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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verse 1

Let a man so account of us, as of ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. [Paul here gives the rule by which apostles and evangelists are to be estimated. They are not to be magnified, for they are servants, nor are they to be deprecated because of the value and importance of that which is entrusted to them as stewards. The term "ministers" here means literally under-rowers. The church is a ship, or galley; Christ is the chief navigator, or magisterium; and all the evangelists and teachers are mere oarsmen with no ambition to be leaders. In the second figure the church is a household, God is the householder, the gospel truths are the food and other provisions which are dispensed by the evangelists or stewards.]

Verse 2

Here, moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. [It was not expected of the steward that he would procure or provide; he was merely to distribute that which was provided by the master. The apostles were not philosophers burdened with the discovery and invention of truth, but were mere dispensers of truth revealed to them by God--truth which must be thus revealed because it can not be discovered by any process of ratiocination. If the apostles faithfully rehearsed that which was revealed, nothing more could be asked of them.]

Verse 3

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

Verse 4

For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. [Paul is not arrogantly vaunting himself as disdaining the good or bad opinion of the Corinthians, but pointing out the inadequacy of all human judgment, even his own, to decide that which God alone can decide. God gave the office and fixed the manner in which its duties should be discharged, and so God alone can judge the officer (Romans 14:4). One might do wrong unconsciously, and yet justify himself-- Psalms 19:12; 1 John 3:20]

Verse 5

Wherefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each man have his praise from God. [The revelation or manifestation of things which shall accompany the Lord’s coming, was mentioned in our last section. In the light of that hour, not only the deeds of men will be manifest, but even the motives which prompted the deeds. The Corinthians, having no adequate means of telling whether Paul spoke less or more than was revealed, would have to wait until that hour of revelation before they could judge him accurately and absolutely. If he was then approved, he would receive not only their praise, but the praise of God-- Matthew 25:21]

Verse 6

Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written; that no one of you be puffed up for the one against the other. [Though neither Paul nor Apollos had headed a faction in Corinth, Paul has spoken in this Epistle as though they had done this, and that he might spare the feelings of the real leaders in faction he had put himself and Apollos in their places, and had shown the heinousness of their supposed conduct as reproved by many passages of Scripture. He had done this that the Corinthians, seeing the evil of such a thing even in an apostle, might see it more plainly in their little local party leaders, and might not boast themselves of any one leader to the disparagement of another. We may be sure that those who were puffing themselves up in one, were correspondingly busy traducing the other.]

Verse 7

For who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? but if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it? [God had made them to differ both in natural and in spiritual gifts (Romans 12:3-8). If, then, one had more subtle reasoning faculties than another, what ground had he for boasting, since his superiority was due to the grace of God in bestowing it, and not to himself in acquiring it?]

Verse 8

Already ye are filled [with self-satisfaction], already ye are become rich [with intellectual pride], ye have come to reign without us [Ye have so exalted yourselves that we poor apostles have become quite needless to your lordly independence. The inflated self-esteem of the Corinthians was like that of the Laodiceans some twoscore years later-- Revelation 3:17-18]: yea and I would that ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. [Here, moved by his ardent affection, the apostle passes instantly from biting sarcasm to a divinely tender yearning for their welfare. He wishes that they possessed in reality that eminence which existed only in their conceit. How different, then, would be his own condition. Their true development was his joy, their real elevation his exaltation, and their final triumph in Christ his crown of glorying (1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Corinthians 9:23). From the brilliant picture thus raised before his imagination, Paul turns to depict his true condition, in all its unenviable details.]

Verse 9

For, I think, God hath set forth us the apostles last of all, as men doomed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, both to angels and men. [As, after the end of the performance, condemned criminals were brought into the amphitheater and made a gazing-stock to the populace before their execution, so the apostles seemed to be exhibited to public contempt.]

Verse 10

We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye have glory, but we have dishonor. [In this verse Paul resumes his satire, contrasting the vain imaginations of the Corinthians with the real condition of the apostles, himself in particular.]

Verse 11

Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted [smitten with the clenched fist], and have no certain dwelling-place [Matthew 8:20; Matthew 10:23];

Verse 12

and we toil, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless [Luke 6:27; 1 Peter 2:23]; being persecuted, we endure;

Verse 13

being defamed, we entreat [Matthew 5:44]: we are made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things, even until now. ["Filth" indicates either rubbish swept up, or such foulness as is cleansed by washing. "Offscouring" indicates dirt removed by scraping or scouring. Each neighborhood to which the apostles came hastened to be cleansed of their presence.]

Verse 14

I write not these things to shame you [to make you feel how contemptible you are in adding to my many sorrows and burdens], but to admonish you as my beloved children. [As to the foolishness of your conceit.]

Verse 15

Though ye have ten thousand tutors [literally, pedagogues: the large number rebukes their itch for teachers] in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers [they had but one--Paul]; for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel. [In the first, or highest, sense disciples are begotten by the will of God (John 1:13); but in a secondary sense they are begotten by the teacher of gospel truths (James 1:18). The Corinthians had many builders, but one founder; many waterers, but one planter; many tutors, but one father. He had rights, therefore, which could never be rivaled.]

Verse 16

I beseech you therefore, be ye imitators of me. [Again, in the highest sense we can only be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1); but in a secondary sense the Corinthians could imitate Paul--his humility, faithfulness, self-sacrifice and industry, as did the Thessalonians-- 1 Thessalonians 1:6]

Verse 17

For this cause have I sent unto you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, who shall put you in remembrance of my ways which are in Christ, even as I teach everywhere in every church. [To aid you in imitating me, I have sent Timothy. He can tell you how I teach, not accommodating the gospel to the prejudices and foibles of any locality; and he can, as my spiritual son, aid you by his own manner of life to remember mine. Paul knew that as soon as they heard of this sending of Timothy, his enemies would conclude that he had sent a messenger because he was afraid to face the church himself. Instantly, therefore, he proceeds to counteract this conclusion.]

Verse 18

Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you.

Verse 19

But I will come to you shortly [as he did], if the Lord will [James 4:15]; and I will know, not the word of them that are puffed up, but the power. [I will test not their rhetorical ability, but their power, whether they can stand against that which I possess as an apostle.]

Verse 20

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

Verse 21

What will ye? [which do you choose or prefer?] shall I come unto you with a rod [to punish you], or in love and a spirit of gentleness? [Because ye will have repented of your factious spirit.]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/1-corinthians-4.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.
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