Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
1Co 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 (1Co 1:12); the headship belongs to Christ alone; we are but His servants ministering to you (1Co 1:13; 3:5, 22).
stewards—(Lu 12:42; 1Pe 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 (Ac 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," Mt 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.
Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
2. Moreover—The oldest manuscripts read, "Moreover here" (that is, on earth). The contrast thus is between man's usage as to stewards (1Co 4:2), and God's way (1Co 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 (1Sa 3:20, Margin; Heb 3:5); as indeed is required in earthly stewards, but with this difference (1Co 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.
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.
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 (1Co 3:13) of the Lord (1Co 4:5; 1Th 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" (1Co 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.
For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me 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.
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
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 1Co 4:3, 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 (1Co 4:1), and who is to be the judge (Joh 5:22, 27; Ac 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" (1Co 4:2) will hereby be estimated, and the "Lord" will "justify," or the reverse (1Co 4:4), according to the state of the heart.
then shall every man have praise—(1Co 3:8; 1Sa 26:23; Mt 25:21, 23, 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 (Jas 5:7).
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.
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 (De 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."
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?
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.
Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.
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 (1Co 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 (2Ti 2:5, 11, 12). They were like the self-complacent Laodiceans (Re 3:17; compare Ho 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" (1Co 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—(2Co 12:14). "I seek not yours, but you." Your spiritual prosperity would redound to that of us, your fathers in Christ (1Co 9:23). When you reach the kingdom, you shall be our "crown of rejoicing, in the presence of our Lord Jesus" (1Th 2:19).
For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
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 (1Co 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 (2Ki 1:10; 5:9; 8:9, 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 Ro 16:7; 2Co 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 Heb 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" (Eph 3:15). As Jesus was "seen of angels" (1Ti 3:16), so His followers are a spectacle to the holy angels who take a deep interest in all the progressive steps of redemption (Eph 3:10; 1Pe 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 (1Co 1:27, 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 Eph 3:10; 1Pe 1:12, incline me to include good as well as bad angels, though, for the reasons stated above, the bad may be principally meant.
We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.
10. Irony. How much your lot (supposing it real) is to be envied, and ours to be pitied.
fools—(1Co 1:21; 3:18; compare Ac 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, 1Co 3:18).
we … weak … ye … strong—(1Co 2:3; 2Co 13:9).
we … despised—(2Co 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" (Ga 4:14).
Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;
11. (2Co 11:23-27).
naked—that is, insufficiently clad (Ro 8:35).
buffeted—as a slave (1Pe 2:20), the reverse of the state of the Corinthians, "reigning as kings" (Ac 23:2). So Paul's master before him was "buffeted" as a slave, when about to die a slave's death (Mt 26:67).
And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:
12. working with our own hands—namely, "even unto this present hour" (1Co 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 Ac 18:3, 19). But in his address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus (Ac 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.
Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.
13. defamed, we entreat—namely, God for our defamers, as Christ enjoined (Mt 5:10, 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.
I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.
14. warn—rather, "admonish" as a father uses "admonition" to "beloved sons," not provoking them to wrath (Eph 6:4). The Corinthians might well be "ashamed" at the disparity of state between the father, Paul, and his spiritual children themselves.
For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
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 (1Co 1:14-17).
Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
16. be ye followers of me—literally, "imitators," namely, in my ways, which be in Christ (1Co 4:17; 1Co 11:1), not in my crosses (1Co 4:8-13; Ac 26:29; Ga 4:12).
For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.
17. For this came—that ye may the better "be followers of me" (1Co 4:16), through his admonitions.
sent … Timotheus—(1Co 16:10; Ac 19:21, 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 1Co 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 1Co 4:14, 15; Ac 14:6, 7; with Ac 16:1, 2; 1Ti 1:2, 18; 2Ti 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 (2Ti 3:10), which they in some respects, though not altogether (1Co 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 (1Co 7:17).
Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.
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 1Co 1:11; 5:2).
But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power.
19. Alford translates, "But come I will"; an emphatical negation of their supposition (1Co 4:18).
shortly—after Pentecost (1Co 16:8).
if the Lord will—a wise proviso (Jas 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.
For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.
20. kingdom of God is not in word—Translate, as in 1Co 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 1Co 2:1, 4; 1Th 1:5).
What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?
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)?