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

Dunagan's Commentary on the BibleDunagan's Commentary

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I. The One Valid Judgement: 4:1-5

Preachers Are Answerable to God

II. Pride, The Source Of Faction, Reproved: 4:6-13

Prosperous Corinthians and Impoverished Apostles

Apostolic Humility and UnChristian Pride

III. A Father's Appeal: 4:14-21


'Given the concluding nature of the exhortations of 3:18-23..one might well wonder why Paul feels compelled to continue. But the present section makes it clear that not all has been said..' [Note: _ Fee p. 156]

Fee is convinced that not only are many in Corinth simply "for" Apollos or Peter; they are decidedly "anti-Paul". They are rejecting both his teaching and his authority. This places Paul in the position to defending his authority (the right to correct their bad theology and behaviour), and at the same time asserting his servant role alongside of such men as Apollos. He reminds them that he is Christ's servant and ultimately the only view of him that will count is Christ's. But this "servant" carries a big stick. (4:21)

'Paul, Apollos, Cephas are but part of a universe of ministry that waits upon them (3:22-23). But..if the church is to understand its proper character, it must reverence theirs. They are its servants; it is not their master. They are it's property, because they are Christ's property; and His instruments first of all...Here lies another and the final ground of accusation against the Corinthian parties: those who maintained them, in applauding this chief and censuring than, were putting themselves into Christ's judgement-seat from which the Apostle thrusts them down.' [Note: _ Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 796]


Verse 1

1Co_4:1 Let a man so account of us, as of ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

'Let a man so account of us' -'Paul takes up again (from 3:5-8) the discussion of God's preachers and how they should be viewed.' [Note: _ McGuiggan p. 54]

-'Let a man regard us in this manner' (NASV); 'Let men look upon us as' (TCNT)

'account' -a habitual estimate. 'The verb means "consider", but this is a considering that is due, not to mere feeling, liking, or casual impression, but to a careful estimation of the reality. The Corinthians are not considering what their teachers actually are.' (Lenski p. 161)

'us' -i.e. Paul, Apollos, Peter

'ministers' -5257. huperetes hoop-ay-ret'-ace; from 5259 and a derivative of eresso (to row); an under-oarsman, i.e. (generally) subordinate (assistant, sexton, constable): -minister, officer, servant.

'The word used here originally meant an "under-rower" on one of the galleys.' (McGuiggan p. 54)

'It always refers to a service of any kind which in structure and goal is controlled by the will of him to whom it is rendered; implied, also, is the idea of acceptance of subordination-willing obedience.' [Note: _ Willis p. 127]

'of Christ' -simply Christ's attendants and not heads of religious groups.

Points to Note:

1. Therefore, all preachers should only simply strive to preach what Christ taught. We don't need to develop our "own theology" and our own "opinion" doesn't count, it isn't even wanted. ( 1Pe_4:11 )

2. 'Minister'-means that I am a servant of Christ and His will is the only "will" that counts in my life.

'Every apostle and every minister..is only an underling, a helper, or an attendant of Christ. His sole function is to take orders and at once and without question to execute them. His will is only that of his Master.' (Lenski p. 161)

'In order to emphasize the significance of this position of the ministers Paul adds a second designation.' (Lenski p. 162)

'stewards' -3623. oikonomos oy-kon-om'-os; from 3624 and the base of 3551; a house-distributor (i.e. manager), or overseer, i.e. an employee in that capacity; by extension, a fiscal agent (treasurer); figuratively, a preacher (of the Gospel): -chamberlain, governor, steward.

'The steward..was in charge of the whole administration of the house or the estate; he controlled the staff; he issued the supplies and the rations; he ran the whole household; but, however much he controlled the household staff of slaves, he himself was still a slave where the master was concerned. Whatever be a man's position in the Church, and whatever power he may yield there or whatever prestige he may enjoy, he still remains the servant of Christ.' [Note: _ Barclay p. 41]

'mysteries of God' -i.e. the truths found in the gospel. (2:7-13)

Points to Note:

1. The word "steward" implies "authority". The apostles including Peter and Paul and inspired men such as Apollos were "stewards" in the household of God. ( 1Ti_3:15 ) They were servants of Christ, and yet they had been given delegated authority.

2. Paul often reminds Timothy, that being entrusted with the truth carries the awesome responsibility to deliver such truth to the next generation in it's pure form. He often spoke of the gospel being "entrusted" to him and others ( 1Ti_1:11 ; 1Ti_6:20 ; 2Ti_1:14 ; 2Ti_2:2 )

Verse 2

1Co_4:2 Here, moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

'Here' -'In this case' (NASV); 'In this matter' (Robertson p. 102); 'In this case therefore' (Willis p. 128)

'it is required' -lit., it is sought for (Vincent p. 205) 'In such case, it is further sought in stewards (to be sure) that one be found faithful.' (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 797) 'the first and final requirement is that they should prove trustworthy.' (Wms)

'faithful' -'in the true sense of that word: "worthy of the trust that has been placed in their care"). Not eloquence, nor wisdom (nor "initiative" nor "success"--our more standard requirements), but faithfulness to the trust..for Paul this means absolute fidelity to the gospel as he received it and preached it (cf. 15:1-11).' [Note: _ Fee p. 160]

'It was not expected of the steward that he would procure or provide; he was merely to distribute that which was provided by the master. The apostles were not philosophers burdened with the discovery and invention of truth, but were mere dispensers of truth revealed to them by God.' [Note: _ McGarvey p. 67]

'The fact that one had the ability to use money to make more money was relatively unimportant if the steward was dishonest. The most important virtue of the steward was his fidelity..God does not require eloquence, results, etc...; He requires faithfulness.' [Note: _ Willis p. 129]

Points to Note:

1. Therefore, none of the Apostles were "heads" of different schools of thought. They all taught the same gospel.

2. While many secular teachers are valued by how many books they author (publish or perish), or what "new ideas" they come up with. God's teachers are simply required to faithfully deliver God's truth. Preachers are not in the business of inventing new schemes of thought, rather, 'the preacher is God's messenger boy to deliver His word to man.' (Willis p. 129)

3. Other qualities in a preacher such as eloquence, style, presentation, enthusiasm, etc..can be helpful. And yet, without the quality of "faithfulness", they mean nothing! For all those wonderful qualities can't take the spiritual death out of false doctrine.

Verse 3

1Co_4:3 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' -'to me' (NASV); 'For my part' (NEB)

'it is a very small thing' -'it weighs very little with me that I am judged by you or by any human tribunal' (TCNT) 'It counts for very little with me...Paul does not despise public opinion, but he denies "the competency of the tribunal" in Corinth.' (Robertson p. 103)

'judged of you' -obviously a party existed at Corinth that was "judging him".

'This word (judge) does not so much refer to a verdict that has been handed down, as to the process of "examining" that leads to the verdict. Their attitude toward him, either generally speaking or in some specific way, amounts to a judicial inquiry (cf. 9:3); they are "investigating" him, bringing him before themselves as the grand jury, as it were.' [Note: _ Fee p. 160-161]

'I judge not mine own self' -'I don't even trust my own judgement on this point.' (Tay)

'Therefore, for Paul all merely human judgements against him, be they of the Corinthians or of any others..are of little or no consequence..the only judgement that counts is the final..judgement administered by Christ..so much is this so that Paul includes personal "judgements" of himself as equally inconsequential. He does not "even judge himself", not because he is irresponsible, or intends to be so, but because he is in the service of another. His personal evaluations of his own performance are irrelevant ; what his master thinks is what counts.' [Note: _ Fee p. 161]

Verse 4

1Co_4:4 For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

'For I know nothing against myself' -'I am conscious of nothing against myself.' (NASV) 'While he is not aware of any unfaithfulness to his stewardship, yet the approval of his own conscience is not a just ground of complacency, nor does he for that reason stand acquitted.' (Erdman p. 56) 'I am not aware..of having done anything wrong.' (F.F. Bruce p. 47)

'yet am I not hereby justified' -'this does not prove that I am innocent' (Gspd) 'Even if...the "silence" of conscience can be taken to mean that a man has done nothing wrong, it can never be assumed from it that he has been accounted righteous.' (F.F. Bruce p. 47) 'This does not decide the matter.' (Alford p. 995) 'Failure to be conscious of one's own sins does not mean that one is innocent.' (Robertson p. 103) 'One might do wrong..and yet justify himself' ( Psa_19:12 ; 1Jn_3:20 ) (McGarvey p. 68)

Points to Note:

1. 'Paul claims he doesn't judge himself. This doesn't mean he hasn't any view of himself. He defends himself and insists again and again that he is doing his job faithfully. He simply means that his own judgement on himself means as little, in the final analysis, as theirs.' [Note: _ McGuiggan p. 55]

2. 'If anyone recognized that purity of conscience did not guarantee acceptability before God, Paul was the man. ( Act_26:9 ).' (Willis p. 132)

3. Therefore: (a) The final say as to whether I am right with God or not, doesn't reside with my own personal 'feelings'. ( Pro_16:25 ) (b) Man doesn't have some 'inner light' or 'infallible moral compass'. (c) All subjective tests for salvation or "rightness" are invalid. (d) But since Paul knew he was right with God ( 2Ti_4:6-8 ); an objective test must exist to determine the "present status" of one's standing before God. Clearly, Paul isn't teaching, 'I just don't know whether I will end up lost or saved, we'll just have to wait until the judgement.' But the only "objective" test available is the word of God. (e) Hence the word of God must be clear enough, and within the grasp of human understanding to determine, 'am I saved or not?' (f) And the only way that God reveals to us, if we are on the wrong track, isn't some feeling, mystical experience, or near brush with death. Rather, it's all right here in the Bible. If I need 'correcting', the word of God is perfectly qualified to get me on the right track again. ( 2Ti_3:16-17 ) So when we ask God to "search us and to see if any evil way exists in us" ( Psa_139:23-24 ); the answer to that search will be found in the word.

'but he that judgeth me is the Lord.' -this doesn't mean that we shouldn't ever listen to advice ( Pro_9:8-9 ) or evaluate criticism that may come our way. But in the final analysis the ONLY judgement that counts or that "sticks" is the one that the Lord will give. This is the judgement that 'settles' everything once and for all.

Points to Note:

1. While not having a deaf ear to the world, the Christian must learn to keep on serving God, despite what the world might say. ( Act_24:14 ; Act_26:24 ; 2Co_10:1 ; 2Co_10:10 ; Mat_11:18-19 )

2. No one will be able to reverse the judgement Christ hands down at the final day. If your saved, your saved, but if your lost, your lost-with no appeal. ( Jam_4:12 )

Verse 5

1Co_4:5 Wherefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each man have his praise from God.

'Wherefore judge nothing before the time' -'do not go on passing judgement before the time.' (NASV) 'The moral of this is that we should make no hasty or premature judgements..' (Phi) 'So, don't judge anything too early.' (Beck)

Christians are commanded to make some judgements before the judgement day ( Joh_7:24 ; Eph_5:11 ; Heb_5:14 ).

'The prohibition of this verse must not be understood to forbid all judgements. If so, Paul only condemned his own judgement of the Corinthian fornicator. (5:3, 12-13).' (Willis p. 133) (6:5)

But the "judging" that the Corinthians had been involved in wasn't "righteous". They had been judging the "worth" and "value" of one apostle or inspired man compared to another. Therefore "I am of Paul", had meant, "Paul is better than Peter and Apollos." This wasn't a judgement of whether someone taught the truth or not, for Paul, Peter and Apollos all taught the truth. It was a judgement being passed on the "worth" of these individuals.

'These are words of wise counsel. Let us be slow and humble in judging our fellowman ( Jam_1:19 )...Let us not be too much teased and tormented by the opinions and judgements of others.' (Erdman p. 56)

'the time' -defined as 'until the Lord come'. Note: This doesn't imply that we can complain all we want after He comes!

Note: Paul viewed the final judgement as a very serious event, and he preached it as such. ( Act_24:25 ; 2Co_1:14 ; 2Co_5:9-10 ; Php_2:16 ; 1Th_2:9 ff). Considering this passages, Paul didn't believe that "second chances" would be given in the final day.

'bring to light' -throw light on, i.e. expose. Nothing can be hidden from God. ( Heb_4:13 )

'the hidden things of darkness' -'all that at present is hidden in darkness' (Phi). This is what makes God's judgement so different from man's. God has EVERY FACT at his disposal. ( 1Ti_5:24-25 ) And we have already been given a demonstration of that skill in exposing those who try to hide their sins. ( Act_5:1-11 )

'and make manifest' -'disclose' (NASV); 'this is the effect of ..pouring light upon them.' (Lenski p. 173)

'the counsels of the hearts' -'motives of men's hearts' (NASV); 'he will expose the secret motives of men's hearts' (Phi); 'and to reveal life's inner aims and motives' (Mof)

Points to Note:

1. Wake up call: All religious people are not sincere . ( Php_1:17 ; Mat_6:1 ff; Mat_23:5 )

2. God will examine our "motives" for serving Him too! And if we're not serving God right now because we love Him, then we better cry out for help! ( Mar_9:24 ) Because wrong motives aren't going to fly at the judgement!

3. Paul isn't saying, that he would have to wait until the judgement to find out if he was saved. Paul lived with such integrity, that he didn't have anything to hide. There could be a 'spur' in this verse for the Corinthians to "come clean", 'He's going to judge your motives too!'

'and then shall each man have his praise from God' -Paul doesn't consider the wicked here ( 2Th_1:7-9 ). At the judgement Peter, Apollos and himself would all receive praise from God. And Paul is content to wait for that kind of "praise". He doesn't need the Corinthians to give him the wrong kind of praise expressed in "I am of Paul"; but neither will he roll over and die in the face of criticism.

'The application of this paragraph to the contemporary church seems self-evident. On the one hand, it is a word to those in the church who are forever "examining" their ministers, and who in any case tend to do so on the wrong grounds. Corinth is not the only church that ever became disillusioned with its minister because he lacked enough "charismatic" qualities...on the other hand..to those who preach and teach, that they recognize themselves as "under trust". Their "trustworthiness" is finally going to be judged by the Lord himself..In that hour none of our self-evaluations as to our worth in the kingdom is going to count for a thing, only our faithfulness to the gospel itself.' [Note: _ Fee p. 164]


Verse 6

1Co_4:6 Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written; that no one of you be puffed up for the one against the other.

'Now these things' - 'I have taken Apollos and myself as examples of these things.' (Bas) 'These things', probably referring to all that has been written from 1:10 to this point. Especially the folly of factions and elevating one inspired man above another.

'I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos' -'I have used myself and Apollos above as an illustration.' (Phi)

'for your sakes' -'that you may profit by it.' (Nor) That they would learn how to act.

'Paul ought to be speaking about the church or parties in Corinth. Instead of censuring them or saying positively how they should behave towards one another, he shows what the true attitude of Christians should be from the example of himself and Apollos...he has chosen to use himself and Apollos as examples instead of specifically mentioning the troublemakers in Corinth.' [Note: _ Willis pp. 136-137]

Instead of using the names of the specific members behind the "Paul party" and "Apollos party", Paul was able to say the things which needed to be said, using Apollos' and his own name.

'There was always a wonderful courtesy of Paul. He had a way of including himself in his own warnings and his own condemnations. The true preacher seldom uses the word 'you' and always uses the word 'we'; he does not speak, as from above, down to men; he speaks as from amidst them..' [Note: _ Barclay p. 43]

Right here Paul tells the Corinthians, 'Just in case you've missed my whole point in the last three chapters..just in case you didn't think things were too serious, seeing that I hadn't mentioned any names yet...my whole point in the illustrations used between myself and Apollos was to teach you to realize how foolish you have been acting..You see, Apollos and I aren't the ones with the problem!'

'that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written' -'from our example, you may learn to observe the precept--Keep to what is written.' (TCNT)

Points to Note:

1. Some view the phrase "not to go beyond the things which are written", as a well-known slogan that Paul had introduced in Corinth:

'"Not beyond what is written!", or "Keep to the book!"--not, probably, a current proverb, but a saying well known in the Corinthian church, where some were disposed to go beyond the gospel of Christ...and to add to it elements more in accordance with secular wisdom.' (F.F. Bruce pp. 48-49)

Including the element of following the Apostles and other inspired men, as the world followed and fought over philosophers.

2. The phrase is a Bible Principle: Deu_4:2 ; Pro_30:6 ; Rev_22:18-19

Hence some see Paul as simply stating a Bible truth in general terms. 'The impersonal it is written is commonly used of Old-Testament references.' (Vincent p. 205)

3. McGuiggan feels that it also could simply mean, 'But it may be no more than what Paul has just written . He may simply be saying: "Now you have something definitive about the status of preachers. Stick with that and say within it."' (p. 56) Which really is the same principle as stated above.

4. In the context, not going beyond what is written,( 'that you may learn..the meaning of the saying, Do not go beyond what is written.'NIV), would mean not boasting in man (1:29), and not being caught up with the "wise" that God has ensnared (1:19; 3:19-20); and especially not elevating inspired men above each other. (3:4-9)

'that' -'in order that' (NASV) 'He would have the Corinthians avoid pride and partisanship' (Erdman p. 57)

'puffed up' -5448. phusioo foo-see-o'-o; from 5449 in the primary sense of blowing; to inflate, i.e. (figuratively) make proud (haughty): -puff up.

-similar to our idiom from balloons, "filled with hot air". (Fee p. 169) Used only by Paul in Corinthians and Colossians. 'So you may not be arrogant champions of one teacher against another.' (Wey)

'In this letter Paul repeatedly uses the verb to be puffed up (4:18-19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4)..of attitudes or activities which smack of human pride..' (F.F. Bruce p. 49)

'Taking sides of boasted rivalry, exalting one teacher to the disparagement of another. Such an exaltation of their teachers was, in their case, not an act of loyalty or of grateful homage; it was a gratification of their pride. The party divisions were ministering to their vanity.' [Note: _ Erdman pp. 57-58]

'for the one against the other' -'in behalf of one against the other.' (NASV); 'in favor of..'(Wms)

Here we see that "I am of Paul..Apollos..Peter", meant that "Paul is much better than Apollos..etc.." Man seems convinced that he must always make everything into a competition. ( Mat_20:21 )

Verse 7

1Co_4:7 For who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? but if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?

'For' -'the reason why this puffing up should be avoided'. (Alford p. 997)

'who maketh thee to differ?' -'For who regards you as superior?'

'differ' -'Distinguishes thee, separates thee' (Robertson p. 105) 'Differ so that thou hast an advantage over others.' (Lenski p. 176)

'Who makes you different from anyone else?' (NIV) 'The implication is that there are no grounds for anyone's exalting himself/herself over another, since any differences are ultimately attributable to God' [Note: _ Fee p. 170]

One teacher or preacher may be different from another, but ultimately all owe their spiritual and natural talents to God. ( Rom_12:3-8 ) Hence, there is no room for boasting or elevating one person above another.

But this phrase may also be an attack upon the Corinthians feeling of "superiority", that was being manifested in placing themselves in the role of judges over apostles and inspired men.

'and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?' -'What do you have that wasn't given to you?' (McGuiggan p. 57) 'All self-conceit rests on the notion of superiority of gifts and graces as if they were self-bestowed or self-acquired .' (Robertson p. 105)

'This is an invitation to experience one of those rare, unguarded moments of total honesty, where in the presence of the eternal God one recognizes that everything--absolutely everything--that one "has" is a gift.' [Note: _ Fee p. 171]

'but if thou didst receive it, why doest thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?' -this infers that the answer to the previous question is-- "nothing". Everything that they possessed came from God. Their very status as saved people, the spiritual gifts that they possessed, all of it, came from God. Now if this is the case, then:

'why doest thou glory..' -'why boast of it as if it were something you had achieved yourself.' (Phi)

'Instead of recognizing everything as a gift and being filled with gratitude, they possessed their gifts--saw them as their own--and looked down on the apostle who seemed to lack so much. Grace leads to gratitude; "wisdom" and self-sufficiency lead to boasting and judging. Grace has a leveling effect; self-esteem has a self-exalting effect. Grace means humility; boasting means that one has arrived. Precisely because their boasting reflects such an attitude, Paul turns in irony to help them see the folly of their "boasting".' [Note: _ Fee p. 171]


'This is irony and sarcasm, but the Corinthians fully deserved it; it is a bitter medicine but one that is good for healing their disease of unwarranted pride..it has become popular today to decry irony and sarcasm as being unbecoming to preachers..yet Paul beyond question employs them here, which means that they, indeed, have their proper place..' [Note: _ Lenski p. 179]

'Paul begins a series of antitheses between them and himself to which shame is the only suitable response...the words are full of biting irony, attacking their own view of themselves (cf. Rev_3:17 )' [Note: _ Fee pp. 171-172]

Verse 8

1Co_4:8 Already are ye filled, already ye are become rich, ye have come to reign without us: yea and I would that ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.

'Already are ye filled' -'You seem to think you already have all the spiritual food you need' (Tay) 'You Corinthians, have your heart's desire already, have you?' (Mof) 'Already you have all you want', a verb that means to eat to the full. (Fee p. 172)

'We have here a picture of the self-conceit of the Corinthians--the disposition that they were spiritually self-sufficient and in need of nothing.' (Willis p. 141) How sad. The Corinthians imagined themselves to be "full and spiritually rich", and yet Paul had just called them carnal. (3:3)

'already ye are become rich' -'You are full and spiritually contented.' (Tay)

'ye have come to reign without us' -'rich kings on your thrones, leaving us far behind.' (Tay) 'The Corinthians actually imagined that they were already reigning in the heavenly kingdom. Somehow, they supposedly got there without taking the apostles with them.' (Willis p. 141)

'without us' -'apart from our help..without our having a share in it'. (Fee p. 173)

'us' -Paul and the other apostles. This seems to indicate that the Corinthians had set themselves over and above their teachers. 'Paul writes as though he marvelled their ability. All of this you have achieved without us! In some way you secured a better wisdom than we have to offer, one that has carried you up so wonderfully high!...Silly people to act as though they had left Paul, Apollos, and Peter far behind, the very men from whom they had obtained everything they really had! ' (Lenski p. 180)

'and I would that ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.' -'and would, indeed that you reigned!' (Lenski p. 180) 'Paul's wish is that the Corinthians actually were what they thought themselves to be.' (Willis p. 142)

'might reign with you' -for it would be a much better condition than Paul and his fellow apostles were presently in. ( Rom_8:17 ; 2Ti_2:12 )

'And then there comes one of these winged outbursts which meet us ever and again in the letters of Paul. He turns on the Corinthians with scathing irony. He compares their pride, their self-satisfaction, their feeling of superiority with the life that an apostle lives. He chooses a vivid picture. When a Roman general won a great victory he was allowed to parade his victorious army through the streets of the city with all the trophies that he had won; he was allowed to demonstrate his triumph and achievement...but at the end there came a little group a captives who were doomed to death; they were men who had been captured and who were being taken to the arena to fight with the beasts and so to die. We who are about to die salute you! The Corinthians in their blatant pride were like the conquering general displaying the trophies of his prowess; the apostles were like the little group of captives, men doomed to die. To the Corinthians the Christ life meant flaunting their pride and their privileges and reckoning up their achievement; to Paul it mean a humble service, ready to die for Christ.' [Note: _ Barclay pp. 44-45]

Verse 9

1Co_4:9 For, I think, God hath set forth us the apostles last of all, as men doomed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, both to angels and men.

'For' -'And there is abundant reason for this wish which I have just uttered, in our present afflicted state' (Alford p. 997) 'You have come to reign, but the case is very different with us.' (Vincent p. 206)

'last of all' -before the eyes of the world. (1:21) 'at the end of the line'(Tay)

'as men doomed to death' -'the apostles were like those gladiators who came into the arena knowing they would never leave it alive.' (Erdman p. 58) 'We need only to reflect upon the apostles lives and deaths in order to know how true this statement is. ( Act_12:1 ; 2Ti_4:6-8 )' (Willis p. 143)

'spectacle unto the world' -'to be gazed at in a theatre by the whole world, both men and angels.' (Con)

This last statement would be a thrust against those that didn't think much of Paul, or who doubted his apostleship (9:3). Not only is he condemned to die, but he is on display before the whole universe, including men and angels. These apostles that they didn't think much of, had become the focal point of the world's attention and the attention of angels.

Verse 10

1Co_4:10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye have glory, but we have dishonor.

'We' -apostles

'fools for Christ's sake' -Paul had sacrificed a glorious past (from a human perspective) for Christ. ( Gal_1:14 ; Php_3:5-6 ) The world viewed the message that Paul preached for Christ and the sacrifices that Paul had made for Christ, as foolish. But Paul had allowed himself to be viewed as foolish, in order to follow Christ. 'For Christ's sake we are held as fools' (Wms)

'but ye are wise in Christ' -'you have acquired a method of preaching that gospel which has won for yourselves a reputation for wisdom and understanding.' (Erdman p. 59)

'The majority of the Corinthians are not among the "wise, powerful, or honored" (1:26); but they are acting as if they were...They (the apostles)..reflect the truth of the gospel, which is folly in the eyes of the worldly wise. The Corinthians, on the other hand, find themselves in the "seat of the scornful".' (Fee p. 176)

'O yes, they still maintain connection with Christ, but as smart people who know how to use Christ for their advantage.' (Lenski p. 184)

Point to Note:

Which are we? Can we allow ourselves to be viewed as "fools" for Christ? How about "nerds or geeks" for Christ? Are we tempted to want a relationship with God, that still allows us to be considered "cool" in the eyes of the world? 'I want to be a Christian..but I want to be considered "cool too"!'

'we are weak' -'in the sense of unimpressive, negligible because we scorn to use cheap means which impress men and win their admiration and their applause' (Lenski p. 184)

'but ye are strong' -apparently, trying to look "strong" in the eyes of the world.

'ye have glory' -in worldly estimation, they were honorable. Which indicates a desire to "look" like the world. How foolish. Trying to impress a world, that can't even find God! ( Luk_6:26 'Woe to you when all men speak well of you.')

'but we have dishonor' -'but we are despised' (Beck)

'Paul now abandons irony for straight talk. This tribulation list, which spells out in detail the "dishonor" that attends Paul's apostolic ministry.' [Note: _ Fee p. 177]

Note the contrast with Paul's lot, and the imagined status of the Corinthians.

Verse 11

1Co_4:11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place;

'this present hour' -'For them life is becoming no easier as time goes on...we have little to imagine that the hour of triumph and coronation has come' (Erdman p. 59) 'Up to the present moment' (Nor)

'naked' -'ill-clad' (Mof); 'poorly dressed' (Beck) ( 2Co_11:27 )

'buffeted' -'knocked about' (Mof); 'beaten' (Beck)

'no certain dwelling-place' -'to be unsettled, with no fixed home.' (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 802) 'Without homes of our own' (Tay).

'The apostles, unlike most people, were unable to find a place in which they would like to live and there settle to live out their days.' (Willis p. 145)

Verse 12

1Co_4:12 and we toil, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure;

'toil' -'toil to exhaustion' (Ber). 'Common late verb for weariness in toil.' (Robertson p. 108) 'We have worked wearily with our hands to earn our living.' (Tay)

'working with our own hands' -which Paul had actually done in Corinth. ( Act_18:3 ). 1Co_9:15-18 ; 2Co_11:7-11 ; 2Co_12:13-15 ; 1Th_2:9 ; 2Th_3:7-9 ; Act_20:34 . 'Manual labor was particularly despised among the ancients.' (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 802)

This must of been particularly frustrating for Paul, for such "working" took away time from preaching.

'being reviled, we bless' -'we meet abuse with blessings' (TCNT) Following the example of Christ. ( 1Pe_2:23 ; 1Pe_3:9 )

'being persecuted, we endure' -'they make our lives miserable, but we take it patiently.' (Phi) 'They meet persecution with uncomplaining control' (Erdman p. 59) They did not let hard times move them to resentment, bitterness or withdrawing from society.

Verse 13

1Co_4:13 being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things, even until now.

'being defamed, we entreat' -Paul applied his own preaching. ( Rom_12:17-21 ) 'They answer the calumnies (slander) by entreating men to repent and to turn to Christ.' (Erdman p. 59) ( Mat_5:39-45 ; Luk_6:27-36 )

'Finally, he concludes with the most unflattering of metaphors, indicating the world's reaction to this way of living. We who follow Christ in these ways, Paul says, do not receive the accolades of the worldly wise. To the contrary..' (Fee p. 180)

'the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things' -'To this moment we are considered the scum of the earth, the scrapings of everyone's feet.' (Ber)

'The two words, which are nearly synonymous, refer to the "off-scouring" that is removed in the process of cleansing, either sweepings from the floor, or dirt removed from the body. Both words, therefore, came to be used...for anything that is contemptible.' (Fee p. 180)

'In contrast to the Corinthians, who are "filled, rich, ruling, wise, powerful, honored", he and his fellow apostles look far more like their Lord, who fits well the picture of Isa_53:2 b-3' (Fee p. 181)

Verse 14

1Co_4:14 I write not these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.

'to shame you' -'Some might misinterpret Paul's irony and sarcasm to mean that Paul had no feelings for the Corinthians.' (Willis p. 149)

Certainly the Corinthians should of been embarrassed. And these verses should have made them ashamed. And yet Paul's whole purpose in writing, isn't to humiliate them. Shame isn't the final goal, rather, "admonishing" that would lead to a corrected life is the goal. Paul wants to see them improve. In all of this, Paul had been seeking their highest good.

'admonish' -'Paul is, however, engaged in something that is far more important than merely making them ashamed, he is offering them Christian admonition..the verb means to appeal to the mind.' (Lenski p. 193)

'as my beloved children' -'Here and in the following verse Paul explicitly denies that his sharp words emanate from an "unfatherly" spirit and are lacking "love" as is sometimes asserted.' (Lenski p. 193)

Point to Note: This whole section of rebuke, came from the motive of love. Love does rebuke the sin, and love doesn't beat around the bush.

Verse 15

1Co_4:15 For though ye have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel.

'tutors' -'was used for the guide or attendant of the child who took him to school.' (Robertson p. 109) 'Was a slave to whom boys were entrusted on leaving the care of females, which was somewhere about their sixteenth year.' (Vincent p. 209)

'ten thousand' -this may be a slight rebuke against a desire on the part of the Corinthians to either accumulate many teachers or against desire on the part of many to be teachers, thinking what such gave them prestige.

'yet have ye not many fathers' -'Apollos and others might help them as guides..but Paul alone could claim to be their father..they owed their spiritual life to his coming to their city and evangelizing it.' (F.F. Bruce p. 51)

'I begat you through the gospel' -It is the gospel message that causes one to be born again. ( Jam_1:18 ; 1Pe_1:23 ) Therefore the "Spirit" mentioned in Joh_3:5 , in connection with the new birth, must be the revelation given by the Spirit, rather than some mysterious or direct operation of the Spirit. This is the "seed" that Paul had planted. Paul spoke of other converts, as his "beloved children" ( Phm_1:10 ; Phm_1:19 ; 2Ti_1:2 ; Tit_1:4 )

Point to Note: Paul isn't using the word "father" here in the sense of a religious title. ( Mat_23:9 ) He isn't demanding that they call him "Father Paul". Rather he is reminding the Corinthians of a very important fact. He had founded the church in Corinth and they owed their spiritual lives to his efforts. It wasn't some stranger speaking to them, rather, it was the one who had brought them the message of salvation initially. This had been a rebuke by one who had much invested in them.

Verse 16

1Co_4:16 I beseech you therefore, be ye imitators of me.

'beseech' -'that is why I implore you to follow the footsteps of me' (Phi) 'he entreats them to be imitators of his humility and his unselfish service, and to show their likeness to their father in Christ by putting away the spirit of pride and faction and conceit.' (Erdman p. 61)

'imitators' -'Paul saw to it that his converts should learn the Christian way of life from his example as well as from his teaching-11:1; 1Th_1:6 ; 2Th_3:7 ff; Php_3:17 ; Php_4:9 .' (F.F. Bruce p. 51)

Verse 17

1Co_4:17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, who shall put you in remembrance of my ways which are in Christ, even as I teach everywhere in every church.

'For this cause' -'the "cause" which Paul had in mind in sending Timothy to the Corinthians was to help them become imitators of him.' (Willis p. 152)

'have I sent' -indicating that Timothy would be on his way when this letter arrived. (16:10)

'my beloved and faithful child in the Lord' -one that Paul had converted also, just like the Corinthians. 'And it is an expression of his care for them that leads him to send one so dear to him as Timothy to be his representative there.' (McGuiggan p. 58)

'put you in remembrance of my ways which are in Christ' -The Corinthians had forgot some of the truths that Paul had taught while with them.

'even as I teach everywhere in every church' -'Paul had a central message! And it is that message which he proclaims in every church wherever he goes. And Paul doesn't teach one thing in one area and another in another. He doesn't seek favor with men ( Gal_1:10 ) by preaching what they wish to hear... this surely, has something to say about the pattern of biblical authority. ' (McGuiggan p. 58)

'Paul's concern that all his churches should exhibit the same standards of Christian practice finds expression in 7:17; 11:16; 14:33 (cf. 2Th_2:15 ; 2Th_3:6 )' (F.F. Bruce p. 52)

'He can tell you how I teach, not accommodating the gospel to the prejudices and foibles of any locality..' (McGarvey p. 70)

Verse 18

1Co_4:18 Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you.

'puffed up' -'thinking that I am afraid to come and deal with you.' (Tay) 'Because Timothy arrives with a letter there are those who are pride filled who will say: "Told you so!" They believe he is afraid to face them. He writes tough letters but he can't face a man ( 2Co_10:10 ).' (McGuiggan p. 58)

Verse 19

1Co_4:19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will; and I will know, not the word of them that are puffed up, but the power.

'if the Lord will' -Paul, always the "servant" of Christ. (16:7; Jam_4:15 )

'and I will know, not the word of them that are puffed up, but the power' -'and then I will test, not the fine words of those who hold me in contempt, but the powers they can shew.' (Knox)

'but the power' -'He will pay no attention to what they may say in their pride, but will find out..what genuine power is behind what they say.' (Lenski p. 201) 'Obviously he has little fear of the outcome of such a confrontation!' (Fee p. 191)

Verse 20

1Co_4:20 For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.

'not in word' -'for the rule of God in a man's life involves more than the spouting of words however sacred and pious sounding they are...religion must be deeper than the tongue..( Jam_1:26 )..the kingdom (rule) of God in the hearts of people results in changed attitudes, changed behavioral patterns and a changed way of talking about people. He speaks in 2Ti_3:4-5 of puffed up people who hold a form of godliness but deny the power therefore.' (McGuiggan p. 59)

'in power' -and that "power" is the gospel that Paul preached. ( Luk_8:11 = Mat_13:19 ; Rom_1:16 ; Joh_3:5 )

Verse 21

1Co_4:21 What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?

'What will ye?' -'What do you desire?' (NASV) 'Which do you choose or prefer?' (McGarvey p. 71) 'When Paul arrives in Corinth he will not confine himself to words and teachings and rebukes. He will act. How shall he act? This will depend altogether upon the Corinthians.' (Erdman p. 62) 'Come he will, but it is for them to decide whether his visit will be a painful or a pleasant one.' (F.F. Bruce p. 52)

'with a rod' -to punish, because they refuse to change and repent. A stern look and all the authority of heaven behind him!

'in love and a spirit of gentleness' -'a loving and gentle spirit' (TCNT) 'Members should realize that they determine on what subjects and with what disposition a preacher shall preach by their own conduct.' (Willis p. 156) 'What he'd like to do they know well. The spirit of the meeting is in their power.' (McGuiggan p. 59)

Points to Note:

1. A preacher can't always deliver "positive lessons". He can't preach even "gentle" lessons, when he personally would prefer to. ( 2Ti_4:2 )

2. We determine much of how people "respond" to us ( Pro_15:1 ). Ultimately, we will determine whether God is stern or gentle with us at the final day. ( Rom_2:4-5 )

3. Opposition to the truth must be challenged. ( Tit_1:10-11 )

'Thus, in these first four chapters of his letter, Paul has sought to correct the party spirit at Corinth and to bring the Christians into a spirit of unity. It was the topic of which he needed to treat first; for only to a united church which recognized him as its founder could he address the stern commands and give the authoritative teachings which follow .' (Erdman p. 62)

Bibliographical Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Dunagan's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dun/1-corinthians-4.html. 1999-2014.
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