1 Corinthians 4:6-13
And these things, brothers, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes…
Party spirit leads to the undue exaltation of men. The head of a faction becomes a hero in the eyes of those that belong to it. Two evil consequences follow - pride, self sufficiency, conceit, on the one hand; undue depreciation of others and boasting against them, on the other hand. Against this hateful spirit the apostle has already presented a variety of arguments; and while speaking chiefly of himself and Apollos, he has in reality been teaching us how to regard all the ministers of Christ. They are not to be exalted beyond the position assigned them in Scripture, nor are they to suffer themselves to be puffed up with pride one against another.
I. A COGENT ARGUMENT. "For who maketh thee to differ?" If we are better than our neighbours, or possess gifts which they do not possess, we have God to thank for it. This question should be asked in view of all earthly privileges - health, wealth, position, education. More especially with regard to spiritual benefits. Who maketh thee to differ from that reeling drunkard, that erring sister, that condemned felon, that poor imbecile, that blind heathen? "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10). The thoughts awakened by such an inquiry should silence all boastfulness, and call forth praise to him to whom we owe all. Spiritual pride robs God of his glory.
II. AN IRONICAL PICTURE. "Already are ye filled, already ye are become rich, ye have reigned without us." You speak as if you had already attained perfection and participated in the millennial glory. You are not only rich, but seated as kings upon the throne. I would it were really so, for then we also might share in your glory; but alas! ye reign without us. You fortunate ones are exalted, but we poor apostles are still suffering on the earth. Thus does Paul hold up the self conceit of the Corinthians to derision. A warning for all time to those who run off with a part of the truth as if it were the whole. Like the perfectionists of our day, these Corinthians had fallen into the delusion that they had reached the goal. Spiritual pride is very subtle and very dangerous. This picture is suggestive when viewed in connection with the low morality prevalent in the Christian community at Corinth. Note here the legitimate use of irony, as in the case of Elijah (1 Kings 18:27) and Isaiah (Isaiah 44:9, etc.). Evil has its ludicrous side, and the exhibition of this is sometimes more effective than plain argument. Irony, however, is a dangerous weapon, and needs to be handled with skill. The anger that pours ridicule upon an opponent must have behind it a heart of love, if its wounds are to prove wholesome.
III. A PATHETIC CONTRAST. With the proud position of the Corinthians, Paul contrasts the suffering condition of himself and his brother apostles. Consider:
1. The general picture. "For, I think, God hath set forth us the apostles last of all, as men doomed to death." He seems to have in view the exhibitions given in the amphitheatre, at the close of which criminals condemned to death were brought in to fight with wild beasts or with one another. The sufferings of the apostles were a spectacle to the world, men and angels beholding them with interest. And what was true of these servants of Christ is true in part of every believer. We are wrestlers in the arena, fighting for dear life, with a myriad eyes upon us (comp. Hebrews 12:1).
2. The details of the picture. Very touching is this description of apostolic life, supplemented by the fuller details in the Second Epistle (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). Follow the steps of the homeless evangelist as he goes from place to place, earning his own bread while preaching the gospel, suffering many privations, exposed to many perils, and treated as the refuse of the world. No wonder if men called him a fool. Looked at from the outside, scarcely any life could appear more miserable; but all is changed when we know that it was lived "for Christ's sake." Love to him made the fellowship of his sufferings a matter to boast of. Are we willing to endure hardship for the Lord's sake? Are we taking up the cross he lays athwart our path?
IV. A CHRIST LIKE SPIRIT. Suffering for Christ is also suffering with Christ. He too was despised and rejected of men; and where he is there must also his servant be. In addition to this we have here suffering endured in the Spirit of Christ. "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure, being defamed, we entreat." This was according to the Lord's commandment (Matthew 5:44), and after his example (1 Peter 2:23). How really noble is such a life! The truly strong man is he who can rise above the reproach and hate of men, and regard them with Christ like compassion. Contrast this humble following of Jesus with the proud boasting of the Corinthians. - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: Now these things, brothers, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to think beyond the things which are written, that none of you be puffed up against one another.