1 Corinthians 4:8-10
Now you are full, now you are rich, you have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God you did reign…
I. SCRIPTURE WARRANTS THE USE OF IRONY IN CERTAIN CASES. Scripture is here fully at one with common sense and experience. There are certain conditions which can be most successfully touched by the shafts of ridicule: certain positions which can be carried most effectually by light artillery. In the Old Testament the folly of idolatry is often exhibited in ludicrous lights. Take, for example, Elijah's words on Carmel (1 Kings 18:27). Here Paul employs the weapon of satire. The Corinthians, in their carnality, conceived themselves to be at the very height of spirituality, They had attained already - and that without much knowledge of the daily cross. They had reached the goal suspiciously early, They were full; their knowledge was complete. They were rich; never were there such amply endowed Christians. They reigned as kings - none so high as they - monarchs of all they surveyed. And all this without the insignificant aid of such a very commonplace teacher as Paul! They had far transcended their early master. They were now so wise that he in comparison was quite a fool (ver. 10). They were strong, impregnable, triumphant; he evidently was weak, very weak still. Had he not been with them "in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" (1 Corinthians 2:3)? Was not that a very common condition for him to be in? Upon them crowded honour, dignity; they were "all honourable men." He was despised and despicable; clearly they were in paradise. In the paradise of fools! and with majestic simplicity, but with keenest irony, Paul states the case as it appeared to them, and as it necessarily resulted from the position which they had assumed. If that did not open their eyes, they were blind for evermore. The Corinthians resembled the Laodiceans (Revelation 3:17).
II. BUT IRONY IS A KEEN AND DANGEROUS WEAPON, AND SHOULD BE EMPLOYED WITH GREAT CARE. A suitable weapon for the hands of Paul, not of necessity for ours. Appropriate for some occasions, not for all.
1. Its use should be limited. We may easily run to excess. Irony is rather a pleasant weapon to use. Its employment in Scripture is not frequent. In this Epistle it is, indeed, used, but only occasionally.
2. It may profitably be accompanied by sober argument. So we have it here.
3. It should be employed in a spirit of love and with sincere desire to benefit. Not to make men ridiculous for the sake of making them so. Not for our own diversion. It should not be bitter. Paul was intensely solicitous to benefit the Corinthians; he had no pleasure in causing them pain. Note how in the midst of ironical utterances he expresses his fervent longing, "Yea and I would that ye did reign" (ver. 8), The object of his irony is to lead them from a mock kingship to a true. - H.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.