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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

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Verse 1

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:1. Let a man so account of us — This is a continuation of the subject in the preceding chapter; and should not have been divided from it. The fourth chapter would have begun better at 1 Corinthians 4:6, and the third should have ended with the fifth verse. 1 Corinthians 4:5

As of the ministers of Christ — ως υπηρετας χριστου. The word υπηρετης means an under-rower, or one, who, in the trireme, quadrireme, or quinquereme galleys, rowed in one of the undermost benches; but it means also, as used by the Greek writers, any inferior officer or assistant. By the term here the apostle shows the Corinthians that, far from being heads and chiefs, he and his fellow apostles considered themselves only as inferior officers, employed under Christ from whom alone they received their appointment their work, and their recompense.

Stewards of the mysteries of God. — και οικονομους μυστηριων θεου, Economists of the Divine mysteries. See the explanation of the word steward in Clarke's note on "Matthew 24:45"; Luke 8:3; Luke 12:42.

The steward, or oikonomos, was the master's deputy in regulating the concerns of the family, providing food for the household, seeing it served out at the proper times and seasons, and in proper quantities. He received all the cash, expended what was necessary for the support of the family, and kept exact accounts, which he was obliged at certain times to lay before the master. The mysteries, the doctrines of God, relative to the salvation of the world by the passion and death of Christ; and the inspiration, illumination, and purification of the soul by the Spirit of Christ, constituted a principal part of the Divine treasure intrusted to the hands of the stewards by their heavenly Master; as the food that was to be dispensed at proper times, seasons, and in proper proportions to the children and domestics of the Church, which is the house of God.

Verse 3

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:3. It is a very small thing that I should be judged of you — Those who preferred Apollos or Kephas before St. Paul, would of course give their reasons for this preference; and these might, in many instances, be very unfavourable to his character as a man, a Christian, or an apostle; of this he was regardless, as he sought not his own glory, but the glory of God in the salvation of their souls.

Or of man's judgment — Η ὑπο ανθρωπινης ἡμερας, literally, or of man's day: but ανθρωπινη ημερα signifies any day set apart by a judge or magistrate to try a man on. This is the meaning of ημερα, Psalms 37:13: The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his DAY, ηημερα αυτου, his judgment is coming. Malachi 3:17: And they shall be mine in the DAY, εις ημεραν, in the judgment, when I make up my jewels. It has the same meaning in 2 Peter 3:10: But the DAY, the JUDGMENT, of the Lord will come. The word ανθρωπινος, man's, signifies miserable, wretched, woful; so Jeremiah 17:16: Neither have I desired, יום אנוש yom enosh, the day of man; but very properly translated in our version, the woful day. God's DAYS, Job 24:1, certainly signify God's JUDGMENTS. And the DAY of our Lord Jesus, in this epistle, 1 Corinthians 1:8; 1 Corinthians 5:5, signifies the day in which Christ will judge the world; or rather the judgment itself.

I judge not mine own self. — I leave myself entirely to God, whose I am, and whom I serve.

Verse 4

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:4. For I know nothing by myself — Ουδεν γαρ εμαυτῳ συνοιδα· I am not conscious that I am guilty of any evil, or have neglected to fulfil faithfully the duty of a steward of Jesus Christ. The import of the verb συνειδειν is to be conscious of guilt; and conscire has the same meaning: so, in Horace, Nil CONSCIRE sibi, to know nothing to one's self, is the same as nulla pellescere culpa, not to grow pale at being charged with a crime, through a consciousness of guilt.

Yet am I not hereby justified — I do not pretend to say that though I am not conscious of any offence towards God I must therefore be pronounced innocent; no: I leave those things to God; he shall pronounce in my favour, not I myself. By these words the apostle, in a very gentle yet effectual manner, censures those rash and precipitate judgments which the Corinthians were in the habit of pronouncing on both men and things-a conduct than which nothing is more reprehensible and dangerous.

Verse 5

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:5. Judge nothing before the time — God, the righteous Judge, will determine every thing shortly: it is his province alone to search the heart, and bring to light the hidden things of darkness. If you be so pure and upright in your conduct, if what you have been doing in these divisions, c., be right in his sight, then shall you have praise for the same if otherwise, yourselves are most concerned. Some refer the praise to St. Paul and his companions: Then shall every one of us apostles have praise of God.

Verse 6

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:6. These things — Which I have written, 1 Corinthians 3:5, c.

I have in a figure transferred to myself and: to Apollos — I have written as if myself and Apollos were the authors of the sects which now prevail among you although others, without either our consent or knowledge, have proclaimed us heads of parties. Bishop Pearce paraphrases the verse thus: "I have made use of my own and Apollos' name in my arguments against your divisions, because I would spare to name those teachers among you who are guilty of making and heading parties; and because I would have you, by our example, not to value them above what I have said of teachers in general in this epistle; so that none of you ought to be puffed up for one against another." Doubtless there were persons at Corinth who, taking advantage of this spirit of innovation among that people, set themselves up also for teachers, and endeavoured to draw disciples after them. And perhaps some even of these were more valued by the fickle multitude than the very apostles by whom they had been brought out of heathenish darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel. I have already supposed it possible that Diotrephes was one of the ringleaders in these schisms at Corinth. 1 Corinthians 1:14.

Verse 7

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:7. For who maketh thee to differ — It is likely that the apostle is here addressing himself to some one of those puffed up teachers, who was glorying in his gifts, and in the knowledge he had of the Gospel, c. As if he had said: If thou hast all that knowledge which thou professest to have, didst thou not receive it from myself or some other of my fellow helpers who first preached the Gospel at Corinth? God never spoke to thee to make thee an apostle. Hast thou a particle of light that thou hast not received from our preaching? Why then dost thou glory, boast, and exult, as if God had first spoken by thee, and not by us?

This is the most likely meaning of this verse and a meaning that is suitable to the whole of the context. It has been applied in a more general sense by religious people, and the doctrine they build on it is true in itself, though it does not appear to me to be any part of the apostle's meaning in this place. The doctrine I refer to is this: God is the foundation of all good; no man possesses any good but what he has derived from God. If any man possess that grace which saves him from scandalous enormities, let him consider that he has received it as a mere free gift from God's mercy. Let him not despise his neighbour who has it not; there was a time when he himself did not possess it; and a time may come when the man whom he now affects to despise, and on whose conduct he is unmerciful and severe, may receive it, and probably may make a more evangelical use of it than he is now doing. This caution is necessary to many religious people, who imagine that they have been eternal objects of God's favour, and that others have been eternal objects of his hate, for no reason that they can show for either the one, or the other. He can have little acquaintance with his own heart, who is not aware of the possibility of pride lurking under the exclamation, Why me! when comparing his own gracious state with the unregenerate state of another.

Verse 8

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:8. Now ye — Corinthians are full of secular wisdom; now ye are rich, both in wealth and spiritual gifts; (1 Corinthians 14:26:) ye have reigned as kings, flourishing in the enjoyment of these things, in all tranquillity and honour; without any want of us: and I would to God ye did reign, in deed, and not in conceit only, that we also, poor, persecuted, and despised apostles, might reign with you.-Whitby.

Though this paraphrase appears natural, yet I am of opinion that the apostle here intends a strong irony; and one which, when taken in conjunction with what he had said before, must have stung them to the heart. It is not an unusual thing for many people to forget, if not despise, the men by whom they were brought to the knowledge of the truth; and take up with others to whom, in the things of God, they owe nothing. Reader, is this thy case?

Verse 9

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:9. God hath set forth us the apostles last — This whole passage is well explained by Dr. Whitby. "Here the apostle seems to allude to the Roman spectacles, της των θηριομαχων, και μονομαχιας ανδροφονου, that of the Bestiarii and the gladiators, where in the morning men were brought upon the theatres to fight with wild beasts, and to them was allowed armour to defend themselves and smite the beasts that assailed them; but in the meridian or noon-day spectacles the gladiators were brought forth naked, and without any thing to defend themselves from the sword of the assailant; and he that then escaped was only kept for slaughter to another day, so that these men might well be called επιθανατιοι, men appointed for death; and this being the last appearance on the theatre for that day, they are said here to be set forth εσχατοι, the last." Of these two spectacles Seneca speaks thus, Epist. vii.: "In the morning men are exposed to lions and bears; at mid-day to their spectators; those that kill are exposed to one another; the victor is detained for another slaughter; the conclusion of the fight is death. The former fighting compared to this was mercy; now it is mere butchery: they have nothing to cover them; their whole body is exposed to every blow, and every stroke produces a wound," c.

We are made a spectacle — Ὁτι θεατρον εγενηθημεν, We are exhibited on the theatre to the world we are lawful booty to all mankind, and particularly to the men of the world, who have their portion in this life. Angels are astonished at our treatment, and so are the more considerate part of men. Who at that time would have coveted the apostolate?

Verse 10

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:10. We are fools for Christ's sake — Here he still carries on the allusion to the public spectacles among the Romans, where they were accustomed to hiss, hoot, mock, and variously insult the poor victims. To this Philo alludes, in his embassy to Caius, speaking of the treatment which the Jews received at Rome: ὡσπερ γαρ εν θεατρῳ κλωσμοσυριττοντων, καταμωκωμενων, αμετραχλευαζοντων· "For, as if exhibited upon a theatre, we are hissed, most outrageously hooted, and insulted beyond all bounds." Thus, says the apostle, we are fools on Christ's account; we walk in a conformity to his will, and we bear his cross: and did we walk according to the course of this world, or according to the man-pleasing conduct of some among you, we should have no such cross to bear.

Ye are wise in Christ — Surely all these expressions are meant ironically; the apostles were neither fools, nor weak, nor contemptible; nor were the Corinthians, morally speaking, wise, and strong, and honourable. Change the persons, and then the epithets will perfectly apply.

Verse 11

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:11. We both hunger and thirst, &c.] Who would then have been an apostle of Christ, even with all its spiritual honours and glories, who had not a soul filled with love both to God and man, and the fullest conviction of the reality of the doctrine he preached, and of that spiritual world in which alone he could expect rest? See the Introduction, sect. vi.

Have no certain dwelling place — We are mere itinerant preachers, and when we set out in the morning know not where, or whether we shall or not, get a night's lodging.

Verse 12

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:12. Working with our own hands — They were obliged to labour in order to supply themselves with the necessaries of life while preaching the Gospel to others. This, no doubt, was the case in every place were no Church had been as yet formed: afterwards, the people of God supplied their ministers, according to their power, with food and raiment.

Being reviled, we bless, c.] What a most amiable picture does this exhibit of the power of the grace of Christ! Man is naturally a proud creature, and his pride prompts him always to avenge himself in whatever manner he can, and repay insult with insult. It is only the grace of Christ that can make a man patient in bearing injuries, and render blessing for cursing, beneficence for malevolence, &c. The apostles suffered an indignities for Christ's sake for it was on his account that they were exposed to persecutions, &c.

Verse 13

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:13. Being defamed — βλασφημουμενοι, Being blasphemed. I have already remarked that βλασφημειν signifies to speak injuriously, and may have reference either to God or to man. GOD is blasphemed when his attributes, doctrines, providence, or grace, are treated contemptuously, or any thing said of him that is contrary to his holiness, justice, goodness, or truth. Man is blasphemed when any thing injurious is spoken of his person, character, conduct, c. Blaspheming against men is any thing by which they are injured in their persons, characters, or property.

We are made as the filth of the earth-the offscouring of all things — The Greek word which we render filth, is περικαθαρματα, a purgation, or lustrative sacrifice that which we translate offscouring is περιψημα, a redemption sacrifice. To understand the full force of these words, as applied by the apostle in this place, we must observe that he alludes to certain customs among the heathens, who, in the time of some public calamity, chose out some unhappy men of the most abject and despicable character to be a public expiation for them; these they maintained a whole year at the public expense; and then they led them out, crowned with flowers, as was customary in sacrifices; and, having heaped all the curses of the country upon their heads, and whipped them seven times, they burned them alive, and afterwards their ashes were thrown into the sea, while the people said these words: περιψημαἡμων γινου, be thou our propitiation. Sometimes the person thus chosen was thrown into the sea as a sacrifice to Neptune, the people saying the words as before. Hence Origen says that our Lord, in giving up himself as a propitiation for our sins, was much more than his apostles-περικαθαρματα του κοσμου, παντων περιψημα, the lustration of the world, and the peculiar sacrifice for all men. The apostle, therefore, means that he and his fellows were treated like those wretched beings who were judged to be fit for nothing but to be expiatory victims to the infernal gods, for the safety and redemption of others. Our words filth and offscouring, convey no legitimate sense of the original. See several useful remarks upon these terms in Pearce, Whitby, and Parkhurst.

Verse 14

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:14. I write not these things to shame you — It is not by way of finding fault with you for not providing me with the necessaries of life that I write thus; but I do it to warn you to act differently for the time to come; and be not so ready to be drawn aside by every pretender to apostleship, to the neglect of those to whom, under God, you owe your salvation.

Verse 15

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:15. For though ye have ten thousand instructers — μυριους παιδαγωγους, Myriads of leaders, that is, an indefinite multitude; for so the word is often used. The παιδαγωγος, from which we have our word pedagogue, which we improperly apply to a school master, was among the Greeks, the person or servant who attended a child, had the general care of him, and who led him to school for the purpose of being instructed by the διδασκαλος, or teacher. It seems there were many at Corinth who offered their services to instruct this people, and who were not well affected towards the apostle.

Not many fathers — Many offer to instruct you who have no parental feeling for you; and how can they? you are not their spiritual children, you stand in this relation to me alone; for in Christ Jesus-by the power and unction of his Spirit, I have begotten you-I was the means of bringing you into a state of salvation, so that you have been born again: ye are my children alone in the Gospel. Schoettgen produces a good illustration of this from Shemoth Rabba, sect. 46, fol. 140. "A girl who had lost her parents was educated by a guardian, who was a good and faithful man, and took great care of her; when she was grown up, he purposed to bestow her in marriage; the scribe came, and beginning to write the contract, said, What is thy name? The maid answered, N. The scribe proceeded, What is the name of thy father? The maid was silent. Her guardian said, Why art thou silent? The maid replied, Because I know no other father but thee; for he who educates a child well, is more properly the father than he who begot it." This is the same kind of sentiment which I have already quoted from Terence, Romans 16:13.

Natura tu illi pater es, consiliis ego.

Adelphi, Act i., scene 2, ver. 47.

Thou art his father by nature, I by instruction.

Verse 16

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:16. Wherefore, I beseech you, be ye followers of me. — It should rather be translated, Be ye imitators of me; μιμηται, from which we have our word mimic, which, though now used only in a bad or ludicrous sense, simply signifies an imitator of another person, whether in speech, manner, habit, or otherwise. As children should imitate their parents in preference to all others, he calls on them to imitate him, as he claims them for his children. He lived for God and eternity, seeking not his own glory, emolument, or ease: those sowers of sedition among them were actuated by different motives. Here then the apostle compares himself with them: follow and imitate me, as I follow and imitate Christ: do not imitate them who, from their worldly pursuits, show themselves to be actuated with a worldly spirit.

Verse 17

Verse 17. For this cause — That you imitate me, and know in what this consists.

I sent unto you Timotheus — The same person to whom he wrote the two epistles that are still extant under his name, and whom he calls here his beloved son, one of his most intimate disciples; and whom he had been the means of bringing to God through Christ.

My ways which be in Christ — This person will also inform you of the manner in which I regulate all the Churches; and show to you, that what I require of you is no other than what I require of all the Churches of Christ which I have formed, as I follow the same plan of discipline in every place. See the Introduction, sect. iii.

Verse 18

Verse 18. Some are puffed up — Some of your teachers act with great haughtiness, imagining themselves to be safe, because they suppose that I shall not revisit Corinth.

Verse 19

Verse 19. But I will come to you shortly — God being my helper, I fully purpose to visit you; and then I shall put those proud men to the proof, not of their speech - eloquence, or pretensions to great knowledge and influence, but of their power - the authority they profess to have from God, and the evidences of that authority in the works they have performed. See the Introduction, sect. xi.

Verse 20

Verse 20. For the kingdom of God — The religion of the Lord Jesus is not in word-in human eloquence, excellence of speech, or even in doctrines; but in power, εν δυναμει, in the mighty energy of the Holy Spirit; enlightening, quickening, converting, and sanctifying believers; and all his genuine apostles are enabled, on all necessary occasions, to demonstrate the truth of their calling by miracles; for this the original word often means.

Verse 21

Verse 1 Corinthians 4:21. Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love — Here he alludes to the case of the teacher and father, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 4:15. Shall I come to you with the authority of a teacher, and use the rod of discipline? or shall I come in the tenderness of a father, and entreat you to do what I have authority to enforce? Among the Jews, those who did not amend, after being faithfully admonished, were whipped, either publicly or privately, in the synagogue. If on this they did not amend, they were liable to be stoned. We see, from the cases of Ananias and Sapphira, Elymas the sorcerer, Hymenaeus and Alexander, c., that the apostles had sometimes the power to inflict the most awful punishments on transgressors. The Corinthians must have known this, and consequently have dreaded a visit from him in his apostolical authority. That there were many irregularities in this Church, which required both the presence and authority of the apostle, we shall see in the subsequent chapters.

1. IN the preceding chapter we find the ministers of God compared to STEWARDS, of whom the strictest fidelity is required.

(1.) Fidelity to GOD, in publishing his truth with zeal, defending it with courage, and recommending it with prudence.

(2.) Fidelity to CHRIST, whose representatives they are, in honestly and fully recommending his grace and salvation on the ground of his passion and death, and preaching his maxims in all their force and purity.

(3.) Fidelity to the CHURCH, in taking heed to keep up a godly discipline, admitting none into it but those who have abandoned their sins and permitting none to continue in it that do not continue to adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour.

(4.) Fidelity to their own MINISTRY, walking so as to bring no blame on the Gospel; avoiding the extremes of indolent tenderness on one hand, and austere severity on the other. Considering the flock, not as their flock, but the flock of Jesus Christ; watching, ruling, and feeding it according to the order of their Divine Master.

2. A minister of God should act with great caution: every man, properly speaking, is placed between the secret judgment of God and the public censure of men. He should do nothing rashly, that he may not justly incur the censure of men; and he should do nothing but in the loving fear of God, that he may not incur the censure of his Maker. The man who scarcely ever allows himself to be wrong, is one of whom it may be safely said, he is seldom right. It is possible for a man to mistake his own will for the will of God, and his own obstinacy for inflexible adherence to his duty. With such persons it is dangerous to have any commerce. Reader, pray to God to save thee from an inflated and self-sufficient mind.

3. Zeal for God's truth is essentially necessary for every minister; and prudence is not less so. They should be wisely tempered together, but this is not always the case. Zeal without prudence is like a flambeau in the hands of a blind man; it may enlighten and warm, but it play also destroy the spiritual building. Human prudence should be avoided as well as intemperate zeal; this kind of prudence consists in a man's being careful not to bring himself into trouble, and not to hazard his reputation, credit, interest, or fortune, in the performance of his duty. Evangelical wisdom consists in our suffering and losing all things, rather than be wanting in the discharge of our obligations.

4. From St. Paul's account of himself we find him often suffering the severest hardships in the prosecution of his duty. He had for his patrimony, hunger, thirst, nakedness, stripes, c. and wandered about testifying the Gospel of the grace of God, without even a cottage that he could claim as his own. Let those who dwell in their elegant houses, who profess to be apostolic in their order, and evangelic in their doctrines, think of this. In their state of affluence they should have extraordinary degrees of zeal, humility, meekness, and charity, to recommend them to our notice as apostolical men. If God, in the course of his providence, has saved them from an apostle's hardships, let them devote their lives to the service of that Church in which they have their emoluments; and labour incessantly to build it up on its most holy faith. Let them not be masters to govern with rigour and imperiousness; but tender fathers, who feel every member in the Church as their own child, and labour to feed the heavenly family with the mysteries of God, of which they are stewards.

5. And while the people require much of their spiritual pastors, these pastors have equal right to require much of their people. The obligation is not all on one side; those who watch for our souls have a right not only to their own support, but to our reverence and confidence. Those who despise their ecclesiastical rulers, will soon despise the Church of Christ itself, neglect its ordinances, lose sight of its doctrines, and at last neglect their own salvation.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/1-corinthians-4.html. 1832.
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