1 Corinthians 4:7
For who makes you to differ from another? and what have you that you did not receive? now if you did receive it, why do you glory…
I. TO THOSE WHO FOSTERED THE PERSONAL WORSHIP OF THE MINISTERS — that is, of themselves.
1. The qualities which are requisite for the higher part of the ministry are — great powers of sympathy; humbleness; wisdom to direct; knowledge of the world; and a knowledge of evil which comes rather from repulsion from it. But those which adapt a man for the merely showy parts are of an inferior order: fluency, self-confidence, tact, a certain histrionic power of conceiving feelings, and expressing them. Now, it was precisely to this class of qualities that Christianity opened a new field in places such as Corinth. Men who had been unknown suddenly found an opportunity for public addresses, activity, and leadership. They became fluent talkers; and the more shallow and self-sufficient they were, the more likely it was that they would become the leaders of a faction. And how did the apostle meet this? By inculcating (ver. 7) Christian dependence: "Who maketh thee to differ?" Christian responsibility: "What hast thou that thou didst not receive?"
2. This tendency besets us ever. Even at school brilliancy is admired, whilst plodding industry is sneered at. Yet which of these Would St. Paul approve? Which shows fidelity? The dull mediocre talent faithfully used, or the bright talent used only for glitter and display? St. Paul did not sneer at eloquence, &c.; but he said, These are your responsibilities. You are a steward: you have received. Beware that you be found faithful. Woe, if the gifts and manner that have made you acceptable have done no more. In truth, this independence of God is man's fall. Adam tried to be independent; and just as all things are ours if we be Christ's, so, if we be not Christ's, then our pleasures, gifts, honours are all stolen; "we glory as if we had not received."
II. TO THOSE WHO UNDULY MAGNIFIED THE OFFICE.
1. There were men who exercised lordship over the congregations. Place vers. 8 and 9 side by side, and think, first of all, of these teachers — admired, flattered, made rich, and then going on to rule as autocrats, so that when a Corinthian entertained his minister, he entertained his oracle, his very religion. And then turn to the apostolic life. If the one be an apostle, what is the other? If one be the high, the Christian life, how can the other be a life to boast of?
2. Remark here the irony. People who look upon Christianity as a mere passive, strengthless thing, must needs be perplexed with passages such as these. But remark how gracefully it turns with Paul from loving though angry irony, to loving earnestness: "I would to God ye did reign." Would to God that the time for triumph were come indeed, that these factions might cease, and we be kings together!
3. See here the true doctrine of the apostolical succession. The apostolical office is one thing; the apostolical character is quite another. And just as the true children of Abraham were not his lineal descendants, but the inheritors of his faith, so the true apostolical succession consists not in what these men pride themselves upon — their office, attainments, &c.; but rather in a life of truth, and in the suffering which inevitably comes as the result of being true.
4. Now, therefore, we can understand the passage with which he ends: "Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me" (ver. 16). Only do not misread it. You have here no mere partisan trying to outbid and outvie others. He says that the life he had just described was the one for them to follow. In this — "Be ye followers of me," he declares the life of suffering, in the cause of duty, to be higher than the life of popularity and self-indulgence. He says that the dignity of a minister, and the majesty of a man, consists not in "Most Reverend," or "Most Noble," prefixed to his name; but it lies in being through and through a man, according to the Divine idea; a man whose chief privilege it is to be a minister, a follower of Him who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many."
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?