1 Corinthians 4
Pulpit Commentary
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Verses 1-5. - Judgments, human and Divine, respecting ministers. Verse 1. - Let a man so account of us. Since it is inevitable that Christians should form some estimate of the position of their ministers, he proceeds to tell them what that estimate should be. Ministers are not to be unduly magnified, for their position is subordinate; they are not to be unduly depreciated, for if they are faithful they may appeal from frivolous human prejudices and careless depreciations to that only Judge and Master before whom they stand or fall. Ministers; here huperetas; in 1 Corinthians 3:5 diakonous. They are huperetai (in its derivation "under rowers") in their relation to Christ; diakonoi in their relation to men. Of Christ; and therefore responsible to Him. Stewards; dispensers, subordinate distributors. These "agents" were higher slaves (Luke 16:1-8). Of the mysteries of God. The word "mysteries" means truths once hidden but now revealed; as in Luke 8:10, "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God." In later patristic usage the word means "sacraments;" but St. Paul has expressly said (1 Corinthians 1:17) that his mission was to preach the gospel, not primarily to administer the sacraments. (For descriptions of the work of a minister according to St. Paul's lofty ideal, see the pastoral Epistles, and 1 Thessalonians 2:7-11; Colossians 1:25-29; Acts 20:18-21, 24-28. St. Peter's is given in 1 Peter 4:10, 11; 1 Peter 5:2-4.) A minister is not to be estimated as a supernatural teacher, or a civil autocrat, or an infallible critic, but as an ambassador from Christ, who reveals to the "initiated" that which they could not otherwise know.
Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
Verse 2. - Moreover. The true reading (א, A, B, C, D, F) is ω΅δε κοιπὸν, here, moreover; i.e. "on this earth." It may be required of him as a minister that he should be faithful, but if, being faithful, he is misjudged and depreciated, his appeal lies to a truer and loftier tribunal. It is required. This is the reading of א, A, C, D. Other manuscripts have "ye require;" but the sound of the two words in Hellenistic Greek would have been almost indistinguishable. That a man be found faithful. We have a right to demand that on trial he be proved to be honest and diligent. So our Lord has described the "faithful and wise steward" in Luke 12:42, 43. What is required of ministers is neither brilliancy, nor eloquence, nor profound knowledge, nor success, but only - fidelity.
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.
Verse 3. - But. The Corinthians might have expected that the conclusion of St. Paul's remarks would be a recognition of their right to sit in judgment on his faithfulness; but it is, on the contrary, an expression of his complete indifference to their shallow and unfair estimate, and an appeal to the approval of his own conscience and to the judgment of the Lord. It is a very small thing; literally, it is for the least. That I should be judged of you; rather, that I should be examined by you (anakritho). Technically the word anakrisis means "an examination preliminary to trial." Or of man's judgment; literally, of man's day. The brief day of human life is bounded by too narrow an horizon for accurate judgments. Many of the greatest and best men have felt, like Lord Bacon, that they must leave to other generations the right estimate of their characters, views, and actions. St. Jerome reckons the expression "day" for "judgment" among the "Cilicisms" of St. Paul (Jeremiah, 'Ad Algas.,' 10), i.e. the expressions due to his early training in Cilicia. More probably (as Grotius thinks) there is a reference to the "day" fixed for earthly trials (diem dicere, equivalent to "to impeach"), and to the phrase "the day of judgment" - "the woeful day" of Jeremiah 17:16. The word "day" in all languages and idioms signifies "judgment" (Hammond). From dies, a day, comes the phrase "a diet." A "daysman" means an arbitrator. Yea, I judge not mine own self. Here, as in the previous clause and in 1 Corinthians 6:4, the verb is not krino, I judge, but anakrino, I examine. Thus the verse discourages all morbid self introspection. It also shows that St. Paul is not arrogantly proclaiming himself superior to the opinion of the Corinthians, but is pointing out the necessary inadequacy of all human judgments. The heart is too liable to self deceit (Jeremiah 17:9, 10) to enable it to pronounce a judgment with unerring accuracy. Hence neither a man's contemporaries nor the man himself can form any final estimate of him or of his fitting position, because their knowledge is too imperfect. History often reverses the decision of contemporaries.
For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.
Verse 4. - I know nothing by myself; rather, nothing against myself. The phrase of the Authorized Version originally meant this, but is now obsolete in this sense. "I am sorry that each fault can be proved by the queen," says Cranmer to Henry VIII. It is like the Latin Nil conscire sibi. The same phrase occurs in the LXX. of Job 27:6. St. Paul says, "The verdict of my own conscience acquits me of all intentional unfaithfulness;" but this is insufficient, because God sees with clearer eyes than ours. "Who can understand his errors?" asks the psalmist (Psalm 19:12); and the "secret faults" against which he prays are not hidden vices, but sins of which he was himself unconscious. It must be remembered that St. Paul is here only speaking with conscious integrity of his ministerial work. Nothing could have been further from the mind of one who elsewhere calls himself" the chief of sinners" than to claim an absolute immunity from every form of self reproach. They who claim immaculate holiness can as little quote the sanction of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 9:27; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 3:8; Philippians 3:13, etc.) as of any other saint. The confessions of the holiest are ever the most humble. Yet am I not hereby justified. Because "every way of a man" is apt to be "right in his own eyes," but God pondereth the hearts, and therefore in God's sight "no man living is justified." St. Paul is here using the word in its legal rather than its theological sense. He that judgeth me is the Lord. This is a reason for serious awe and deep self searching of heart (Psalm 130:3; Job 9:2). Yet also for hope and confidence when a man can, like the modern statesman, "look from the storm without to the sunshine of an approving conscience within." For God, being "greater than our hearts" (1 John 3:21), may count "the long 'yes' of life" against the one "no," or the single faithless minute. Knowing whereof we are made, remembering that we are but dust, he looks on us

"With larger other eyes than ours,
To make allowance for us all."
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.
Verse 5. - Judge nothing. St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, insists with some indignation on this duty of checking the tendency to vain depreciation, both because we have not the capacity for forming adequate judgments, and because censoriousness is a very common though thoroughly unchristian vice (Romans 14:4, 10, 13). Before the time. The time is when God shall "judge the secrets of men" (Romans 2:16), and when "the day shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Corinthians 3:13). Until the Lord come. The advent is called in the New Testament sometimes the "epiphany," and sometimes the parousia of Christ. The word used for "until" (heos an) points to a time entirely indefinite. Both; rather, also; i.e. among other things. The hidden things of darkness. "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13; comp. Ecclesiastes 12:14). God "shall illuminate the crypts of the darkness which naturally fills the self deceiving heart." The counsels of the hearts. These may bear no scrutiny, even when the actions of the life have been made to look plausible enough. And then. God only "seeth in secret" (Matthew 6:4), and therefore the praise and blame of men may in this life be equally unjust. Shall every man have praise of God; rather, each one shall then have his praise (i.e. such praise as he deserves) from God. Some of the Greek Fathers (e.g. Theophylact) here make "praise" a "word of intermediate sense," involving either praise or blame. But St. Paul says "praise" for two reasons - partly because he is thinking of faithful teachers like Cephas, Apollos, and himself, who were depreciated by rival factions; and partly because he, like other apostles, shows an invariable tendency to allude to the bright rather than to the dark side of judgment. The "praise from God" - the "Well done, good and faithful servant" - is so infinitely precious that it reduces to insignificance the comparative value of human praise or blame.
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.
Verses 6-13. - Contrast between the inflated self sufficiency of the Corinthians and the earthly humiliation of the apostles. Verse 6. - Brethren. The occasional use of this and similar expressions ("beloved," etc.) often serves to strengthen an appeal, or, as here, to soften the sternness of a rebuke. I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos. The meaning seems to be that St. Paul has prominently transferred to himself and to Apollos, or rather to the parties who chose their names as watchwords, the proof as to the sin and futility of partisanship which applied equally well to the parties which ranged themselves under other names. (For the verb "transfer" - more often "transform" see 2 Corinthians 11:13, 14, 15; Philippians 3:21.) He abstains purposely and generously from publicly naming the fuglemen of the antagonistic factions. For your sakes. By rebuking party spirit in his own partisans and those of the teacher who was most closely allied to himself, he robbed his remarks of all semblance of personality or bitterness. It showed his generous delicacy not to allude rather to the adherents of Cephas and the Judaean emissary. Than ye might learn in us. I made Apollos and myself instances of the undesirability of over exalting human teachers, that by our case you might learn the general principle. Not to think of men above that which is written. The true reading is merely, not above the things which have been written, as though the words were a sort of proverb, like Ne quid nimis or Milton's "The rule of not too much" (μηδὲν ἄγαν). The word "to think" is omitted in the best manuscripts. The phrase, "which have been written," is of very uncertain meaning. It may refer generally to "the scriptural rule" that all boasting is wrong (Jeremiah 9:23), or to the humble estimate of teachers which he has just been writing down for them. All his Old Testament quotations so far (ch. 1:19, 31; 3:19) have referred to humility. Some see in it a reference to Matthew 23:8 "Be not ye called Babbi;" but it is uncertain whether St. Matthew's Gospel was yet written; and St. Paul never refers so directly to any written Gospel. Perhaps it is a sort of proverb," Keep always to strict evidence;" "Say nothing which cannot be proved in black and white." The text, like so many others, has only a very remote connection with the sense in which it is usually quoted. That no one of you he puffed up. St. Paul was painfully impressed by this inflation of the Corinthians, and he often recurs to this word as a description of their vain conceit (1 Corinthians 4:18, 19; 1 Corinthians 5:2; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 13:4; 2 Corinthians 12:20). In other Epistles the word is only found once (in Colossians 2:18). For one against another. The expression is a profound one. The glorying in men (1 Corinthians 3:21), undesirable in any circumstances, becomes the more pernicious because the exaltation of one set of teachers is almost invariably accompanied by mean and unjust depreciation of any who could be supposed to be their rivals. The Corinthian who was "for Cephas" would be almost certain to be, to some extent, "against Paul."
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?
Verse 7. - Who maketh thee to differ? literally, Who distinguisheth thee? He means that this glorification and depreciation of rival views and rival teachers sprang from unwarrantable arrogance. It involved a claim to superiority, and a right to sit in judgment, which they did not possess. That thou didst not receive? Even supposing that you have some special gift, it is a gift, not a merit, and therefore it is a boon for which to be thankful, not a pre-eminence of which to boast.

"Satan, I know thy power, and thou know'st mine,
Neither our own, but given. What folly, then,
To try what arms can do!"

(Milton, 'Paradise Lost.')
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.
Verse 8. - Now ye are full, now ye are rich; rather, already ye have been sated, already ye grew rich. There is a strong but healing irony in these expressions, and in the entire contrast between the comfortable, full fed, regal self satisfaction of the Corinthians, and the depression and scorn in the midst of which the apostles lived. The loving delicate irony is, in a different way, as effective as the stern denunciation of St. John: "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). St. Paul's satire is always akin to charity; it is never satire with no pity in it. Ye have reigned as kings. The word simply means "ye reigned." Like the Stoics, so each little Corinthian sectarian regarded himself as a king. "To reign" was, however, a proverbial phrase (like the Latin vivo et regno) for being "happy as a king." Without us (comp. Hebrews 11:40). The Corinthians were cultivated enough to appreciate the deep irony of the phrase, "We poor apostles have become quite needless to you in your lordly independence." And I would to God ye did reign. The words "to God" should be omitted. The loving heart of St. Paul could never long keep up a strain of irony. He drops the satire, and passes on to impassioned and affectionate appeal. That we also might reign with you. If the exalted eminence which you now only enjoy in your own conceits had been but real, then we, whose "hope, and joy, and crown of exultation you are in the presence of Christ" (1 Thessalonians 2:19), should share the grandeur with you.
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.
Verse 9. - For. This word shows how different was the reality. Hath set forth; displayed as on a stage (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Us the apostles. St. Paul identifies them with himself; but undoubtedly he had "laboured more abundantly than they all." Last. Servants of all; in the lowest circumstances of humiliation (comp. Mark 9:35). The apostles. Not the twelve only, but those who might be called apostles in a wider sense, who shared the same afflictions (Hebrews 10:33). As it were appointed to death. This daily doom is referred to by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:30, 31; 2 Corinthians 4:11; Romans 8:36. Tertullian renders the word "veluti bestiaries," like criminals condemned to the wild beasts ('De Pudicit.,' 14). But the day had not yet come when Christians were to hear so often the terrible cry, "Christianos ad leones!" A spectacle; literally, a theatre. The same metaphor is used in Hebrews 10:33. To angels. The word, when used without an epithet, always means good angels, who are here supposed to look down in sympathy (comp. Hebrews 12:22).
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.
Verse 10. - We are fools for Christ's sake. The irony is softened by the intervening sentences, and as regards the apostles there is no irony. St. Paul was called "a seed pecker" (spermologos) by the Epicureans and Stoics at Athens, and Festus in full court called him "mad." Ye are wise in Christ. He could not say as before, "for Christ's sake;" for even though he is using the language of irony, "the pseudo wisdom of the Corinthians had other motives." We are weak. The consciousness of physical and personal weakness weighed heavily on the mind of St. Paul in moments of depression (2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 13:4). Ye are honourable, but we are despised; literally, ye are glorious, but we are dishonoured. The word "dishonoured" also means "disfranchised."
Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;
Verse 11. - Unto this present hour. In these three verses he draws a picture of the condition of the apostles, especially of the trials to which he was himself subjected, on which the best comment is in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. This letter was written from Ephesus, where he had so much to do and to endure (Acts 20:31). Hunger and thirst. "In hunger and thirst, in fastings often" (2 Corinthians 11:27). Are naked (Matthew 25:36; James 2:15; and comp. 2 Corinthians 11:27). And are buffeted. The verb means literally, are slapped in the face (comp. 2 Corinthians 12:7). Such insults, together with scourgings, fell to the lot of St. Paul (Acts 23:2, etc.) and the other apostles (Acts 16:23, 1 Peter 2:20), as well as to that of their Lord (Matthew 26:57, etc.). It showed the utter contempt with which they were treated; for though St. Paul ought to have been exempt from such violence, both as a freeman and a Roman citizen, he was treated as vilely as if he had been a mere foreign slave. Have no certain dwelling place. This homelessness was among the severest of all trials (Matthew 8:20; Matthew 10:23).
And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:
Verse 12. - Labour, working with our own hands. St. Paul supported himself by the dreary toil and scant earnings of a tent maker, in the express determination to be no burden upon his converts (Acts 18:3; Acts 20:34; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 9:6; 2 Corinthians 11:7, etc.). Such conduct was the more noble because all mechanical trades were looked down upon by the Greeks as a sort of banausia. And though it was repellent and mechanical work to be handling the strong scented black goats' hair all day, yet by this labour he maintained not only himself but also his brother missionaries (Acts 20:34). Being reviled. The early Christians were falsely accused of the most execrable crimes, so that the very name "Christian" was regarded as equivalent to "malefactor" (1 Peter 4:14, 16). We bless. Herein they obeyed the direct precept of our Lord (Matthew 5:44), as well as his example (Luke 23:44; 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Peter 3:9).
Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.
Verse 13. - Being defamed, we entreat. The expression "we entreat" is very general. It may mean "we entreat men not to speak thus injuriously of us" (Calvin); or "we exhort them to do right." As the filth of the world. The Greek word katharmata has a technical sense, in which it means "men devoted to death for purposes of expiation" (homines piaculares). The word perikatharnmta has the sense of "sin offerings" in Proverbs 21:18; Tobit 5:18. It is, however, doubtful whether this meaning of the word could have been at all familiar to Greek readers, and it is only in a very general and distantly metaphorical sense that the sufferings of God's saints can be regarded as, in any sense of the word, vicarious. It is better, therefore, here to retain the sense of "refuse" (purgamenta, things vile and worthless). The offscouring of all things; perhaps rather, of all men. The word peripsema means "a thing scraped off," and this word also was used in expiatory human sacrifices, where the formula used to victims thus flung into the sea, in times of plague or famine, was, "Become our peripsema' ('Schol. on Ar.;' Plut., 456). Thus in Tobit (5:18), Anna the wife of Tobias says, "Let the money be used as a peripsema for the child;" and Ignatius uses the phrase, "I am your peripsema." From this and the similar phrase in the Letter of Barnabas," I am the peripsema of your love," it seems to have become a current expression of tenderness among Christians, "I am your peripsema." But in this case also it may be doubted whether the sacrificial idea was present in the apostle's mind. He is thinking of scenes which he had already faced and would have to face hereafter, when mobs shouted against him that he was "a pestilent fellow" (Acts 24:5) and not fit to live (Acts 22:22).
I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.
Verses 14-21. - The practical steps which he intends to take with reference to these party divisions. Verse 14. - To shame you. Such seems to be the meaning of the word, for it is so used in the LXX. (compare the use of the verb in 2 Thessalonians 3:14; Titus 2:8; and of the substantive in 1 Corinthians 6:5; 1 Corinthians 15:34). I warn; rather, I admonish. St. Paul here gives the reason why he cannot write angrily or bitterly, even though he has used strong expostulation and keen irony. It is because he regards himself as their spiritual father (comp. 2 Corinthians 6:13; 2 Corinthians 12:14, 15; 1 Thessalonians 2:11).
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.
Verse 15. - Ten thousand; never so many. The word in Greek is used indefinitely, but here implies a touch of impatience at the itch of teaching which seems to have prevailed at Corinth. Tutors; rather, pedagogues, in a technical sense. We have no exact equivalent in English to the paidagogos, the slave who led boys to school. The word also occurs in Galatians 3:24, 25. The father loves most, and has the nearer and dearer claim. In Christ. So he says, "The Law was our paidagogos to Christ." These guides or guardians were such "in Christ," i.e. in the sphere of Christian life. Not many fathers. St. Paul felt a yearning desire that his unique claim as the founder of their Church should not be so ungratefully overlooked, as though it were of no importance (comp. 1 Corinthians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 9:1, 2; Acts 18:11). I have begotten you. The word is here only used in a secondary and metaphoric sense, as in Philemon 1:10; Galatians 4:19. In the highest sense we are only begotten by the will of God, by that Word of truth (James 1:18), to which he alludes in the words "through the gospel." The "second birth" is, however a doctrine more dwelt on by St. John (John 3:3; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:1, etc.) than by St. Paul, who, as Mr. Beet observes, only refers to it in Titus 3:5.
Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
Verse 16. - Be ye followers; rather, imitators. He makes the same appeal in 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17. Of course, he only uses his human example as a guide to them in the special virtues of humility, self denial, and faithfulness (1 Peter 5:3; Hebrews 13:7). In the highest sense we can only be "imitators of God" (Ephesians 5:1).
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.
Verse 17. - For this cause. Because, as your spiritual father, I naturally take the deepest interest in your well being. Have I sent; rather, I sent. Timothy had started before this letter was despatched (Acts 19:22), but he did not reach Corinth till after its arrival, because he had been unable to go by sea, and had to travel round by Macedonia. St. Paul, on hearing the grave news from Corinth, seems to have countermanded him (1 Corinthians 16:10, "If Timotheus come"), but was uncertain whether the messenger would reach him in time. The necessity for despatching Titus had been more immediate. My beloved son, and faithful in the Lord; rather, who is my beloved and faithful child (teknon) in the Lord. St. Paul had converted him, and felt towards him all the love of a father (1 Timothy 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; Philippians 2:20-22). Shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ. The expression shows all St. Paul's delicacy. He is not sending the youthful Timothy as an authoritative teacher, since the Corinthians, fond of high pretension and soaring oratory, might scorn to show any submission to a shy and shrinking youth; but he is only sending him because, as his closest companion, Timothy would be best able to explain to them his plans and wishes in the organization of Churches.
Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.
Verse 18. - Are puffed up; rather, were puffed up; at the time that they made these disparaging comparisons of me with others. As though I would not come to you; rather, as though I were not coming to you. St. Paul was on the eve of starting for Macedonia on his way to visit them (1 Corinthians 16:5), but, owing to the grievous state of the Church, he subsequently changed his purpose (2 Corinthians 1:15, 23). When he left them he had promised to return, "if God wilt" (Acts 18:21). His many enemies and critics were likely to say, "He is afraid to come himself, and so he sends Timothy." They flattered themselves that he was alarmed by their culture and intellectualism.
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.
Verse 19. - I will come to you shortly (Philippians 2:24; 2 Timothy 4:9). He came soon after writing the Second Epistle. At this time he was preparing to leave Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8); his actual departure was precipitated by the tumult (Acts 20. l, 2). If the Lord will. The apostolic use of the phrase was something more than a mere form (Romans 15:32; Hebrews 6:3; James 4:15); it expressed a real and humble spirit of dependence. Not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. He will use his gift of spiritual discernment to discover whether the haughty self assertion and sounding phraseology of these inflated partisans would not collapse when confronted with real authority. The "speech" was there in abundance; but was there anything genuine, any real spiritual force, behind it?
For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.
Verse 20. - The kingdom of God. The Christian life, with all its attainments and all its hopes. Is not in word, but in power. It is not a matter of profession, or of eloquence, or of phrases, but of transforming efficacy. St. Paul always appeals for the corroboration of his authority to the signs and power of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 10:45; Romans 15:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:5), to the "demonstration" of which he has already referred (1 Corinthians 2:4).
What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?
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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