corinthians 4:2 ), and God's way ( 1 Corinthians 4:3 ). Though here below, in the case of stewards, inquiry is made, that one man be found (that is, proved to be) faithful; yet God's steward awaits no such judgment of man, in man's day, but the Lord's judgment in His great day. Another argument against the Corinthians for their partial preferences of certain teachers for their gifts: whereas what God requires in His stewards is faithfulness ( 1 Samuel 3:20 , Margin; Hebrews 3:5 ); as indeed is required in earthly stewards, but with this difference ( 1 Corinthians 4:3 ), that God's stewards await not man's judgment to test them, but the testing which shall be in the day of the Lord.
3. it is a very small thing--literally, "it amounts to a very small matter"; not that I despise your judgment, but as compared with God's, it almost comes to nothing.
judged . . . of man's judgment--literally, "man's day," contrasted with the day ( 1 Corinthians 3:13 ) of the Lord ( 1 Corinthians 4:5 , 1 Thessalonians 5:4 ). "The day of man" is here put before us as a person [WAHL]. All days previous to the day of the Lord are man's days. EMESTI translates the thrice recurring Greek for "judged . . . judge . . . judgeth" ( 1 Corinthians 4:4 ), thus: To me for my part (though capable of being found faithful) it is a very small matter that I should be approved of by man's judgment; yea, I do not even assume the right of judgment and approving myself--but He that has the right, and is able to judge on my case (the Dijudicator), is the Lord.
4. by myself--Translate, "I am conscious to myself of no (ministerial) unfaithfulness." BENGEL explains the Greek compound, "to decide in judgments on one in relation to others," not simply to judge.
am I not hereby justified--Therefore conscience is not an infallible guide. Paul did not consider his so. This verse is directly against the judicial power claimed by the priests of Rome.
5. Disproving the judicial power claimed by the Romish priesthood in the confessional.
Therefore--as the Lord is the sole Decider or Dijudicator.
judge--not the same Greek word as in 1 Corinthians 4:3 1 Corinthians 4:4 , where the meaning is to approve of or decide on, the merits of one's case. Here all judgments in general are forbidden, which would, on our part, presumptuously forestall God's prerogative of final judgment.
Lord--Jesus Christ, whose "ministers" we are ( 1 Corinthians 4:1 ), and who is to be the judge ( John 5:22 John 5:27 , Acts 10:42 , 17:31 ).
manifest . . . hearts--Our judgments now (as those of the Corinthians respecting their teachers) are necessarily defective; as we only see the outward act, we cannot see the motives of "hearts." "Faithfulness" ( 1 Corinthians 4:2 ) will hereby be estimated, and the "Lord" will "justify," or the reverse ( 1 Corinthians 4:4 ), according to the state of the heart.
then shall every man have praise--( 1 Corinthians 3:8 , 1 Samuel 26:23 , Matthew 25:21 Matthew 25:23 Matthew 25:28 ). Rather, "his due praise," not exaggerated praise, such as the Corinthians heaped on favorite teachers; "the praise" (so the Greek) due for acts estimated by the motives. "Then," not before: therefore wait till then ( James 5:7 ).
6. And--"Now," marking transition.
in a figure transferred to myself--that is, I have represented under the persons of Apollos and myself what really holds good of all teachers, making us two a figure or type of all the others. I have mentioned us two, whose names have been used as a party cry; but under our names I mean others to be understood, whom I do not name, in order not to shame you [ESTIUS].
not to think, &c.--The best manuscripts omit "think." Translate, "That in us (as your example) ye might learn (this), not (to go) beyond what is written." Revere the silence of Holy Writ, as much as its declarations: so you will less dogmatize on what is not expressly revealed ( Deuteronomy 29:29 ).
puffed up for one--namely, "for one (favorite minister) against another." The Greek indicative implies, "That ye be not puffed up as ye are."
7. Translate, "Who distinguisheth thee (above another)?" Not thyself, but God.
glory, as if thou hadst not received it--as if it was to thyself, not to God, thou owest the receiving of it.
8. Irony. Translate, "Already ye are filled full (with spiritual food), already ye are rich, ye have seated yourselves upon your throne as kings, without us." The emphasis is on "already" and "without us"; ye act as if ye needed no more to "hunger and thirst after righteousness," and as if already ye had reached the "kingdom" for which Christians have to strive and suffer. Ye are so puffed up with your favorite teachers, and your own fancied spiritual attainments in knowledge through them, that ye feel like those "filled full" at a feast, or as a "rich" man priding himself in his riches: so ye feel ye can now do "without us," your first spiritual fathers ( 1 Corinthians 4:15 ). They forgot that before the "kingdom" and the "fulness of joy," at the marriage feast of the Lamb, must come the cross, and suffering, to every true believer ( 2 Timothy 2:5 2 Timothy 2:11 2 Timothy 2:12 ). They were like the self-complacent Laodiceans ( Revelation 3:17 ; compare Hosea 12:8 ). Temporal fulness and riches doubtless tended in some cases at Corinth, to generate this spiritual self-sufficiency; the contrast to the apostle's literal "hunger and thirst" ( 1 Corinthians 4:11 ) proves this.
I would . . . ye did reign--Translate, "I would indeed," &c. I would truly it were so, and that your kingdom had really begun.
that we also might reign with you--( 2 Corinthians 12:14 ). "I seek not yours, but you." Your spiritual prosperity would redound to that of us, your fathers in Christ ( 1 Corinthians 9:23 ). When you reach the kingdom, you shall be our "crown of rejoicing, in the presence of our Lord Jesus" ( 1 Thessalonians 2:19 ).
9. For--assigning the reason for desiring that the "reign" of himself and his fellow apostles with the Corinthians were come; namely, the present afflictions of the former.
I think--The Corinthians ( 1 Corinthians 3:18 ) "seemed" to (literally, as here, "thought") themselves "wise in this world." Paul, in contrast, "thinks" that God has sent forth him and his fellow ministers "last," that is, the lowest in this world. The apostles fared worse than even the prophets, who, though sometimes afflicted, were often honored ( 2 Kings 1:10 , 5:9 , 2 Kings 8:9 2 Kings 8:12 ).
set forth--as a spectacle or gazing-stock.
us the apostles--Paul includes Apollos with the apostles, in the broader sense of the word; so Romans 16:7 , 2 Corinthians 8:23 (Greek for "messengers," apostles).
as it were appointed to death--as criminals condemned to die.
made a spectacle--literally, "a theatrical spectacle." So the Greek in Hebrews 10:33 , "made a gazing-stock by reproaches and afflictions." Criminals "condemned to die," in Paul's time, were exhibited as a gazing-stock to amuse the populace in the amphitheater. They were "set forth last" in the show, to fight with wild beasts. This explains the imagery of Paul here. (Compare TERTULLIAN [On Modesty, 14]).
the world--to the whole world, including "both angels and men"; "the whole family in heaven and earth" ( Ephesians 3:15 ). As Jesus was "seen of angels" ( 1 Timothy 3:16 ), so His followers are a spectacle to the holy angels who take a deep interest in all the progressive steps of redemption ( Ephesians 3:10 , 1 Peter 1:12 ). Paul tacitly implies that though "last" and lowest in the world's judgment, Christ's servants are deemed by angels a spectacle worthy of their most intense regard [CHRYSOSTOM]. However, since "the world" is a comprehensive expression, and is applied in this Epistle to the evil especially ( 1 Corinthians 1:27 1 Corinthians 1:28 ), and since the spectators (in the image drawn from the amphitheater) gaze at the show with savage delight, rather than with sympathy for the sufferers, I think bad angels are included, besides good angels. ESTIUS makes the bad alone to be meant. But the generality of the term "angels," and its frequent use in a good sense, as well as Ephesians 3:10 , 1 Peter 1:12 , incline me to include good as well as bad angels, though, for the reasons stated above, the bad may be principally meant.
10. Irony. How much your lot (supposing it real) is to be envied, and ours to be pitied.
fools--( 1 Corinthians 1:21 , 3:18 ; compare Acts 17:18 , 26:24 ).
for Christ's sake . . . in Christ--Our connection with Christ only entails on us the lowest ignominy, "ON ACCOUNT OF," or, "FOR THE SAKE OF" Him, as "fools"; yours gives you full fellowship IN Him as "wise" (that is, supposing you really are all you seem, 1 Corinthians 3:18 ).
we . . . weak . . . ye . . . strong--( 1 Corinthians 2:3 , 2 Corinthians 13:9 ).
we . . . despised--( 2 Corinthians 10:10 ) because of our "weakness," and our not using worldly philosophy and rhetoric, on account of which ye Corinthians and your teachers are (seemingly) so "honorable." Contrast with "despised" the "ye (Galatians) despised not my temptation . . . in my flesh" ( Galatians 4:14 ).
11. ( 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 ).
naked--that is, insufficiently clad ( Romans 8:35 ).
buffeted--as a slave ( 1 Peter 2:20 ), the reverse of the state of the Corinthians, "reigning as kings" ( Acts 23:2 ). So Paul's master before him was "buffeted" as a slave, when about to die a slave's death ( Matthew 26:67 ).
12. working with our own hands--namely, "even unto this present hour" ( 1 Corinthians 4:11 ). This is not stated in the narrative of Paul's proceedings at Ephesus, from which city he wrote this Epistle (though it is expressly stated of him at Corinth, compare Acts 18:3 Acts 18:19 ). But in his address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus ( Acts 20:34 ), he says, "Ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities," &c. The undesignedness of the coincidence thus indirectly brought out is incompatible with forgery.
13. defamed, we entreat--namely, God for our defamers, as Christ enjoined ( Matthew 5:10 Matthew 5:44 ) [GROTIUS]. We reply gently [ESTIUS].
filth--"the refuse" [CONYBEARE and HOWSON], the sweepings or rubbish thrown out after a cleaning.
of all things--not of the "World" only.
14. warn--rather, "admonish" as a father uses "admonition" to "beloved sons," not provoking them to wrath ( Ephesians 6:4 ). The Corinthians might well be "ashamed" at the disparity of state between the father, Paul, and his spiritual children themselves.
15. ten thousand--implying that the Corinthians had more of them than was desirable.
instructors--tutors who had the care of rearing, but had not the rights, or peculiar affection, of the father, who alone had begotten them spiritually.
in Christ--Paul admits that these "instructors" were not mere legalists, but evangelical teachers. He uses, however, a stronger phrase of himself in begetting them spiritually, "In Christ Jesus," implying both the Saviour's office and person. As Paul was the means of spiritually regenerating them, and yet "baptized none of them save Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas," regeneration cannot be inseparably in and by baptism ( 1 Corinthians 1:14-17 ).
16. be ye followers of me--literally, "imitators," namely, in my ways, which be in Christ ( 1 Corinthians 4:17 , 1 Corinthians 11:1 ), not in my crosses ( 1 Corinthians 4:8-13 , Acts 26:29 , Galatians 4:12 ).
17. For this came--that ye may the better "be followers of me" ( 1 Corinthians 4:16 ), through his admonitions.
sent . . . Timotheus--( 1 Corinthians 16:10 , Acts 19:21 Acts 19:22 ). "Paul purposed . . . when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem. So he sent into Macedonia Timotheus and Erastus." Here it is not expressly said that he sent Timothy into Achaia (of which Corinth was the capital), but it is implied, for he sent him with Erastus before him. As he therefore purposed to go into Achaia himself, there is every probability they were to go thither also. They are said only to have been sent into Macedonia, because it was the country to which they went immediately from Ephesus. The undesignedness of the coincidence establishes the genuineness of both the Epistle and the history. In both, Timothy's journey is closely connected with Paul's own (compare 1 Corinthians 4:19 ). Erastus is not specified in the Epistle, probably because it was Timothy who was charged with Paul's orders, and possibly Erastus was a Corinthian, who, in accompanying Timothy, was only returning home. The seeming discrepancy at least shows that the passages were not taken from one another [PALEY, Horæ Paulinæ].
son--that is, converted by me (compare 1 Corinthians 4:14 1 Corinthians 4:15 , Acts 14:6 Acts 14:7 with Acts 16:1 Acts 16:2 , 1 Timothy 1:2 1 Timothy 1:18 , 2 Timothy 1:2 ). Translate, "My son, beloved and faithful in the Lord."
bring you into remembrance--Timothy, from his spiritual connection with Paul, as converted by him, was best suited to remind them of the apostle's walk and teaching ( 2 Timothy 3:10 ), which they in some respects, though not altogether ( 1 Corinthians 11:2 ), had forgotten.
as I teach . . . in every church--an argument implying that what the Spirit directed Paul to teach "everywhere" else, must be necessary at Corinth also ( 1 Corinthians 7:17 ).
18. some . . . as though I would not come--He guards against some misconstruing (as by the Spirit he foresees they will, when his letter shall have arrived) his sending Timothy, "as though" he "would not come" (or, "were not coming") himself. A puffed-up spirit was the besetting sin of the Corinthians (compare 1 Corinthians 1:11 , 5:2 ).
19. ALFORD translates, "But come I will"; an emphatical negation of their supposition ( 1 Corinthians 4:18 ).
shortly--after Pentecost ( 1 Corinthians 16:8 ).
if the Lord will--a wise proviso ( James 4:15 ). He does not seem to have been able to go as soon as he intended.
and will know--take cognizance of.
but the power--I care not for their high-sounding "speech," "but" what I desire to know is "their power," whether they be really powerful in the Spirit, or not. The predominant feature of Grecian character, a love for power of discourse, rather than that of godliness, showed itself at Corinth.
20. kingdom of God is not in word--Translate, as in 1 Corinthians 4:19 , to which the reference is "speech." Not empty "speeches," but the manifest "power" of the Spirit attests the presence of "the kingdom of God" (the reign of the Gospel spiritually), in a church or in an individual (compare 1 Corinthians 2:1 1 Corinthians 2:4 , 1 Thessalonians 1:5 ).
21. with a rod, or in love--The Greek preposition is used in both clauses; must I come IN displeasure to exercise the rod, or IN love, and the Spirit of meekness ( Isaiah 11:4 , 2 Corinthians 13:3 )?