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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

God’s Stewards

Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

Let a man so account of us: A "man" (anthropos) refers to anyone, indicating that "what is said holds of every man" (Thayer 46-2-444). The word "account" (logizomai) is defined as "to suppose, deem, (or) judge" (Thayer 379-1-3049).

In the phrase "let a man so account of us," the key words to be emphasized are "so" and "us." The adverb "so" (houto) means "in this manner" (Thayer 468-1-3779) and refers to the instructions which Paul is about to give. The pronoun "us" can have reference to all teachers, but in this context it refers especially to Paul and Apollos as mentioned in verse 6. Paul has reference to the activity of one’s mind--the way that a person thinks about the "ministers of Christ" more than the way one talks about them.

The Corinthians had so elevated the teachers, especially Paul, Apollos, and Cephas (1:12), that they divided the church over which one should be followed. They had so much respect for these ministers that they put them in an authoritative position they did not deserve or desire (chapters one and two).

as of the ministers of Christ: Much of what the Apostle Paul says in chapter three is said to emphasize how the Corinthians are not to treat and exalt teachers; however, he now continues to show how they are to treat and respect them. First, Paul instructs the Corinthians to think of him and all faithful teachers as "ministers of Christ." In 1 Corinthians 3:5, Paul refers to himself and Apollos as "ministers (diakonos) by whom ye believed." By using the Greek word diakonos, Paul is stressing the relationship of the faithful teachers to the Corinthians; however, in verse 1 of this chapter, he uses a different Greek word (huperetes), which literally means "an underrower" or "subordinate rower" (Thayer 641-2-5257) to emphasize the relationship of the faithful teachers to God.

In this analogy the church is a ship, Jesus Christ is the navigator, and the teachers are the oarsmen. The oarsmen are not leaders--the navigator is. The oarsmen (teachers) guide the ship (church) in the direction instructed by the navigator (Jesus Christ).

The term "ministers" (huperetes) here and in Acts 26:16 and Luke 1:2 means "any one who aids another in any work; an assistant" (Thayer 641-2-5257). It "denotes any subordinate acting under another’s direction" (Vine 57). Faithful teachers are under the direction of Christ. They serve Christ by guiding the people in their learning of spiritual matters, especially learning about the gospel of the crucified Savior. Since "ministers" are under the direction of Christ, they must never be looked upon as heads of a party but as voluntary servants of Christ.

and stewards of the mysteries of God: The second way the church is to think of faithful teachers is as "stewards" or

"managers" (Strong #3623). The word "stewards" (oikonomos) literally means "the manager of a household or of household affairs" (Thayer 440-2-3623). Being referred to as "stewards" indicates the teachers are not to be looked down upon; instead, they are to be respected.

In this analogy, the church is represented as a house ("the house of God," 1 Timothy 3:15), Christ is the master of the house, and the teachers are the stewards or the chief slaves. In times of slavery, the stewards were the ones the proprietor trusted to manage his affairs by instructing the other servants about what work they were to do. In this setting, the proprietor is Jesus Christ and the teachers (Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and others) are instructors or managers. They did not deliver their own instructions but gave the instructions of the proprietor. Paul refers to these instructions as "the mysteries of God" (see 2:7 for comments about the "mysteries of God).

Teachers, today, must be very careful not to abuse their position by teaching their own personal doctrines. Their authority starts where God’s word begins and concludes where God’s word ends. Teachers are obligated to instruct only what the Lord has commanded and will give account of their teaching as unjust stewards must give account of their management. Jesus teaches in Luke 16:1-2:

There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.

Verse 2

Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

Moreover it is required in stewards: The word "moreover" (loipon) indicates that something other than what has been named is also to be taken into consideration. Strong says there is "something remaining" (#3063) that must be thought of in reference to stewards. The thing named is "required" (zeteo) or "demanded" (Thayer 272-2-2212) of God’s stewards (teachers 4:1).

that a man be found faithful: Teachers are required to "be found faithful." The Greek word (heurisko) translated "be found" means "to find by inquiry, thought, examination, scrutiny, observation, hearing; to find out by practice and experience, that is, to see, learn, discover, understand" (Thayer 262-1-2147). The word "faithful" (pistos) means to be "trustworthy" (Strong #4103). Paul is not emphasizing the importance of the stewards but the importance of the stewards’ faithfulness to the Lord. Faithfulness to God is the most important qualification of stewards. Metz, in the Beacon Bible Commentary, says,

When all is said and done, the main requirement for a man who teaches or preaches is faithfulness to God and to the truth. Not eloquence in words, not brilliance in thinking, not magnetism in appearance--but day-by-day faithfulness is the demand (Vol. VIII 339).

Jesus emphasizes the rewards of faithfulness and the consequence of unfaithfulness in a parable found in Luke:

And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath. But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more (12:42-48).

Verse 3

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you: Paul applies three forms of human judgment to himself and then shows the inadequacies of the judging. The first form of judging Paul rejects is from the Corinthians. In reference to his stewardship, Paul considers the judgment of Christ to be so great that to him it is a "very small thing" (elachistos); it is insignificant to be judged by the Corinthians.

The word "judged" (anakrino) means "to scrutinize; investigate; interrogate (or) to determine" (Thayer 39-1-350). The Corinthians’ investigation of him is the least of Paul’s concerns; it is insignificant because their opinion of him and his teachings has no bearing on his responsibility as a teacher of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 1:11-13, Paul makes reference to the contention about whom they are to follow. Some said, "I am of Paul" while others chose to be followers of Apollos, Cephas, or other teachers. Thus, Paul is asking, "Who are you that you should judge one teacher above another?" The Corinthians’ opinions are insignificant to Paul because they are not spiritually minded. "But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ" (2:15-16).

or of man’s judgment: The second form of judging Paul rejects is "man’s judgment," or as the Revised Standard Version renders, "any human court." Paul has reference to "a tribunal of assembled judges on the day of trial" (Thayer 279-1-2250). Paul does not reject only those who criticize him but also those who speak in favor of him. Regardless of whether they are for or against him, Paul affirms that he is not influenced by what others may think.

yea, I judge not mine own self: The third form of judging Paul rejects is his own judging. He not only refuses the judgment of others in reference to his stewardship, but he also rejects his own judgment. He realizes he did not make himself an apostle; therefore, he does not attempt to justify or criticize his qualifications for such an office.

The problems surrounding the Corinthians came not from actually judging the teachers in respect to their faithfulness to Christ or their duties. Rather, their problems came because they exalted some teachers above others, thereby causing division in the church.

Verse 4

For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

For I know nothing by myself: To "know nothing by myself" means "to know in one’s mind or with one’s self; to be conscious of" (Thayer 603-1-4894). Paul is saying he is not conscious of anything evil, even in his private life, that could be used against him as a teacher. The Revised Standard Versions renders this phrase: "I am not aware of anything against myself."

yet am I not hereby justified: Even though Paul realizes his motives are righteous, his opinion of these matters is of no more value than the Corinthians’ opinions or other human opinions ("judgment," verse 3). The reason their judgment is of no value is neither Paul nor the others are the ones who make the final judgment--the Lord does! Therefore, Paul is saying that even his own opinion of himself does not mean he is "justified" (dikaioo), meaning "innocent" (Strong #1344).

Oftentimes we may consider ourselves free of guilt when in reality we have guilt--and the Lord knows. David says,

Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression (Psalms 19:12-13).

but he that judgeth me is the Lord: Paul does not attempt to "justify" or "to declare (himself) guiltless" (Thayer 150-2-1344) from all errors--he leaves that to the Lord. John says,

And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God (1 John 3:19-21).

Paul is emphasizing the inadequacies of all human judgments in comparison to the Lord’s judgment. The Corinthians had so exalted Paul they made him the leader of a party while others objected to his leadership, and the church was divided. Paul realizes Christ is the only one capable of correctly making judgments because Jesus is the Master and Paul is the servant. In writing to the church at Rome, Paul says, "Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4).

Verse 5

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

Therefore judge nothing: By the use of the word "therefore," Paul is drawing to a conclusion the teaching in the last verses. In verse 3, he says the judgments of the Corinthians are insignificant; therefore, he tells them to "judge nothing." The term "judge" (krino) "is in the present continuous tense" (Vine 59); thus, Paul is telling them not to continue their practice of judging others. Instead, the Corinthians should follow Paul’s example when he says, "I judge not mine own self" (4:3). Paul does not judge because judging belongs to the Lord (4:4).

before the time, until the Lord come: Paul tells them not to judge "before the time, until the Lord come." The judging will be done by Christ, and the proper time of judging is the time selected by God when the Lord returns. Paul says,

...he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead" (Acts 17:31).

In writing to the Thessalonians Paul says,

And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

The type of judging Paul is condemning is not judging of every type but judging in the sense of judging one faithful teacher above another. The Corinthians are guilty of wrongful judging when they say, "I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ" (1:12). They do not have the authority or the information needed to make such judgments to distinguish one apostle over another; therefore, they should not judge over such matter.

There are types of judging that are acceptable and demanded of all Christians. For example, Paul instructs the Corinthians to judge fornicators within the church (see chapter five). In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul instructs the Christians to judge false teachers who were in the church:

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18).

In his commentary, Hodge says,

What the apostle says of his independence of human judgment, and his command not to anticipate the judgment of the Lord, is consistent with his frequent recognition of the right and duty of the church to sit in judgment on the qualifications of her own members. He is here speaking of the heart. The church cannot judge the heart. Whether a man is sincere or insincere in his professions, whether his experience is genuine or spurious, God only can decide. The church can only judge of what is outward. If any man profess to be holy, and yet is immoral, the church is bound to reject him, as Paul clearly teaches in a following chapter. Or if he profess to be a Christian, and yet rejects Christianity, or any of its essential doctrines, he cannot be received, Titus 3:10. But ’the counsels of the heart’ the Searcher of hearts only can judge (69).

who both will bring to light: The judging that will take place at the return of the Lord will be without errors because at that time all circumstances surrounding the teachers "will (be brought) to light" or be revealed. The things done publicly, as well as secretly will be made known to all.

the hidden things of darkness: In mentioning "the hidden things of darkness," Paul is giving warning to the Corinthians guilty of passing judgments about which teacher should be exalted. The warning is that they do not know all things. Therefore, Paul’s questions to the Corinthians are: "Since you do not know all things why are you judging? What are your motives?" Paul says answers to these questions will be revealed when Jesus returns for "the things of darkness" (evil motives) will be brought "to light" (revealed). If their motives are evil, they will be condemned (for example, if they are trying to divide the church).

and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: The word "manifest" (phaneroo) means "to render apparent" (Strong #5319). The "counsels of the hearts" refers to every secret motive of the heart. The word "counsels" (boule) means "purpose" (Thayer 104-2-1012). Paul’s message, therefore, is not only will man’s action be made known but also the purpose behind the act--what is in the heart--why is a particular action done? The action may sometime appear to be righteous, but yet the purpose of the action is evil. Every man should be conscious of the fact that, whether others realize these evil purposes or not, in the final judgment the purpose of the heart will be made known. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul says, "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel" (Romans 2:16).

and then shall every man have praise of God: The key word in this phrase is "then" in contrast to the time when Paul was writing. When Jesus returns, every man will have the praise of God. When this judgment takes place, it will be final; therefore, every faithful man will have the "praise of God," and every wicked man will face the condemnation of God. In verse 4, Paul teaches he knows nothing against himself, nothing he has done to have caused the Corinthians to choose him over other teachers, even to the dividing of the church. He is so sure of his innocence he knows he will have the "praise" (epainos) or the "commendation" (Thayer 227-2-1868) of God in that final judgment. Because of the confidence Paul has in the Lord’s judgment, he says, "...it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment" (4:3). Paul’s final conclusion in verses 1-4 is STOP JUDGING THE HEARTS OF OTHERS!

Verse 6

Apostolic Humility Versus Carnal Pride

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.

And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes: Paul refers to the Corinthians as "brethren" in spite of their sinful behavior.

There are two positions held concerning the words "these things." One position is "these things" refer to the division in Corinth as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:12. If this position is true, the division is not actually over Paul, Apollos, and Cephas (at least not limited to them) but over teachers who live in Corinth. In this case Paul and his two colleagues were simply used as examples.

The second view is "these things" refer to the teaching found in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 where Paul and Apollos are represented as planting and watering (verse 6). Restricting the teaching to the second view is doubtful since this teaching is a continuation of the division mentioned in chapter one. The first view seems more correct--the true division in the church at Corinth was not over Paul and Apollos but over brethren in Corinth who use their own names in an attempt to cause division.

By the statement "I have in a figure transferred" (metaschematizo), Paul means he has "changed in appearance or form" (Vine 61). The King James Version says, "I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos..." while the Revised Standard Version says, "I have applied all this to myself and Apollos for your benefit...." Thayer says this term means,

...to shape one’s discourse so as to transfer to one’s self what holds true of the whole class to which one belongs, that is, so as to illustrate by what one says of himself what holds true of all: (He continues by saying in 1 Corinthians 4:6 Paul means) what I have said of myself and Apollos, I have shown what holds true of all Christian teachers (406-2-3345).

Paul tactfully refrains from calling these brethren by name and chooses instead to use his and Apollos’ names as examples. Paul uses "for your sakes" to teach them how things should be while at the same time he desires to spare their feelings and not to embarrass them; he wants to give them a chance to change before exposing them.

Neither Paul nor Apollos attempted to be the leader of a religious party, but others in Corinth did; therefore, Paul shows the result for the church would have been the same whether he used the names of the party-leaders or his and Apollos’ names--the church would still have been divided.

that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written: Paul shows his desire is for the Corinthians to learn from the example given not to exalt any man to leadership that goes beyond "that which is written." "That which is written" refers to the teachings of the Apostle Paul coming from the Lord. The Apostle Peter refers to this situation when he says, "Account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you" (2 Peter 3:15).

In this letter, Paul often makes reference to his teaching and writing being from the Lord. "And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband" (7:10). Again Paul says, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you" (11:1-2). In another place, he teaches, "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread" (11:23).

that no one of you be puffed up for one against another: The false teachers who have caused these terrible divisions in Corinth are filled with self-pride because of the attention they received from others. Many of the Corinthians looked to these individuals for guidance and followed them, even though they often taught false doctrines. Not only did they follow their favorite teacher but also they went as far as developing hatred toward the other teachers. Such actions caused the teachers to be "puffed up" one against another when their actions should have followed Jeremiah’s instruction:

Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD. (9:23-24).

Verse 7

For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?

For who maketh thee to differ from another: The purpose of Paul’s teaching, in this and the next several verses, is to encourage the Corinthian teachers to develop humility. By the word "for," Paul shows he is continuing his thought from the previous verse and is explaining to the teachers why they must not be puffed up one against another.

The words "maketh thee to differ" (diakrino) mean "to separate, make a distinction, discriminate" (Thayer 138-2-1252). Paul is speaking directly to the teachers who are involved as heads of a party. His questions to them are, "Why do you allow the congregation to divide over you personally?" "Why are you so conceited?" "What makes you different from other teachers?"

and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?: Paul warns the teachers about being conceited. He realizes everyone does not have the same talents or the same gifts (physical or spiritual); however, his message to the teachers is to remind them that their gifts did not come from themselves; but they, just as Paul, received them from God. Paul says,

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me (15:10).

With the Corinthians’ thoughts upon the fact their gifts came from God, Paul asks, "Why do you ’glory’ (kauchaomai)," or "Why do you ’vaunt’" (Strong #2744)? Realizing that what they had came from God should have caused them to be humble, but instead they became conceited, acting as if they gained their particular gifts through their own merits. To the church at Rome, Paul says,

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness (Romans 12:3-8).

Verse 8

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.

Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: The word "now" (hede) indicates Paul is picturing the Corinthians as being already "full" and "rich" and already as having "reigned." Because of the foolish and conceited attitudes of the teachers in Corinth, Paul sarcastically represents them as being so great and mighty they have already reached the final goal of Christianity. He speaks of them as though they have already attained their positions of reigning in heaven. Notice, however, their fullness, richness, and reigning are portrayed as being reached "without us" (without Paul and Apollos).

These division-making party leaders have so elevated themselves they refuse to be humbled and thus consider themselves greater than Paul and Apollos. The Apostle John also uses sarcasm to teach congregations how foolish their reasoning is. In writing to the church at Laodicea, John says,

Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see (Revelation 3:17-18).

and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you: Even though Paul is speaking sarcastically, he still wishes the Corinthians had reached this exalted position in heaven because he realizes if it were true of the Corinthian teachers it would also include himself. Often in the scriptures, Paul makes reference to his desire to go live with Christ. In his letter to the church at Philippi, he says,

For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you (Philippians 1:23-24).

Paul’s real desire is seen in the phrase "I would to God ye did reign." Before they can reign, however, the Corinthian teachers would have to give up their conceited desires of being exalted above other teachers and humble themselves to the point of suffering as he was doing. He instructs the Corinthians as he instructs Timothy: "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him..." (2 Timothy 2:12). Paul’s message is that reigning with Christ is conditional on our suffering through humility.

Verse 9

For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.

For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: Paul is continuing his sarcastic style of teaching; but, at the same time, he shows an example of an humble spirit that the Corinthian teachers could pattern their lives after. In verse 8, Paul speaks of the greatness (at least in their own eyes) of the Corinthian teachers, but now in verse 9 he shows a contrast with the apostles.

The words "set forth" (apodeiknumi) mean "to point away from one’s self, to point out, show forth (or) to expose to view, exhibit" (Thayer 60-1-584). By the word "last" (eschatos), Paul means he apostles are exhibited as the "lowest" (Thayer 254-1-2078) of all teachers.

Paul contrasts how the teachers in Corinth look at themselves and how the Apostle Paul looks at himself. The Corinthians elevated themselves while the apostles were humble, a characteristic that will last until death.

The words "as it were appointed to death" (epithanatios) mean to be "doomed to death" (Strong #1935). Apparently, Paul considers the lives of the apostle to have been an appointment of doom. Willis compares Paul’s attitude of the apostles’ lives to the Greek games:

The Greeks usually concluded the day’s sports activities by bringing in condemned men (epithanatioi) to fight the gladiators or wild beasts. The men were unarmed and, therefore, had no chance of survival; should they somehow survive one contest, they would have to fight in the next one. They had no hope of survival. In Paul’s mind, that was the condition of the apostles. God had given them a position of doom; they were persecuted and put to death. He had made a public display of them by exhibiting (apodeiknumi) them to the world as men appointed for death (142-143).

A study of the apostles’ lives shows such a comparison would hold true. With the exception of John (who died in exile on the isle of Patmos), every apostle died a martyr’s death.

for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men: A "spectacle" (theatron) is defined as "a man who is exhibited to be gazed at and made sport of" (Thayer 284-2-2302). Certainly such is true of the apostles. Not only did the apostles go into all the world to teach the gospel but also they became a "spectacle."

The word "world" (kosmos) refers to the "universe" (Thayer 356-2-2889). The words "unto the world, and to angels, and to men" are easier understood by the rendering of the New American Standard version: "...we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men." As to what part the angels play in the world, we do not exactly know; however, the fact is clear they are present and present enough to have been spectators of the apostles’ lives and deaths.

Verse 10

We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.

We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ: Beginning with this verse, Paul contrasts the way the Corinthian teachers picture themselves and the way they regard the apostles. The first contrast refers to teaching abilities. The second contrast refers to the conduct of each class. And the third contrast alludes to the way the spectators receive them.

The word "fools" (moros) means "dull (or) stupid" (Strong #3474). Thayer says it is "an act or appointment of God deemed foolish by men" (420-2-3474). Paul’s preaching about a crucified Christ seemed absolutely foolish in the sight of man. In contrast, the Corinthian teachers are pictured, not as fools but, as being "wise" (phronimos) or "intelligent" (Thayer 658-2-5429) in Christ. They are represented, even when teaching false doctrines, as being filled with all knowledge and wisdom. Paul is reteaching the same message stated earlier:

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness (1:21-23).

It should be understood the Apostle Paul is not literally a foolish man without learning for he, before his conversion, was a student of Gamaliel, a scholar:

(Gamaliel was) a member of the Jewish sanhedrin, of the Pharisee sect, and a doctor of the law, held in high reputation by the Jewish people. He advised against persecuting the apostles, on the ground that if their work were simply man’s, it would eventually fail; while if it were from God, opposition to it was wicked and vain (Acts 5:34-39). Gamaliel had Paul for one of his pupils in the law (Acts 22:3) (Davis 247).

Paul willingly gave up the opportunity of being a renowned scholar that he might suffer for Christ.

we are weak, but ye are strong: Contextually, the apostles are represented sarcastically as being "weak" or "feeble" (Strong #772), "unable to achieve anything great" (Thayer 80-2-772). In contrast, the Corinthians are observed as being "strong" (ischuros) and able to exhibit "many excellences" (Thayer 309-1-2478). In referring to the apostles as being "weak" in comparison to the Corinthians’ being "strong," Paul teaches a lesson on humility. To keep Paul from exalting himself, he was given "a thorn in the flesh":

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

ye are honourable, but we are despised: Paul changes his speech by referring to the Corinthians first and the apostles last because "Paul’s intention (is) to continue his writing in verse 11 by giving additional information in regard to the ’us’" (Lenski 185).

To be "honourable" (endoxos) is to be "illustrious" and highly "esteemed" (Thayer 214-1-1741). The Corinthian teachers viewed themselves very highly; however, they "despised" (atimos) or considered the apostles to be "without honor" (Thayer 83-2-820).

Verse 11

Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place;

In verses 11-13, Paul stops his sarcasm and speaks of the reality of the hardships of his life by listing eleven humiliating difficulties.

Paul begins a list of real hardships: lack of food, drink, clothing, protection, and home. Paul and other apostles had experienced these hardships in the past, and they continued "even unto this present hour," a phrase Paul uses in contrast with "now" or "already" (RSV), referring to the Corinthians. He is showing the difference between the daily physical condition of the Corinthians to his own daily physical condition.

Even as he is in the process of writing this letter, he says,

...We hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things (RSV 4:11-13).

While in Ephesus, where this letter was written, Paul suffered: "If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die" (15:32).

Paul speaks of his "hunger and thirst." Through their travels, the apostles (and those with them) would often face hunger. He says, "In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness" (2 Corinthians 11:27).

The word "naked" (gumneteuo) does not mean without any clothes but, "lightly or poorly clad" (Thayer 122-2-1130). They did not have friends to give them clothes or enough money to buy new clothes; therefore, their clothes were ragged and worn.

To be "buffeted" (kolaphizo) means to be "rapped (hit) with the fist" (Strong #2852) or "treated with violence" (Thayer 353-1-2852).

Finally, Paul speaks of having "no certain dwelling place" (astateo); therefore, he was forced "to rove without a settled abode" (Thayer 81-2-790) or to be "homeless" (Strong #790).

Paul realizes he and his fellow apostles are not the only ones faced with such troubles. During His personal ministry, Jesus speaks of the same problems: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20).

Verse 12

And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:

And labour, working with our own hands: At times Paul had to "labour" in order to survive (Acts 18:3; Acts 20:34; 1 Corinthians 9:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). "Labour" (kopiao) does not mean merely to work but "to labor with wearisome effort" (Thayer 355-1-2872). In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul speaks of his laboring:

For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God (1 Thessalonians 2:9).

Working with his hands, as Paul did, was considered degrading to the Greeks; laboring was a trait of slaves; therefore, Paul shows he is willing to humble himself so that others might learn the truths of the gospel. Since Paul labored, why did he not buy things he needed? Why did he hunger and thirst? The reason is he gave to others with him: "Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me" (Acts 20:34).

being reviled, we bless: "Being reviled" (loidoreo) means to be "railed at" (Thayer 382-1-3058) or "to condemn with bitter, harsh, or abusive language" (Webster). When this abusive language was spoken against the apostles, they would "bless" (eulogeo) or "speak well of" (Strong #2127) that person.

being persecuted, we suffer it: Being "persecuted" with words was considered to be disgraceful to the Greeks; therefore, they did not understand why the apostles would "suffer" (anechomai) or "put up with" (Strong #430) such abuse. They thought they should oppose the harsh and severe actions by retaliating in like manner (an eye for an eye). The apostles, however, tolerated their abusers’ actions by returning good for evil as Jesus taught:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:44).

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions a number of ways in which he was persecuted:

Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness (11:23-27).

Verse 13

Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.

Being defamed, we intreat: "Being defamed" (blasphemeo) is to "be evil spoken of" (Thayer 102-2-987). When "defamed," Paul never retaliated; instead, he says, we "intreat" (parakaleo), that is, we attempt to pacify, we "strive to appease by entreaty" (Thayer 483-1-3870). Paul is following the example of Jesus: "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:23).

we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things: Paul says that we "are made" (ginomai), or "caused to be...the filth of the world" (Strong #1096). The terms "filth" (perikatharma) and "offscouring" (peripsoma) are synonyms referring to "despicable men" (Thayer 503-1-4027) or "scums" (Strong #4027). They were looked upon in this way because of the way they were treated and because they did not retaliate. They were disgraceful in the sight of the Corinthian teachers.

unto this day: Once again, as he did in verse 11 by the phrase "unto this present hour," Paul refers to the fact that all of these things are still with him by saying "unto this day." Paul gives the same instructions to the church in Rome:

Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).

Verse 14

A Message of Love and Warning

I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.

In verses 11-13, Paul harshly states the differences between him and the Corinthian teachers, and now he indicates some love and compassion for them. All he has said is stated, not for the purpose of shaming them for their neglect of him, but as a way to "warn" (noutheteo) or to "admonish" (Thayer 429-1-3560) them to return to Christ. The things Paul says should cause the Corinthians to be ashamed of their actions, but such was not the only intent--his desire went deeper than shame--he wanted repentance from them. Lenski says, "Shame touches only the feelings, admonition reaches the heart" (193). Paul loves the Corinthians; and he refers to them, as he often did, "as my beloved sons." He does not desire his harsh words to make him appear as though he is their enemy. He loves them as a father loves his children and desires them to repent of their sins.

Verse 15

For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

Paul contrasts his relationship to the Corinthians as their spiritual father, with that of their teachers. The indication is he, as their spiritual father, loves them more than their teachers do.

For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ: The word "instructors" (paidagogos) is defined as "a leader of children" (Strong #3807), or "a tutor" (Thayer 472-2-3807). Thayer further comments,

Among the Greeks and Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood....The name carries with it an idea of severity (as of a stern censor and enforcer of morals) in 1 Corinthians 4:15, where the father is distinguished from the tutor as one whose discipline is usually milder (472-2-3807).

yet have ye not many fathers: Even if the Corinthians have "ten thousand instructors" or "countless guides" (RSV), they need to realize they have only one spiritual "father," the Apostle Paul. The word "father" is not used here by Paul as a religious title, as is condemned in Matthew 23:9, "And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven." Paul was their father in the sense of being the first to "plant" (see 3:6) the seed (the gospel); and in the sense of being the one who "laid the foundation" in Corinth (3:10). In other words, Paul was the first to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to them.

for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel: Paul is careful to emphasize that, while he is their spiritual father, it is not through his independent work, but instead, it is "in Christ Jesus...through the gospel" that they were begotten. In the most important sense, Christians are referred to as having been begotten by the will of God. John says,

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

The Corinthians are also referred to as having been "begotten" (gennao), meaning "to procreate" (Strong #1080), by the gospel, the word of truth. James says, "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures" (1:18). Peter teaches the same message when he says, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:23).

Verse 16

Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.

Instead of "followers" (mimetes), a better translation would be "imitators" (Thayer 415-1-3402) (see also the RSV and NASV). In the previous verse, Paul refers to himself as being the Corinthians’ "father." As earthly fathers would have their children to imitate them, Paul encourages his children in Christ to imitate him. He does not mean to follow him in the sense of creating a "party" as referred to in chapter one but to imitate him in obedience to God’s law. Paul says, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (11:1). He writes the same instructions to the church at Ephesus by saying, "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children" (Ephesians 5:1) (compare also Philippians 3:17).

Verse 17

For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.

For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus: When Paul wrote this letter, Timotheus was not in Corinth but was possibly on the way. Paul obviously expects this letter to reach Corinth before Timothy’s arrival for he says, "Now if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you without fear: for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do" (16:10). "For this cause" indicates that Paul is sending Timothy to Corinth to help them to learn to "imitate" him. Unlike the Corinthians who are no longer faithful, Paul knows Timothy is "faithful in the Lord."

who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord: Timothy is called Paul’s "beloved son" just as the Corinthians are in verse 14; therefore, being faithful or unfaithful does not remove this relationship. Vine says,

...’in the Lord’ is to be distinguished from ’in Christ’....(In Christ) speaks of our heavenly position (while) ’In the Lord’ suggests His authority over us, and is consequently connected with our circumstances, activities and relationships on earth (67).

who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ: Upon his arrival, Timothy’s responsibility would be to help the Corinthians "imitate" Paul by bringing "into remembrance (Paul’s) ways." Paul’s "ways" (hodos) refer to his "Christian teachings" (Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich 557) "which be in Christ." His desire is for the Corinthians to remember him as they originally knew him when they were first converted to Christ. Because of his absence from them and the presence of conceited teachers, they had been drawn away from Paul’s teachings about Christ.

as I teach every where in every church: Sometimes, after reading Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, people will conclude the teaching applies only to the Christians at Corinth; however, Paul refutes this idea by saying he teaches the same message "every where in every church" (see also 7:17, 11:16, and 14:33).

Verse 18

Paul’s Reply and Warning to His Enemies

Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.

It appears Paul has been informed that some of his enemies in Corinth feel they have won some type of victory and are saying he is sending Timothy because he would not dare, out of fear, return to Corinth himself. In the previous verse, Paul states his purpose for sending Timothy and now he addresses the Corinthians’ "puffed up" attitude.

Verse 19

But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power.

But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will: Paul’s desire is to go to Corinth; however, he allows his life to be directed by the Lord. There are also other occasions in his life when his personal desires were to do one thing; but he chose not to do so, choosing rather to do the Lord’s will. For example, in Acts we are told that "after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not" (16:7). Again, near the end of this letter to the Corinthians, Paul says he is coming to Corinth and wishes to stay with them for a long period of time. "For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit" (16:7).

The apostles were always considering the Lord’s will. James says, "For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that" (James 4:15). The words "if the Lord wills" should be in our speech or at least in our minds today. All plans must be contingent upon the Lord’s desire for us.

and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power: When Paul gets to Corinth, he will not be concerned about the "speech" of the false teachers because, as he announces, he would know their "power." The false teachers were claiming Paul was not an apostle called by the Lord; however, such a claim could be disproved easily. An apostle could always prove his apostleship and God’s presence with him by performing miracles. However, the "power" (dunamis) Paul refers to is not his own power but the power of the false teachers in Corinth; therefore, "power" does not refer to miracles, but to the "moral power and excellence of soul" (Thayer 159-2-1411). This "power" refers to "true strength in contrast to mere word or appearance" (Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich 295). The Revised Standard Version says, "...I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power."

Paul realizes the Corinthian teachers are powerful and eloquent with words and easily able to convince others; however, he also knows they do not have the truth. Paul plans to test the "power" they have to prove to others their teaching. As we might say today, the Corinthian teachers were all mouth and no action; and Paul was going to prove it.

Verse 20

For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.

For the kingdom of God: The "kingdom of God" can refer both to the church here on earth as well as to the everlasting kingdom, which is to come in heaven. Jesus speaks of the "kingdom" that would last forever:

That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:18-19).

This everlasting kingdom is also spoken of by Peter: "For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:11).

is not in word, but in power: The teachers in Corinth built themselves up and relied upon their own words. These conceited teachers, with their great egos and enticing words, would try to lead people away from the original teachings of Paul. Paul says, however, that the "kingdom of God" is a spiritual kingdom and therefore stands on a spiritual "power," which is the power of the gospel (see notes on 2:4-5). Paul also says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).

Verse 21

What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?

What will ye: In verse 19, Paul assures the Corinthians he is returning to Corinth. Now he is asking them to determine how they want him to come.

shall I come unto you with a rod: If they continue in their evil ways by not giving up their divisions and by not following the instructions of Timothy (see verse 17), he would come "with a rod," as a father to his disobedient children, to punish. This coming "with a rod" is a statement leading into the subject of discipline in chapter five.

or in love, and in the spirit of meekness: If the Corinthians repent, Paul will come with "love, and in the spirit of meekness." The term "spirit" (pneuma) does not refer to the Holy Spirit but to a state of mind. It is "the disposition or influence which fills and governs the soul of any one; the efficient source of any power, affection, emotion, desire...such as belongs to the meek" (Thayer 523-1-4151).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/1-corinthians-4.html. 1993-2022.
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