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Tuesday, December 5th, 2023
the First Week of Advent
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

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This chapter is a continuation of the subject discussed in those which go before, and of the argument which closes the last chapter. The proper division would have been at 1 Corinthians 4:6. The design of the first six verses is to show the real estimate in which the apostles ought to be held as the ministers of religion. The remainder of the chapter 1 Corinthians 4:7-21 is occupied in setting forth further the claims of the apostles to their respect in contradistinction from the false teachers, and in reproving the spirit of vain boasting and confidence among the Corinthians. Paul 1 Corinthians 4:7 reproves their boasting by assuring them that they had no ground for it, since all that they possessed had been given to them by God. In 1 Corinthians 4:8, he reproves the same spirit with cutting irony, as if they claimed to be eminently wise - Still further to reprove them, he alludes to his own self-denials and sufferings, as contrasted with their ease, and safety, and enjoyment, 1 Corinthians 4:9-14. He then shows that his labors and self-denials in their behalf, laid the foundation for his speaking to them with authority as a father, 1 Corinthians 4:15-16. And to show them that he claimed that authority, over them as the founder of their church, and that he was not afraid to discharge his duty toward them, he informs them that he had sent Timothy to look into their affairs 1 Corinthians 4:17, and; that himself would soon follow; and assures them that he had power to come to them with the severity of Christian discipline, and that it depended on their conduct whether he should come with a rod, or with the spirit of meekness and love, 1 Corinthians 4:21.

Verse 1

Let a man - Let all; let this be the estimate formed of us by each one of you.

So account of us - So think of us, the apostles.

As the ministers of Christ - As the servants of Christ. Let them form a true estimate of us and our office - not as the head of a faction; not as designing to form parties, but as unitedly and entirely the servants of Christ; see 1 Corinthians 3:5.

And stewards - Stewards were those who presided over the affairs of a family, and made provision for it, etc.; see the note at Luke 16:1. It was an office of much responsibility; and the apostle by using the term here seems to have designed to elevate those whom he seemed to have depreciated in 1 Corinthians 3:5.

Of the mysteries of God - Of the gospel; see the note at 1 Corinthians 2:7. The office of steward was to provide those things which were necessary for the use of a family. And so the office of a minister of the gospel, and a steward of its mysteries, is to dispense such instructions, guidance, counsel, etc., as may be requisite to build up the church of Christ; to make known those sublime truths which are contained in the gospel, but which had not been made known before the revelation of Jesus Christ, and which are, therefore, called “mysteries.” It is implied in this verse:

(1) That the office of a minister is one that is subordinate to Christ - they are his servants.

(2) That those in the office should not attempt to be the head of sect or party in the church.

(3) That the office is honorable as that of a steward is; and,

(4) That Christians should endeavor to form and cherish just ideas of ministers; to give them their TRUE honor; but not to overrate their importance.

Verse 2

Moreover ... - The fidelity required of stewards seems to be adverted to here, in order to show that the apostles acted from a higher principle than a desire to please man, or to be regarded as at the head of a party; and they ought so to esteem them as bound, like all stewards, to be faithful to the master whom they served.

It is required ... - It is expected of them; it is the “main” or “leading” thing in their office. Eminently in that office fidelity is required as an indispensable and cardinal virtue. Fidelity to the master, faithfulness to his trust, as the virtue which by way of eminence is demanded there. In other offices other virtues may be particularly required. But here fidelity is demanded. This is required particularly because it is an office of trust; because the master’s goods are at his disposal; because there is so much opportunity for the steward to appropriate those goods to his own use, so that his master cannot detect it. There is a strong similarity between the office of a steward and that of a minister of the gospel. But it is not needful here to dwell on the resemblance. The idea of Paul seems to be:

(1) That a minister, like a steward, is devoted to his master’s service, and should regard himself as such.

(2) That he should be faithful to that trust, and not abuse or violate it.

(3) That he should not be judged by his fellow-stewards, or fellow-servants, but that his main desire should be to meet with the approbation of his master - A minister should be faithful for obvious reasons. Because:

  1. He is appointed by Jesus Christ;
    1. Because he must answer to him;
    2. Because the honor of Christ, and the welfare of his kingdom is entrusted to him; and,
    3. Because of the importance of the matter committed to his care; and the importance of fidelity can be measured only by the consequences of his labors to those souls in an eternal heaven or an eternal hell.

Verse 3

But with me - In my estimate; in regard to myself. That is, I esteem it a matter of no concern. Since I am responsible as a steward to my master only, it is a matter of small concern what men think of me, provided I have his approbation. Paul was not insensible to the good opinion of people. He did not despise their favor or court limit contempt. But this was not the principal thing which he regarded; and we have here a noble elevation of purpose and of aim, which shows how direct was his design to serve and please the master who had appointed him to his office.

That I should be judged - The word rendered “judged” here properly denotes to examine the qualities of any person or thing; and sometimes, as here, to express the result of such examination or judgment. Here it means to “blame” or “condemn.”

Of you - By you. Dear as you are to me as a church and a people, yet my main desire is not to secure your esteem, or to avoid your censure, but to please my master, and secure his approbation.

Or of man’s judgment - Of any man’s judgment. What he had just said, that he esteemed it to be a matter not worth regarding, whatever might be their opinion of him, might seem to look like arrogance, or appear as if he looked upon them with contempt. In order to avoid this construction of his language, he here says that it was not because he despised them, or regarded their opinion as of less value than that of others, but that he had the same feelings in regard to all people. Whatever might be their rank, character, talent, or learning, he regarded it as a matter of the least possible consequence what they thought of him. He was answerable not to them, but to his Master; and he could pursue an independent course whatever they might; think of his conduct. This is designed also evidently to reprove them for seeking so much the praise of each other. The Greek here is “of man’s day,” where “day” is used, as it often is in Hebrew, to denote the day of trial; the Day of Judgment; and then simply Judgment. Thus, the word יום yowm “day” is used in Job 24:1; Psalms 37:13; Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1; Malachi 4:1.

Yea, I judge not my own self - I do not attempt to pronounce a judgment on myself. I am conscious of imperfection, and of being biased by self-love in my own favor. I do not feel that my judgment of myself would be strictly impartial, and in all respects to be trusted. Favorable as may be my opinion, yet I am sensible that I may be biased. This is designed to soften what he had just said about their judging him, and to show further the little value which is to be put on the judgment which man may form “If I do not regard my own opinion of myself as of high value, I cannot be suspected of undervaluing you when I say that I do not much regard your opinion; and if I do not estimate highly my own opinion of myself, then it is not to be expected that I should set a high value on the opinions of others” - God only is the infallible judge; and as we and our fellow-men are liable to be biased in our opinions, from envy, ignorance, or self-love, we should regard the judgment of the world as of little value.

Verse 4

For I know nothing by myself - There is evidently here an ellipsis to be supplied, and it is well supplied by Grotius, Rosenmuller, Calvin, etc. “I am not conscious of evil, or unfaithfulness to myself; that is, in my ministerial life.” It is well remarked by Calvin, that Paul does not here refer to the whole of his life, but only to his apostleship. And the sense is, “I am conscious of integrity in this office. My own mind does not condemn me of ambition or unfaithfulness. Others may accuse me, but I am not conscious of that which should condemn me, or render me unworthy of this office.” This appeal Paul elsewhere makes to the integrity and faithfulness of his ministry. So his speech before the elders of Ephesus at Miletus; Acts 20:18-19, Acts 20:26-27; compare 2Co 7:2; 2 Corinthians 12:17. It was the appeal which a holy and faithful man could make to the integrity of his public life, and such as every minister of the gospel ought to be able to make.

Yet am I not hereby justified - I am not justified because I am not conscious of a failure in my duty. I know that God the judge may see imperfections where I see none. I know that I may be deceived; and therefore, I do not pronounce a judgment on myself as if it were infallible and final. It is not by the consciousness of integrity and faithfulness that I expect to be saved; and it does not follow that I claim to be free from all personal blame. I know that partiality to ourselves will often teach us to overlook many faults that others may discern in us.

He that judgeth me is the Lord - By his judgment I am to abide; and by his judgment I am to receive my eternal sentence, and not by my own view of myself. He searcheth the hearts. He may see evil where I see none. I would not, therefore, be self-confident; but would, with humility, refer the whole case to him. Perhaps there is here a gentle and tender reproof of the Corinthians, who were so confident in their own integrity; and a gentle admonition to them to be more cautious, as it was possible that the Lord would detect faults in them where they perceived none.

Verse 5

Therefore - Inview of the danger of being deceived in your judgment, and the impossibility of certainly knowing the failings of the heart.

Judge nothing - Pass no decided opinion; see the note at Matthew 7:1. The apostle here takes occasion to inculcate on them an important lesson - one of the leading lessons of Christianity - not to pass a harsh opinion on the conduct of any man, since there are so many things that go to make up his character which we cannot know; and so many secret failings and motives which are all concealed from us.

Until the Lord come - The Lord Jesus at the Day of Judgment, when all secrets shall be revealed, and a true judgment shall be passed on all men.

Who both will bring to light; - See Romans 2:10.

The hidden things of darkness - The secret things of the heart which have been hidden as it were in darkness. The subsequent clause shows that this is the sense. He does not refer to the deeds of night, or those things which were performed in the secret places of idolatry, but to the secret designs of the heart; and perhaps means gently to insinuate that there were many things about the character and feelings of his enemies which would not well bear the revelations of that Day.

The counsels of the hearts - The purposes, designs, and intentions of men. All their plans shall be made known on that Day. And it is a most fearful and alarming truth, that no man can conceal his purposes beyond the Day of Judgment.

And then shall every man have praise of God - The word here rendered “praise” ἔπαινος epainos denotes in this place reward, or that which is due to him; the just sentence which ought to be pronounced on his character. It does not mean as our translation would imply, that every man will then receive the divine approbation which will not be true; but that every man shall receive what is due to his character, whether good or evil. So Bloomfield and Bretschneider explain it. Hesychius explains it by judgment (κρισις krisis). The word must be limited in its signification according to the subject or the connection. The passage teaches:

(1) That we should not be guilty of harsh judgment of others.

(2) The reason is, that we cannot know their feelings and motives.

(3) That all secret things will be brought forth in the great Day, and nothing be concealed beyond that time.

(4) That every man shall receive justice there. He shall be treated as he ought to be. The destiny of no one will be decided by the opinions of people; but the doom of all will be fixed by God. How important is it, therefore, that we be prepared for that Day; and how important to cherish such feelings, and form such plans, that they may be developed without involving us in shame and contempt!

Verse 6

And these things - The things which I have written respecting religious teachers 1 Corinthians 2:5-6, 1 Corinthians 2:12, and the impropriety of forming sects called after their names.

I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos - The word used here μετεσχημάτισα meteschēmatisa denotes, properly, to put on another form or figure; “to change” (Philippians 3:21, “who shall change our vile body”); to “transform” (2 Corinthians 11:13, “transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ”); and then to apply in the way of a figure of speech. This may mean that neither Paul, Apollos, or Peter, were set up among the Corinthians as heads of parties, but that Paul here made use of their names to show how improper it would be to make them the head of a party, and hence, how improper it was to make any religious teacher the head of a party; or Paul may mean to say that he had mentioned himself and Apollos particularly, to show the impropriety of what had been done; since, if it was improper to make them heads of parties, it was much more so to make inferior teachers the leaders of factions.

Locke adopts the former interpretation. The latter is probably the true interpretation, for it is evident from 1 Corinthians 1:12-13, that there were parties in the church at Corinth that were called by the names of Paul, and Apollos, and Peter; and Paul’s design here was to show the impropriety of this by mentioning himself, Apollos, and Peter, and thus by transferring the whole discussion from inferior teachers and leaders to show the impropriety of it. He might have argued against the impropriety of following other leaders. He might have mentioned their names. But this would have been invidious and indelicate. It would have excited their anger. He therefore says that he had transferred it all to himself and Apollos; and it implied that if it were improper to split themselves up into factions with them as leaders, much more was it improper to follow others; that is, it was improper to form parties at all in the church. “I mention this of ourselves; out of delicacy I forbear to mention the names of others” - And this was one of the instances in which Paul showed great tact in accomplishing his object, and avoiding offence.

For your sakes - To spare your feelings; or to show you in an inoffensive manner what I mean. And particularly by this that you may learn not to place an inordinate value on people.

That ye might learn in us - Or by our example and views.

Not to think ... - Since you see the plan which we desire to take; since you see that we who have the rank of apostles, and have been so eminently favored with endowments and success, do not wish to form parties, that you may also have the same views in regard to others.

Above that which is written - Probably referring to what he had said in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, 1 Corinthians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 4:1. Or it may refer to the general strain of Scripture requiring the children of God to be modest and humble.

That no one of you be puffed up - That no one be proud or exalted in self-estimation above his neighbor. That no one be disposed to look upon others with contempt, and to seek to depress and humble them. They should regard themselves as brethren, and as all on a level. The argument here is, that if Paul and Apollos did not suppose that they had a right to put themselves at the head of parties, much less had any of them a right to do so. The doctrine is:

  1. That parties are improper in the church;
  2. That Christians should regard themselves as on a level; and,
  3. That no one Christian should regard others as beneath him, or as the object of contempt.

Verse 7

For who maketh ... - This verse contains a reason for what Paul had just said; and the reason is, that all that any of them possessed had been derived from God, and no endowments whatever, which they had, could be laid as the foundation for self-congratulation and boasting. The apostle here doubtless has in his eye the teachers in the church of Corinth, and intends to show them that there was no occasion of pride or to assume pre-eminence. As all that they possessed had been given of God, it could not be the occasion of boasting or self-confidence.

To differ from another - Who has separateD you from another; or who has made you superior to others. This may refer to everything in which one was superior to others, or distinguished from them. The apostle doubtless has reference to those attainments in piety, talents, or knowledge by which one teacher was more eminent than others. But the same question may be applied to native endowments of mind; to opportunities of education; to the arrangements by which one rises in the world; to health; to property; to piety; to eminence and usefulness in the church. It is God who makes one, in any of these respects, to differ from others; and it is especially true in regard to personal piety. Had not God interfered and made a difference, all would have remained alike under sin. The race would have together rejected his mercy; and it is only by his distinguishing love that any are brought to believe and be saved.

And what hast thou - Either talent, piety, of learning.

That thou didst not receive - From God. By whatever means you have obtained it, it has been the gift of God.

Why dost thou glory ... - Why dost thou boast as if it were the result of your own toil, skill or endeavor. This is not designed to discourage human exertion; but to discourage a spirit of vain-glory and boasting. A man who makes the most painful and faithful effort to obtain anything good, will, if successful, trace his success to God. He will still feel that it is God who gave him the disposition, the time, the strength, the success. And he will be grateful that he was enabled to make the effort; not vain, or proud, or boastful, because that he was successful. This passage states a general doctrine, that the reason why one man differs from another is to be traced to God; and that this fact should repress all boasting and glorying, and produce true humility in the minds of Christians. It may be observed, however, that it is as true of intellectual rank, of health, of wealth, of food, of raiment, of liberty, of peace, as it is of religion, that all come from God; and as this fact which is so obvious and well known, does not repress the exertions of people to preserve their health and to obtain property, so it should not repress their exertions to obtain salvation. God governs the world on the same good principles everywhere; and the fact that he is the source of all blessings, should not operate to discourage, but should prompt to human effort. The hope of his aid and blessing is the only ground of encouragement in any undertaking.

Verse 8

Now ye are full - It is generally agreed that this is spoken in irony, and that it is an indignant sarcasm uttered against the false and self-confident teachers in Corinth. The design is to contrast them with the apostles; to show how self-confident and vain the false teachers were, and how laborious and self-denying the apostles were; and to show to them how little claim they had to authority in the church, and the real claim which the apostles had from their self-denials and labors. The whole passage is an instance of most pungent and cutting sarcasm, and shows that there may be occasions when irony may be proper, though it should be rare. An instance of cutting irony occurs also in regard to the priests of Baal, in 1 Kings 18:27. The word translated “ye are full” (κεκορεσμένοι kekoresmenoi) occurs only here, and in Acts 27:38, “And when they had eaten enough.” It is usually applied to a feast, and denotes those who are satiated or satisfied. So here it means, “You think’ you have enough. You are satisfied with your conviction of your own knowledge, and do not feel your need of anything more.”

Ye are rich - This is presenting the same idea in a different form. “You esteem yourselves to be rich in spiritual gifts, and graces, so that you do not feel the necessity of any more.”

Ye have reigned as kings - This is simply carrying forward the idea before stated; but in the form of a climax. The first metaphor is taken from persons “filled with food;” the second from those who are so rich that they do not feel their lack of more; the third from those who are raised to a throne, the highest elevation, where there was nothing further to be reached or desired. And the phrase means, that they had been fully satisfied with their condition and attainments, with their knowledge and power, that they lived like rich men and princes - revelling, as it were, on spiritual enjoyments, and disdaining all foreign influence, and instruction, and control.

Without us - Without our counsel and instruction. You have taken the whole management of matters on yourselves without any regard to our advice or authority. You did not feel your need of our aid; and you did not regard our authority. You supposed you could get along as well without us as with us.

And I would to God ye did reign - Many interpreters have understood this as if Paul had really expressed a wish that they were literal princes, that they might afford protection to him in his persecution and troubles. Thus, Grotius, Whitby, Locke, Rosemuller, and Doddridge. But the more probable interpretation is, that Paul here drops the irony, and addresses them in a sober, earnest manner. It is the expression of a wish that they were as truly happy and blessed as they thought themselves to be. “I wish that you were so abundant in all spiritual improvements; I wish that you had made such advances that you could be represented as full, and as rich, and as princes, needing nothing, that when I came I might have nothing to do but to partake of your joy.” So Calvin, Lightfoot, Bloomfield. It implies:

  1. A wish that they were truly happy and blessed;
  2. A doubt implied whether they were then so; and,
  3. A desire on the part of Paul to partake of their real and true joy, instead of being compelled to come to them with the language of rebuke and admonition; see 1 Corinthians 4:19, 1 Corinthians 4:21.

Verse 9

For I think - It seems to me. Grotius thinks that this is to be taken ironically, as if he had said, “It seems then that God has designed that we, the apostles, should be subject to contempt and suffering; and be made poor and persecuted, while you are admitted to high honors and privileges.” But probably this is to be taken as a serious declaration of Paul, designed to show their actual condition and trials, while others were permitted to live in enjoyment. Whatever might be their condition, Paul says that the condition of himself and his fellow-laborers was one of much contempt and suffering; and the inference seems to be, that they ought to doubt whether they were in a right state, or had any occasion for their self-congratulation, since they so little resembled those whom God had set forth.

Hath set forth - Has “showed” us; or placed us in public view.

The apostles last - Margin, or, “the last apostles” τοὺς ἀποστόλους ἐσχάτους tous apostolous eschatous. Grotius supposes that this means in the lowest condition; the humblest state; a condition like that of beasts. So Tertullian renders it. And this interpretation is the correct one if the passage be ironical. But Paul may mean to refer to the custom of bringing forth those in the amphitheater at the conclusion of the spectacles who were to fight with other men, and who had no chance of escape. These inhuman games abounded everywhere; and an allusion to them would be well understood, and is indeed often made by Paul; compare 1 Corinthians 9:26; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7; see Seneca Epis. chapter 7. This interpretation receives support from the words which are used here, “God hath exhibited,” “spectacle,” or “theater,” which are all applicable to such an exhibition. Calvin, Locke, and others, however, suppose that Paul refers to the fact that he was the last of the apostles; but this interpretation does not suit the connection of the passage.

As it were - (ὡς hōs). Intimating the certainty of death.

Appointed unto death - ἐπιθανατίους epithanatious. Devoted to death. The word occurs no where else in the New Testament. It denotes the certainty of death, or the fact of being destined to death; and implies that such were their continued conflicts, trials, persecutions, that it was morally certain that they would terminate in their death, and only when they died, as the last gladiators on the stage were destined to contend until they should die. This is a very strong expression; and denotes the continuance, the constancy, and the intensity of their sufferings in the cause of Christ.

We are made a spectacle - Margin, “theater” θέατρον theatron. The theater, or amphitheater of the ancients was composed of an arena, or level floor, on which the combatants fought, and which was surrounded by circular seats rising above one another to a great height, and capable of containing many thousands of spectators. Paul represents himself as on this arena or stage, contending with foes, and destined to death. Around him and above him are an immense host of human beings and angels, looking on at the conflict, and awaiting the issue. He is not alone or unobserved. He is made public; and the universe gazes on the struggle. Angels and human beings denote the universe, as gazing upon the conflicts and struggles of the apostles. It is a vain inquiry here, whether he means good or bad angels. The expression means that he was public in his trials, and that this was exhibited to the universe. The whole verse is designed to convey the idea that God had, for wise purposes, appointed them in the sight of the universe, to pains, and trials, and persecutions, and poverty, and want, which would terminate only in their death; see Hebrews 12:1, etc. What these trials were he specifies in the following verses.

Verse 10

We are fools - This is evidently ironical. “We are doubtless foolish people, but ye are wise in Christ. We, Paul, Apollos, and Barnabas, have no claims to the character of wise men - we are to be regarded as fools, unworthy of confidence, and unfit to instruct; but you are full of wisdom.”

For Christ’s sake - διὰ Χριστὸν dia Christon. On account of Christ; or in reference to his cause, or in regard to the doctrines of the Christian religion.

But ye are wise in Christ - The phrase “in Christ,” does not differ in signification materially from the one above; “for Christ’s sake.” This is wholly ironical, and is exceedingly pungent. “You, Corinthians, boast of your wisdom and prudence. You are to be esteemed very wise. You are unwilling to submit to be esteemed fools. You are proud of your attainments. We, in the meantime, who are apostles, and who have founded your church, are to be regarded as fools, and as unworthy of public confidence and esteem.” The whole design of this irony is to show the folly of their boasted wisdom. That they only should be wise and prudent, and the apostles fools, was in the highest degree absurd; and this absurdity the apostle puts in a strong light by his irony.

We are weak - We are timid and feeble, but you are daring, bold and fearless. This is irony. The very reverse was probably true. Paul was bold, daring, fearless in declaring the truth, whatever opposition it might encounter; and probably many of them were timid and time-serving, and endeavoring to avoid persecution, and to accommodate themselves to the prejudices and opinions of those who were wise in their own sight; the prejudices and opinions of the world.

Ye are honourable - Deserving of honor and obtaining it. Still ironical. You are to be esteemed as worthy of praise.

We are despised - ἄτιμοι atimoi. Not only actually contemned, but worthy to be so. This was irony also. And the design was to show them how foolish was their self-confidence and self-flattery, and their attempt to exalt themselves.

Verse 11

Even unto this present hour - Paul here drops the irony, and begins a serious recapitulation of his actual sufferings and trials. The phrase used here “unto this present hour” denotes that these things had been incessant through all their ministry. They were not merely at the commencement of their work, but they had continued and attended them everywhere. And even then they were experiencing the same thing. These privations and trials were still continued, and were to be regarded as a part of the apostolic condition.

We both hunger and thirst - The apostles, like their master, were poor, and in traveling about from place to place, it often happened that they scarcely found entertainment of the plainest kind, or had money to purchase it. It is no dishonor to be poor, and especially if that poverty is produced by doing good to others. Paul might have been rich, but he chose to be poor for the sake of the gospel. To enjoy the luxury of doing good to others, we ought to be willing to be hungry and thirsty, and to be deprived of our ordinary enjoyments.

And are naked - In traveling; our clothes become old and worn out, and we have no friends to replace them, and no money to purchase new. It is no discredit to be clad in mean raiment, if that is produced by self-denying toils in behalf of others. There is no, honor in gorgeous apparel; but there is real honor in voluntary poverty and want, when produced in the cause of benevolence. Paul was not ashamed to travel, to preach, and to appear before princes and kings, in a soiled and worn-out garment, for it was worn out in the service of his Master, and Divine Providence had arranged the circumstances of his life. But how many a minister now would he ashamed to appear in such clothing! How many professed Christians are ashamed to go to the house of God because they cannot dress well, or be in the fashion, or outshine their neighbors! If an apostle was willing to be meanly clad in delivering the message of God, then assuredly we should be willing to preach, or to worship him in such clothing as he provides. We may add here, what a sublime spectacle was here; and what a glorious triumph of the truth. Here was Paul with an impediment in his speech; with a personage small and mean rather than graceful; and in a mean and tattered dress; and often in chains, yet delivering truth before which kings trembled, and which produced everywhere a deep impression on the human mind. Such was the power of the gospel then! And such triumph did the truth then have over men. See Doddridge.

And are buffeted - Struck with the hand; see the note at Matthew 26:67. Probably it is used here to denote harsh and injurious treatment in general; compare 2 Corinthians 12:7.

And have no certain dwelling-place - No fixed or permanent home. They wandered to distant lands; threw themselves on the hospitality of strangers, and even of the enemies of the gospel; when driven from one place they went to another; and thus they led a wandering, uncertain life, amidst strangers and foes. They who know what are the comforts of home; who are surrounded by beloved families; who have a peaceful and happy fireside; and who enjoy the blessings of domestic tranquility, may be able to appreciate the trials to which the apostles were subjected. All this was for the sake of the gospel; all to purchase the blessings which we so richly enjoy.

Verse 12

And labour ... - This Paul often did. See the note at Acts 18:3; compare Acts 20:34; 1Th 2:9. 2 Thessalonians 3:8.

Being reviled - That they were often reviled or reproached, their history everywhere shows. See the Acts of the Apostles. They were reviled or ridiculed as Jews by the Gentiles; and jeered by all as “Nazarenes,” and as deluded followers of Jesus; as the victims of a foolish superstition and enthusiasm.

We bless - We return good for evil. In this they followed the explicit direction of the Saviour; see the note at Matthew 5:44. The main idea in these passages is, that they were reviled, were persecuted, etc. The other clauses, “we bless,” “we suffer it,” etc. seem to be thrown in “by the way” to show how they bore this ill treatment. As if he had said “we are reviled; and what is more, we bear it patiently, and return good for evil.” At the same time, that he was recounting his trials, he was, therefore, incidentally instructing them in the nature of the gospel, and showing how their sufferings were to be borne; and how to illustrate the excellency of the Christian doctrine.

Being persecuted - See the note at Matthew 5:11.

We suffer it - We sustain it; we do not revenge it; we abstain from resenting or resisting it.

Verse 13

Being defamed - Greek, Blasphemed, that is, spoken of and to, in a harsh, abusive, and reproachful manner. The original and proper meaning of the word is to speak in a reproachful manner of anyone, whether of God or man. It is usually applied to God, but it may also be used of people.

We entreat - Either God in their behalf, praying him to forgive them, or we entreat them to turn from their sins, and become converted to God. Probably the latter is the sense. They besought them to examine more candidly their claims instead of reviling them; and to save their souls by embracing the gospel instead of destroying them by rejecting it with contempt and scorn.

We are made - We became; we are so regarded or esteemed. The word here does not imply that there was any positive agency in making them such, but simply that they were in fact so regarded.

As the filth of the earth - It would not be possible to employ stronger expressions to denote the contempt and scorn with which they were everywhere regarded. The word “filth” περικαθάρματα perikatharmata occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly denotes filth, or that which is collected by sweeping a house, or that which is collected and cast away by purifying or cleansing anything; hence, any vile, worthless, and contemptible object. Among the Greeks the word was used to denote the victims which were offered to expiate crimes, and particularly men of ignoble rank, and of a worthless and wicked character, who were kept to be offered to the gods in a time of pestilence, to appease their anger, and to purify the nation. Bretschneider and Schleusner. Hence, it was applied by them to people of the most vile, abject, and worthless character. But it is not certain that Paul had any reference to that sense of the word. The whole force of the expression may be met by the supposition that he uses it in the sense of that filth or dirt which is collected by the process of cleansing or scouring anything, as being vile, contemptible, worthless. So the apostles were regarded. And by the use of the word “world” here, he meant to say that they were regarded as the most vile and worthless men which the whole world could furnish; not only the refuse of Judea, but of all the nations of the earth. As if he had said “more vile and worthless people could not be found on the face of the earth.”

And are the off-scouring of all things - This word (περίψημα peripsēma) occurs no where else in the New Testament. It does not differ materially from the word rendered “filth.” It denotes that which is rubbed off by scouring or cleaning anything; and hence, anything vile or worthless; or a vile and worthless man. This term was also applied to vile and worthless people who were sacrificed or thrown into the sea as an expiatory offering, as it were to purify the people. Suidas remarks that; they said to such a man, “be then our περίψημα peripsēma,” our redemption, and then flung him into the sea as a sacrifice to Neptune. See Whitby, Calvin, Doddridge.

Unto this day - Continually. We have been constantly so regarded. See 1 Corinthians 4:11.

Verse 14

To shame you - It is not my design to put you to shame by showing you how little you suffer in comparison with us. This is not our design, though it may have this effect. I have no wish to make you ashamed, to appear to triumph over you or merely to taunt you. My design is higher and nobler than this.

But as my beloved sons - As my dear children. I speak as a father to his children, and I say these things for your good. No father would desire to make his children ashamed. In his counsels, entreaties, and admonitions, he would have a higher object than that.

I warn you - I do not say these things in a harsh manner, with a severe spirit of rebuke; but in order to admonish you, to suggest counsel, to instil wisdom into the mind. I say these things not to make, you blush, but with the hope that they may be the means of your reformation, and of a more holy life. No man, no minister, ought to reprove another merely to overwhelm him with shame, but the object should always be to make a brother better; and the admonition should be so administered as to have this end, not sourly or morosely, but in a kind, tender, and affectionate manner.

Verse 15

For though ye have ten thousand instructors - Though you may have or though you should have. It matters not how many you have, yet it is still true that I only sustain the relation to you of spiritual father, and whatever respect it is proper for you to have toward them, yet there is a special right which I have to admonish you, and a special deference which is due to me, from my early labors among you, and from the fact that you are my spiritual children.

Instructers - Greek: pedagogues; or those who conducted children to school, and who superintended their conduct out of school hours. Hence, those who had the care of children, or teachers (in general). It is then applied to instructors of any kind.

In Christ - In the Christian system or doctrine. The authority which Paul claims here, is that which a father has in preference to such an instructor.

Not many fathers - Spiritual fathers. That is, you have but one. You are to remember that however many teachers you have, yet that I alone am your spiritual father.

In Christ Jesus - By the aid and authority of Christ. I have begotten you by preaching his gospel and by his assistance.

I have begotten you - I was the instrument of your conversion.

Through the gospel - By means of the gospel; by preaching it to you, that is, by the truth.

Verse 16

Wherefore - Since I am your spiritual father.

Be ye followers of me - Imitate me; copy my example; listen to my admonitions. Probably Paul had particularly in his eye their tendency to form parties; and here admonishes them that he had no disposition to form sects, and entreats them in this to imitate his example. A minister should always so live as that he can, without pride or ostentation, point to his own example; and entreat his people to imitate him. He should have such a confidence in his own integrity; he should lead such a blameless life; and “he should be assured that his people have so much evidence of his integrity,” that he can point them to his own example, and entreat them to live like himself. And to do this, he should live a life of piety, and should furnish such evidence of a pure conversation, that his people may have reason to regard him as a holy man.

Verse 17

For this cause - In order to remind you of my doctrines and my manner of life. Since I am hindered from coming myself, I have sent a fellow laborer as my messenger, well acquainted with my views and feelings, that he might do what I would do if I were present.

Have I sent unto you Timotheus - Timothy, the companion and fellow laborer of Paul. This was probably when Paul was at Ephesus. He sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia, probably with instruction to go to Corinth if convenient. Yet it was not quite certain that Timothy would come to them, for in 1 Corinthians 16:10, he expresses a doubt whether he would. Paul was probably deeply engaged in Asia, and did not think it proper then for him to leave his field of labor. He probably supposed also, that Timothy, as his ambassador, would be able to settle the difficulties in Corinth as well as if he were himself present.

My beloved son - In the gospel. See Acts 16:1-3; 1 Timothy 1:2. He supposed, therefore, that they would listen to him with great respect.

And faithful in the Lord - A true Christian and a faithful servant of Christ; and who is, therefore, worthy of your confidence.

Of my ways - My doctrine, my teaching, my mode of life.

Which be in Christ - That is, my Christian life; my ministry; or my conduct as a Christian and a follower of the Saviour.

As I teach everywhere ... - This was designed probably to show them that he taught them no new or special doctrines; he wished them simply to conform to the common rules of the churches, and to be like their Christian brethren everywhere. The Christian church is founded every where on the same doctrines; is bound to obey the same laws; and is suited to produce and cherish the same spirit. The same spirit that was required in Ephesus or Antioch, was required at Corinth; the same spirit that was required at Corinth, at Ephesus, or at Antioch, is required now.

Verse 18

Now some are puffed up - They are puffed up with a vain confidence; they say that I would not dare to come; that I would be afraid to appear among them, to administer discipline, to rebuke them, or to supersede their authority. Probably he had been detained by the demand on his services in other places, and by various providential hinderances from going there, until they supposed that he stayed away from fear. And possibly he might apprehend that they would think he had sent Timothy because he was afraid to come himself. Their conduct was an instance of the haughtiness and arrogance which people will assume when they suppose they are in no danger of reproof or punishment.

Verse 19

But I will come - It is from no fear of them that I am kept away; and to convince them of this I will come to them speedily.

If the Lord will - If the Lord permit; if by his providence he allows me to go. Paul regarded the entering on a journey as dependent on the will of God; and felt that God had all in his hand. No purpose should be formed without a reference to his will; no plan without feeling that he can easily frustrate it and disappoint us; see James 4:15.

And will know - I will examine; I will put to the test; I will fully understand,

Not the speech ... - Not their vain and empty boasting; not their confident assertions, and their self-complacent views.

But the power - Their real power. I will put their power to the proof: I will see whether they are able to effect what they affirm; whether they have more real power than I have. I will enter fully into the work of discipline, and will ascertain whether they have such authority in the church, such a power of party and of combination, that they can resist me, and oppose my administration of the discipline which the church needs. “A passage,” says Bloomfield, “which cannot, in nerve and rigor, or dignity and composed confidence, be easily paralleled, even in Demosthenes himself.”

Verse 20

For the kingdom of God - The reign of God in the church (see the note at Matthew 3:2); meaning here, probably, the power or authority which was to be exercised in the government and discipline of the church. Or it may refer to the manner in which the church had been established. “It has not been set up by empty boasting; by pompous pretensions; by confident assertions. Such empty boasts would do little in the great work of founding, governing, and preserving the church and unless people have some higher powers than this they are not qualified to be religious teachers and guides.”

But in power -

(1) In the miraculous power by which the church was established - the power of the Saviour and of the apostles in working miracles.

(2) In the power of the Holy Spirit in the gift of tongues, and in his influence on the heart in converting people; see the note at 1 Corinthians 1:18.

(3) In the continual power which is needful to protect, defend, and govern the church. Unless teachers showed that they had such power, they were not qualified for their office.

Verse 21

1. We should endeavor to form a proper estimate of the Christian ministry; 1 Corinthians 4:1. We should regard ministers as the servants of Jesus Christ, and honor them for their Master’s sake; and esteem them also in proportion to their fidelity. They are entitled to respect as the ambassadors of the Son of God; but that respect also should be in proportion to their resemblance of him and their faithfulness in their work. They who love the ministers of Christ, who are like him, and who are faithful, love the Master that sent them; they who hate and despise them despise him; see Matthew 10:40-42.

2. Ministers should be faithful; 1 Corinthians 4:2. They are the stewards of Christ. They are appointed by him. They are responsible to him. They have a most important trust - more important than any other stewards, and they should live in such a manner as to receive the approbation of their master.

3. It is of little consequence what the world thinks of us; 1 Corinthians 4:3. A good name is on many accounts desirable; but it should not be the leading consideration; nor should we do anything merely to obtain it. Desirable as is a fair reputation, yet the opinion of the world is not to be too highly valued; because -

  1. It often misjudges;
  2. It is prejudiced for or against us;
  3. It is not to decide our final destiny;

(4) To desire that simply, is a selfish and base passion.

4. The esteem even of friends is not to be the leading object of life; 1 Corinthians 4:2. This is valuable, but not so valuable as the approbation of God. Friends are partial, and even where they do not approve our course, if we are conscientious, we should be willing to bear with their disapprobation. A good conscience is everything. The approbation even of friends cannot help us on the Day of Judgment.

5. We should distrust ourselves; 1 Corinthians 4:3-4. We should not pronounce too confidently on our motives or our conduct. We may be deceived. There may be much even in our own motives that may elude our most careful inquiry. This should teach us humility, self-distrust, and charity. Knowing our own liableness to misjudge ourselves, we should look with kindness on the faults and failings of others.

6. We see here the nature of the future Judgment; 1 Corinthians 4:5;

(1) The hidden things of darkness will be brought out - all the secret crimes, and plans, and purposes of people will be developed. All that has been done in secret, in darkness, in the night, in palaces and in prisons, will be developed. What a development will take place in the great Day when the secret crimes of a world shall be revealed; and when all that has now escaped the notice of people, and the punishment of courts, shall be brought out!

(2) Every person’s secret thoughts shall be revealed. There will be no concealment then. All that we have devised or desired; all the thoughts that we have forgotten, shall there be brought out to noon-day. How will the sinner tremble when all his thoughts are made known! Suppose, unknown to him, some person had been writing down all that a man has thought for a day, a week, or a year, and should begin to read it to him. Who is there that would not hang his head with shame, and tremble at such a record? Yet at the Day of Judgment the thoughts of “the whole life” will be revealed.

(3) Every man shall be judged as he ought to be. God is impartial. The man that ought to be saved will be; the man that ought not will not be. How solemn will be the “impartial trial of the world!” Who can think of it but with alarm!

7. We have no occasion for pride or vain-boasting; 1 Corinthians 4:7. All that we have of beauty, health, wealth, honor, grace, has been given to us by God. For what he has given us we should be grateful; but it should not excite pride. It is, indeed, valuable because God gives it, and we should remember his mercies, but we should not boast. We have nothing to boast of. Had we our deserts, we should be driven away in his wrath, and made wretched. That any are out of hell is matter of thankfulness; that one possesses more than another proves that God is a sovereign, and not that we are more worthy than another, or that there is by nature any ground of preference which one has over another.

8. Irony and sarcasm are sometimes lawful and proper; 1 Corinthians 4:8-10. But it is not often as safe as it was in the hands of the apostle Paul. Few people can regulate the talent properly; few should allow themselves to indulge in it. It is rarely employed in the Bible; and it is rarely employed elsewhere where it does not do injury. The cause of truth can be usually sustained by sound argument; and that which cannot be thus defended is not worth defense. Deep wounds are often made by the severity of wit and irony; and an indulgence in this usually prevents a man from having a single friend.

9. We see from this chapter what religion has cost; 1 Corinthians 4:9-13. Paul states the sufferings that he and the other apostles endured in order to establish it. They were despised, and persecuted, and poor, and regarded as the refuse of the world. The Christian religion was founded on the blood of its author, and has been reared amidst the sighs and tears of its friends. All its early advocates were subjected to persecution and trial; and to engage in this work involved the certainty of being a martyr. We enjoy not a blessing which has not thus been purchased; and which has not come to us through the self-denials and toils of the best people that the earth has known. Persecution raged around all the early friends of the church; and it rose and spread while the fire of martyrdom spread, and while its friends were everywhere cast out as evil, and called to bleed in its defense.

10. We have here an illustrious instance of the manner in which reproach, and contempt, and scorn should be borne; 1 Corinthians 4:12-13. The apostles imitated the example of their Master and followed his precepts. They prayed for their enemies, persecutors, and slanderers. There is nothing but religion that can produce this spirit; and this can do it always. The Saviour evinced it; his apostles evinced it; and all should evince it, who profess to be its friends - We may remark:

(1) This is not produced by nature. It is the work ot grace alone.

(2) It is the very spirit and genius of Christianity to produce it.

(3) Nothing but religion will enable a man to bear it, and will produce this temper and spirit.

(4) We have an instance here of what all Christians should evince. All should be in this like the apostles. All should be like the Saviour himself.

11. We have an argument here for the truth of the Christian religion. The argument is founded on the fact that the apostles were willing to suffer so much in order to establish it - They professed to have been eye-witnesses of what they affirmed. They had nothing to gain by spreading it if it was not true. They exposed themselves to persecution on this account, and became willing to die rather than deny its truth - Take, for example, the case of the apostle Paul:

(1) He had every prospect of honor and of wealth in his own country. He had been liberally educated, and had the confidence of his countrymen. He might have risen to the highest station of trust or influence. He had talents which would have raised him to distinction anywhere.

(2) He could not have been mistaken in regard to the events connected with his conversion; Acts 9:0. The scene, the voice, the light, the blindness, were all things which could not have been counterfeited. They were open and public. They did not occur “in a corner.”

(3) He had no earthly motive to change his course. Christianity was despised when he embraced it; its friends were few and poor; and it had no prospect of spreading through the world. It conferred no wealth; bestowed no diadem; imparted no honors; gave no ease; conducted to no friendship of the great and the mighty. It subjected its friends to persecution, and tears, and trials, and death. What should induce such a man to make such a change? Why should Paul have embraced this, but from a conviction of its truth? How could he be convinced of that truth except by some argument that should be so strong as to overcome his hatred to it, make him willing to renounce all his prospects for it; to encounter all that the world could heap upon him, and even death itself, rather than deny it? But such a religion had a higher than any earthly origin, and must have been from God.

12. We may expect to suffer reproach. It has been the common lot of all, from the time of the Master himself to the present. Jesus was reproached; the apostles were reproached; the martyrs were reproached, and we are not to be surprised that ministers and Christians are called to similar trials now. It is enough “for the disciple that he be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord.”

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/1-corinthians-4.html. 1870.
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