Matthew Poole's Commentary
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.1 Corinthians 4:1-5 Paul showeth in what account such as he should be
held, of whose fidelity it should be left to God
1 Corinthians 4:6,7 He dissuadeth the Corinthians from valuing
themselves in one teacher above another,
since all had their respective distinctions
1 Corinthians 4:8-13 To their self-sufficient vanity he opposeth his
own despised and afflicted state,
1 Corinthians 4:14-16 warning them, as their only father in Christ, and
urging theme to follow him.
1 Corinthians 4:17-21 For the same cause he sent Timotheus, and meant
soon to follow in person, when he would inquire
into the authority of such as opposed him.
The apostle here gives us the right notion of the preachers of the gospel; they are but ministers, that is, servants, so as the honour that is proper to their Master, for a principal efficiency in the conversion and building up of souls, belongeth not to them; they are ministers of Christ, so have their primary relation to him, and only a secondary relation to the church to which they are ministers; they are ministers of Christ and so in that ministration can only execute what are originally his commands, though those commands of Christ may also be enforced by men: ministers of the gospel, not of the law, upon whom lies a primary obligation to preach Christ and his gospel unto people. They are also
stewards of the mysteries of God, such to whom God hath committed his word and sacraments to dispense out unto his church. The word mystery signifieth any thing that is secret, but more especially it signifieth a Divine secret, represented by signs and figures; or a religious secret, not obvious to every capacity or understanding. Thus we read of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 13:11; the mystery of godliness, 1 Timothy 3:16; the mystery of Christ, Ephesians 3:4. The wisdom of God, Colossians 2:2; the incarnation of Christ, 1 Timothy 3:16; the calling of the Gentiles, Ephesians 3:4; the resurrection from the dead, 1 Corinthians 15:21; Christ’s mystical union and communion with his church, Ephesians 5:32; the sublime counsels of God, 1 Corinthians 13:2, are all called mysteries. Ministers are the stewards of the mysterious doctrines and institutions of Christ, which we usually comprehend under the terms of the word and sacraments.
Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.It is required of all servants, but especially of chief servants, such as stewards are, who are intrusted with their masters’ goods, to be dispensed out to others. The faithfulness of a steward in dispensing out his master’s goods lies in his giving them out according to his master’s order, giving to every one their portion, not detaining any thing from others which it is his master’s will they should have; as Paul gloried, Acts 20:20,27, that he had kept back from the Ephesians nothing that was profitable for them, nor shunned to declare to them all the counsel of God; not giving holy things to dogs, or casting pearls before swine, contrary to Christ’s direction, Matthew 7:6.
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.Those who said, I am of Apollos, and I am of Cephas, did at least tacitly judge Paul, and prefer Apollos and Cephas before him; and it is probable, and will appear also from other parts of these Epistles, that they passed very indecent censures concerning Paul: he therefore tells them, that he valued very little what they or any other men said of him. In the Greek it is, of man’s day; but it is generally thought that our translators have given us the true sense, in translating it man’s judgment, day being put for judgment; as Jeremiah 17:16, where woeful day signifies woeful judgment.
So the day of the Lord in Scripture often signifieth the Lord’s judgment: the reason of that form of speech seems to be, because persons cited to a court of judgment use to be cited to appear on a certain day.
Yea, I judge not mine own self; yea, saith the apostle, I pronounce no sentence for myself, I leave myself to the judgment of God. I may be deceived in my judgment concerning myself, and therefore I will affirm nothing as to myself.
For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.I know nothing by myself; nothing amiss, nothing that is evil; yet this must not be interpreted universally, as if St. Paul knew nothing that was evil and sinful by himself; himself, Romans 7:1-25, tells us the contrary; but it must be understood with respect to his discharge of his ministerial office: I do not know any thing wherein I have wilfully failed in the discharge of my ministry; yet even as to that I durst not stand upon my own righteousness and justification before God, I may have sinned ignorantly, or have forgotten some things wherein I did offend.
But he that judgeth me is the Lord; God knoweth more of me than I know of myself, and it is he that judgeth, and must judge me. Though in this text Paul doth not speak of his whole life and conversation, but only of his conversation with respect to his ministry; yet the conclusion from hence, that no man can be justified from his own works, is good; for if a man cannot be justified from his conscience not rebuking him for his errors in one part of his conversation, he cannot be justified from his conscience not rebuking him for his whole conversation. For he that keepeth the whole law, if he offendeth but in one point, must be guilty of all, because the law curseth him who continueth not in every point of the law to do it.
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.Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come; seeing that the judgment of secret things belongs to God, judge nothing before the time, which God hath set to judge all things. The works of the flesh are manifest, and men may judge of them; but for secret things, of which it is impossible that those who do not know the hearts of men should make up a judgment, do not judge of them before the time, when God will certainly come to judge all men.
Who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: if men cloak the hidden things of darkness with the cover of hypocrisy and fair pretences, they will at that day be most certainly uncovered, and the secret thoughts, counsels, and imaginations of men’s hearts shall in that day be made manifest.
And then shall every man have praise of God; and then those that have done well, every of them shall have praise of God; as, on the contrary, (which is understood, though not here expressed), those that are hypocrites, and whose hearts have been full of evil thoughts and counsels, shall by God be put to shame and exposed to contempt.
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.And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes: by these words the apostle lets us know, that though he had said, 1 Corinthians 1:12, that some of them said: We are of Paul, and others: We are of Apollos; yet the names of Paul and of Apollos were but used to represent other of their teachers, which were the heads of those factions which were amongst them. In very deed there were none of them that said, We are of Paul or of Apollos, (for those that were the disciples of Paul and Apollos were better taught), but they had other teachers amongst them as to whom they made factions, whom Paul had a mind to reprove, with their followers; and to avoid all odium, that both they and their hearers might take no offence at his free reproving of them, he makes use of his own name, and that of Apollos, and speaketh to the hearers of these teachers, as if they were his own and Apollos’s disciples; that those whom the reproof and admonition concerned properly, might be reproved under the reproof of others.
That you might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written; and that (as the apostle saith) all the church of Corinth, as well ministers as people, might learn to have humble opinions and thoughts of themselves, not to think of themselves above what, by the rules of God’s word, was written in the Old Testament they ought to think; or above what he had before writen in this Epistle, or to the Romans, Romans 12:3.
That no one of you be puffed up for one against another; and that none of them, whether ministers or private Christians, might be puffed up. The word signifieth to be swelled or blown up as a bladder or a pair of bellows, which is extended with wind: it is used in 1 Corinthians 4:18,19 8:1 Colossians 2:18.
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?It is apparent that pride was the reigning sin of many in this church of Corinth; pride, by reason of those parts and gifts wherein they excelled, whether they were natural or acquired habits, or common gifts of the Spirit which were infused: to abate this tumour, the apostle minds them to consider, whence they had these gifts from which they took occasion so to exalt and prefer themselves; whether they were the authors of them to themselves, or did receive them from God.
Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? It became none of them to glory in what they had recieved from another, and were beholden to another for. What the apostle here speaketh concerning natural or spiritual abilities, is applicable to all good things; and the consideration here prompted, is a potent consideration to abate the pride and swelling of a man’s heart upon any account whatsoever; for there is nothing wherein a man differeth or is distinguished from another, or wherein he excelleth another, but it is given him from God; be it riches, honour, natural or spiritual gifts and abilities, they are all received from the gift of God, who gives a man power to get wealth, Deu 8:18; who putteth down one and setteth up another, Psalm 75:7: and, as the apostle saith in this Epistle, 1 Corinthians 12:7-9, gives the manifestation of the Spirit to every man to profit withal: to one by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge; to another faith; to another the gifts of healing, & c., all by the same Spirit.
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.Now ye are full, now ye are rich; you that are the teachers at Corinth, or you that are the members of the church there, think yourselves full of knowledge and wisdom, so as you stand in need of no further learning or instruction.
Ye have reigned as kings without us; ye think now you have got a kingdom, and are arrived at the top of felicity.
And I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you; I am so far from envying you, that I wish it were so, and we might have a share with you. The apostle speaketh this ironically, not that he indeed thought they were so, but reflecting on their vain and too good an opinion of themselves.
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.For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death; the lot of us who are the apostles of Christ is not so externally happy, but a lot of poverty and misery, as if we were the worst of men, men appointed to death.
For we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men; to be a mere sight or gazingstock to the world, angels, or men. Some think that the apostle here hath a reference to the barbarous practice of the Romans, who first exposed and carried about for a sight those persons that were condemned to fight with wild beasts, that by them they might be torn in pieces. You are happy men, saith the apostle, if you can own Christ, and profess Christianity, and yet be in such credit and favour with the world, so full, and so rich, and so like princes: we are those whom God hath honoured to be his apostles and the first ministers of the gospel; our lot and portion is far otherwise.
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.We are accounted fools for Christ’s sake by the wise men of the world, and we are willing to be so accounted; but you think yourselves wise, and yet in Christ.
We are weak in the opinion of men, we suffer evil, and do not resist; but ye account yourselves, and are by the world accounted, strong: ye are accounted noble and honourable, but we are despised and contemptible.
Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;Our state in the world is low and mean; though you be full, we are hungry and thirsty; though you be richly clothed, yet we
are next to naked, clothed with rags; though you be hugged and embraced by the men of the world, yet we
are buffeted; though you have rich and famous houses, yet we
have no certain dwelling-place. Thus it hath been with us from the beginning of our profession of Christ, and thus it is with us at this day, saith the apostle: from whence he gives these Corinthians and their false teachers a just reason to suspect themselves, whether they were true and sincere professors, yea or no, and to consider how it came to pass, that their lot in the world was so different from the lot of those whom the Lord had dignified with the title and office of his apostles. The condition of the most faithful and able ministers and the most sincere Christians that have been in the world, hath always been a mean and afflicted state and condition.
And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:And labour, working with our hands; we do not only labour in the word and doctrine, but we labour with our hands, that we might not be burdensome to the church, our hands ministering to our necessities, Acts 20:34; though, as he saith, 1 Corinthians 9:4, they had a power to eat and drink, that is, a right to have demanded meat and drink of them, and might have forbore working; for who goeth a warfare at his own charges? 1 Corinthians 3:6,7. Whence we may observe, that though the ministers of Christ ought to be maintained by the churches to which they relate, and they sin if they neglect it; yet where this either is not done through men’s sinful neglect of them, or cannot be done through the poverty of the members of such churches, it is lawful for them to labour with their hands.
Being reviled, we bless; we are reviled and spoken ill of, but we do not revile others, but speak well of them, and wish well to them.
Being persecuted, we suffer it; though we be hunted and pursued to the endangering of our lives and liberties, yet we do make no resistance, but patiently suffer it. By this the apostle showeth them the duty of Christians, as well as their lot and portion in this life; and also tacitly reflecteth on them and their teachers, who were some of those that thus reviled the apostles; and though they did not, it may be, smite them with their hands, yet they persecuted them with their tongues; and leaves it to their consideration, whether the apostles or they lived more up to the rule of Christianity given by Christ, Matthew 5:39-41.
Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.Being defamed, we entreat: we are blasphemed, Gr. that is, spoken evil of, which is the same with defamed in our language, men speak all manner of evil of us to take away our reputation; but we entreat God for them: the word signifieth to exhort, entreat, comfort, we exercise ourselves in all pious and charitable offices toward them, who are most uncharitable toward us.
We are made as the filth of the earth, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day: here are two words used, which signify the most vile, abject, contemptible things in the world, excrements, sweepings of houses. The apostle by these two words signifies, that no persons could be more base, vile, and contemptible than they were, nothing more despised, or in less esteem: he speaketh not this as complaining, or in any discontent at what he saw was the will of God concerning them; but to show them the difference betwixt the apostles, and them and their teachers, and possibly reflecting upon them, as being in some degree guilty of this scorn and contempt of them, or at least, more than they ought, neglecting them under these mean and afflictive circumstances.
I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.I tell you not of this to make you blush, as having had any hand in these indignities which are put upon us, nor yet
to shame you (though possibly you have reason to be ashamed, either for your neglect of us, or for your adding to our affliction); I look upon you as my sons, and sons whom I love: I only write to warn you, both of your duty, to have some respect for us, and of, your sin, if you have neglected us beyond what was your duty to have done.
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.The great lesson of this text is: That people ought to have a tender respect for those ministers whom God hath hononred with their first conversion, and bringing them home to Christ. God may make use of a multitude of ministers to instruct Christians, and carry on his work in their souls to perfection; but he maketh use of some particular minister at first to convince them, and be an instrument in the changing of their hearts; such they ought to have a great value for, they are their spiritual fathers in a proper sense.
For, saith the apostle, in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel: where we have regeneration (as it signifieth a new state) set out in its causes. The principal efficient cause is Christ Jesus; the instrumental cause is the minister of the gospel; the means is the doctrine of the gospel, or the preaching of the gospel.
In Christ Jesus signifieth here by the grace of Christ Jesus; those who are born again, are not born of flesh or of blood, but of the will of God, John 1:13, and by the influence of Christ upon their hearts; though God makes use of the minister of the gospel as his instrument, and the minister makes use of the word and the preaching of the gospel, as the sacred means which God hath appointed to that end, 1 Peter 1:23. All these causes unite and concur in the work of regeneration.
Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.I might as a father command you, but I beseech you, be ye followers of me, in preserving the unity and promoting the holiness of the church. He expounds this, 1 Corinthians 11:1: Be ye followers of me, as I am of Christ. Holiness of life and conversation is necessary to a true minister of Christ; for their people ought not only to be their hearers, but their followers; they are ensamples to the flock, 1 Peter 5:3, and ought to be examples of believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity, 1 Timothy 4:12; in all things showing themselves patterns of good works; in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, & c., Titus 2:7. Those who teach well and live ill, are no good ministers of Christ; they cannot say unto people: Be ye followers of me.
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.This Timothy Paul found at Lystra, Acts 16:1. His father was a Greek, his mother a Jewess, therefore Paul circumcised him; her name was Eunice, the daughter of Lois, 2 Timothy 1:5. Paul took him along with him in his travels. He was ordained by the imposition of the hands of the presbytery, 1 Timothy 4:14 2 Timothy 1:6. Paul calls him his beloved son, either because he was his spiritual son, or because he was by him instructed in the gospel: he calls him his own son in the faith, 1 Timothy 1:2.
Faithful in the Lord, because he was faithful in the work of the Lord, in the business of the ministry.
Who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church; he (saith the apostle) shall bring to your remembrance my ways in the Lord, he shall acquaint you with both what doctrine I have preached and what course of life I have lived; how I have preached to every church, what rules I have given for the ordering of every church, and how I have walked before and toward them.
Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.I hear that some of your teachers, and some of your members, are so conceited of themselves, that they would persuade you that I durst not see their faces, or come to discourse with them face to face, and therefore
would not come unto you.
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.But I will come to you shortly: Paul intended in his journey to Rome to pass through Macedonia and Achaia, but he knew that God could hinder him, and therefore he adds, if the Lord will: neither did Paul go to them so soon as he intended, but had time before he went to write another Epistle, as we shall afterwards find. All Christians are bound, when they promise or resolve upon any journeys, to understand, if God will, and to have in their thoughts the power of God to hinder them, and to speak with submission to his pleasure, who counteth their steps and telleth their wanderings, and ordereth their steps; though they be not strictly bound at all times to use this form of speech.
And will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power: and when I come, then I shall understand these teachers of yours, who so vilify me; I shall not regard so much their fine words and philosophical reasonings, as what there is of spiritual life and power in them; either in their doctrine or life, how conducive it is to the ends of the gospel, and how consonant to the truth of the gospel, what good they do amongst you, what manner of lives they live: these are the things that my eyes shall be upon, and which I shall regard.
For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.The kingdom of God in the church, or the kingdom of God in the particular soul. God hath not sent his ministers to subdue souls to himself by fine, florid words and phrases, but by a lively preaching the gospel, while his power attends their plain preaching; and the power and efficacy of the preachers’ doctrine appeareth in their holy life and conversation, so as their people cannot say to them: Physician, heal thyself, as to those spiritual diseases which thou wouldst cure us of. So the kingdom of God in particular souls doth not appear in words, but in the power which the word of God hath upon men’s hearts, in subduing their lusts and corruptions, and bringing their hearts into a subjection to his will.
What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?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.