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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

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Verse 1

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

A man - every man.

Account of us - Paul and Apollos, and all duly-called teachers.

Ministers of Christ - not heads of the Church in whom we are to glory: the headship belongs to Christ alone; we are but His servants ministering to you (1 Corinthians 1:12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 3:22).

Stewards (Luke 12:42; 1 Peter 4:10) - not the depositaries, but dispensers of the grace given us ("rightly dividing," or dispensing it) to others. The chaazaan, or overseer, in the synagogue corresponded to the bishop or "angel" of the church. He called seven of the synagogue to read the law every Sabbath, and oversaw them. The Parnasin of the synagogue, like the ancient 'deacon' of the church, took care of the poor (Acts 6:1-15), and subsequently preached in subordination to the presbyter or bishop, as Stephen did. The Church is not the appendage to the priesthood; but the minister is God's steward to the Church. Man shrinks from close contact with God: hence, he puts a priesthood between, and serve God by deputy. The minister's office is to "preach" (literally, proclaim as a herald Matthew 10:27) "the mysteries of God," so far as they have been revealed, if his hearers will receive them. Josephus says the Jewish religion made known to all the people the mysteries of their religion, while the Pagans concealed theirs from all but the 'initiated' few.

Verse 2

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

Moreover. 'Aleph (') A B C Delta G, Vulgate, read [ hoode (G5602) loipon (G3063)] 'Moreover HERE'

(i:e., on earth): or the 'here' may be put at the close of the previous sentence, and 'moreover' at the beginning of the next (Lachmann) - 'stewards of the mysteries of God here.' Moreover, in the case of stewards, inquiry is made, that one may be found faithful-another argument against the Corinthian preferences of teachers for their gifts; whereas what is required in stewards is faithfulness (margin, 1 Samuel 3:20; Hebrews 3:5). But even as to this, God's stewards await not man's judgment to test them, but the testing which shall be in the day of the Lord.

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.

It is a very small thing literally 'it amounts to a very small matter;' not that I despise your judgment but as It is a very small thing - literally, 'it amounts to a very small matter;' not that I despise your judgment, but as compared with God's it almost comes to nothing.

Judged ... of man's judgment - literally, 'man's day' (here personified) contrasted with the day (1 Corinthians 3:13) of the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:5). All days previous to that day are man's days. The thrice-recurring Greek for judged ... judge ... judgeth (1 Corinthians 4:4), is judicially discerned ... discern ... discerneth, as in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 [ anakrinoo (G350), decide in judgment upon one].

Verse 4

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

By myself. Translate, 'I am conscious to myself of no (ministerial) unfaithfulness.'

Yet am I not hereby justified - therefore conscience is not an infallible guide. Paul did not consider his so. He had a good conscience (2 Corinthians 1:12); but God might see unfaithfulness in him which his own conscience could not yet accurately detect. Much of his labour might prove "stubble" in the testing day. "Justified" here refers to sanctifying righteousness. Of his justification he has no doubt (Romans 5:1); but of the degree of his sanctifying righteousness he cannot be infallibly sure until the judgment day, when he will gain or lose reward accordingly (1 Corinthians 3:14-15).

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.

Disproving the judicial power claimed by the Romish priesthood in the confessional.

Therefore - as the Lord is the sole Decider.

Judge [ krinete (G2919)] - not the same Greek as in 5:3,4, where the meaning is to decide on the merits of one's case. Here judgments in general are forbidden, which presumptuously forestall God's prerogative.

Lord - Jesus Christ, whose "ministers" we are (1 Corinthians 4:1), and who is to be the Judge (John 5:22; John 5:27; Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31).

Manifest ... hearts - our judgments now (as those of the Corinthians respecting their teachers) are necessarily defective: we only see the outward act; we cannot see the motives. 'Faithfulness' (1 Corinthians 4:2) will be estimated, and the "Lord" will 'justify' men's work, or the reverse (1 Corinthians 4:4), according to "the counsels of the hearts."

Then shall every man have praise (1 Corinthians 3:8; 1 Samuel 26:23; Matthew 25:21; Matthew 25:23; Matthew 25:28) - rather, 'his due praise,' not exaggerated, such as the Corinthians heaped on favourite teachers; 'THE PRAISE' (so the Greek) due for acts estimated by the motives. "Then," not 'before;' therefore wait until then (James 5:7).

Verse 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.

And, [ de (G1161)] - 'But' my remarks do not apply to myself and Apollos alone.

In a figure transferred to myself - i:e., I have represented under the persons of Apollos and myself (whose names have been made a party cry) what holds good of all teachers, making us two a figure or type of all the others [ metescheematisa (G3345)]: under our names I mean others to be understood whom I do not name, in order not to shame you.

Not to think ... So 'Aleph (') C read. But A B Delta G f g, Vulgate, omit 'think.' 'That in us (as your example) ye might learn (this) not (to go) beyond what is written.' Delta G g read singular, 'beyond that which is written.' 'Aleph (') A B C read plural, 'the things which are written;' perhaps referring to what he had himself written in this letter. Revere the silence of holy writ as much as its declarations: so you will less dogmatize on what is not revealed (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Puffed up for one - namely, 'for one (favourite minister) against another.' The Greek indicative [ fusiousthe (G5448)] implies, 'that ye be not puffed up AS YE ARE.'

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?

Translate [ diakrinei (G1252)], 'Who distinguisheth thee (above another)? not thyself, but God.

And, [Greek, de (G1161)] - 'but.' If, 'however,' thou appealest to thy pre-eminent gifts, 'what hast thou that thou didst not receive?'

Glory, as if thou hadst not received it - as if it was to thyself, not to God, thou owest it.

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.

Irony. Translate [ eedee (G2235) kekoresmenoi (G2880)], 'Already ye are filled full (with spiritual food), already ye are rich, ye have made yourselves kings, without us.' Ye act as if ye needed no more to "hunger after righteousness," as though already ye had reached the "kingdom" for which Christians have to strive and suffer. Ye are so puffed up with your favourite teachers, and your own fancied attainments in knowledge through them, that ye feel like those 'filled full' at a feast, or as a "rich" man glorying in his riches; so ye feel ye can now do "without us," your first spiritual fathers (1 Corinthians 4:15). But before the "kingdom" and the "fulness of joy," at the marriage feast of the Lamb, must come the cross, to every true believer (2 Timothy 2:5; 2 Timothy 2:11-12): so the self-complacent Laodiceans (Revelation 3:17: cf. Hosea 12:8). Temporal riches tended at Corinth to generate this spiritual self-sufficiency: the contrast to the apostle's literal "hunger and thirst" (1 Corinthians 4:11) proves this.

I would ... ye did reign - `I would indeed' [ ge (G1065)] that your kingdom had begun.

That we also might reign with you. Your spiritual prosperity would redound to us, your fathers in Christ (1 Corinthians 9:23). When you reach the kingdom, you shall be our "crown of rejoicing, in the presence of our Lord Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 2:19).

For. We may well desire that the time of 'reigning' were come, to relieve us from our present trials; "for," etc.

I think. The Corinthians (Greek, 1 Corinthians 3:18) 'thought' themselves "wise in this world." Paul, in contrast 'thinks' that God has set forth him and his fellow-ministers "last" - i:e., lowest. The apostles fared worse than even the prophets, who, though sometimes afflicted, were often honoured (2 Kings 5:9; 2 Kings 8:9).

Us the apostles. Paul includes Apollos with the apostles, in the broader sense. So Romans 16:7; 2 Corinthians 8:23. (Greek for 'messengers,' apostles.)

Appointed to death - as criminals condemned.

A spectacle - theatron: a theatrical spectacle. So Hebrews 10:33, "made a gazingstock by afflictions." Criminals "appointed to death" in Paul's time were exhibited as a gazingstock to amuse the populace in the amphitheater, and "set forth last" in the show, to fight with wild beasts, (cf. Tertullian, 'De Pudicitia,' 14:)

Unto the world - to the whole world, "the whole family in heaven and earth" (Ephesians 3:15). As Jesus was "seen of angels" (1 Timothy 3:16), so His followers are a spectacle to angels, who take a deep interest in the progressive steps of redemption. Paul tacitly implies that, though "last" in the world's judgment, Christ's servants are deemed by angels a spectacle worthy of their intense regard. However, since "the world" is comprehensive, and is applied in this letter to the evil especially (1 Corinthians 1:27-28), and since spectators (in the image from the amphitheater) gaze at the show with savage delight, rather than sympathy for the sufferers, bad angels are included, besides good. The generality of the term "angels," and its frequent use in a good sense, as well as Ephesians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12, imply here good as well as bad angels, though, for the reasons above, the bad be principally meant.

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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

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.

Irony. How much your lot (supposing it to be real) is to be envied, and ours to be pitied!

Fools (1 Corinthians 1:21; 1 Corinthians 3:18: cf. Acts 17:18; Acts 26:24) for Christ's sake ... in Christ - our union with Christ only entails on us, "FOR THE SAKE OF" Him, reproach as "fools;" yours gives you full fellowship IN Him as "wise" (i:e., supposing you really are all you seem, 1 Corinthians 3:18).

We are weak, but ye are strong (1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 13:9) - in a worldly point of view (1 Corinthians 4:9); but contrast 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; Revelation 3:17-18.

We are despised (2 Corinthians 10:10) - because of our "weakness," and our not using worldly philosophy and rhetoric, while ye Corinthians and your teachers are (seemingly) so "honourable." Contrast with "despised," Galatians 4:14.

Verse 11

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

(2 C 11 23 27 ) (2 Corinthians 11:23-27.)

Naked - i:e., insufficiently clad (Romans 8:35; 2 Timothy 4:13).

Buffeted - as a slave (1 Peter 2:20), the reverse of the state of the Corinthians, 'reigning as kings' (Acts 23:2). Paul's master was "buffeted" when about to die a slave's death (Matthew 26:67).

Have no certain dwelling - like Jesus (Matthew 8:20).

Verse 12

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

Working with our own hands - namely, "even unto this present hour" (1 Corinthians 4:11): so continuous are my hardships. This is not stated in the narrative of Paul's proceedings at Ephesus, whence he wrote this letter (though it is expressly stated of him at Corinth, (cf. Acts 18:3, etc., and Acts 19:1-41.) But in his address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus (Acts 20:34) he says, "Ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities," etc. The undesignedness of the coincidence thus indirectly brought out is incompatible with forgery.

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.

All this we bear in the opposite to the self-assertive spirit of the world (Matthew 5:39): a tacit reproof to the self-sufficiency of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:8).

Defamed, we entreat - namely, God for our defamers, as Christ enjoined (Matthew 5:10; Matthew 5:44). Or, we reply submissively and deprecatingly.

Filth - the sweepings of a cleaning. Or persons sacrificed for the public good in a national calamity. Christ is the true Katharma, or cleansing expiation.

Of all things - not of the "world" only.

Verse 14

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

I write not these things to shame you - for not relieving my needs (1 Corinthians 9:15).

Warn - rather, 'admonish' as a father uses 'admonition' to 'beloved sons,' not provoking them to wrath (Ephesians 6:4). The Corinthians might well be 'ashamed' at the disparity between the father, Paul, and his spiritual children, themselves.

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.

For - I say, 'my sons.'

Though ye have ten thousand - implying that the Corinthians had more "instructors" than was desirable.

Instructors - tutors [ paidagoogous (G3807)] who had the care of rearing, but not the rights or affection of the father, who alone had begotten them spiritually.

In Christ. Paul admits that these "instructors" were not mere legalists, but evangelical teachers. He uses a stronger phrase of himself in begetting them spiritually "in Christ Jesus," implying both the saviour's office and persons. As Paul was the means of regenerating them, and yet 'baptized none of them except Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas,' regeneration cannot be inseparably in and by baptism (1 Corinthians 1:14-17).

Verse 16

Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.

Be ye followers of me - literally, imitators; namely, in my ways, which be in Christ (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 11:1); not in my crosses (1 Corinthians 4:8-13; Acts 26:29; Galatians 4:12).

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 - that ye may the better "be followers of me" (1 Corinthians 4:16), through his admonitions.

Sent unto you Timotheus (1 Corinthians 16:10; Acts 19:21-22). 'Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem. So he sent to Macedonia Timotheus and Erastus.' Here it is not expressly said, he sent Timothy into Achaia (of which Corinth was the capital), but it is implied, for he sent him with Erastus before him. As be therefore purposed to go into Achaia, the probability is they were to go there also. They are said only to have been sent into Macedonia, because it was the country to which they went immediately from Ephesus. The undesignedness of the coincidence establishes the genuineness of both the letter and the history. In both, Timothy's journey is closely connected with Paul's own (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:19). Erastus is not specified in the letter, probably because it was Timothy who was charged with Paul's orders. The seeming discrepancy shows that the passages were not taken from one another (Paley).

Son - i:e., converted by me (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:14-15; Acts 14:6-7, with 16:1-2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 1:2). Translate, 'My son, beloved and faithful in the Lord.'

Bring you into remembrance. He does not say, 'shall teach you,' lest they should be hurt at being taught by a youth like Timothy. Timothy, from his spiritual connection with Paul, was best suited to remind them of the apostle's "ways in Christ," - i:e., walk and teaching (2 Timothy 3:10), which they in part, not altogether (1 Corinthians 11:2), had forgotten.

As I teach every where in every church. What the Spirit directed Paul to teach "everywhere" else must be necessary at Corinth (1 Corinthians 7:17). A form of teaching is implied: from it other teachers had departed.

Verse 18

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

Now - Greek, 'But' [ de (G1161)]. I have sent Timothy; BUT not because I do not intend to come myself, as some are puffed up to fancy as if I dared not come. A puffed-up spirit was the Corinthians' besetting sin (1 Corinthians 5:2).

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.

An emphatic negation of their supposition (1 Corinthians 4:18).

Shortly - after Pentecost (1 Corinthians 16:8).

If the Lord will - a wise proviso (James 4:15). He does not seem to have been able to go as soon as he intended.

And will know - take cognizance of.

But the power. I care not for their high sounding "speech;" what I desire to know is, whether they be really powerful in the Spirit, or not. A predominant feature of Grecian character was a love for power of discourse, rather than of godliness.

Verse 20

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

Kingdom of God - i:e., living fellowship in the Gospel (Luke 17:21; Romans 14:17).

Is not in word. Translate, as in 1 Corinthians 4:19, "speech." Not empty 'speeches;' but the manifest "power" of the Spirit attests "the kingdom of God" (the reign of the Gospel spiritually) in a church or in an individual (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:5).

Verse 21

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

With a rod, or in love. The Greek "in" is in both clauses: Is it IN the character of one using the rod that I am to come, or IN love and the spirit of meekness? (Isaiah 11:4; 2 Corinthians 13:3.) Nothing but the consciousness of superhuman power could have prompted a poor tentmaker to utter such bold words.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/1-corinthians-4.html. 1871-8.
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