1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.…
So keenly alive is Paul to the danger and folly of party-spirit, that he has still one more word of rebuke to utter.
I. PAUL AND THE REST WERE SERVANTS AND STEWARDS.
1. The question therefore was, were they faithful? not, were they eloquent or philosophical? Criticism no preacher need expect to escape. Sometimes one might suppose sermons were of no other use than to furnish material for discussion. But who shall say which style is most edifying to the Church and which teacher is most faithfully serving his Master?
2. With him who is conscious that he must give account to his Master, "it is a very small thing to be judged of man's judgment," whether for applause or condemnation. A teacher who thinks for himself is compelled to utter truths which he knows will be misunderstood by many; but so long as he is conscious of his fidelity this does not trouble him. And, on the other hand, the applause of men comes to him only as a reminder that there is no finality in man's judgment, and that it is only Christ's approval which avails to give permanent satisfaction.
II. GREAT DIFFICULTY HAS ALWAYS BEEN EXPERIENCED IN TRACING THE SIMILARITIES AND DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN THE APOSTLES AND THE ORDINARY MINISTRY, and had Paul been writing in our own day he would have spoken more definitely. For what makes union hopeless in Christendom at present is not that parties are formed round individual leaders, but that Churches are based on diametrically opposed opinions regarding the ministry itself.
1. As in the State a prince, though legitimate, does not succeed to the throne without formal coronation, so in the Church there is needed a formal recognition of the title which any one claims to office.
2. It would therefore seem to be every one's duty to inquire, before he gives himself to another profession or business, whether Christ is not claiming him to serve in His Church.
III. Paul concludes this portion of his Epistle with a pathetic COMPARISON OF HIS CONDITION AS AN APOSTLE WITH THE CONDITION OF THOSE IN CORINTH WHO WERE GLORYING IN THIS OR THAT TEACHER (ver. 8). With the frothy spirit of young converts, they are full of a triumph which they despise Paul for not inculcating. While they thus triumphed, he who had begotten them in Christ was being treated as the offscouring and filth of the world.
1. Paul can only compare himself and the other apostles to those gladiators who came into the arena last, after the spectators had been sated with bloodless performances (ver. 9). While others sat comfortably looking on, they were in the arena, exposed to ill-usage and death. Life became no easier, the world no kinder, to Paul as time went on (ver. 11). Here is the finest mind, the noblest spirit, on earth; and this is how he is treated. And yet he goes on with his work, and lets nothing interrupt that (vers. 12, 13). Nay, it is a life which he is so far from giving up himself, that he will call to it the easy-going Christians of Corinth (ver. 16).
2. And if the contrast between Paul's self-sacrificing life and the luxurious life of the Corinthians might be expected to shame them into Christian service, a similar contrast should accomplish some good results in us. Already the Corinthians were accepting that pernicious conception of Christianity which looks upon it as merely a new luxury. They recognised how happy a thing it is to be forgiven, to be at peace with God, to have a sure hope of life everlasting. As yet they had not caught a glimpse of what is involved in becoming holy as Christ is holy. Are there none still who listen to Christianity rather as a voice soothing their fears than as a bugle summoning them to conflict? Paul does not summon the Church to be outcast from all joy; but when he says, "Be ye followers of me," he means that there is not one standard of duty for him and another for us. All is wrong with us until we are made somehow to recognise that we have no right to selfishly aggrandise while Paul is driven through life with scarcely one day's bread provided. If we be Christ's, as Paul was, it must inevitably come to this with us: that we cordially yield to Him all we are and have. If our hearts be His, this is inevitable and delightful; unless they be so, it is impossible, and seems extravagant.
3. It was Christ's own self-sacrifice that threw such a spell over the apostles and gave them so new a feeling towards their fellow-men and so new an estimate of their deepest needs. After seeing how Christ lived, they could never again justify themselves in living for self. And it is because we are so sunk in self-seeking and worldliness that we continue so unapostolic.
4. It might encourage us to bring our life more nearly into the line of Paul's were we to see clearly that the cause he served is really inclusive of all that is worth working for. We can scarcely apprehend this with any clearness without feeling some enthusiasm for it. You have seen men become so enamoured of a cause that they will literally sell all they have to forward it, and when such a cause is worthy the men who adopt it seem to lead the only lives which have some semblance of glory in them. Our Lord, by claiming our service, gives us the opportunity of sinking our selfishness, which is in the last analysis our sin, and of living for a worthier object than our own pleasure or our own careful preservation. When He tells us to live for Him and to seek the things that are His, He but tells us in other words and in a more attractive and practical form to seek the common good. We seek the things that are Christ's when we act as Christ would act were He in our place.
(M. Dods, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.