Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, April 13th, 2024
the Second Week after Easter
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verses 1-5


1 Corinthians 4:1-5

1Let a man so [So let a man] account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards 2of the mysteries of God. Moreover [Here ὤDeuteronomy 1] it is required2 in stewards, that a man be found faithful. 3But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of [by] you, or of [by] man’s judgment [lit. day]: yea, I judge not mine own self. 4For I know nothing by [against] myself; yet am I not hereby [not by this am I] justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. 5Therefore 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 [each one] have [from ἀτιὸ] praise of [his ὁ] God.


1 Corinthians 4:1. [Having thus exhibited the regal title of Christians to all things, to the benefits to be derived from all Christian ministers, and from all objects and events in this world, he now turns to present, as a corollary from this, the view which they ought to take of ministers, and the manner in which they are to treat them; and thus, as it were, to remind them of certain limitations in the prerogatives of those whom they were disposed unduly to honor].—So let a man account of us.—οὕτως, so. This does not serve to connect the following with what precedes, as Meyer (3d Ed., but not 2d Ed.) supposes, rendering it: so then, or, accordingly. No such connection is here implied.3 Rather Paul here intends to hold up the proper mode of estimating teachers in contrast with that “boasting” in them reprobated in 1 Corinthians 3:21; and the “so” here refers to what follows.—“So as servants ‘of Christ.’—not as leaders taking His place.4 Ἠμᾶς, us, primarily or chiefly, Paul and Apollos, as 1 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 3:4, show. Λογίζέ σθαι, to bring to account, to reckon, to estimate, as in Romans 8:36 (חָשַב). “It implies the formation of a sound, well-weighed estimate, as contrasted with the partisan judgments which the Corinthians formed respecting their teachers.” Osiander. Ἄνθρωπος =not, every man, but, man generally, according to the Hellenic and Hebrew usage. Ὑπηρέτας as διάκονοι, 1 Corinthians 3:5. The word properly denotes a servant of subordinate rank, an understrapper. In patristic parlance it was used of sub-deacons. The New Testament employs it for helpers and attendants. Luke 4:20; Acts 13:5. The verb from which it comes, occurs in Acts 26:16, to signify David’s working for the fulfilment of God’s purposes. In the text the word carries the idea of one laboring for the cause of Christ. To adopt its fundamental meaning, that of a rower [as Valck.: “Christ is Pilot of the vessel of the Church, we are rowers under His command.” Words.], would be just as appropriate as to render it: adjutants or orderlies, according to the precedent in Xenophon. If not precisely equivalent to “deacon, ” yet it certainly is brought in here to indicate a very subordinate position under Christ, in contrast with the leadership ascribed by the Corinthian partisans. Nevertheless the idea of honor is not excluded, since this comes from being connected with Christ, whose work is performed. The dignity of the office is, however, more prominently exhibited in the second designation—and stewards of the mysteries of God—οἱκονόμους μυστηρίων θεοῦ. Romans 16:23; 1 Peter 4:10. The article is not prefixed, because the word stands qualitively, to indicate that what has been entrusted to their charge is something very important and weighty. And by these “mysteries” we are not to understand the sacraments, thereby following patristic usage. [In which case Paul could hardly have been a steward, for he was sent not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel]. Rather they are “the mystery of God” in its manifold variety and fulness; or as Luke 8:10 : “the mysteries of the kingdom of God;” in other words, the revelations of God, as matters which could be known only by Divine communication. [Such is the meaning of the word “mystery” in the New Testament—not, as in common parlance: something uncomprehensible; but: something which, being beyond the reach of man’s intelligence, has been made known to him in some special Divine way]. The “stewardship” consists in [preserving and administering the truth revealed through] preaching and teaching,—no less in properly didactic instruction than in prophecy. The “steward” belonged among the “servants,” and his business was, not to manage one particular branch of the household economy, but to take the whole in charge. He was therefore put over the rest of the servants. The stress here, however, is not to be laid upon the preëminence enjoyed by the steward, but upon the responsibility accompanying the goods entrusted.” Neander. To suppose that the Apostle used the term “stewards,” with some vague idea of provisions floating before his mind, to which he would liken the truth,—as if the persons thus denominated were regarded by him in the light of family providers, would be rather far fetched, and Luke 12:42 gives no countenance for such a thought in our passage. “Between the father of the household and the stewards, there stood the son, who had from the father a power of control, so that the stewards were in fact his servants likewise.” Meyer.

1 Corinthians 4:2. Here, moreover.—We must first consider what the true reading is here. Res. has ὅ δὲ λοιπόν. But this is not by any means so well supported as ῶ̓δε λοιπόν, which is the reading that prevails throughout the codices, versions, and church fathers in equal degree. If it be not the original reading, then it must have come in either by mistake, or by intentional correction, since the phrase ὅ δὲ λοιπόν nowhere else occurs. But neither case is probable, considering the numerous, and at least partially independent authorities which attest it. The Rec. text, apart from its unusualness, is evidently the easier reading, [and therefore may be the more readily accounted for as an intended emendation]. It would be rendered, but finally; lit. as for what remains: i. e. after setting aside all your unsuitable claims. But ῶ̓δε, which occurs nowhere else in Paul, save in Colossians 4:9, though very common in other parts of the New Testament, means, here; i. e., in this connection, or in this matter, where we are treating of the administration of the mysteries of God, comp. Revelation 13:10; Revelation 13:18; Revelation 14:12; Revelation 17:9. [Alf. translates it locally: here, on this earth, “It is,” he says, “emphatic, and points to what follows, that though in the case of stewards inquiry was necessarily made here below, yet he, God’s steward, awaited no such inquiry, ὑπὸ�: by man’s judgment, but one at the coming of the Lord.” Stanley follows Lachmann in connecting ῶ̓δε with the previous words, “stewards of the mysteries of God here,’ ” and makes it mean, in this matter (as in the references above given). Wordsworth adheres to the Rec. He considers ῶ̓δε as harsh, and accounts for it as arising from the confusion of ο and ω, than which, he says, nothing is more common in the best Mss. Hodge, on the contrary, says it yields good sense]. Λοιπόν might serve for making the transition, like ceterum, moreover, and belong primarily to ῶ̓δε. Or it may be joined to “is required,” (which is favored by the order of the words), and so as to imply, that with this consideration the whole matter is wound up; or to express something further in relation to that mentioned in ver.1, which was specially worthy of consideration.—it is required that.—ἵνα has a telic sense, and shows that the purport of the requirement is at the same time its purpose. The investigations in regard to such persons, aims at this, that one be found faithful.—This is why great trusts are reposed in a person, that he might conduct himself in the management of them according to the mind and will of God, who has committed them to Him, for the glory of His name and the welfare of His Church, and not for the legatee’s own benefit (comp. Luke 12:42). Εὑρεθῇ, be found by the result as shown at the time of trial Osiander. Τὶς, according to Meyer, every one [“Faithful,” emphatic. “The great requisite for the office of a steward is fidelity. As a servant he must be faithful to his master. As a disciple, he must be faithful to those under his oversight. He must not neglect to dispense to them their food, nor adulterate it, nor substitute any thing in place of that given to be distributed. So in regard to ministers.” Hodge].

1 Corinthians 4:3. Having stated the point of view from which alone a proper judgment could be formed in regard to him and his associates, Paul next proceeds to state his own feelings as to the judgment that might be formed of him by men. [Alford adds, “in contrast to the case of the stewards, into whose faithfulness enquiry is made ‘here’ on earth.”] Very naturally the Corinthians would think that a good deal of weight attached to their judgment.—But [δέ indicates a transition to the application of what was said in general to his own particular case] for me it amounts to the very least thing.—εἰς ελάχιστόν ἐστιν. The εἱς here, according to Greek usage, shows the result to which the thing comes—that I be judged by you.—ἵνα ἅνακριθῶ. The objective clause in telic form. It certainly is not equivalent to ὅταν�: when I am judged; nor perhaps precisely the same as τὸ�, to be judged. [“Here and always ἴνα is more or less the conj. of purpose.” Alford5]. A weakness of its force in the later Greek is not to be denied; but here the idea of intention or tendency lies in this, that something is about to happen or impends: ‘I am not at all disturbed that I shall be judged by you as to my merits.’ [Stanley, on the other hand, says that “the substitution of ἴνα with the subjunctive for the indicative is in the modern Romaic,” and seems to take it so here]—or by man’s judgment—lit.: ‘by human day. ’ Thisis neither to be taken as a Cilicism nor as a Hebraism. It designates a day of judgment, analogously with the phrase dicem dicere, and here comes in correspondingly with the expression: “day of the Lord.” We are not to understand by it a private decision (“by you”) in contrast with a public one. But it is a generalization of the phrase: ‘by you,’ and by an obvious transition, the day of the act is put for the act itself, and the judgment as a whole for the judges themselves; or as Meyer: the day is personified, and hence ὑπό is used in accordance with ὑφ̓ ὑμῶν, by you. There is something of solemnity in this phraseology; nor is it without a slight touch of irony or rebuke at their presumption in being supposed to fix upon a day of trial, and to sit upon a judgment-seat in order to pronounce upon Paul’s merits or demerits. All appearance of haughtiness in this disparagement of other’s opinions is removed by what follows.—Yea, I judge not of mine own self. Lit.: ‘But neither do I judge myself.’ The ἀλλά here is like that in 1 Corinthians 3:2. Before ἐμαυτον we would naturally look for an οὐτός. But this is not necessary. The judgment on himself, which he here disavows, is a final decision as to his own merits, such as he is willing to abide by. [“Paul is here speaking not of the actions of men whether good or bad, but of the eminence of each individual, which ought not to be estimated by men’s humors.” Calvin].

1 Corinthians 4:4. Instead of the expected antithesis, there follows first a confirmation of what precedes, in the way of a parenthesis.—For I know nothing with myself.—This first clause is concessive, [the force of for, as Winer says, falling upon the subsequent clause]: q. d. ‘For although I know,” etc. So also Meyer, [who says, however, that the force of the proof does not lie in the second clause, so that the first would be only concessive, but in the antithetic relation of both clauses. He yet gives the sense thus]: “The clearness of my conscience as to my official duties is nevertheless (doch) not the ground on which my justification rests.” [The phraseology here is peculiar, but thoroughly idiomatic, both in the Greek (ον̓δέν ἐμ αντῳ σύνοιδα) and in our E. V., which almost literally translates it:—“I know nothing by myself.” So also the Latin—nil conscire sibi. All expressions alike mean: I am conscious of no wrong. (See Jelf, Gr. Gram., § 682, 2). The English phrase is to be found in the early writers, and Stanley asserts: ‘it is still a provincial form of speech for the same thought’]. ‘Know nothing,’ i.e., so far as my official conduct is concerned. [“Elsewhere he speaks of himself as the ‘chief of sinners,’ which is perfectly consistent with his saying, that his conscience acquitted himself of failure as a Christian minister.” Hodge.]—Yet not in this am I justifiedi.e., before God. It is a question, however, whether this justification is to be understood in the dogmatic sense, [of imputed righteousness], as Meyer, and Billr., and others maintain, or in the legal, ethical sense [as the early fathers, Calvin, Hodge, Alford, and others assert]. If the former, then the meaning is: that since his justification did not depend on the verdict of his own conscience but upon Christ, therefore his conscience could not furnish the ground on which he was to judge himself. If the latter, then the sense would be: that his acquittal of all blame does not rest on the fact that his conscience charged him with no official derelictions; since conscience pronounced only in regard to particular actions and not to the whole moral character as it appears in God’s sight, so that of course a clean conscience could afford no certain basis of estimating the real worth of any person. Of these interpretations the latter is to be preferred, since there is no allusion in the context to the Gospel doctrine of justification by faith.—but he that judgeth me.—[Observe, not: “that justifieth me,” which language would have been the term employed, had Paul here had in mind the matter of his general Christian estate, but: “judgeth” (ἀνακρίνων), i.e., holds an inquest and decides on the merits of the case which may be brought into issue.]—is the Lord.i.e., Christ, [who looked deeper than conscience; and of course deeper than all outside observers], and who alone could comprehend all the data by which his official conduct was to be estimated. [“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. What makes a man a Christian is to feel and act towards Christ as God.” Hodge.].

1 Corinthians 4:5. Practical inference from the foregoing. So then (ὥστε), judge nothing.—μὴτι κρίνετε. is not the object of judgment but its contents. It is equivalent to κρίσιν τινά. Hence the meaning is: “do not judge any judgment.” The logic may be presented thus: “Since my judgment belongs to the Lord, therefore refrain from all premature decisions respecting me.” Billroth, with less simplicity, says: “Since I do not even judge myself, therefore follow my example, and do not yourselves judge.” He alludes here not to the mutually disparaging censures cast upon each other by the several factions (Billr.), but to the judgment of the Corinthian brotherhood upon himself.—before the time,—which is more fully explained in,—until the Lord shall come.—The time of His advent to judgment—His “appearing,” or “epiphany” (2 Timothy 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:7). The ἕως ἅν is used with the subjunctive ἕλθῃ, because an end to be reached is fixed upon from the standpoint of the present, but the reaching of which (here in respect of time), is still undecided. Or, according to Meyer: “The coming is thereby designated as problematical, and dependent on circumstances; not indeed, as it is doubted; also not, as it is dependent upon subjective determination, but, as it is an object of expectant faith.” [The uncertainty indicated by ἄν is not as to the fact of Christ’s coming, but as to the time when He shall come: q. d., “until the Lord shall come, whenever that may be.” (See Jelf., Gr. Gram., § 846, 2.)] (Comp. Matthew 16:28; Luke 13:35).—That a correct judgment will then, for the first time, be possible is shown from what follows.—who also.—The καί here is neither to be taken in connection with the καί in following clause, as if it were et, et, both, and: nor has it a mere strengthening force, even; but it serves to single out from among the functions of the Lord, as He comes to judgment, that one with which he is here concerned: [“also,’ inter alia, as part of the proceedings of that Day.” Alford.]—will bring to light.—φωτιζειν, with the accusative, to enlighten, illuminate, as the sun does the world, and hence to disclose, bring to light (comp. 2 Timothy 1:10),—the hidden things of darkness:i.e., such as belong to darkness, or which darkness vails. (In Romans 2:16, we have simply: “the hidden things.”) [“This includes acts now unknown, and those principles of action which lie concealed in the heart where no [human] eye can reach them. This is all that 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. 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.” Hodge.]—and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.—Epexegetical of the former, or a specification under the general head just mentioned. One function of the Judge will be to lay open the inner determinations of the will—the motives and purposes by which men are governed, and which are withdrawn from human sight. It is on these that the decision respecting our merits and our fidelity must at last turn. All depends upon the simplicity of our temper—upon such a service of the Lord as excludes all by-ends, and is upright and sincere. “The thought here is this: In this life our inward character can only be inferred from our acts; at the judgment it will be directly laid open by the Lord.” Neander.—and then,—as contrasted with the present, when so much is vailed, and when men are disposed to exercise a premature judgment—shall each one have his praise:—ἐκάστῳ ὁ ἔπαὶνος. Literally: “to each one the praise,” i.e., the praise which is his due, according to its various measures and degrees, corresponding to his worth. He here speaks of praise only, since he has in view primarily Apollos and himself, and not any Judaizing opposers. Hence there is no necessity of taking ἔπαινος as vox media, contrary to all usage, or even to regard it as an euphemism (with Theophylact). Paul’s statement here, as Calvin says, “arises from the assurance of a good conscience.” He knew there was laid up for him a crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8).—from God.—This stands emphatically at the close. By this he gives us to understand that the judgment of the Lord, which would be pronounced upon his servants, was the judgment of God himself. Thus does he appeal from those partizan judgments, which exalt one at the expense of another, to the absolute and impartial judgment of God, who will give to each one his due. On the adjudication of Christ in its relations to God see Romans 2:16; Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31. On “the praise from God” see Matthew 25:21. [“The command not to anticipate the judgment of the Lord is consistent with Paul’s 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 eject him, as Paul clearly teaches in the 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’ only the Searcher of hearts can judge.” Hodge.]


1. Christ’s ministers stewards of the mysteries of God.—In this we see the high significance and solemn responsibility of the ministerial office. In a preëminent sense, Christ is the servant of God. It is through His hand that the pleasure of the Lord prospers; and on Him has God poured His Spirit without measure, and to His control given all things, and on Him conferred power over all flesh that He should give eternal life to as many as God has given Him. Subordinate to Him in this work are Apostles, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers, acting the part, so to speak, of handworkmen (ν̓πηρἐται). They labor under His direction, undertaking and executing all those various offices by which the redemption and the guidance of souls are accomplished. The more completely they put themselves under Him, preferring His will and His plans to their own, seeking no glory but His, asserting His authority as the only rule—the more exalted will they appear in God’s sight, as persons who are worthy to coöperate with “His Servant” in this, the most important of all concerns, and to become the organs of his gracious purposes.

The lofty significance of their office appears enhanced by the fact, that in this service they are made “stewards of the mysteries of God.” To them has been committed the wondrous plan of salvation—a plan which from all eternity had been hid in God, and was concealed from the researches of the wisest in this world, and was at last revealed in Jesus Christ, and hence is well termed a mystery—even this plan, with all the means requisite for its execution, in reconciling sinners to God, and awaking the spiritually dead, and enlightening the benighted, and originating, preserving, confirming, and perfecting the life of faith in God’s dear children. Their business it is, therefore, to employ this wealth of Divine instrumentalities for the extension of the kingdom of God on earth, and in behalf of each and all of God’s people; and to discharge this trust publicly and privately, towards all classes and conditions in society without partiality:—to inquire out the ways through which God leads souls to the truth, and to construct such ways, by examining into the tendencies and characteristics and wants of individuals and communities, and by investigating their circumstances and inward conditions in life; and then to urge men to enter them:—to be unwearied in beseeching men in Christ’s stead to become reconciled to God, warning, exhorting, rebuking, reproving, in the consciousness that God is acting in them and through them and in the exercise of something of His holy earnestness and pitying love. This, this is to act the part of a faithful steward; this is to fulfil the obligation which rests upon the office-bearers of a Christian church. In order to be thus faithful they must be instructed by the Spirit, and follow in the footsteps of Him who, as the Son of God, was faithful in all His house, and who said of Himself that He could do nothing except what He saw the Father do. But if, instead of this, they go their own ways, employ methods to their own liking, conduct themselves so that the mind and counsel of God are not to be discerned in them—if they allow themselves to be carried away by carnal zeal and impatience, or yield to disgust and slothfulness, or suffer sensual gratifications, whether refined or gross, or a love of honors and authority and applause to slip in and betray them into unhallowed courses,—then are they chargeable with a faithlessness which incurs a fearful accountability.

2. The Lord is Judge.—This truth is, on the one hand, a source of comfort to all true servants of God, amid the various criticisms and censures passed upon them; and, on the other hand, it serves to abate the confidence of their own self-estimation. In the great day of account the Searcher of hearts will bring to light all that has been stirring within them, their longings and strivings, their secret motives and inward struggles, their inarticulate sighs as well as their uttered prayers; and in view of these things, all unknown to men, will He judge them. However others, who judge according to appearance, may find occasions for censure, or may misconstrue their doings and omissions, they can accept it all in peace and look away in calm assurance from these hasty decisions to the righteous sentence of an All-seeing Judge.—Yet, with all this, there is at the same time something very subduing in the anticipation of this only valid adjudication. However unconscious of blame they may be in the discharge of their duties, still this can afford them no certain ground for hoping to be acquitted before their Lord. His all-piercing eye detects faults that are hidden from their own consciences; and in His all-illuminating light much may appear unclean which to their clouded vision seems stainless. Hence it becometh them to be modest and leave to Him the final award.—Yet from him, who has been diligent in his endeavors to be faithful, the due praise will not be withheld,—however much men might criticize. From the mouth of his Lord he will receive the sentence: “Well done thou good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”—But even as when on earth every tribute of honor had the effect only to humble him the more, by bringing out in contrast a sense of his own unworthiness; so, too, will he receive this approval of his gracious Chief Shepherd in utmost lowliness. The crown of glory will ever be cast at his feet.


Starke:—Christ’s servants should perform their service, not so as to please men, but as the Lord requires. As stewards of the Gospel treasures, they have the right to open these treasures, and to close them against the wicked (Matthew 16:19). The higher the Lord, the higher the servant; yet the latter is ever subordinate.—Ministers are servants, not lords, of men’s faith. One is our Master, even Christ. Both pastors and flock are brethren (2 Corinthians 1:24), (Hed.), 1 Corinthians 4:1.—A minister must be faithful: 1, to God, in looking to Him with single eye, seeking His honor, acting according to His will and maintaining His rights; 2, to the Church, in withholding from it nothing essential to its welfare, and in declaring the whole counsel of God, so that no person shall suffer or perish through his fault or neglect; 3, to his own office in not acting the part of a lord, but of a servant who is ready to listen and labor. Fidelity in office grows out of fidelity to one’s self. A true preacher preaches Christ not only with the mouth but from the heart. He speaks from experience and confirms his doctrine by his conduct, 1 Corinthians 4:2.—A minister of God must be deaf, alike to the praise and the blame of men. His rule is the will of his Master, not the opinion of men. If he follows the latter he will never be faithful in his office, 1 Corinthians 4:3.—It is one thing to have a good conscience before God for our consolation (1 John 3:21) and another thing to have it for our self-justification. The one requires a sincerity and diligence such as David could claim, the other a faultless perfection such as neither David nor Paul dare arrogate (Psalms 19:13; Philippians 3:12).—Blessed state, to be conscious of no wrong, and yet not to be disposed to justify oneself, 1 Corinthians 4:4.—How unlike the judgment of God and the judgment of man. The former comes at the end of probation, is impartial, comprehensive in its data; the latter is ordinarily premature, rash, and grounded only on the outward appearance.—What must be the disclosures of the last day! God holds the key to the inmost thoughts of all men; and when they are all open to inspection, how fearful will then be the outcry! Take heed, O hypocrite; the Lord knows thee. Rejoice, thou sincere heart; the Lord will come and be thy witness (Job 34:21), 1 Corinthians 4:5.

Rieger:—The office of the preacher springs out of Christ.—As the Father sent Him, so He sends forth His ministers in order to proclaim the power which has been committed to Him in heaven and earth. This is their service and stewardship, 1 Corinthians 4:1.—If distinctions are to be made among ministers, better look to their fidelity than to their gifts or reputation; and in judging of fidelity, that must often be taken into account which is least apt to strike the notice of men.

Heubner, A.:—The worth of true evangelical ministers consists: 1, in the purpose of their office; a, to serve Christ and be wholly dependent on His word; and hence, b, to promote the salvation of the congregation as stewards of God, 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, In their fidelity, which is seen; a, in the actual discharge of their duties; b, in a sincerity of spirit which ever stands as in God’s sight and cares to be approved by Him alone, ver 2.–3, In the humility, which; a, refuses to justify self, 1 Corinthians 4:3 ff., and, b, awaits in confidence the Divine award, 1 Corinthians 4:4-5.—B. Ministers and congregations will one day together stand at the bar of God:—1. They will so stand, for; a, Paul implies this; b, it is necessary to the revelation of the Divine righteousness. 2. The fact is a momentous one; a, for ministers—it ought to shame them of their unfaithfulness, prompt them to walk conscientiously, and lift them above the opinions of the world; b, for the congregation—it should keep them from judging before the time, and cause them to take need rather that the Word of God brings forth fruit among them; c, for both—they ought to conduct themselves as if already before the judgment seat.—Man is often unconscious of the deepest motives which actuate him; hence he can give himself no assurance that he has omitted nothing due, or done nothing sinful, 1 Corinthians 4:4.—So act always that thou canst at any moment have thy heart exposed, 1 Corinthians 4:5.

Gossner:—As a general thing, the natural man loves to hear what people think of him. It is harder to despise praise than blame.

[Hodge:—“1 Chronicles 4:1; 1 Chronicles 4:1 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, 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.”]

W. F. Besser: 1 Corinthians 4:2. It is a comfort that nothing but fidelity is required of stewards, not talents, nor inventive powers, nor manifold activity, nor success. The daintiness and fanciful taste of the vain and luxurious Corinthians, in whose sight fidelity seemed a small virtue, are no rarity in these times. But worse still is the rebellion shown by many congregations, who style themselves churches of Christ, against the fidelity of their pastors and teachers.

[G. C. A. Harless:

1 Corinthians 4:2. What is here asserted of ministers holds good also of all Christians. Compare the parable of our Lord on “The talents,” Matthew 25:14 ff. The peculiar nature of the fidelity demanded is determined by the peculiar character of the blessing of salvation intrusted. It is not fidelity to a duty outwardly imposed, to a precept, rule, maxim or the like, but fidelity to an inwardly active vital principle—personal fidelity to a personal fellowship with God, wrought by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is the fidelity of a new-born child of God in whom the Spirit testifies to what the word promises].

[Calvin: 1 Corinthians 4:4. Conscious of no wrong, and yet not justified. “Papists abuse this passage for the purpose of shaking the assurance of faith; and truly I confess that if their doctrine were admitted, we could do nothing but tremble in wretchedness during our whole life. For what tranquillity could our minds enjoy if it were to be determined from our works whether we are well-pleasing to God. I confess, therefore, that from the main foundation of Papists there follows nothing but continual disquietude for consciences; and accordingly we teach that we must have recourse to the free promise of mercy which is offered to us in Christ, that we may be fully assured that we are accounted righteous by God”].

[A. Tholuck: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5. The characteristics of a faithful steward.—I. All he has he regards as belonging to his Lord. II. He is as faithful in small things as in great things. III. The source of his fidelity is his love for his Lord.—Th. Chalmers:

1 Corinthians 4:3-4. The judgment of men compared with the judgment of God.—I. God has a right to prefer greater claims against us, than men can. II. God has a clearer and more elevated sense of moral worth and holiness than men have].


1 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Corinthians 4:2.—ὦδε is supported by a great preponderance of authorities [A. B. C. D. F. Cod. Sin.] and preferred by Lach. Meyer [Alf. Stanley], to the Rec. ὅ δέ. See under “Exegetical and Critical.”

1 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Corinthians 4:2.—ζητεῖται is sustained mainly by the old versions, and is decidedly preferable to ζητεῖτε [which is found in A. C. D. Cod. Sin. and others.] Stanley remarks that the confusion arises from the similarity of sound in Romaic between ε and αι. The Cod. Sin. inserts τί before ζητεῖτε, and would be rendered, “Moreover what do you here seek in stewards? That a man,” etc.

[3][This is not so clear. Ον̔́τως does often have reference to what precedes. And here certainly Paul seems to be applying the principle, he had just been laying down in general, to himself and his associates in particular. The very position of ον̔́τως ἠμᾶς so us, too, seems to require this. As they were Christ’s, so it was to be borne in mind that he and Apollos were also Christ’s, and that, too, in their official capacity. They were Christ’s servants—stewards of God’s mysteries, and were to be respected accordingly. Ον̓́τως, so, therefore points back to what has been said, and also forwards to ὡς, as, which resumes and makes the implication more definite].

[4][But in thus putting the emphasis on their official capacity, rather than on the fact of their belonging to Christ, the way does not seem to be prepared for what follows. There may, indeed, be an implication here of a subordinate position, which contradicted their partisan estimates; but this evidently retires before the rising thought just about to find expression].

[5]But Jelf in Gr. Gram. § 803, obs. 1, shows in full argument the gradual modification of meaning until it cornea to have the force only of the accusatival infinitive. And this, he says, is frequent in the New Testament: There seems to be a great effort among some critics to avoid the admission of this, and to show the telic force of ἵνα in every instance].

Verses 6-13


1 Corinthians 4:6-13

6And 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 [om. to think of men6] above that which [the things which7] is [are] written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. 7For 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? 8Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God [om. to God, and insert indeed, etc.] ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. 9For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle 10unto the world, and to angels, and to men. 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. 11Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked,8 12and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; and labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: 13Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.


1 Corinthians 4:6. [Having laid down certain principles in regard to the Church and its relations to its teachers, and illustrated them in the case of Apollos and himself, Paul now proceeds to show their more general scope and bearing].—And.—δέ, [in the sense of now], indicates that he is approaching the close of what he has to say on party strifes.—these things.—ταῦτα, refers back to 1 Corinthians 3:5.—It is from that point that he has spoken of himself and Apollos. [So Hodge, de Wette, Meyer and others. But Alford says: “There is surely no reason for limiting its reference within that point.” He accordingly extends the reference back to 1 Corinthians 1:12, and infers that all the names mentioned there were only used “as samples,” behind which the real persons intended were hid].—brethren,—addressed to the Church as a whole, but primarily (de Wette) to the party leaders and their followers. “By this title he lays hearty hold upon the Corinthians, who had been showing themselves very un-brotherly.” Besser.—I have transferred in a figure,—μετεθχημάτισα. There is some difficulty in determining the sense of this word. It elsewhere appears with the meaning: to transform, to change, Philippians 3:21. The simple σχηματιζειν is used to denote that form of speech, where a person, instead of saying directly what he means, hints it in ways for his hearers to reflect upon and puzzle out the meaning of—allegorizes. It is used also of transformations, false movements, feint attacks, disguises (comp. 2 Corinthians 11:13). Neander explains it: “to transfer something to any one by a figure of speech. The μετεσχηματισμός here consists in this, that Paul develops in reference to himself and Apollos what holds good also of all the Corinthian teachers.” Hence arose the old interpretation, that Paul had only by supposition represented in himself and Apollos what really belonged to others who were the actual party leaders, putting his own name and that of his friend for theirs. But this is a groundless assumption, irreconcilable with i. 12.—Still less admissible is the idea that the word refers to the figures of “planting” and “watering,” under which he had exhibited the nature of his work (1 Corinthians 3:6); for these were used only for vividly illustrating his point, and had nothing to do with the main object in hand.—Undoubtedly he means “a transfer” of such a sort,—that, what was true of teachers in general, and so was calculated to bring down the pride of the party leaders at Corinth, he had applied especially to Apollos and himself. It was in fact a transforming of the general into the specific, the relation of which to the parties concerned is expressed by εἰς.—unto myself and Apollos, for your sakes,—Why he did this is at once explained,—in order that in us ye may learn.—By exhibiting himself and Apollos of so small account (suitably no doubt to the feelings of the latter also), he would by example teach them that modesty which does not seek to exalt itself.—not above what is written.—τὸ μὴ ὑπὲρ ἅ γέγραπται. Were φρονεῖν genuine [see under the text], then it would read: “not to think of yourselves above,” etc. But, as it is, the brief clause, converted into a substantive by the article τό, is very forcible, and is to be rendered imperatively: “not beyond what is written;” i.e., exceed not this measure, hold to the Scripture rule both in your inward judgments and in your pretensions. Thus this short expression, so abruptly brought in, conveys more than the gloss, “to think.” [“The ellipsis of the verb is significant as giving greater largeness and general comprehensiveness to the proverb, which would be limited by the insertion of a particular verb with a special idea. Compare a similar ellipse in Terence, ut nequid nimis, and in Milton: ‘Observe the rule of, not too much, by Temperance taught.’ ” Words.].—But what does he mean by ἅ γέγραπται: “what things are or have been written?” Does he allude here to his own previous declarations? [as Luther and Calov. assert, and Calvin allows]. Hardly; for then it would have been προέγραψα, I have before written (comp. Ephesians 3:3). According to Paul’s usage, the formula: “it is written,” refers to the Holy Scriptures, especially to the Old Testament: since we find no allusion to any New Testament, or to any life of Christ in any of Paul’s writings, [“though indeed, as Chrysostom supposes, St. Matthew’s Gospel had been written at this time, and there the Corinthians would find cautions from Christ himself against the sin of calling and being called, Rabbi.” Words.]. Undoubtedly Paul here has in mind, not individual expressions of Holy Writ, but its collective tenor, which all points to this truth: that all honor belongs to God; and that all self-boasting, all cleaving to men, and priding oneself in men, must be given up. This doctrine we find summed up in apophthegms like Jeremiah 9:23, to which reference has already been made. The sense, therefore, cannot be doubtful. This is exhibited more clearly in what follows:—that ye be not puffed up one for one against another.—The Ind. φυσιοῦσθε after ἵνα occasions no little difficulty. The Ind. after ἵνα first appears in the later Greek, nowhere else in the New Testament. [Winer, however, adopts the view that it is the Ind. and is to be regarded as an impropriety of the later Greek, § 41:1. b.; and so does Jelf, Gr. Gram., § 806, 4:2.] Some (Bengel, Osiander) assume here a peculiar or mistaken form of contraction for φυσιῶσθε (as in ζηλοῦε, Galatians 4:17); others (Fritzche [Origen and Theod.] change ἵνα into ἕνα; others give to ἵνα a local signification: where, whereby, under which circumstances, and render the clause: “in which case, i.e., while acting according to Scripture rule, ye are not puffed up,” (present for the future). So Meyer. Since the correction, which was designed to restore the supposed original text, is untenable,—for the reason that the change of ἕνα into ἵνα would have drawn the subjective after it (but which nowhere appears, save in one MS. of Chrysostom); and since the use of ἵνα, in the sense proposed by Meyer, does not reach back to the prose of this period, we must in consequence decide for Bengel’s view, and all the more, for the reason, that ἵνα stands just before in its telic sense. The second clause with ἵνα stands either coördinate with the first, or subordinate to it. The latter can be understood as denoting, equally with the former, the purpose of the Apostle, yet so as to be included in it—defining the point more exactly. [To avoid the appearance of solecism, Wordsworth suggests that φυσιοῦσθε be taken as imperative, thus involving a change from the indirect to the direct style. Examples of this sudden transition he finds in Acts 1:4; Acts 22:3; Acts 23:32; Luke 5:14; Mark 6:9; also in this very Epistle, 1 Corinthians 1:31.—Accordingly he would translate: “in order that—(you may practice this precept)—be not ye puffed up.” This is ingenious, but harsh, especially as we have ἵνα with the subj. in the clause immediately preceding, and we would naturally look for the same construction here. Instead of “liveliness,” we should have “raggedness,” of style as the result.] The meaning, however, is plain. We have here a striking exhibition of the partisan spirit. “It is the definition of a sect, where individuals admire individuals.” Bengel. The adherents of one party are here represented as seeking mutually to exalt each other to the prejudice of those of another party (comp. ὐπὲρ�, 1 Thessalonians 5:11). ὐπέρ: to the advantage of, in favor of (not [as Winer] “above the one,” both on account of the Gen. and of the contrast in Κατὰ, against). Τοῦ ἑνός, the one, denotes a person belonging to the same party; τοῦ ἑτέρον, the other, a person belonging to another party. Interpreting, however, in the light of facts, we must suppose that the leaders and not private members are particularly intended. Ὑπέρ then would stand as in 2 Corinthians 7:4. It implies that party pride which would prompt a person to puff his own chief and look down with contempt upon the chief of another party. De Wette, without sufficient grounds, insists on referring this to the Christ-party, who also had exalted their leaders above the others.

1 Corinthians 4:7. For.—Paul goes on to give the reason for his protest against their emulation, in the most energetic style, addressing a series of questions to those who were “puffed up.” The first,—Who maketh thee to differ?—“This has been commonly taken to imply distinction of some sort; either actual distinction, by office and the like, in which case the answer would be: ‘not thyself, but the Lord;’ or assumed distinction by a claim to preëminence, in which case he would imply: ‘no one does this, but thyself; it is an arbitrary self-promotion;’ or at least: ‘there is no judge qualified for doing this.’ But thus interpreted, the Apostle would be regarded as addressing properly the party leaders [so Words.], while it is clear that he was just before addressing the partisan followers. Besides, in the construction, first suggested above, the second question would be already anticipated. Finally, these interpretations would transcend the demonstrable use of διακρίνειν, whether in the New Testament or elsewhere. The rendering best suited to usage and to the connection is: ‘Who separates you?’ This, then, would refer to the party position which the person spoken to assumed, and in which he proudly stood aloof from other parties and their leaders. What the Apostle means to ask is: ‘What is the reason you say’—or ‘Who justifies you in saying: “I am of Paul, and I of Apollos,” and in priding yourself in such partisanship? This party separation, in which you boast, is altogether arbitrary and unwarrantable.’ [Bengel, Words., Alf., Calv. give the meaning: ‘Who distinguisheth thee,’ as if by reason of some excellence which is supposed to exist. And for this use of διακρίνω Words, refers to Acts 15:9. The propriety of this, also, Hodge concedes. And it was the construction on which Augustine proceeded in his argument with Pelagius, and in his maintenance of the doctrine of sovereign grace. It seems better, therefore, to abide by the ordinary interpretation given in the text].—In the second question,—What hast thou which thou didst not receive?—he alludes to the advantages which a person might possess, and which stood connected in some way with the quickening and informing influence of this or that teacher. [But is not this limiting the scope of the question too much? which plainly bears upon the leaders also]. ‘These advantages,’ he implies, ‘could only be the ground of pride in case they had been self-attained. But thou hast only what thou didst receive. All thine insight, thy gifts for speaking, etc., are a bestowment from God, even though imparted through human instrumentalities.’—To this question the next directly joins, since it presupposes that something has been received; and this not problematically, but as actually existing,—and yet it designates the boasting as something contradictory to this supposition, and therefore wholly unsuitable. Its import is,—if—as I grant—thou really didst receive—something—why dost thou boast, as if thou hadst not received it?—but all were due to thine own exertions or to thy connection with this or that teacher?’ The καί here belongs, as usual (Passow II p. 1540), not to the entire hypothetical clause, but to ἕλαβες, and may be translated, actually, indeed, really.—But may we not obtain a fuller meaning, and one more comporting with the words and aim of the Apostle, if we suppose the Apostle to imply in the second question that nothing had been received, by punctuating it, either so that τι δὲ ἕχεις shall be taken alone: ‘and what hast thou?’—or so that τί δὲ shall stand separately: ‘how now?’ or: ‘what then? hast thou that which thou didst not receive?’ He would thus be pointing to their vain conceit, their empty boasting, their pride in the gifts of their teachers, in which they had no part themselves. The third question would then first treat of a case wherein they were supposed to have received something, and which as such excluded boasting. So Bengel: “There are many things, which thou has not received, and therefore thou hast not these things, and canst not boast of them; either thou hast received, or hast not received; if thou hast not received, thou possessest not; if thou hast received, thou possessest it not, except as received, and so without cause for glorying. The latter sense renders the meaning of καί, even, which immediately follows, more expressive, and shows the antanaclasis (repetition in a modified form) in the clauses: ‘thou hast not received’ and ‘hadst not received.’ ”

1 Corinthians 4:8. Already ye are full, already ye are rich; ye have reigned as kings without us.—[Having before rebuked, he here proceeds to deride, as Calvin says,] their false contentment, vain self-sufficiency and lofty bearing, as if they had already reached the goal of all Christian hope and effort. Especially has he in mind certain persons who always aspired to pitch the tune, and the parasites, who were ever ready to strike in. The clauses here are not questions, but declarations charged with keenest irony. Only when so understood do the words carry their proper emphasis. To deny him the right to use such irony, and to impute lordly desires to Paul in consequence, is one of Rückert’s false assumptions. And to this Meyer fairly replies, that the Apostle must have been the best judge as to the mode in which it was necessary to discipline the Corinthians, and that it was precisely because of his very purity of conscience that he was able to yield to his justly roused feelings without rendering himself liable to suspicion. Neander says: “The conceit of a narrow-minded bigotry can best be attacked with irony and sarcasm;” and Besser: “The servant of Christ need not be ashamed of any outburst of indignation that springs from a hearty love, and the biting salt of derision, which spices his language, does not detract from his amiability;” [and Hodge: “The prophets especially employ these weapons freely in their endeavors to convince the people of the folly of idols”]: In what precedes, Paul has just exhorted them to modesty in accordance with the pattern set by himself and Apollos, and reminded them of their dependence on God for all their endowments—a dependence which excluded boasting. Now he reminds them, not only that they were unmindful of this dependence, but that they were also cradling themselves in the vain conceit of their own perfection—they, the very persons whom he had just before convicted of great imperfection and moral perversity.—Ἤδη, already, i. e., so long before the proper time for it. It points to a goal remote, and hints that all true satisfaction, and true riches, and true kingship, belonged not to the present period of the world; and hence it implies that they were vainly anticipating the glory which was to come hereafter. The word is put first for the sake of the emphasis.

The three verbs following form a climax: “ye have enough;” “ye enjoy a superfluity;” “you have attained to lordship.” κεκορεσμένοι ἐστέ=ἐπλου ήσατε (comp. Revelation 3:17); the former implies the full possession and enjoyment of salvation; the latter, that they had this in superabundance. We have here a picture of that self-conceit, that sense of sufficiency and fulness which the sectarian spirit generally engenders, and by which all disposition to receive spiritual good from any quarter outside of the party circle, is entirely destroyed. The sectarian always feels himself perfectly supplied in all respects, and in no time or way needful of any thing further.—It must be acknowledged, indeed, that the Corinthians were enriched by God’s grace, “in all knowledge and in all spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 1:5-7), yet the consciousness of this fact was disfigured by their pride; and that sense of their poverty in themselves, and of their manifold defects, which ought to have kept them humble, was in like manner suppressed.—In the verbs επλουτήσατε and εβασιλεύσατε, the Aorist form leads us out of the idea of simple being into that of becoming (having become) comp. 2 Corinthians 8:9. By the word “reign” we are not to understand either the enjoyment of any high degree of knowledge, authority, safety and happiness [as Calvin and Barnes]; nor yet the supremacy attained by party leaders [as Billroth]; nor yet the preëminence of one party over another. Paul here refers to that regal state which Christians were to enjoy under the future reign of the Messiah, and which is alluded to in 2 Timothy 2:12; Romans 8:17; John 17:24; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:4;—a state in which they should be delivered from all the restraints of this life, and introduced into the full possession of all the gifts and powers of the heavenly kingdom. This it is which he says the Corinthians had begun to assume already, so prematurely. [So Alf., Stanley, Words., Hodge]. “That which afterwards developed itself in the Papacy on the one side, and in the fanatical sects, like that of the Anabaptists, on the other, had already begun to prevail in the Corinthian Church. When both the bottomless depths of sin and the glory of divine grace are alike uncomprehended, then people dream themselves into a supremacy, whose kingdom, with all its show of spirituality, is of this world, and where the holy Apostles enter not.” Besser.

There remains to be considered the cutting expression—without usi.e. without our presence or coöperation. He does not here mean to charge them with having given him any personal affront; but he only states with emphasis the fact as it was, viz., that in all their boasting, and in all their supposed attainment of their goal, himself and associates, [“who had been looking forward to present them on that day as their glory and joy” Alf.], had no part, and were not needed.

From this point he turns to speak in another tone [“and with solemnity” Alf.].—I would—ὄφελον, according to later usage, a particle with the Indicative. [The addition “to God” found in our version, is not authorized, or at least not demanded by the original. The Scriptures do not authorize such appeals to God as seem to be in common, when our version was made” Hodge].—indeed;—γε strengthens the wish—that ye did reign.—The irony can hardly be supposed to continue here, as if he insinuated as the object of his wish: “that you might give us some share in your kingdom, [and that we might be of some account among you.” So Lightfoot, who interprets this as a “bitter taunt”]. This would have been indeed too bitter. Bather we must take it as the expression of a glorious and sincere wish, that they had already reached the goal; so that the Apostles, their teachers, might enjoy their glory with them, inasmuch as both parties were inseparable in their final fruition of glory when this was actually obtained. “When you shall be perfected, then we shall have ease, and the end of Apostolic trouble.” Bengel. This is implied in the clause—that we might reign with you.—In thus speaking of them as the original possessors of glory, and of the Apostles as only partners with them, he adopts a humble phraseology, which at the same time conveys an indirect rebuke at their pride (comp. Osiander in loco).

1 Corinthians 4:9. For.—He here proceeds to state what reason he had for the wish just expressed, and how closely it lay on his heart. This reason might be seen in the miserable condition which he and his fellow Apostles were in. The connection may be stated thus: ‘for we, the Apostles, (“founders of churches, which these high-swelling pseudo-apostles are not,” Osi.), are so persecuted and afflicted, that this fellowship in the kingdom cannot but be greatly desired by us.’ This is a more simple interpretation than to insert a parenthesis here, implying: ‘but this cannot happen until the kingdom of God is revealed; for I think,’ etc. Ruckert is mistaken in supposing that the irony is still continued, as if it meant: ‘very probably God has appointed us last; you naturally go in first, then, after all the rest, we follow suit.’ This interpretation (which supposes that what immediately precedes is ironical likewise) presents the Apostle in a too ignoble aspect for even the utmost candor to admit. There is no implication of this sort in the opening word:—I think—δοκῶ—God has exhibited.—ἀπέδειξεν, as in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, comp. θέατρον—us.—To interpret this of Paul alone [as Calvin, Beza] is forbidden by the article before ἀποστόλους—the Apostles.—And in case any would wish to translate: ‘God has appointed us, the last Apostles, unto death [as Calvin, Chrys.], an objection arises to this, apart from all other reasons, in the fact, that then the article would have been put before ἐσχάτους:—last.—In this word [which is here a predicate, attached to the verb defining its operation] there is expressed in a general manner what is after-wards stated more definitely—last, not in point of time, but in grade of society (homines infirnæ sortis).—as appointed unto death.—ὠς ἐπιθανατίους , Chrys.: καταδίκους; Suid.: προσδοκίμους τοῦ�, comp. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. No allusion is here made to bestiarii, or to gladiators [as Stanley after Tertullian, Chrys., Calvin and others]. That they, as malefactors condemned to death, were also exposed to public contempt, is still further set forth in a causal sentence—for we are become a spectacle.—θέατρον, which is elsewhere called θέαμα. So θεατριζεσθαι, Hebrews 10:33to the world.—[“not to a single city, but to the whole world” Chrys.],—corresponding to the range of the Apostles’ labors, which embraced all nations and lands (see Colossians 1:6; Colossians 1:23; Romans 10:18).—But this general term is so specialized as to include also the dwellers in heaven, the angels; and so he seems here to pass, in thought, beyond the direct sphere of his personal activity.—As well to angels as to men.—By “angels” does he mean good or evil angels? Undoubtedly the former, since no epithet is applied; and, according to New Testament usage (with but one exception—1 Corinthians 6:3), the term denotes good angels, never the bad only, nor yet the two classes together. Only in case we take the word “spectacle” in a bad sense, indicating an object for mocking and malicious enjoyment, can we suppose bad angels to be intended. We should then be compelled to take the term “world” as a designation of the entire realm of beings hostile to tie Gospel. This, however, would be an arbitrary interpretation (see Meyer). While then by “men” we understand all on earth, of every sort, who observe the Apostles’ wants and suffering, the “angels” can only mean those who from above look down in loving sympathy and wonder at the Apostles’ steadfastness. Such are the cloud of witnesses in the midst of which Paul feels that he and his associates are exhibited for a spectacle. Comp. Osi., and passages like Luke 22:43; Matthew 4:11; Hebrews 12:22; 1 Peter 1:12. On the contrary, Luther, Neander, Bisping, Besser, interpret the word, of angels and men, both good and evil. Besser says: “So the world, both angels and men, are divided in respect to the Apostles and their ministry. It is a spiritual battle, to which the Gospel trumpet summons the hosts in heaven and on earth, in the atmosphere and the whole visible circuit. The scene presented to the eyes of men, is but an image of that which goes on behind the curtain.”

1 Corinthians 4:10. [“Again the bitterest irony: ‘how different our lot from yours! How are you to be envied—we to be pitied!’ Alford]. He begins with a contrast lying nearest his thought.—We, fools for Christ’s sake.—“Are” is understood. He means: ‘we pass for fools, because we preach Christ crucified, and propose to know nothing else.’ Osiander’s explanation transcends the simple meaning of the words: ‘I am content out of love for Christ and his cause to pass for a fool.’—but ye, wise in Christ,—i.e., they, in their union with Christ (not, “in the Church,” nor, “in the doctrine” of Christ), are very knowing, full of insight. This is ironical. They fancy themselves such, and seek to pass for such, in their efforts to combine Christianity and secular wisdom.—we, weak,—ἀσθενεῖς signifies a lack of energy, which any superficial observer might suppose to characterize the Apostle, by reason of his modest reserve on the one hand, and of his suffering condition on the other. (Comp. 2 Corinthians 13:4; 2 Corinthians 10:10). “The word expresses the prevailing tone of the Apostle’s mind—a consciousness of weakness, by virtue of which he was the better able to receive strength from God.” Neander. (See 1 Corinthians 2:3).—but ye, strong.—Ἰσχυροι suggests the idea of a bold, energetic forth-putting, which carried the appearance of assumption, and “a proud parade of abilities that were derived from the Lord.” With this, there is closely connected the condition, which, by reversing the order of the contrast, is presented first.—ye, glorious,—Ἔνδοξοι i.e., in honor and authority, by reason of your wisdom and power.—but we, despised.—Ἅτιμοι, i.e., void of esteem, in disgrace, as seen in the shameful treatment received. To supply the words: “on account of Christ,” and: “in Christ,” in the second and third antithesis, is unnecessary, although it would yield fitting sense.

1 Corinthians 4:11-13.—He here leaves the antithesis, and goes on to enlarge upon the destitution and ignominy endured by the Apostles. [His irony, too, gives way to deep, earnest feeling, awakened in view of all he had encountered for Christ and for the Church; and his spirit mellows to the kindlier mood which speaks in 1 Corinthians 4:14].—unto this present hour.—The designation stands in contrast with the “already” of 1 Corinthians 4:8. [While they seemed to have got through trials into triumphs, he was still in the midst of trouble].—we both hunger and thirst and are in want of clothing.—Γυμνιτεύειν, 2 Corinthians 11:27; Matthew 25:36; James 2:15; Isaiah 58:7. [On the form of this verb see Winer, § xvi. “From γυμνός one would expect γυμνίτης and accordingly the best codd. have in this place, γυμνίτευομεν, which we must not, with Fr. and Meyer, take for an orthographical error.”]:—and are buffetted.—Κολαφιζεσθαι, to be beaten with fists (comp. Matthew 26:67; 1 Peter 2:20.—and have no certain dwelling place.—ἀστατοῦμεν. The word occurs only here,—lit., are without fixed abode—and points to flights amid persecutions [such as Paul often was obliged to make; and why not also to his perpetual journeyings, having given up home to be the continual missionary that he was?]—and we labor,—From pains he turns to toils. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 9:6; 2 Corinthians 11:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; Acts 18:3).—working,—i.e., as a hired person,—with our own hands.—According to Greek notions, this involved a sort of disgrace (ἀτιμία).—Being reviled we bless.—He here goes on to exhibit his self-denial in still other forms, as shown in his deportment under ill usage. ‘In requital for wicked words of execration (λοιδορεῖν), we give good words of benediction (εὐλογεῖν).’—Being persecuted we suffer it.i.e., under a persistent and active hostility (διωκειν) we exhibit a patience, which refrains from retaliation or resistence, and lets all pass (ἀνεχἐσθαι).—being defamed, we entreat.—For slanderous speeches (δυσφημεῖν) we return dissuasions (παρακαλεῖν), entreaties that such things may not happen, not intercessions before God [as Calvin; but Stanley says: (1) ‘we offer consolation,’ or (2) as in 1 Corinthians 4:16, ‘we entreat men to follow our example,’ comp. 2 Corinthians 1:3]. The reading βλασφημούμενοι, is indeed well supported [see under the text], and it means essentially the same thing.—Whether godless cursings are also therein implied, is at least doubtful, since this idea comes in only when God is the object of the blasphemy. [But why should not this idea enter here as well, when Paul carried on himself the name of Christ which was blasphemed in him? This was the sorest spot on which a true Apostle could be attacked. Hence in this word his statements reach a climax]. In these declarations Paul gives us to understand, not (as Meyer) that the Apostles were so very destitute of honor among men, that they did not care to vindicate themselves against their villifiers (as persons do who have honor to maintain), but that they sought honor itself by thus requiting and overcoming evil with good. (Comp. Matthew 5:44; Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60; Romans 7:14; Romans 7:17; 1 Peter 3:9).

Finally, he returns to the simple exhibition of the dishonor into which they were cast, and seta it forth in deepest colors and at the extremest point.—as the refuse of the world have we become.—Mey.: ‘It is as if we were the scum, the vilest dregs of mankind.’ This idea, however, would not be lost if, with Luther and others, we were to translate the word περικαθάρματα: sin offerings, in allusion to an ancient custom (the continuance of which, however, to the time of the Apostle cannot be confidently asserted, or that it was so far held in popular remembrance that the expression would be readily understood in this sense), viz., that of devoting to death the vilest men, such as slaves and malefactors, in seasons of public calamity, for the purpose of conducting off from the rest the wrath of the Deity. These homines piaculares were indeed designated by the simpler word κάθαρμα; but in Proverbs 21:18, the LXX. gives περικάθαρμα for the Hebrew כֹּפֶר; sin offering. It denotes purification, remotely, expiation; but also, that which is purged away, filth, refuse, offal; in Arrian, a reprobate man, an outcast. [Calvin says that “Paul, in adding the preposition περὶ, seems to have had an eye to the expiatory rite itself, inasmuch as those unhappy men, who were devoted to execrations, were led around through the streets, that they might carry away with them whatever there was of evil in any corner, that the cleansing might be more complete.” Hodge thinks any such allusion improbable, in consequence of the uncommonness of the custom. “Paul,” he says, “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 the victims which were always chosen from the worthless and the despised.”] Luther’s interpretation, given above, accords well with what follows.—and of all things the off-scouring unto this day.—περίψημα, that which is wiped off (περιψᾷν) in cleansing, scrapings and filings. This word also occurs in the formula with which the human victims, who were put under the curse, were ordinarily consecrated: περίψημα ἡμων γίνου.—ἥτοι σωτηρία καὶ�: be thou our expiation, that which by us is set apart for the purification of the rest (Suidas). Meyer’s objection that in this case the plural, περιψήματα, would be required, because each individual would be regarded as a separate sin-offering, hardly suffices to set aside this objection, since all the Apostles may be taken collectively as composing one such offering. The Genitives, κόσμου,—πάνοων: the world’s,—of all (which stand first as emphatic) by this explanation, denote those whose curse lights on them, and in behalf of whom they are sacrificed. [In the second edition, which is posthumous, the editor adds], nevertheless without the περι, in περικάθαρμα, having anything to do with this (analogously with the phrase περὶ τῆς�), or without any support being given to the assumption of any expiatory virtue in the Apostle’s sufferings. But although the idea of expiation and deliverance through another’s sufferings, especially of the guilty party, comes elsewhere prominently forward, and this is the strongest designation of fellowship in the sufferings of Christ, who was reckoned among the transgressors; and although the Apostle speaks of his official sufferings in images drawn from the sacrificial phraseology, in order to express the greatness and sanctity of the end they furthered, viz., blessing for the Church and the world: yet this thought is foreign to our context, and, all things considered, the explanation given in the translation deserves the preference.—Here we have a description of the deepest disgrace. [Wordsworth ingeniously argues for the sacrificial idea].


[1. The promised glory of believers not to be realized here on earth, as the Corinthians seemed to imply by their conduct]. The true view of Christ and of Christianity combines an Idealism and a Realism. On the one hand, in Christ old things have passed away and all things become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17). He who believes in Christ has eternal life (John 3:36); God has quickened us in Christ, and has raised us up together, and made us to sit together in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:5 ff.). But on the other hand, it doth not yet appear what we shall be (1 John 3:2); our life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3); we here walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7); we are indeed saved, but it is in hope (Romans 8:24).—This latter side of Christianity, which is betokened in the very cross-bearing character of Christ’s kingdom, is utterly, misapprehended by a false idealism, which would anticipate in this life the glory of Christ’s kingdom, shrinks from all manner of sufferings and trials, loves to luxuriate in self-satisfaction and in the enjoyment of the riches and the glory which are in Christ, and seeks to make an impression abroad with the show of higher learning and science, so that Christianity shall attain to honor and authority and influence in the world, in accordance with the truth that Christ is the Lord to whom all power in heaven and upon earth belongs—a truth, which it is claimed, must manifest itself more and more in the outward condition of those who are his. This idealism is the fruitful source of various forms of fanaticism, from the anticipation of the regal glory of Christ by the Romish hierarchy, and from the grossest Chiliasm which aims to set up a sort of secularized kingdom of God (as seen in the Anabaptists of the 16th century), down to the most refined theories of a progressive spiritual transformation, according to which Christianity is gradually to pervade the whole human race in all spheres of life, and to overcome all opposition, until at last it get possession of, and assimilate to itself, all governments and social customs, and art and science, and thus appear in full glory. In all this we see a Pelagianizing ignoring of the sharp contrast, which exists between the present condition of the world, rooted as it is the life of nature, and the spirit of Christ; also, a vain self-sufficiency, which hopes to find in the attainment of certain results, in the relative improvement of our earthly conditions, in the glow which the sun of truth and righteousness may cast over human affairs, in the reformation effected by the Gospel in all departments of human society,—in short, in the modification of the natural by the spiritual, a form of life springing out of, and developing itself from the spiritual unto the natural, and so dreams of a progressive realization of the kingdom of God on earth. Of an apostasy, of a fearful catastrophe, of antichrist and his overthrow, of a new heavens and a new earth following upon the destruction of the old, it evinces no knowledge. All this it quietly ignores. Hence all that glory which the promises of God’s Word exhibit to our hope, and reserve for a future age altogether different from the present, it assumes to have already in this, by a gradual, ceaseless, progressive development. The beginnings of such notions were already discernible in the Corinthian Church during the life of Paul, and with great soberness he encounters it by an exhibition of the actual state of things with the Apostles themselves—a state of things which was of a far different sort. According to the mind and precedent of Christ, he shows them that the passage to glory lies through sufferings. (Luke 14:27; Acts 14:22; John 12:24). But this the worldly-minded would fain overleap, passing round the vale of humiliation, trouble, persecution and self-denial, to enter at once into the full possession of glory. They shrink from the cross. Hence when it comes to hard conflicts and severe tests, they are readily shaken, and are scandalized, and seduced into error, and exposed to apostasy.

2. A spectacle to angels. An encouraging thought, rooted in the idea of a one all-embracing kingdom of God. As in Christ and through Him and to Him all things were created, which are in heaven and on earth (Colossians 1:16 ff.), so has it pleased God to gather together in Him all things, which are in heaven and upon earth (Ephesians 1:10),—in Him, through whom the angelic as well as the human world shall be restored to their original harmony with God (comp. Meyer on Colossians 1:20),—and through whose church unto principalities and powers in heaven shall be made known the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:8; comp. 1 Peter 1:12). Hence these heavenly spirits are full of liveliest interest in God’s redemptive work on earth. Those very beings, who have by God’s grace, been set in such close relations with earth’s little ones as to be called “their angels,” who have been sent “to minister for them who should be heirs of salvation,” and who “rejoice over the sinner that repenteth,” are also sympa thizing witnesses of the conflicts and sufferings of God’s co-laborers in the work of redemption. And while human observers are differently impressed with these same scenes, yet in this heavenly host there is felt nothing but astonishment and joy in view of the steadfastness and patience exhibited. Moreover, as an angel from heaven was seen to strengthen our Lord in the hour of His agony, so in the darkest hour of the conflict will angels be near to quicken and strengthen the soldiers of the cross. The encouragement and confirmation accruing to these oppressed sufferers and fighters of the good fight, from the consciousness of sympathy from such witnesses, corresponds to that which is said in Hebrews 12:1, in reference to the great cloud of witnesses, composed of the ancient heroes of the faith, and of the believers looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.


[1. Spiritual pride, self-sufficiency, vain-glorying, assumption of superiority, are so unbecoming and absurd as to be the: fit objects not only of severe rebuke, but also of ridicule; for: 1. they are contrary to a Christian’s dependence on God for what he is and has (1 Corinthians 4:7); 2. they proceed upon the false assumption, that the glory and the crown belong to the present age, whereas they are only to be enjoyed after Christ comes, and the whole church can possess them together (1 Corinthians 4:8); 3. they are contrary to apostolic example. The Apostles were cross-bearers all their lives through, and looked for the crown hereafter. (1 Corinthians 4:9-13)].

[2. Indignant reproof, irony, sarcasm, satire, are legitimate means for correction and discipline. But like the instruments of a surgeon, they are as dangerous as they are keen and useful, and can be safely employed only by skilful hands and loving hearts. When badly managed they kill rather than cure. Let none attempt to handle them, unless like Paul they are conscious only of the sincerest paternal affection towards those on whom they are used. Malice in the heart is sure to poison their edge, while love conveys healing balm through the wounds they make].


1 Corinthians 4:7. Whose is the fine plumage? Hast thou borrowed it? How then, supposing the wind should carry it away? Where is thy boasting then? Give then to God his own, and do not serve either thyself or the devil with thy gifts. (Hed.).

1 Corinthians 4:8. Desire not here in time what is only to be had yonder in Eternity. Here is strife; there alone is perfect rest and glory.

1 Corinthians 4:9. They who are adorned with greatest gifts, have the greatest trials for their humiliation.

1 Corinthians 4:10. External influence, happiness, glory, are no signs of a true Church. Who are the best Christians? The wise, the strong, the lordly? No. They are the weak, the despised, those who for Christ’s sake are willing to be as fools.

1 Corinthians 4:11. Thou complainest of persecution in thy office? Consider, has it come to hunger, thirst, nakedness, blows? Hast thou “resisted unto blood?” The crown is given to the soldier who has ‘endured hardness.’

1 Corinthians 4:12. A person is not required to preach without pay. Yet be content. Do not desert thy office because of a small salary. To do good and to suffer evil are the peculiar tokens of a true servant of Christ. The Christian’s proper weapons in persecution are patience and prayer.

1 Corinthians 4:13. The true children of God understand well the greatness of their spiritual nobility, and that this, so far from being sullied by the base treatment of the world, is only made more illustrious thereby.

Rieger:—Instead of courting admiration for Christianity, and admiring in turn those who admire us and our cause, it becomes us to root ourselves more deeply in a self-denying spirit. One chief characteristic of godlessness is lowliness of mind, which gives to God all the praise, and counts men for nothing.—When we are willing to rend the bond of peace for the sake of aught we prize, we act not as if we had received it from the Lord whose gifts are to be appropriated in love, but as if we were at liberty to turn it all to our own selfish uses and advantage.—Where danger is greatest, there oftentimes presumption and self-confidence are at the height. The faithful performance of duty in the midst of shame, and detraction, and persecution, is a spectacle which angels cannot but admire, and men regard with honor. How many are disposed to leave cross-bearing to the Apostles and early Christians, and to maintain a Christianity in which the world will find nothing to hate.


1 Corinthians 4:7. True humility springs from a sense of our absolute dependence on God. This guards from pride. With this there belongs also a clear recognition of God’s greatness and glory; we must feel that God is every thing, and we nothing. Only an exalted nature can be truly humble. How foolish our pride over advantages that we did not procure. The more gifts received from God, the greater the cause to be humble. Pride is not mere folly; it is wickedness also, because it robs God of His glory.

1 Corinthians 4:8. Judging from their outward condition, God appears often to treat believers, not as if they were His children, but as if they were the vilest of the race. But the more He puts on us, the more we are observed. The holy angels, unseen, rejoice when they see us victorious. Devils look on, hoping that we may succumb.

1 Corinthians 4:10. Christians, when most deserving, are often the most derided. The dishonor put upon the primitive believers is a mortifying rebuke to our pride. What a contrast between the cross-bearing Apostles and the later clergy, with their costly tables, splendid array, their pomp, and retinues, and palaces!

1 Corinthians 4:12. Paul an example of noble independence. He earned his own bread.


1 Corinthians 4:6. We were made to be humble, and should be kept short. Too much honor should not be shown us in this life. If you see a person exalting himself above others, look for no further evidence of his folly.

1 Corinthians 4:8. Even in our time, there are among the awakened some, who feel already perfect, and satisfied, and rich, from mere knowledge, while their fellowship with the Saviour and love for Him has grown cold.

1 Corinthians 4:11. The disciple of Jesus moves through this world always a stranger, nowhere tolerated, nowhere at home; and even should he settle any where, it is uncertain how long the world and his foes would allow him to remain. In such a case comfort comes from Christ.

1 Corinthians 4:13. It is better to be the offscouring, than the honored of the world; better a castaway, than the bosom-child of a wicked race. The Saviour chose shame, the Apostles also, and we should arm ourselves with the same mind.

W. T. Besser:

1 Corinthians 4:7. Nothing is mine but my sin; nothing, not saving knowledge and sanctifying wisdom, not repentance, not faith, nor love; in short, nothing Christian, have I from myself. It is all grace received—a gift from God (James 1:17). To have received and then to boast is a hateful inconsistency. Gratitude and praise alone are becoming to recipients—accordant praise from all recipients of the manifold grace of God. In scorning thy brother less gifted, take heed that thou findest not fault with God.

1 Corinthians 4:8. What, already satisfied! This is self-deception. Satisfaction, without hungering and thirsting, comes only when we behold God’s face in righteousness and awake in His likeness (Psalms 17:15).

1 Corinthians 4:11. Christian fasting is of two kinds—one when a person fasts voluntarily for the sake of serving the Lord with lighter spirit; the other when one is compelled to it as a Christian for Christ’s sake (2 Corinthians 11:27).

1 Corinthians 4:12. If we cannot stop the mouths of our defamers with soft words of entreaty, we have still one resort: we can pray that God will ‘not lay the sin to their charge.’ The prosperity which the Corinthians sought upon earth was then, and is now, to be had only at the cost of separating from the Apostles and from the true Gospel.—While all the Corinthian glory is but as stubble, the crown of honor will rest ever fresh and green upon the heads of the despised Apostles, both in Heaven and upon earth.


1 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 4:6.—The φρονεῖν of the received text is an old supplement, which is not to be found in good authorities [A. E. D.* E.* F. G. Cod. Sin., nor in the Vulgate, and is omitted by Lach., Tisch, Mey., Alf., Words, and Stanley].

1 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 4:6.—The Rec. has ὅ [according to D. F. L.]. The better authorities [A. B. C. Cod. Sin.] have ἄ, which reading is adopted by Lach. Tisch. [Words. Alf.]. Mey. thinks that ἄ is a correction to suit the ταν͂τα preceding.

1 Corinthians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 4:11.—[The Rec. has γυμνητεύομεν, with B.2 but A2. C. D. F. Cod. Sin. all have γυμνιτεν́ομεν. And this is the reading of all good editions now. See note].

Verses 14-17


A.9 The grounds, spirit and intent of his severity. As their spiritual father, he would have them imitate him

1 Corinthians 4:14-17

14     I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn10 [admonish] you. 15For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten [begot] you through the gospel. 16Wherefore I beseech you, be [become] ye followers [imitators] of me. 17For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my11 beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ12, as I teach every where in every church.


1 Corinthians 4:14. Sinking now into a milder tone, ‘not from motives of prudence, but in accordance with his own natural disposition,’ (Neander), and in order to observe his own precept, ‘not to provoke children to wrath,’ (Besser), he here goes on to explain the ground and intent of the severity he had used. He had rebuked them, as a father would his children, out of paternal love, and as he had a right to do.—Not shaming you,—ἐντρέπων. The participle here does not necessarily involve the idea of intention or design, as if it meant: ‘not for the purpose of shaming you;’ although the present part. may denote a purpose which one is already on the point of realizing. Meyer: ‘I do not shame you by that which I now write,’ (i. e., from 1 Corinthians 4:8-13). Ruckert’s idea, that Paul alludes here to his charges for not being properly supported (1 Corinthians 4:11-12) is too restricted, and unsustained by the context. Alike needless, also, is his explanation of ἐντρέπειν, to cast down, to shatter, as it occurs in Aelian. And at all events, the word cannot mean, as elsewhere in Greek, to restore to a right mind, to cause a person to come to himself. The Apostle commonly uses it in the sense in which it usually occurs in the LXX. for חֵפִר, to shame, in connection with αἰσχύνεσθαι (see Frommii Concord.) (comp. 2 Thessalonians 3:14; Titus 2:8; also the subst. ἐςτροπή 1 Corinthians 6:5; 1 Corinthians 15:34).—do I write these things—ταῦτα, i. e., the things written from the eighth to the thirteenth verse,—but as my beloved children.—A tender and winning word, designed to remind them that, with all his severity toward their pride and false security, he yet regarded them with paternal affection, and was only seeking their restoration to a right mind.—I admonish you.—Νουθετεῖν, to bring to mind, to warn.—It may imply severe rebuke or friendly admonition. Here it is evidently the latter. [See more fully on this word Trench Syn. N. T. sub voce, and Wm. Webster, Syntax and Synonymns of the Gr. T.].

1 Corinthians 4:15. He justifies his right to admonish on the ground of the paternal relation he sustains to them. This he exhibits in contrast with the mere preceptorship held by their other teachers. To the latter they were indebted only for discipline, but to him they owed their spiritual existence.—For even though.—By virtue of the relation of the two clauses indicated by ἀλλ̓ ἐάν, carries the significance of κᾄν, even thoughye have ten thousand.—Μυρίους implies only an indefinitely large number, as in 1 Corinthians 14:19. Bisp.: ‘never so many,’—a hint, perhaps, that there were too many teachers there,—instructors—παιδαγωγούς. This word among the Greeks designated those who were employed to look after, and train little children; and these were commonly slaves. Paul here applies it to the teachers who succeeded him (1 Corinthians 3:10 ff.), but without any bad implication [such as Calvin, Beza and de Wette suppose], since this would not befit Apollos and others like him. Nor can we well conceive the term to imply that those whom it designated were holding the Corinthians back in rudimental knowledge [Calvin] (Galatians 4:2), or were acting upon a stand-point that sought to unite legal and evangelical elements. All he means is that his right over them was higher, his relation to them more intimate than that of any other could be; and that these allowed him the privilege of supervising their education in their new Christian life.—in Christ.—This adjunct shows the sphere in which these instructors were supposed to labor, that of the Christian life. [Hodge says, that “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 instructors yet have ye not many fathers.” ̓]—yet not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus.—Here again, as before, the words “in Christ Jesus,” denote the element in which Paul labored.—I begot you.i. e. as Christians. On γεννᾷν comp. Phil. 10; Galatians 4:19. Others connect the words ‘in Christ Jesus’ with ‘I,’ and make it mean: ‘I in Christ,’ i. e. as ‘an Apostle in Christ.’ But as this designation in the foregoing clause does not belong to ‘instructors’ in any such way as to mean, that they instructed by virtue of their fellowship with Christ, so here it is not to be similarly connected with Paul, although it was in itself true, that those labors of his, which begot in them the new life, and developed it afterwards, could have proved successful only so far as they had been wrought in Christ—through the Gospel.—Here we have the instrumentality employed. It was the proclamation of those good tidings which are briefly summed up in Joh 3:16; 1 Timothy 1:15, and elsewhere. The Gospel is ‘the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth’ (Romans 1:16); ‘the word of the cross;’ ‘the word of truth,’ by which God begets us (James 1:18); ‘the living,’ the undestructible seed of the new birth (1 Peter 1:23). And the essential substance of this Gospel, that which gives it its quickening and nourishing power, is Christ Himself [the Word in the word.] The claim to paternity here put forth, is in no way prejudicial to the fatherhood of God, or the Lordship of Christ, since Paul is here speaking of the relation which the Church sustained to the different teachers in respect to the origin and growth of their spiritual life. The higher absolute relation to God is here presupposed, and even intimated by the phrases “in Christ” and “through the Gospel.” The simple instrumentality, alluded to in the whole case, is evident of itself; just as in 1 Timothy 4:16.

1 Corinthians 4:17. Therefore:i. e. because I am to you as a father, and it accords with the analogy of nature, that children should resemble their parents.—I beseech you.—An affectionate entreaty to heed one brief request.—be ye imitators of me.—But how far? Not in general; but in those particulars which he has just been enumerating, wherein he stood in such striking contrast with them, viz., in humility and self-resignation; “in the renouncement of all ambition and conceit” Meyer; we might also add with Osiander, ‘in that self-devoted heroism with which he sealed his faith.’ [“Nor these only,” says Alf., “but also, as in 1 Corinthians 4:17, in his manner of life and teaching”].

1 Corinthians 4:18. For this cause.—This is to be referred back either to 1 Corinthians 4:15, as expressing the motive of his sending Timothy: ‘because I am your father, and feel towards you like one’ [as Chrys., Theoph. and others]; or to 1 Corinthians 4:16, as indicating the purpose of his sending him: to promote your imitation of me. The latter reference is to be preferred, otherwise 1 Corinthians 4:16 must be taken parenthetically. Osiander combines both, and justly, in so far as what is said in 1 Corinthians 4:16, rests upon the paternal relationship asserted in 1 Corinthians 4:15. The meaning is: ‘since I, as a father, must insist on your imitating my example, I have sent unto you my dear Timothy, who will aid you in this respect.’—I have sent to you Timothy—not as though Timothy was to be the bearer of the Epistle (comp. Acts 16:10), since he came later, being obliged to go through Macedonia on his way to Corinth (Acts 19:22).—who is my son.—Timothy is here represented as one who, equally with the Corinthians, was converted by Paul, and had derived through him his spiritual life, and so held the same relations to Paul that they did. And the Apostle testifies to his tender care over them in the fact, that he sends to them this their brother, who was especially dear to him, and enjoyed his fullest confidence; one, therefore, whom they had peculiar reason to welcome cordially, as a person able to exhibit to them the mind of their common father in a most reliable manner. [It must be remembered also that Timothy was with Paul during his first visit to Corinth, and must therefore have been personally known to a large portion of the Church]. To explain the epithet ‘my son,’ on the ground that Timothy had been educated to his office by Paul, after the manner that the Rabbis called their scholars ‘sons,’ is not sufficiently sustained by the consideration that we have no further information of his conversion by Paul. Rather the intimacy of the relation between the two expressions in Tim. 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Timothy 1:2, and also the application to him of the same title, ‘beloved son,’ which had just been applied to the Corinthians, would seem to confirm the opinion that Paul had also ‘begotten him through the Gospel.’—beloved and faithful in the Lord.—The phrase ‘in the Lord’ belongs not merely to ‘faithful,’ (i. e. devoted to me, true to his calling, and therefore reliable) but also to all that is said of Timothy. The praise bestowed on Timothy appears also to have the incidental purpose of impressing upon the Corinthians, in a tender. manner, the kind of conduct which they owed to their spiritual fathers.

Timothy’s errand is expressed in the words:—who shall remind you of my ways in the Lord.—The ἀναμιμνήσκειν: to remind, presupposes the existence of a knowledge which has been repressed by adverse influences, so that it needs to be called up again and refreshed. “There is a slight implication here “(Osiander), and Chrysostom remarks that ‘the word is finely chosen to quiet the pride of the Corinthians which might be aroused at the idea of being taught by a youth.’ What he means by ‘his ways in Christ’ he goes on to explain.—as I teach every where in every church.—It was his mode of conduct as a Christian teacher; and this, as it regarded, not so much the subject of his teaching, or its manner, as his demeanor while doing it,—the humility and self-denial with which he discharged his calling. This is implied by the connection. The use of καθώς here, as employed to introduce a defining clause, in the sense of: how, is somewhat remarkable. See Acts 15:14; 3 John 1:3 [where the word is clearly used in this sense, and where Alford somewhat arbitrarily asserts that it is alone thus used]. Hence Billr. joins it to the verb ‘remind,’ as if Paul meant: ‘he will remind you, etc., just as I myself, teach.’ But from this 1, no good sense can be obtained, and 2, ‘myself is arbitrary. Osiander’s explanation, though suitable in sense, is yet somewhat forced: ‘who will remind you of my walk (my course of life), agreeably to which I teach everywhere.’ The first explanation has the most in its favor, in spite of its grammatical difficulties. The ‘reminding’ could however refer to his activity in other churches also, since they undoubtedly had knowledge of this, from information which had been given by brethren on their travels. The reference to this uniformity of his conduct generally, strengthened the motive for their imitating him.


1. Spiritual paternity.—The awakening of the spiritual life in man is a Divine act. It originates in God’s purpose of salvation, formed in reference to the individual (James 1:18; Ephesians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). Its ground is Christ, in His complex divine-human life as carried out in the work of redemption, which was effected through His death and resurrection and final glorification (John 7:39). Its immediate cause is the Holy Spirit, who imparts to the redeemed the new life of Christ, proceeding from his death; or, in other words, reproduces in us individually the new man of righteousness, born in Christ through a judicial process of death passed upon the old man or the flesh. The organ of this Spirit is the Word, viz., the testimony of Christ, and concerning Christ, which proceeds from Him; and the object and substantial contents of which He Himself is. By bringing this living Word forcibly to bear upon the heart, the Spirit opens the heart. Testifying to sinners of the love of God cherished towards them individually in Christ, he regains their lost confidence; and starts the fountains of all godly life, of all holy conduct towards God,—in obedience and patience; and puts an end to the old distrust, that was the source of all rebellion and sin. And he does this in a way to magnify God and belittle man, and to convert the sinner’s pride to humility.

But inasmuch as in this process of renewal God employs human instrumentalities, he confers on these also the dignity of a spiritual fatherhood, and so takes them into a sort of fellowship with Himself. This holds good, however, not of those who have become, so to speak, the accidental instruments in this work, i. e., who have in some way brought about the conversion of souls either by speaking or writing saving truths, the force of which they have not practically felt, but only of those who have the life of Christ in them as an energizing power, and who can, out of their own personal experiences, testify of Him, and of His enlightening and regenerating grace, and who are therefore in a condition to beget a kindred life in others. Standing in Christ as the ground of their life, and moving ever in Him, such persons are enabled to introduce others into the same communion, by presenting to them, in quickening power through the Gospel, Jesus Christ in the fulness of His holy love and in His redeeming work, and by thus inducing them to come out from themselves and give themselves up to Him who has given and will yet give Himself for them. In this way they become spiritual fathers; for it is by virtue of the living power of Christ dwelling in them that they are capable of engendering life in others, just as in the sphere of the physical life, the natural creative power, resident in the individual as a personal property, involves in its generative exercise the character and dignity of the paternal relation.

But the more clearly and simply this spiritual paternity is recognized and maintained upon its Divine ground, the more decisively will all further educational efforts on the part of the earthly parent result in bringing these spiritual children out from their first dependence on him (a dependence which often involves an unworthy attachment to his personal idiosyncracies), and fastening them more exclusively upon Him, who is the eternal and absolute ground of this relation, even God in Christ. The children are thus liberated from all that is limited and imperfect in the human parent, to enter upon a freer and more independent development in Christ, and thus to make purer advances in knowledge and holiness.
But this spiritual paternity carries with it a high authority, a holy right to discipline, to rebuke, to exhort, to purify, with severity or mildness, or both commingled, as circumstances may demand. And this right is exercised as one of love, and under love’s strong impulses, and with that ingenuous wisdom which is peculiar to lore, and with which it devises all sorts of methods for alluring, urging, restraining, arousing, and softening children, restoring their disturbed confidence and reëstablishing over them a weakened authority.
[“A father never is afraid
Of speaking angrily to any child
Since love he knows is justified of love.”]
All this is illustrated for us in the Apostle Paul.
2. [Apostolic piety is the standard for the whole Church, even to the end of time. The Romish theory, which distinguishes between the clergy and laity, and imposes on the former a degree of sanctity and a mode of life not exacted of the latter, is here plainly condemned in advance. Paul puts all believers on the same footing with himself. He lays claim to no special grace, and recognizes no obligation to self-denial and sacrifice which does not equally rest on the whole Church. In his office as an Apostle, he became indeed a spiritual father; but in point of that Christian character, which underlay his Apostleship, he would have his children resemble him. Here we learn that the Spirit of Christ aims to pervade His entire body, and seeks to mould all, pastors and people alike, to a common type. And this spirit is a cross-bearing spirit. It is a spirit; which it devolves on every minister to exemplify and enforce, and on every Church to imbibe and cultivate. There will be no abatement of this requisition until Christ shall come].

3. [Christian example is an important means for instructing and edifying the Church. Its uses are: 1. For illustration. It is the living Epistle, accompanying the written Epistle, in the way of comment and explanation. The truth stated in doctrine, example embodies in solid substantial forms, that are more fraught with meaning, and more vivid in expression than words can be. The duty enforced in the precept, it exhibits in the operations of a holy life, that teach the true method of its performance. Thus the understanding is helped to right conceptions of the Word; and the life of God in the Church proves the light of the world. 2. For persuasion. “Words teach, but examples draw.” So says the proverb, and the reason is, that that inward conviction and force of will, which are the secret of personal influence, express themselves most significantly in the conduct. It is through this, therefore, that man acts most powerfully on man. 3. For encouragement. The lives of eminent believers show the possibility of high attainment, and a certainty of the divine promises; and by the shout of “victory at last” animate the spirits of observers to enter the fight of faith, and to do and endure in like manner, with the full assurance of like results. 4. For rebuke. The zeal, energy, courage, patience, self-denial and sufferings of every devoted believer, presents a disparaging and mortifying contrast with the conduct of those who, while professing a like devotion, evince only an easy idle, self-indulgent, self-satisfied spirit, or aspire only after honors and applause.

To set a worthy example is the duty not only of Apostles and ministers, but of all Christians alike. As Paul called upon the early converts to ‘imitate him,’ so were they instructed to live so as to extend the same call to others coming after them. The guiding word which ought to be continually heard passing down the ever lengthening ranks of the Church, as it moves onward through darkness and through light, treading in the footsteps of its great leader, should be: ‘Follow me, even as I also follow Christ’].


1. [Church founders and all who have been instrumental in converting souls should: 1. love the subjects of their labors with a paternal affection, even as they stand towards them in the peculiar relation of spiritual fathers (1 Corinthians 4:15); 2. aim in their reproof, however sharp, α. not to mortify and disgrace their spiritual offspring, but, b. to admonish and so restore them to duty (1 Corinthians 4:14); 3. see an example of the Christian life which they shall be able to call on their children to imitate (1 Corinthians 4:16); 4. take pains to show them how they live in all their ways, so that there shall be no excuse for ignorance or mistake, (1 Corinthians 4:17)].

Starke: Nothing is sharper and more penetrating than the rebukes of love, (1 Corinthians 4:14).

Hedinger: 1 Corinthians 4:15.—It is the duty and the characteristic of a true minister to beget children through the Gospel, or to lead those, who have been thus begotten, to a further knowledge of Christ. No less is it the token of a right-minded hearer to suffer himself to be thus begotten through the Word, and be trained to maturity in Christ. (1Th 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:10; 1 Peter 2:2). A preacher must build not only with words but also with his life, and so as it were with both hands, that he may be an example to believers both in word and conversation. It is a shame for children to run in strange paths and thus degenerate, (1 Corinthians 4:16). The visitation of churches by suitable persons is a useful and highly necessary practice (1 Corinthians 4:17).

Berl. Bib.:—It is no small thing to be a spiritual father and teacher. Only those who are mature in Christ are suited for such an office; for only according to the measure of our attainments in the divine life shall we be able to beget and fashion other souls. It is, therefore, a presumption in those, who are as yet but children, to wish to become fathers and teachers, before they themselves have rightly learned (1 Corinthians 4:15). Who would wish to exhibit himself as a pattern for others, before he has himself patterned after Christ? (1 Corinthians 4:16).

Heubner:—Fathers, who carry their children, on their hearts, mourn over the transgressions of their children, long for their reformation, and strive to make them blessed. Yea, they would be willing to pluck out their own hearts for their sake, if so be they might in this way do them any good (1 Corinthians 4:15). What joyousness of spirit is required to warrant a person in holding himself up as a pattern for others (1 Corinthians 4:16).

[Calvin:—The first token of return to a right state of mind is the shame which the son begins to feel on being reproached for his fault. Yet he who admonishes in a friendly spirit will make it his particular care that whatever there is of shame, may remain with the individual admonished, and may in this manner be buried. In reproofs use moderation, mixing honey and oil with the vinegar. Let it be understood that nothing is sought but the welfare of those reproved (1 Corinthians 4:14).—How few there are that love the Churches with a fatherly affection and lay themselves out to promote their welfare. Mean while there are many pedagogues who hire out their services as it were to discharge a mere temporary office, and hold the people in subjection, and admiration. When I say pedagogues, I do not refer to Popish priests, for I would not do them the honor of reckoning them in that number (1 Corinthians 4:15).—Uniformity and steadfastness of conduct “in every place,” most important for a minister, so that no objection can be brought against him, as though he conducted himself differently in different places. (Ad sensum) (1 Corinthians 4:17)].


[9]This section has been divided on account of the manifest difference between the two parts].

1 Corinthians 4:14; 1 Corinthians 4:14.—The variation νουθετὥν [found in A. Cod. Sin.] is a supposed improvement, made for the purpose of uniformity with ἐντρἑπων.

1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 4:17.—Instead of the Rec. τέκνον μου. Tischendorf [Alf., Stanley] read μου τέκνον according to A. B. C. [Cod. Sin.] and others. [“The Rec. is a correction to the more usual order.” Alf.].

1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 4:17.—Lach. reads Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ [after C. D2. Cod. Sin. Vulg. etc.]. Others, κνρίῳ ̓Ιησον͂ [after D1. F.]. But the Rec. Χριστῷ is best supported [being found in A. B. D3. L. and in most citations of the Fathers].

Verses 18-21

B. Anticipation of misconception as to his motives in sending Timothy and of consequent arrogance, on the part of some. Such to be tested in point of power. The kingdom of God a thing of power

1 Corinthians 4:18-21

18Now some are [have been] puffed up, as though I would not come [were not coming] to you. 19But 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. 20For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. 21What will ye? shall I come unto you with [ἐν] a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?13


1 Corinthians 4:18. He here obviates an inference which might be drawn [and, it would seem from the Apostle’s language, had actually been drawn], from his sending Timothy to Corinth. It was, that he was not coming there himself. And some were elated, in consequence, with the idea, that it was because he dared not come.—Some have been puffed up.—By ἐφυσιώθησαν, puffed up, we are not to understand that conceit of wisdom, spoken of before, which lifted certain of them high in their own esteem, above the simplicity of the Apostle. He alludes rather to that arrogant manner, that overweening insolence, which is a common feature of party spirit. Whether any declarations of theirs, respecting his not coming to Corinth, had been communicated to Paul; or whether he only inferred from their conduct that they must be indulging in such expectations; or whether he only intended to say that they were puffed up, as though he were not to be present among them again, may be left undecided. Bengel’s idea, ‘that a Divine inspiration discovered to him the thoughts which would arise in their minds on reading his letter,’ is ingenious, but hardly suitable.—as though I also were not coming.—ὡς μὴ ἐ ρχομένουδέ μου—The δέ relates to the sending of Timothy, and puts μου in conjunction with him. [“ὡς expresses the assumption in their minds: the present participle ἐρχομένου refers to their saying—οὐκ ἐρχεται: ‘he is not coming.’ And, inasmuch as ἔρχ forms one idea, the δέ is placed after it all. See Hart. Partikellehre 1, p. 190.” Alf.].

1 Corinthians 4:19. Counter-statements.—But I will come to you shortly.—Paul’s courage here speaks out resolutely in an emphatic, ‘I will come’ (ἐλεύσομαι), which is put first. The ‘shortly’ (comp. 1 Corinthians 16:6), [but why not also the entire fact of his coming also?], he makes dependent on the will of the Lord (1 Corinthians 16:7), whose servant he is, and who might appoint him tasks, the discharge of which would prevent him from executing his purpose,—if the Lord will.—Thus courage and assurance are coupled with a humble consciousness of dependence, and with submission to the control of a higher power. [“So constantly did Paul live in communion with Christ as his God, submitting to Him and trusting to Him at all times.” Hodge].—and I will know, γνώσομαι.—This denotes, not a judicial finding upon I a previous trial, nor yet a simple taking knowledge of by observation (Meyer), but a consciousness attained by experience, and by tests applied. It implies that Apostolic discernment, which penetrates through all outward shows into the very essence of things, which does not suffer itself to be deceived by lofty phrase, or high sounding threats (1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 3:4), but which accurately detects the presence or absence of a true capacity for energetic and successful labors in the kingdom of God (comp. 1 Corinthians 4:20).—not the speech of them that are puffed up, but the power.—There is the same contrast between λόγος and δυν́αμις here, that we have 1 Thessalonians 1:5; comp. 2 Timothy 3:5, where instead of “speech” we have “the form of godliness” contrasted with “power.” “Δύναμις is the essential power, or true nature and efficacy of a thing in opposition to mere external show.” Neander. To explain it of the power to work miracles [Chrys., Grotius], or of moral virtue [Theod., Pelagius], or of the influences of doctrine upon life [Calvin], would not suit the context. [“It is power to work for the furtherance of God’s kingdom—a power conditioned on the possession of true inward spiritual energy (which de Wette makes it to mean). Examples of this are seen in Paul himself, in Luther and in others.” Meyer. It was such power as the Apostles were commanded to wait for at Jerusalem, ere they went forth to be witnesses for their Lord, and which was exhibited so wonderfully at the day of Pentecost; such power as Paul speaks of, when to the Thessalonians he said: ‘Our Gospel came not unto you, in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost’ (where we see that the antithesis in the text is not to be taken absolutely but relatively); such power as is mentioned in Romans 15:18, “the Gentiles being made obedient by word and deed, through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” It was an essential attribute of the Church, and especially of the ministry of the Church, as energized for the conquest of the world by the indwelling spirit of God, and so made mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. The lack of power, therefore, indicated an absence of the spirit,—the want of a Divine commission and of a heavenly unction].

1 Corinthians 4:20. Reason for the foregoing. The eye of an Apostle must be directed to the kingdom of God, and to whatever promotes its advancement. And this kingdom is not built up by beautiful and high-sounding speeches, but by that spiritual energy which awakens and develops the inward life of the spirit.—For the kingdom of God.—By this is meant the Divine kingdom of the Messiah as a life in communion with God, or as a social state pervaded and regulated by the Divine will. It must, therefore, bear upon itself the signature of righteousness, holiness and blessedness. Or, as the Old Testament describes it (e. g. Psalms 72:0), it is a ‘kingdom of righteousness and peace; in which character it is! spoken of again in Romans 14:17. This is also the ruling idea in historical Christianity, whose primitive form is the Church. Its full realization, however, where the living law penetrates and pervades all that is phenomenal, or, in other words, where the archetypal idea and the fact wholly correspond, belongs to the future age. To exclude the ethical element from the conception, is just as incorrect as to hold by it altogether. In the New Testament both are united, prominence being given, sometimes to one, and sometimes to the other, in different passages. But that only the truly pious and believing can properly be members of this kingdom (Colossians 3:3; Philippians 4:21; Ephesians 5:5), is seen in the fact, that it is a fellowship in holiness. [For a good exposition of this important term, see Fairbairn’s Herm. Man. p. 56. Olsh. Com. on Matt. 3:21].—is, ἐστίν—is to be understood and associated with ἐν, in, and is to be taken as in 1 Corinthians 2:5, to mean, consists in, stands in.—not in word, but in power.—From this it is evident that the ethical element of God’s kingdom is mainly considered. But whether the Apostle is here speaking of the ground or condition upon which a person participates in this kingdom, or of its direct active advancement, may be questioned. In the former case the sense would be: that, whereon participation in God’s kingdom is conditioned, viz., faith and love, is not brought about through word, but through the power that is at work in its behalf, i. e. of the minister or teacher (Meyer); in the latter ease it would mean: he only is able truly to advance God’s kingdom, in whom this power exists. The latter interpretation, which includes also the idea, that such a person alone can be regarded as rightly belonging to God’s kingdom, is simpler and more suited to the context. “It must be said, however, that the distinction here made between word and power, is not for the purpose of separating the latter from the former, and attributing to it an operation that manifests itself apart form and independent of the word, as fanatics teach; but in order to contrast with the empty declamation of false teachers that true preaching which is filled with the spirit,—to oppose to their mere artificial rhetoric the power of God which resides in the simplicity of the Gospel.” Burger.

1 Corinthians 4:21. Having expressed his determination to go to Corinth, he here leaves it for them to decide in what form his authority shall be exercised (2 Corinthians 10:6; 2 Corinthians 13:2 ff.). This verse some commentators [Calvin, Beza, Lachmann, Stanley Words.,] connect with the following chapter as opening a new topic for rebuke. But, as no allusion is there made to his coming to Corinth, and there is no particle to connect it with what follows, it is better to take it as concluding this chapter. [So Meyer, Alf., Hodge],—What—τί=πότερον, but is more forcible, inasmuch as the alternative presented does not appear at once.—will ye?—[“As Chrys. strikingly says, ‘The whole thing lies with you.’ ” Meyer].—Shall I come.—The verb έ̓λθω is not dependent on θέλετε—to you with a rod, ἐν ράβδῳ—[The use of ἐν to express the relation of accompaniment or instrumentality, is not a Hebraism, but a genuine Geek idiom. So Meyer. But Winer,§ 48. d. says, it is also used like the Hebrew כְּ in cases where Greek authors employ the Dative alone. Its significance in the text is well given by Alf. “not only with a rod, but in such purpose as to use it. The preposition here gives the idea of the element in which, much as ἐνδόξη̣”]. Here also he presents to view his paternal relation. The rod is the symbol of fatherly severity. [It means the rod of His mouth. For the word of God, spoken by such as Paul, was sharp and powerful. There is an intimation here of Paul’s consciousness of power]. In contrast with this, and as the alternative before them, love is mentioned—or in love.—This indeed is not excluded from severity; but it forms an antithesis to it, inasmuch as in severity the natural expression of love is kept in abeyance, and it is compelled to manifest itself in ways alien to itself. This idea is more fully brought out in the associated clause—and (in) the spirit of meekness.—Luther says: “with tenderness of spirit,” so that πνεῦηα would then mean the subjective disposition. But Meyer, following the analogy of such passages as John 15:26; Romans 8:15; 2 Corinthians 4:13; Ephesians 1:17; Romans 1:4; [where, as here, πνεῦμα is followed by the abstract genitive and evidently denotes the Holy Spirit, whose specific working is expressed by the noun in connection], interprets the word here in like manner. [But, as Alf. shows, Meyer is mistaken when he affirms, that this meaning attaches to πνεῦμα in all kindred passages of the New Testament. There is plainly no fixed usage compelling this interpretation here. It were better, therefore, with Calvin, de Wette, Stanley and others, to understand by the phrase: a meek, gentle spirit. See Winer § 34:3 b]. ΙΙραῦτης denotes sparing, forgiving mildness. In this winning way he gives them to understand that he would much rather be spared the necessity of discipline. [“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 discretion. This prerogative was unseparable from their infallibility as the messengers of Christ, sent to establish and administer his kingdom.” Hodge. “For nerve and vigor, for dignity and composed confidence, this passage cannot be easily paralleled even in Demosthenes himself.” Bloomfield].


The kingdom of God, a thing of power. This kingdom, formerly typified in shadowy outlines (σκιά) through the promise and the law, and through a series of special providences, and prepared through miracles and signs, and through the gracious, wise and holy guidance and training of a chosen people, was first exhibited in its original principles, and perfectly realized as the kingdom of heaven upon earth, in the person of the Son of man, come from Heaven (comp. Luke 2:14; Matthew 12:28). He was the first to fulfil all righteousness, always doing that which was well pleasing to the Father (John 8:29; Matthew 3:15). In the plenitude of the Spirit’s might, which rested on Him, (John 1:32), He exercised a constraining and subduing power over the hearts of men, and in word and deed evinced a Divine puissance of love, that overcame the hostile spirits of darkness, proved invincible to Satanic assaults, loosed all manner of bonds, and removed evil of every kind. Though externally weak and depressed, we find Him emerging victorious out of that judgment and death, to which He had freely subjected Himself, and, as the one to whom all power in Heaven and upon earth had been given, rising far above all creaturely limitations into the right hand of the Majesty on High.

Having thus in His own person and history laid the foundations of the Kingdom of God, and illustrated its character and career and triumphs, we behold Him gathering a Church, through the dispensation of the Spirit, out of that apostate race, (whose nature He had assumed and had, essentially as well as morally, united to God), and exhibiting in it, as in a germ, the kingdom of righteousness and peace, in the exercise of a lofty power over the hearts of men and in the manifestation of ability to redeem and save. This Church, which, from its unseen beginnings, has, after a lapse of ages, spread out into a mighty tree, continues to exist now, precisely as it originated, only through the might of the Divine Spirit, who works in its members—especially in those who are active in its cause—for the continued illumination and sanctification of mankind. And only by the same Divine agency is the kingdom of God, which is enclosed in the Church, advanced, and that period hastened, when it shall be made manifest in all its glorious reality, and when the Lord shall reign King over all the nations. (Zechariah 14:9). The powers which rule in the Church are, in fact, the powers of ‘the world to come,’ the αἰων μέλλων (Hebrews 6:5); and while these powers display their Divine energy, in cleansing the heart more and more from the filthiness of the flesh and the spirit, in promoting knowledge and sanctification, and in strengthening the will to endure under all assaults of temptation and persecution, the Church is ripening towards that glorious epoch when, in the union of all the holy in Heaven and upon earth, it will appear supreme in Christ, over all things, as the true Kingdom of God, wherein God shall be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).


[1. The carnal-minded in the Church, 1, are apt to gather presumption, and take courage for self-display, during the absence of their Divinely appointed guides, 1 Corinthians 4:18; 1 Corinthians 2:0, need to be thoroughly tested as to their really spiritual qualities, and exposed, 1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 3:0, are deserving of rebuke and discipline, 1 Corinthians 4:21.

2. Since the Kingdom of God is not in word, but in power, its ministers must be, 1, full of courage and fearless of opposition, 1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 2:0, dependent on the Lord, from whom their power comes, for direction in all their movements, 1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 3:0, capable of testing human pretensions, 1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 4:0, prepared for severe or lenient dealing, as circumstances may require, yet disposed in spirit to the latter, rather than the former, 1 Corinthians 4:21.

3. In the truth, that the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power—the power of the Holy Ghost, we have, 1, A lesson of instruction. It shows us to what source ministers and all Christian laborers are indebted for the success of their words and efforts; 2, A criterion for judgment. We can ascertain whether the kingdom of God is present in any person, or church, which claims to possess it, by the ability shown to achieve those results for which the Divine power is given; 3, A ground of encouragement. Weak as believers are in themselves, and great as is the work to be accomplished, the kingdom of God in them can strengthen them to do all things; 4, A lesson of duty. If we would do great things for God, we must trust, a. not to our own skill in persuasion, but b. in the power which the Holy Ghost imparts; 5, A rebuke. Lack of achievement for the kingdom of God cannot be charged upon a lack of power in it, but upon a lack of faith in Christians to use the power given].

Luther: 1 Corinthians 4:20. Faith is a living, essential thing; it makes a man entirely new, changes his disposition, and turns him completely about. Wilt thou continue to remain in thy pride and immodesty, in avarice and anger, and wilt thou boast and prate much of faith ? then comes Paul to thee and says, ‘Listen, good friend; the kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power and in deeds.’

Starke:—The point to be looked at is not how a person talks about religion, but whether the essentials of Christianity—truth, experience, action—are in him (1 Corinthians 4:19). O, precious declaration! It is power—power—not prating and show that makes the Christian.—Hed. Where the kingdom of God is, there Christ is, and the Holy Spirit also, who regenerates men (1 Corinthians 4:20).—If soft words won’t serve, then the minister must rebuke sharply.—Love remains the same when it is severe, as when it is mild, provided it only leads to God. Its various arts of regulation must first be thoroughly learned and then practised when needful.—Righteousness, holiness and love exist in God combined; and as both Law and Gospel have alike issued therefrom, so should every evangelical minister rightly employ both. 2 Timothy 2:15 (1 Corinthians 4:21).

Berl. Bible:—The whole kingdom of our God is pervaded with Divine and heavenly powers. And although indeed He utters words from thence, yet these words are spirit and life, yea, the words of eternal life (John 6:63; John 6:68). Hence words, fraught with the spirit and quickening in their influence, are also a fruit of the kingdom of God, which consists in power. In short, every thing which God speaks, works and does, in and through his Son, carries in itself a kind of power, and manifests this power wherever it is not hindered (1 Corinthians 2:5; Romans 1:16), (1 Corinthians 4:20). People say sometimes: ‘Where is love? More is accomplished by love than by severity.’ True, provided we are not compelled to use severity. Then severity itself is also an effect of love (1 Corinthians 4:21).

Heubner:—The “puffed up” are mighty in words, but weak in deeds. Inward spiritual power lies in humility. The Church of Christ does not need braggarts, but true workers (1 Corinthians 4:19).—The unction of the true preacher is detected in the power he exerts upon the hearts of men (1 Corinthians 4:20).—Man determines for himself the treatment he shall receive, whether it shall be severity or mildness. Well for him, who is still enjoying the gracious period of discipline. He is better than one altogether. reprobate. God has a two fold staff, the staff of mildness and the staff of woe (Zechariah 11:7-14) (1 Corinthians 4:2).


1 Corinthians 4:21; 1 Corinthians 4:21.—The Rec. has πραότητος [with D. F. L. Cod. Sin.]; but Tisch. [according to A. B. C., or 2] reads πραν̓τητος [so Words., Alf., Stanley].

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/1-corinthians-4.html. 1857-84.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile