1 Corinthians 4:21
What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?
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(21) What will ye?—I give you a choice. I am coming to you as a father in any case. But shall I come as a father comes with a rod (Isaiah 11:4), and going to inflict punishment with it (such is the force of the Greek, “in a rod”); or as a father would come when no faults on the child’s part need interfere with the perfect and unrestricted outflowing of his gentleness and love. The pathos of these last few words sufficiently indicate what the Apostle would himself prefer. The choice, however, rested with them. His love would be no love, if without any change on their part, it led him to show no displeasure where correction was for their sake absolutely needed. This is a great and striking example of St. Paul having the “mind of God.” He treats the Corinthians as God ever treats His children.

This verse at once concludes this first part of the Epistle, in which the party-spirit and the evils resulting from it in Corinth are treated of, and naturally introduces the second topic to be discussed, viz., the case of incest which had occurred, it being one of the things which would compel the Apostle to visit Corinth, not “in love and in the spirit of meekness,” but “with a rod.”

4:14-21 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.What will ye - It depends on yourselves how I shall come. If you lay aside your contentions and strifes; if you administer discipline as you should; if you give yourselves heartily and entirely to the work of the Lord, I shall come, not to reprove or to punish, but as a father and a friend. But if you do not heed my exhortations or the labors of Timothy; if you still continue your contentions, and do not remove the occasions of offence, I shall come with severity and the language of rebuke.

With a rod - To correct and punish.

In the spirit of meekness - Comforting and commending instead of chastising. Paul intimates that this depended on themselves. They had the power, and it was their duty to administer discipline; but if they would not do it, the task would devolve on him as the founder and father of the church, and as entrusted with power by the Lord Jesus to administer the severity of Christian discipline, or to punish those who offended by bodily suffering; see 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 11:30. See also the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1 ff), and of Elymas the sorcerer. Acts 13:10-11.

Remarks On 1 Corinthians 4

1. We should endeavor to form a proper estimate of the Christian ministry; 1 Corinthians 4:1. We should regard ministers as the servants of Jesus Christ, and honor them for their Master's sake; and esteem them also in proportion to their fidelity. They are entitled to respect as the ambassadors of the Son of God; but that respect also should be in proportion to their resemblance of him and their faithfulness in their work. They who love the ministers of Christ, who are like him, and who are faithful, love the Master that sent them; they who hate and despise them despise him; see Matthew 10:40-42.

2. Ministers should be faithful; 1 Corinthians 4:2. They are the stewards of Christ. They are appointed by him. They are responsible to him. They have a most important trust - more important than any other stewards, and they should live in such a manner as to receive the approbation of their master.

3. It is of little consequence what the world thinks of us; 1 Corinthians 4:3. A good name is on many accounts desirable; but it should not be the leading consideration; nor should we do anything merely to obtain it. Desirable as is a fair reputation, yet the opinion of the world is not to be too highly valued; because -

(1) It often misjudges;

(2) It is prejudiced for or against us;

(3) It is not to decide our final destiny;

(4) To desire that simply, is a selfish and base passion.

4. The esteem even of friends is not to be the leading object of life; 1 Corinthians 4:2. This is valuable, but not so valuable as the approbation of God. Friends are partial, and even where they do not approve our course, if we are conscientious, we should be willing to bear with their disapprobation. A good conscience is everything. The approbation even of friends cannot help us on the Day of Judgment.

5. We should distrust ourselves; 1 Corinthians 4:3-4. We should not pronounce too confidently on our motives or our conduct. We may be deceived. There may be much even in our own motives that may elude our most careful inquiry. This should teach us humility, self-distrust, and charity. Knowing our own liableness to misjudge ourselves, we should look with kindness on the faults and failings of others.

6. We see here the nature of the future Judgment; 1 Corinthians 4:5;


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 (Isa 11:4; 2Co 13:3)? Which will ye rather choose? That I should come unto you as a father cometh to his child under some guilt for which he must punish and correct him, or as a father cometh to his child that hath done nothing provoking his displeasure, in love, and meekly? I am not willing to come to you to correct and punish any of you by ecclesiastical censures, which are a rod which Christ hath intrusted to me; I had rather come in love and meekness, that we might mutually rejoice in each other’s society.

What will ye?.... Or "how will ye, that I should come unto you?" as the Arabic and Ethiopic versions read it: since the apostle had determined upon his coming to them: and had made mention of it, he puts it to them, in what manner they themselves would choose he should come unto them;

shall I come unto you with a rod; either as a schoolmaster, as were their false teachers, with a "ferula"; or as a father with a rod of correction and chastisement, assuming his paternal authority, putting on severe looks, and using roughness; or rather as an apostle with the apostolical rod; by which is meant not excommunication, which is what belongs to a whole community, and not any single person; but a power of inflicting punishment on the bodies of delinquents, by smiting with diseases, and even with death itself; for as the prophets of the Old Testament had a power from God of inflicting diseases and death upon offenders; so had the apostles of the New, as appears from the instances of Ananias, and Sapphira, and Elymas the sorcerer:

or in love, and in the spirit of meekness? with the affection of a father, with a pleasant countenance, and a meek spirit; in opposition to that roughness and sharpness, he had an authority, as an apostle of Christ, to use in proper cases; and therefore as the latter would be most eligible by them, his suggestion is, that they would behave accordingly, that there might be no occasion to come to them in the former manner, which was not desirable by him, There seems to be an allusion to a practice among the Jews, in the punishing of a drunkard or gluttonous person; the rule for which was this (w),

"they first correct him "with words", or "with a rod", as it is written, Deuteronomy 21:18 and have chastened him; but if he adds and repeats (i.e. goes on in his sin), then they stone him.''

Or rather the allusion is to the judges in the sanhedrim, one of the instruments or ensigns of whose office was "a rod or staff" to smite with; it is said (x) of R. Hona, when he went to the sanhedrim, he used to say, bring me the instruments of the Tabernae (the place where the sanhedrim sat); what are they? "the staff" (in Cocceius's edition it is "the rods", and the sandals, the trumpets, and the thongs); the gloss is, "the thong" for scourging, "the staff" (or rods) for beating the rebellious until they return, the "trumpets" for excommunication, and the "sandals" for plucking off the shoe; things in which the judges of the court were concerned, and here the apostle proposes to come as judge; see 1 Corinthians 5:3.

(w) R. Elias in Adderet apud Trigland. de sect. Karaeor. c. 10. p. 161. (x) T. Bab. Sanhedrim, fol. 7. 2.

{12} What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the {l} spirit of meekness?

(12) A passing over to another part of this epistle, in which he reprehends most sharply a very odious offence, showing the use of ecclesiastical correction.

(l) Acting meekly towards you.

1 Corinthians 4:21. As the conclusion of the entire section, we have here another warning useful for the readers as a whole, indicating to them the practical application which they generally were to make of the assurance of his speedy coming. Lachmann, followed by Hofmann (after Oecumenius, Cajetanus, Beza, Calvin), begins the new section with 1 Corinthians 4:21. But this appears hardly admissible, since chap. 1 Corinthians 5:1 commences without any connective particle (such as ἀλλά, or δέ, or γάρ),[731] and since, too, in 1 Corinthians 5:1 ff. there is no further reference to the speedy arrival of the apostle.

ΤΊ] in the sense of ΠΌΤΕΡΟΝ. Comp Plato, Phil. p. 52 D, and Stallbaum in loc[733] He fears the first, and wishes the second. “Una quidem charitas est, sed diversa in diversis operatur,” Augustine.

ἐν ῥάβδῳ] with a rod; but this is no Hebraism, for ἐν denotes in pure Greek the being provided with. Hebrews 9:25; 1 John 5:6. See Matthiae, p. 1340; Buttmann, neut. Gr. p. 284 [E. T. 330]. Comp Sir 47:4 : ἘΝ ΛΊΘῼ, armed with a stone. Lucian, D. M. xxiii. 3 : καθικόμενος ἐν τῇ ῥάβδῳ. The meaning of the figurative phrase, borrowed as it is from the relation of father, is: ἐν κολάσει, ἐν τιμωρίᾳ, Chrysostom.

ἜΛΘΩ] am I to come? See Winer, p. 268 [E. T. 356]. Chrysostom puts it happily: ἐν ὑμῖν τὸ πρᾶγμα κεῖται.

πνεῦματί τε πραοτ.] not: with “a gentle spirit” (Luther, and most interpreters), so that πνεῦμα would be the subjective principle which should dispose the inner life to this quality; but: with the Spirit of gentleness, so that πνεῦμα is to be understood, with Chrysostom and Theophylact, of the Holy Spirit; and πραοτ. denotes that specific effect of this πνεῦμα (Galatians 5:22) which from the context is brought peculiarly into view. So in all the passages of the N. T. where ΠΝΕῦΜΑ, meaning the Holy Spirit, is joined with the genitive of an abstract noun; and in each of these cases the connection has indicated which effect of the Spirit was to be named. Hence He is called πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας (John 15:26; John 16:13; 1 John 4:6), ΥἹΟΘΕΣΊΑς (Romans 8:15), Τῆς ΠΊΣΤΕΩς (2 Corinthians 4:13), ΣΟΦΊΑς (Ephesians 1:17), ΔΥΝΆΜΕΩς Κ.Τ.Λ[735] (2 Timothy 1:7), just according as the one or other effect of His working is exhibited by the context as characteristic of Him. Respecting the present passage, comp 1 Corinthians 6:1. It is to be observed, moreover, that the apostolic rod of discipline too is wielded in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that the selfsame Spirit works as a Spirit of gentleness and of corrective severity: ἔστι γὰρ πνεῦμα πραότητος καὶ πνεῦμα αὐστηρότητος, Chrysostom. Comp on Luke 9:55.

Instead of the form πραότης, Lachmann and Tischendorf have, in every passage in which it occurs in Paul’s writings, the later πραΰτης (except that in Galatians 6:1 Lachmann retains πραότης; see regarding both, Lobeck, a[738] Phryn. p. 403 f.). The change is justified by weighty testimony, especially that of A B C (although they are not unanimous in the case of all the passages). In the other places in which it is found, Jam 1:21; Jam 3:13, 1 Peter 3:15, πραΰτης is undoubtedly the true reading.

[731] For to regard 1 Corinthians 5:1 as an answer which Paul gives to himself unto his own question, as Hofmann does, is a forced device, which, in view of τί θέλετε alone, is not even logically practicable.

[733] n loc. refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[735] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[738] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

1 Corinthians 4:21. τί θέλετε; “What is your will?”—what would you have? τί a sharper πότερον; the latter only once (John 7:17) in N.T.—“With a rod am I to come to you? or in love and a spirit of meekness?” ἐνῥ άβδῳ (= ἐν κολάσει, ἐν τιμωρίᾳ, Cm[786]) is sound Gr[787] for “armed with a rod” (cf. Sir 47:4, ἐν λίθῳ; Lucian, Dial. Mort., xxiii., 3, καθικόμενος ἐν τ. ῥάβδῳ; add Hebrews 9:25, 1 John 5:6)—the implement of paternal discipline (1 Corinthians 4:14) called for by the behaviour of “some” (1 Corinthians 4:18).

[786] John Chrysostom’s Homiliœ († 407).

[787] Greek, or Grotius’ Annotationes in N.T.

There is reason, however, in the stern note of this question, for connecting it with ch. 1 Corinthians 5:1 (so Oec[788], Cv[789], Bz[790], Hf[791]). P. is approaching the subject of the following Section, which already stirs his wrath. For the sbj[792] of the dubitative question, ἔλθω, see Wr[793], p. 356: ἐν ὑμῖν τὸ πρᾶγμα κεῖται (Cm[794]).—ἐν ἀγάπῃ κ.τ.λ. (ἔλθω); cf. 2 Corinthians 2:1; the constr[795] of 1 Corinthians 2:3 above is somewhat diff[796] (see note). πνεύματί τε πραΰτητος defines the particular expression of love in which P. desires to come: cf. 1 Corinthians 13:6 f. The Ap. does not mean the Holy Spirit here specifically, though the thought of Him is latent in every ref[797] to the “spirit” of a Christian man. Πραΰτης (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:1) is the disposition most opposed to, and exercised by, the spirit of the conceited and insubordinate τινὲς at Cor[798]

[788] Oecumenius, the Greek Commentator.

[789] Calvin’s In Nov. Testamentum Commentarii.

[790] Beza’s Nov. Testamentum: Interpretatio et Annotationes (Cantab., 1642).

[791] J. C. K. von Hofmann’s Die heilige Schrift N.T. untersucht, ii. 2 (2te Auflage, 1874).

[792] subjunctive mood.

[793] Winer-Moulton’s Grammar of N.T. Greek (8th ed., 1877).

[794] John Chrysostom’s Homiliœ († 407).

[795] construction.

[796] difference, different, differently.

[797] reference.

[798] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.

DIVISION II. QUESTIONS OF SOCIAL MORALS, 5–7. The Ap. has done with the subject of the Parties, which had claimed attention first because they sprung from a radical misconception of Christianity. But in this typical Hellenic community, social corruptions had arisen which, if not so universal, were still more malignant in their effect. The heathen converts of Cor[799], but lately washed from the foulest vice (1 Corinthians 6:9 ff.), were some of them slipping back into the mire (2 Corinthians 12:21). An offence of incredible turpitude had just come to the Apostle’s ears, to the shame of which the Church appeared indifferent (5.). This case, demanding instant judicial action (1 Corinthians 4:1-5), leads the Ap. to define more clearly the relation of Christians to men of immoral life, as they may be found within or without the Church (1 Corinthians 4:6-13). From sins of uncleanness he passes in ch. 6 to acts of injustice committed in this Church, which, in one instance at least, had been scandalously dragged before the heathen law-courts (1 Corinthians 4:1-8). In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 P. returns to the prevalent social evil of Cor[800], and launches his solemn interdict against fornication, which was, seemingly, sheltered under the pretext of Christian liberty! It is just here, and in the light of the principles now developed, that P. takes up the question of marriage or celibacy, discussed at large in ch. 7. The fact that the Ap. turns at this juncture to the topics raised in the Church Letter, and that ch. 7 is headed with the formula Περὶ δὲ ὧν ἐγράψατέ μοι, must not be allowed to break the strong links of subject-matter and thought binding it to chh. 5 and 6 Its connexion with the foregoing context is essential, with the following comparatively accidental.

[799] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.

[800] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.

21. with a rod] That is either (1) with some commentators, e.g. Chrysostom, the resolution to deliver the rebellious over to Satan (see next chapter). If this be the case, the word ‘power’ in the last verse must include power to do harm. But it is better (2) to refer the expression to the severity of language which the Apostle would be compelled to use, if there were no signs of improvement when he came. This falls in best with the fatherly relation, involving of course the idea of correction, in which he describes himself as standing towards the Corinthian Church. See 1 Corinthians 4:15, and compare Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 23:13-14, &c. The words ‘spirit of meekness’ in the last part of the verse confirm this last interpretation. The literal translation is ‘in a rod,’ referring to the spirit in which the Apostle was to come. ‘Am I to come to you in a spirit of correction, or in a spirit of meekness?’

1 Corinthians 4:21. Τί θέλετε, what will ye?) Choose. [Comp. 2 Corinthians 13:3. So this phrase, what wilt thou? is still of importance both as to the principal point, and as to its various accessory cases; see that you make room (that you choose rather to leave scope) for Love.—V.g.]—ἐν ῥάβδῳ, with a rod) wielded by a father’s hand. Comp. Isaiah 11:4.—, or) Paul would prefer the latter.

Verse 21. - What will ye? "The whole thing lies with you" (Chrysostom). With a rod; literally, in a rod a not uncommon Greek phrase. The meaning of this expression is best seen from 2 Corinthians 10:2; 2 Corinthians 13:10. In love. He would come to them "in love" in any case; but if they now rejected his appeals the love would be compelled to manifest itself in sharpness and stern deeds. In the spirit of meekness. Meyer here gives to the word "spirit" the sense of "the Holy Spirit," as in John 15:26; 2 Corinthians 4:13; but the simpler sense of the term is almost certainly the true one.

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