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Deduction from the preceding discussion, teaching the proper light in which the people should regard the ministry, 1 Corinthians 4:1-6. contrast between the apostles and the false teachers, vv. 6-21.
Ministers, as Stewards, Should be Faithful, as Paul Had Proved Himself to be — 1 Corinthians 4:1-21
It follows, from what was said in the preceding chapter, that the people should regard their ministers as the servants of Christ, and dispensers of the truths which God had revealed, 1 Corinthians 4:1. The most important qualification of a dispenser is fidelity, 1 Corinthians 4:2. It is a small matter how men may estimate the fidelity of ministers. The only competent judge is the Lord; and, therefore, to his judgment the decision of that question should be referred, 1 Corinthians 4:3-6.
What the apostle had said of himself and of Apollos, in the foregoing exhibition of the true nature of the ministerial office, was intended to apply to all ministers, that the people should not estimate them unduly, and that all emulous contentions might be avoided, 1 Corinthians 4:6, 1 Corinthians 4:7. The false teachers in Corinth, and the people under their influence, considered themselves to be in a high state of religious prosperity, and were disposed to self-indulgence, 1 Corinthians 4:8. The apostles were in a very different condition, at least as to their external circumstances. They were despised, afflicted, and persecuted; while their adversaries were honored, prosperous, and caressed, 1 Corinthians 4:9-13. Paul presented this contrast not to mortify, but to admonish his readers, 1 Corinthians 4:14. He, if any one, had a right to admonish them, for he was their spiritual father, 1 Corinthians 4:15. They should therefore imitate him; and, to that end, he had sent Timothy to remind them of his instructions and example, 1 Corinthians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 4:17. He himself intended soon to visit Corinth; and it depended on them whether he should come with a rod, or in the Spirit of meekness, 1 Corinthians 4:18-21.
1 Corinthians 4:1
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
This is the conclusion or deduction from the preceding discussion. Ministers are the servants of Christ, and stewards of God. Let a man, i.e. every one. Account of us, (λογιζέσθω) let him think of us, or regard us as being. The ministers of Christ. Literally the word (ὑπηρέτης) means an under-rower, or common sailor; and men, subordinate servant of any kind. It is generally and properly used of menials, or of those of the lower class of servants. This is not always the case, but here the idea of entire subjection is to be retained. Ministers are the mere servants of Christ; they have no authority of their own; their whole business is to do what they are commanded.
And stewards of the mysteries of God. Stewards (οἰκονόμοι) were generally slaves appointed as managers or overseers. It was their business to direct the affairs of the household, and dispense the provisions. It is as dispensers ministers are here called stewards. They are to dispense the mysteries of God, that is, the truths which God had revealed, and which, as being undiscoverable by human reason, are called mysteries, into the knowledge of which men must be initiated. Mysteries here do not mean the sacraments. The word is never used in reference to either baptism or the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. And such a reference in this case is forbidden by the whole context. In the second chapter, the mystery which Paul speaks of is declared to be the gospel considered as a revelation of God. In the Romish church, the principal function of ministers is to dispense the sacraments to which they are assumed to have the power, in virtue of the grace of orders, to give supernatural power. In the apostolic church they were regarded as the dispensers of the truth. This verse, therefore, contains two important truths: Ministers have no arbitrary or discretionary authority in the church. Neither have they any supernatural power, such as is attributed to them in the Romish church. Their authority is merely ministerial, limited by the commands of Christ, and, therefore, to be judged by the standard of those commands, which are known to the whole church. And secondly, they are not, like Aristotle or Plato, the originators of their own doctrines, or the teachers of the doctrines of other men, but simply the dispensers of the truths which God has revealed.
1 Corinthians 4:2
Moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
Moreover, (ὃ δὲ λοιπόν) but what remains is; as to the rest. Instead of the words just mentioned Lachmann and Tischendorf adopt the reading ὧδε, here, i.e. in the earth, or, in this matter. The most ancient MSS. are in favor of this reading, and the sense is good. The great requisite for the discharge of the office of a steward is fidelity. As he is a servant he must be faithful to his master; as he is a dispenser, he must be faithful to those subject to his oversight. He must not neglect to dispense to them their food; neither may he adulterate it, or substitute any thing in the place of that which is given them to distribute. The application of this to the case of ministers is plain. The great thing required of them is fidelity. Fidelity to Christ as servants; not arrogating to themselves any other man ministerial power, or venturing to go beyond his commands. Fidelity also to the people, not failing to dispense to them the truths which God has revealed, nor mixing those truths with their own speculations, much less substituting for those doctrines human knowledge or wisdom.
1 Corinthians 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.
Fidelity to duty supposes responsibility to some one. As ministers are required to be faithful, who is to judge of their fidelity? Paul says, so far as he was concerned, it was not the Corinthians, not the world, not himself — but, as he adds in the next verse, the Lord.
But with me, (ἐμοὶ δὲ); to me, i.e. in my estimation. It is a very small thing (εἰς ἐλάχιστόν ἐστι), it amounts to nothing. “That I should be judged of you.” This does not refer to the judicial judgment of the church, but simply to the opinions which the Corinthians entertained of Paul. It mattered little to him whether they thought him faithful or unfaithful. His responsibility was not to them. They had not sent him; they had not told him what doctrines to preach. He was not their steward, but the steward of God. Or of man’s judgment (ὑπὸ ανθρωπίνης ἡμέρας) literally, by human day. As ‘the day of the Lord’ means the day of God’s judgment, so ‘the day of men’ means the day of man’s judgment. The sense is obvious, though the expression no where else occurs. The apostle, although denying his responsibility to the Corinthians, or to any human tribunal for his fidelity as a minister of Christ, does not mean to assert that he was his own judge. He therefore adds, “I judge not my own self.” Many men think themselves faithful, who are most unfaithful. It is not enough that our own conscience does not condemn us. Conscience is a partial, and often an unenlightened judge. We may justify ourselves, and be at last condemned by God. But, if our heart condemn us, how can we stand before him who knows all things?
1 Corinthians 4:4
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, (oὐδὲν γὰρ ἐμαυτῷ σύνοιδα) I am conscious of nothing. That is, my conscience does not accuse me of any thing. Paul is speaking of his fidelity as a steward. He says, he was not his own judge, for though his conscience did not accuse him of want of ministerial fidelity, that did not justify him. I am not thereby justified. That is, I am not thereby acquitted. My judgment of myself is not final. The only impartial, competent, and final judge is the Lord. This interpretation of the verse is suited to the meaning of the words and to the connection, and has the sanction of general approbation. The connection indicated by for is between what precedes and the latter part of the verse, ‘I judge not myself, for he that judgeth me is the Lord.’ It need hardly be remarked, that when Paul says, he was conscious of nothing wrong, the declaration is to be limited by the connection. He speaks of himself elsewhere as the chief of sinners, which is perfectly consistent with his saying that his conscience acquitted him of failure in fidelity as a minister.
The clause, I am not hereby justified, must also be explained in reference to the connection. He is not speaking of the doctrine of justification; and, therefore, is not to be understood to say, ‘My justification is not thereby secured.’ That is, he does not mean to say that ministerial fidelity is not the ground of his justification. This would be entirely out of keeping with the context. All he means is, that the question whether he was faithful, was one not to be decided by his conscience, but by the Lord. Lord here evidently means Christ, who is therefore a higher judge than conscience. As a moral agent, as a believer, and as a minister, Paul felt himself accountable to Christ. This inward allegiance of the conscience is the highest form of worship. The Lord Jesus was to the apostle the object of all those sentiments and feelings which terminate on God. And he must be so to us, or we are not Christians; because, what makes a man a Christian, is to feel and act towards Christ as God.
1 Corinthians 4:5
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.
As the Lord is the only judge, we must wait for his appearance, and neither assume his prerogative, nor anticipate his decision. Judge nothing before the time (καιρός), i.e. the appropriate, or appointed time. What time is intended is intimated in the next clause. Until the Lord come, (ἕωϚ ἂν ἔλθη, shall have come) i.e. until the second advent of Christ, which in the New Testament is constantly represented as contemporaneous with the resurrection of the dead and the general judgment. He is to come for judgment, Matthew 24:30, Matthew 24:46; 2 Peter 3:4, 2 Peter 3:12; Judges 1:14; Revelation 1:7. The reason why the coming of the Lord is the appropriate time for judgment is, that he will then do what cannot be done before, or by any creature. He will bring to light (shed light upon) the secret things of darkness; that is, things which are now hidden in darkness. This includes acts which are now unknown, and those principles of action which lie concealed in the recesses of the heart, where no human eye can reach them. This is all the context requires. In other connections the secret things, or the works of darkness, means wicked works; works done in the dark to avoid detection; or works which spring from moral darkness, Ephesians 5:11. But the apostle is here speaking of the reason why judgment should be deferred until the coming of Christ. The reason is that he alone can bring to light the secret acts and motives of men. These secret works and motives, and not merely outward acts, are the grounds of judgment. Whether a man is faithful in preaching the gospel depends upon his motives; for some preached Christ of contention, Philippians 1:16. This view of the passage is confirmed by the explanatory clause which follows, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts. The former expression is general, this is special. The ‘counsels of the heart’ are included in the ‘secret things of darkness.’ He who sheds light on the secret things of darkness not only reveals acts done in secret, but makes manifest the counsels of the heart. What a work is here ascribed to the Lord Jesus! He will bring to light the secret acts and hidden motives of every human being. He will exercise the prerogative of judging the heart and conscience; a prerogative which none but an omniscient being can rightfully claim or possibly exercise. It is therefore in Scripture always spoken of as peculiar to God, Psalms 26:2; Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 20:12; Revelation 2:23. Paul appealed from the fallible judgment of short-sighted men, to the infallible judgment of his omniscient Lord.
And then; not before, because not until then will the full truth be known. Shall every man have praise (ἔπαινος, much praise, applause, a loud and clear acclaim of commendation; Well done, thou good and faithful servant!) The reason why Paul uses the word praise, and not the general term recompense, probably is, that he is throughout the passage speaking of himself. The Corinthians had sat in judgment on his fidelity. He tells them that neither they nor he could competently decide whether he was faithful or not. The Lord was the only judge. When he comes, the truth will be known, and then there shall be praise. He knew there was laid up for him a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge would give him in that day, 2 Timothy 4:8. Still, as what is true of him is true of others, he expresses himself in general terms. Then shall every man have praise. That is, every faithful servant. Praise of God, i.e. from God. He is the ultimate source of all good. He is in Christ; and Christ is in God. The Theanthropos, as final judge, is the representative of the Godhead, so that his decisions and awards are the decisions and awards of God. As remarked above, 1 Corinthians 2:15, 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.
1 Corinthians 4:6
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.
These things refers to what was said in the preceding chapter of preachers, especially to what is said from 1 Corinthians 3:5 and onwards. These things he had in a figure transferred to himself and Apollos. That is, instead of teaching in an abstract, general form, that ministers were mere servants, he had presented the truth in a concrete form, saying that he and Apollos were servants, mere instruments in the hand of God. This was the (μετασχηματισμός), the change of form which he had adopted. He did this, he says, that they might learn in us, i.e. by what I have said of Apollos and myself, not to think above that which is written. That is, not to estimate ministers above the scriptural standard. As Paul had been treating of this subject, above that which is written, might seem naturally to refer to what he himself had just written. But as the phrase always elsewhere refers to the Old Testament, which were the writings recognized as of divine authority, such is probably the reference here. He does not appeal to any one passage, but to the doctrine taught in the Scriptures concerning ministers of religion. The Corinthians were not to think of their ministers more highly man the Bible authorized them to think. Comp. Jeremiah 9:23, Jeremiah 9:24. The particle (ἵνα), rendered that, has its ordinary force, in order that, although the following verb (φυσιοῦσθε) is in the indicative, a combination which occurs nowhere else except in Galatians 4:17. The connection is with the preceding clause, ‘That ye may learn to think correctly, in order that,’ etc.
That no one be puffed up for one against another; literally, that ye be not puffed up one for one against another. This admits of two interpretations. It may mean, ‘That ye be not inflated one on account of one teacher, and against another.’ The Corinthians were proud of their connection one with one teacher, and another with another. And this led to the strifes and divisions which existed among them. Paul taught them that ministers were servants, in order that they might not thus contend about them. This, although it gives a good sense, is neither consistent with the structure of the passage nor with what follows. The meaning is, ‘Be not puffed up one above another,’ (εἷς ὑπὲρ τοῦ ἐνὸς), comp. in the Greek 1 Thessalonians 5:11. The followers of Apollos exalted themselves over those of Paul, and those of Paul over those of Cephas. One exalted himself above another and against him. He not only thought himself better than his brother, but assumed a hostile attitude towards him. This view is confirmed by the next verse, which is directed against the self-conceit of the Corinthians and not against their zeal for their teachers.
1 Corinthians 4:7
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)?
Who maketh thee to differ? This may mean either, ‘Who thinks you are better than others?’ Your superiority over your brethren is mere self-conceit and inflation. The difference between you is only imaginary. Or, it may mean, ‘Who is the author of this superiority?’ Admitting you to be as superior to others as you imagine, to whom are you indebted for it? According to the latter explanation the verse contains but one argument against their pride, viz., that all distinguishing advantages are derived from God. According to the former, there are two distinct considerations urged: first, that they had no ground for thinking themselves better than others; and second, if they had any superiority it was due not to themselves, but to God. So that in either case their inflation was absurd and unchristian. It is here assumed that every thing, whether natural or gracious, by which one man is favorably distinguished from another, is due to God; and being thus due to him and not to the possessor, is a cause of gratitude, but not of self-complacency or of self-applause. This is true even of those things which are acquired by great self-denial and exertion. Paul was as much self-formed as any man ever was, and yet he said, By the grace of God I am what I am.
1 Corinthians 4:8
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.
Having, says Calvin, repressed their self-conceit, he here derides it. That the passage is ironical, and even sarcastic, cannot be denied. This is not the only instance in which these weapons are used by the inspired writers. The prophets especially employ them freely in their endeavors to convince the people of the folly of trusting to idols. The propriety of the use of weapons so dangerous depends on the occasion and the motive. If the thing assailed be both wicked and foolish, and if the motive be, not the desire to give pain, but to convince and to convert, their use is justified by Scriptural examples. There is an evident climax in the verse. Ye are not only full, but more than full; ye are rich, you have more than enough; and ye are not only rich, ye are as kings. Now (ἤδη) already. ‘You have reached the goal of perfection very quick; and that without us. You have left us poor apostles far behind you.’ The reference is to the benefits of redemption. Paul represents the Corinthians as thinking that they had already attained the full blessedness of the Messiah’s reign; that they had already attained, and were already perfect. He therefore adds, I would ye did reign. ‘I would that the consummation of Christ’s kingdom had really come, for then I would share with you in its glories.’ I would to God is a translation not authorized, or at least not demanded, by the original, ὄφελον, which in the later Greek, and in the New Testament, is a particle of wishing or an interjection; would that, O that. So the Greek phrase (μὴ γένοιτο) so often rendered in our version, “God forbid!” is simply an expression of aversion, “Let it not be.” The Scriptures do not countenance such appeals to God as seem to have been common when our version was made.
1 Corinthians 4:9
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 would that the consummation were really come, for we apostles are now very far from being treated as kings.’ God hath set forth, i.e. publicly exhibited. He has made us conspicuous as the last, the lowest, the most afflicted of men. The original does not admit of the translation proposed by many, us the last apostles, i.e. those last appointed — referring to himself, who was, as he says, born out of due time. The emphasis, from the collocation of the words, is thrown on apostles and not on last. What follows is explanatory. As appointed unto death. This does not merely mean that they were exhibited as men daily exposed to death; which indeed was true, 1 Corinthians 15:30, 1 Corinthians 15:31; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 4:11, 2 Corinthians 4:13; but also that they were treated as men condemned to death, that is, as convicts, men to whom all comforts were denied. ‘We have become a spectacle (θέατρον, literally, a theatre; here metonymically, a show exhibited in a theatre) to the universe (κόσμῳ), as well to angels, as to men.’ Such were the sufferings of the apostles that men and angels gazed on them with wonder, as people gaze on a spectacle in a theatre. The word angels when used without qualification always means good angels, and must be so understood here.
1 Corinthians 4:10
We (are) fools for Christ’s sake, but ye (are) wise in Christ; we (are) weak, but ye (are) strong; ye (are) honorable, but we (are) despised.
In amplification of what he had just said, he contrasts, in this and the following verses, his situation with theirs. There are two things included in these contrasts. The opinion which the Corinthians entertained, and that which was entertained by others. We are fools on account of Christ; our devotion to the cause of Christ is such that you and others regard us as fools; ye are wise in Christ; your union with Christ is such that you regard yourselves and are regarded by others as wise. We are weak, we feel ourselves to be so, and are so considered; ye are strong, you so regard yourselves, and are so regarded. You are honored, you are objects of respect, we of contempt. All this doubtless has special, though not exclusive, reference to the false teachers, whose state in Corinth he contrasts with his own.
1 Corinthians 4:11
Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place;
That a man should freely subject himself to hunger, thirst, and nakedness, and submit to be buffeted, and homeless, for no selfish purpose, but simply to preach Christ, was indeed, in the eyes of the world, foolishness. The fact that Paul gladly submitted to all these afflictions, presented his case in glaring contrast with that of his opposers in Corinth, who exposed themselves to no such sufferings out of zeal for Christ.
1 Corinthians 4:12, 1 Corinthians 4:13
And labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, (and are) the off-scouring of all things unto this day.
Working with our own hands. The apostle, in a subsequent chapter, proves at length his right, and that of other ministers to an adequate support from the church. But he did not avail himself of that right in Corinth, 1 Corinthians 9:15.
Being reviled. (λοιδορούμενοι), being railed at, or made the object of scurrility. We bless, i.e. we speak well of, or implore good upon. We return abuse with kind words, or, with good wishes and prayers. Being persecuted. As the former term refers to injurious words, this refers to injurious acts. We suffer it, i.e. we patiently submit to it without resistance or complaint. Being defamed, i.e. having evil deeds or motives ascribed to us. We entreat (παρακαλοῦμεν), we exhort. That is, we endeavor to meet with kindness such injurious imputations, instead of repelling them with anger and indignation. In all this the apostle followed the example of his divine master, who when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself to him who judgeth righteously, 1 Peter 2:23.
We are made as the filth of the earth, or rather of the world (κόσμου). That is, we are regarded as the filthiest of mankind. And the off-scouring of all things, or of all men. That is, as the refuse of society. The words (περικάθαρμα and περίψημα) rendered filth and off-scouring, signify, the former, what is carried off by rinsing and the latter, what is scraped off. They both express the general idea of refuse. This is all the context demands or suggests. The apostle sums up all he had previously said, by saying, ‘We are regarded as the dregs or refuse of the world.’ As both of these words, however, and especially the former, are used of victims chosen from the lowest class of the people, who in times of calamity were offered in sacrifice to the gods, it is very generally assumed that Paul here refers to that custom; and means to say that he was regarded as one of those who were considered only fit to be put to death for the good of others. This brings out the same idea in a different form. It is not probable, however, that any such allusion is here intended; because the custom was not so common as to be familiar to his readers generally, and because the word commonly used for such sacrifices was not, περικάθαρμα, which Paul uses, but κάθαρμα. In Proverbs 21:18 however, it is said, The wicked is a ransom (περικάθαρμα) for the righteous. Paul certainly did not consider himself or his sufferings as a propitiation for other men. The point of comparison, if there be any allusion to the custom in question, is to the vileness of such victims, which were always chosen from the worthless and despised. This and other passages of Paul’s writings (comp. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 present in a very strong light the indignities and sufferings which he endured in the service of Christ, and may well put us to shame, as well as the self-satisfied and self-indulgent Corinthians. What are we doing for him for whom Paul did and suffered so much?
1 Corinthians 4:14
I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn (you).
Not as shaming you. (ἐντρέπων) write I these things. The word used signifies to invert, to turn round, or back; and then, generally, to move, and especially to move to shame. It may be rendered here, ‘I write not these things as moving you,’ i.e. to work upon your feelings. The use of the word in 2 Thessalonians 3:14 and Titus 2:8 is in favor of the common interpretation. Paul’s object in drawing such a contrast between their case and his, was not to mortify them; but as his beloved sons, i.e. out of love to them as his sons, he says, I warn you. The word (νουθετέω) is that generally used to express parental admonition and instruction. His design was to bring the truth to their minds, and let them see what they really were, as contrasted with what they imagined themselves to be.
1 Corinthians 4:15
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 was entitled to admonish them as sons, for he was their spiritual father. The words in Christ are not connected with instructors, as though the sense were, ‘instructors who are in Christ,’ i.e. Christian instructors. The position of the words in the original show that they belong to the verb. Though ye may have in Christ, i.e. in reference to Christ, or as Christians, many teachers, ye have not many fathers.’ The pedagogues (παιδαγωγοί) among the Greeks were usually slaves, who were the constant attendants, rather than the teachers, of the boys of a family. They had, however, the charge of their education, and therefore the word is used in the New Testament for instructors. Paul contrasts his relation to the Corinthians as their spiritual father, with that of their other teachers. The point of the contrast is not that he loved them, and they did not; or that they were disposed to arrogate too much authority, and he was not; but simply, that he was the means of their conversion, and they were not. His relation to them preceded theirs and was more intimate and tender.
He was their father, “for in Christ Jesus he had begotten them.” That is, in virtue of his union to Christ, as his apostle and minister. In himself he could do nothing. It was only as an instrument in the hand of Christ that he was successful in bringing them to the obedience of faith. Comp. Galatians 2:8. By the gospel, i.e. by means of the gospel. There are three agencies in the conversion of men. The efficiency is in Christ by his Spirit; the administrative agency is in preachers; the instrumental in the word. What God has joined together, let not man put asunder. We cannot do without the first and the third, and ought not to attempt to do without the second. For though multitudes are converted by the Spirit through the word, without any ministerial intervention, just as grain springs up here and there without a husbandman, yet it is the ordinance of God that the harvest of souls should be gathered by workmen appointed for that purpose.
1 Corinthians 4:16
Wherefore, I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
Wherefore, i.e. because I am your father. Be ye followers (μιμηταί, literally, imitators) of me. He does not exhort them to become his followers or partisans, instead of being the followers of Apollos or of Cephas. But as he had spoken of himself as being humble, self-denying and self-sacrificing in the cause of Christ, he beseeches them to follow his example. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 he says, “Be ye imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Comp. 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:14. Ephesians 5:1.
1 Corinthians 4:17
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, that is, to secure your imitating my example. This end, Timothy, whom he commends as his son, and as faithful, was to accomplish by vindicating the apostle from the aspersions which had been cast upon him, by reminding the Corinthians of his conduct and teaching as a minister of Christ. Nothing more was necessary man to appeal to their own knowledge of what Paul had been among them. My son; not only the object of my love, but my child; one whom I have begotten through the gospel. This is implied from the use of the word in 1 Corinthians 4:14. Comp. 1 Timothy 1:2 where he speaks of him as “his own son in the faith.” The fact that Timothy stood in this endearing relation to Paul, was a reason for his sending him, and also a reason why they should receive him with confidence. He was, however, not only Paul’s son, but faithful in the Lord. And this was a further reason both for his mission and for their regard and confidence. Faithful in the Lord means faithful in the service of Christ, or as a Christian. The words in the Lord admit of being connected with the word son, so as to give the sense, “My faithful son in the Lord.“
The work which Timothy was to do was to remind the Corinthians of what they seem to have forgotten, viz., of Paul’s ways which were in Christ, how he taught, etc. The latter clause limits and explains the former. It was not so much his ways or deportment in general, as his character and conduct as a teacher, which were to be brought to mind. This, however, included his consistency, his zeal, humility and fidelity. It is evident from 2 Corinthians 1:17-20 that inconsistency and instability both as to his doctrines and plans, was one of the objections urged against Paul in Corinth, as in other places, comp. Galatians 5:11. My ways which be in Christ, means the ways which I follow in the service of Christ. It was his official conduct as an apostle and teacher which Timothy was to bring to their recollection. As (καθώς), in the sense of how. Acts 15:14; 3 John 1:3. He is to remind you as, i.e. how, I teach every where in every church. Paul’s doctrine and mode of teaching were every where the same. And to this fact Timothy was to bear testimony, and thus vindicate him from the aspersions of his enemies.
1 Corinthians 4:18
Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.
His sending Timothy was not to be considered as any indication that he himself did not intend to visit Corinth, as some in their pride and self-confidence supposed. It appears from numerous passages in this and the following epistle, that the false teachers in Corinth in various ways endeavored to undermine Paul’s authority. They called in question his apostleship, 1 Corinthians 9:1-3; 2 Corinthians 12:12; they accused him of lightness, or instability, 2 Corinthians 1:17; they represented him as weak in person and contemptible in speech, 2 Corinthians 10:10. These were the persons who were puffed up, that is, so conceited as to their own importance, and as to the effect of their injurious representations respecting the apostle, as to give out that he was afraid to come to Corinth, and therefore sent Timothy in his place.
1 Corinthians 4:19
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.
In opposition to this boasting of his opponents, Paul declares his purpose soon to visit Corinth, if the Lord (i.e. Christ) will. Comp. 1 Corinthians 16:7 and Acts 16:7. This is a recognition both of the providential and spiritual government of Christ. It supposes the external circumstances, and the inward state of the apostle, his purposes and convictions of duty, to be determined by the providence and Spirit of Christ. Thus constantly did Paul live in communion with Christ as his God, submitting to him and trusting to him at all times.
And will know not the speech but the power of those who are puffed up. That is, not what they can say, but what they can do. By power (δύναμις) some understand miraculous power, which does not suit the context. Others confine it to spiritual power, that is, the power derived from the Spirit. The word is sometimes used for the essential power, or true nature and efficacy of a thing. And this sense best suits the antithesis between speech and power. Paul meant to put to the test, not what these men could say, but what they really were and did; that is, their true character and efficiency. Comp. 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:5. “Having the form of godliness, but denying the power (δύναμιν) thereof,” i.e. its real nature and efficacy.
1 Corinthians 4:20
For the kingdom of God (is) not in word, but in power.
The idea expressed by the phrase “kingdom of God,” in the New Testament, is very comprehensive and manifold, and therefore indefinite. The two senses under which most if not all, its applications may be comprehended are,
1. The royal authority or dominion exercised by God or Christ; and
2. Those over whom that authority extends, or who recognize and submit to it.
In the former sense, the word (βασιλεία) kingdom is used in such expressions as, Thy kingdom come, Of his kingdom there is no end, The sceptre of his kingdom, etc., etc. In such expressions as, To enter the kingdom of God; The children, or members of the kingdom, the phrase means the community over which God reigns, whether in this world, or in the world to come. In the former sense the meaning is equivalent to the reign of God. Hence to say, Thy kingdom come, and to say, May God reign, is the same thing. Now as God reigns in the hearts of his people — as well as in the church, and in heaven — so this inward spiritual dominion is called the kingdom of God. In this sense the passage, “the kingdom of God is within you,” may be understood; and also Romans 14:17, “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost;” which is equivalent to saying that true religion does not consist in external observances, but in inward graces. This is the form of the idea which seems best suited to the passage before us. ‘God’s reign, his dominion in the heart, or true religion, does not consist in professions, but in reality.’ The word power is to be taken in the same sense here as in 1 Corinthians 4:19. Paul says, ‘I will know, not what these men say, but what they really are; for the kingdom of God (or religion) does not consist in what is apparent and outward, but in what is inward and real.’ It is not a semblance, but a reality.
1 Corinthians 4:21
What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and (in) the Spirit of meekness?
Paul, so far from being afraid to go to Corinth, as his enemies imagined, was prepared to go there with authority. He was their spiritual father and ruler. He had the right and the ability to punish them. It depended on themselves in what character he should appear among them, whether as a punisher or as a comforter — whether in the exercise of discipline, or as a kind and tender parent. The preposition (ἐν) rendered with in the first clause, is the same as that rendered in in those which follow. It has the same force in them all. It means furnished with, attended by. That is, it marks the attending circumstances. The expression “spirit of meekness” is commonly understood to mean a meek or gentle Spirit or disposition of mind. As, however, the word Spirit, when connected with an abstract noun, always refers to the Holy Spirit, as in the phrases Spirit of truth, Spirit of wisdom, Spirit of adoption, Spirit of love, of fear, or of glory, it should be so understood here. Paul asks whether he should come with severity, or filled with the Spirit as the author of meekness. It is plain from this, as from numerous other passages, that the apostles exercised the right of discipline over all the churches; they could receive into the communion of the church, or excommunicate from it, at their discretion. This prerogative was inseparable from their infallibility as the messengers of Christ, sent to establish and to administer his kingdom. The following chapter furnishes a notable instance of the exercise of this authority.
Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hdg/1-corinthians-4.html.