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Saturday, July 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

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Verses 1-2

‘Let a man so account of us as of assistants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Here moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.’

All Christian teachers are to be seen as ‘assistants’ of Christ in the household of God. The word for ‘assistants’ originally referred to the lowest level of galleyslaves in a trireme, the lowest of the low, those at the bottom of the ladder. It was also used of the assistant at the synagogue in Nazareth who took the scroll of Isaiah from Jesus once He had finished reading (Luke 4:20). It stresses inferiority to a superior in a particular field, for example a ‘junior doctor’. They are learners and helpers to one who is knowledgeable in their field. So are Christian teachers learners and helpers in relation to Christ Who is Himself the source of their knowledge and understanding.

They are also to be seen as stewards, household managers of the mysteries of God. The stress on this continues. They are not the owner, they act on the owner’s behalf. They are responsible to administer what is His. This was a favourite theme of Jesus Himself and He constantly referred to men as servants and stewards of God. Their responsibility, says Paul, is to make known what was previously hidden to those to whom God has chosen to reveal it. It was a mystery, for although God had unveiled something of it in the Old Testament, it had remained veiled to man. But now it had been revealed in Christ. And as stewards of those mysteries it was their responsibility to unveil Christ, and not their own wisdom

They were thus not to be inventors of, or speculators in, religious matters. Others spoke of revealing ‘mysteries. The world was full of mystery religions. But they were mysteries of their own devising, not the mysteries of God. The responsibility of God’s stewards was to preserve and minister God’s word which has been committed to them, and to make Christ fully known as he had been revealed to them. For that is a steward’s responsibility, to be faithful to his master in relation to what is his. The steward of Christ should point to Christ and not to himself, should concentrate on Christ’s affairs and not his own, and should carry out his responsibilities faithfully.

‘Here moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.’ In fulfilling that stewardship nothing was more essential than that the steward be found faithful. For it was only the faithful steward,, who was true to his master’s wisdom, who would truly unveil the mysteries of his master.

Verses 1-5

The Faithfulness Required of Christ’s Assistants and Stewards (4:1-5).

Having summed up all in Christ and in God Paul now comes back to the fact that all men are therefore accountable to God. He speaks openly of himself as an example. But he stresses that he is but an example. All he has said about himself and Apollos, his dear friend and colleague whom he knows he can trust and be frank about without causing offence, is applicable to all. He compares the whole church to a great household, the household of God and of His Son Jesus Christ (compare John 8:34-36; Galatians 4:1-7; Galatians 4:26; Galatians 4:28-31).

Verses 1-21

Christ Crucified For Us And The New Birth Through the Spirit Are the Two Central Foundations of Christianity (1:10-4:21).

Paul begins this section by revealing his concern that the Corinthians are in danger of splitting up into different parties around the teaching of certain leading teachers (1 Corinthians 1:10-17), and concentrating on secondary aspects of that teaching, rather than being united around the one central truth of Christ crucified, the one fact which is central to the Christian message, and around which all should be united, and which points to the One Who alone, by means of what He accomplished there, is effective in bringing about their salvation through the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:24; 1Co 1:30 ; 1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 2:4), and is the very foundation of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

The crucifixion of Christ, points out Paul, has brought about the raising up of a wholly new situation. The world is now divided into two. On the one hand is ‘the natural man’, devoid of the Spirit, taken up with human wisdom, divided, rejecting God’s way, despising the cross (1 Corinthians 1:19 onwards leading up to 1 Corinthians 2:14), and on the other ‘the spiritual one’, receiving true wisdom from God, trusting fully in the word of the cross, enlightened, the temple of God indwelt by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-15; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 1:24).

The ‘natural man’ is the world in Adam, the first man, and as such earthy and without the Spirit and unable to discern the things of God, with no hope of the resurrection to life (1 Corinthians 2:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45-47). The Spiritual One is the last Adam, the second man, the heavenly One, in Whom are found those who are heavenly, Who has given His Spirit to His own so that they might understand the things of God as manifested through the power of the word of the cross, and know the things that are freely given to them of God, and come finally to the resurrection of life (1 Corinthians 2:10-16; 1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

But sadly the Corinthian church, while having become a part of the second, are revealing themselves as still very much taken up with the first. They are divided, looking to earthly wisdom, arguing about different teachers as though they brought different messages, rich and yet poor, reigning and yet not reigning (1 Corinthians 1:12; 1Co 2:5 ; 1 Corinthians 3:3-4; 1 Corinthians 4:8), neglecting the word of the cross, and the Crucified One, still behaving as fleshly rather than as spiritual (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). They are not allowing the word of the cross to do its work in them.

They need to recognise that the teachers are in themselves nothing, ‘weak and foolish’ tools of God (1 Corinthians 1:26-29) who must themselves account to God (1 Corinthians 3:10-15), whose task is to build on the One foundation which is Christ, for they are building the Temple of God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is indeed the one Holy Spirit Who reveals through these teachers the crucified Christ and what He has done and is doing for them (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). For it is one Christ Who has been crucified and through Whom we are being saved.

What should therefore be all important to them is Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2), the word of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18), foreordained before the creation (1 Corinthians 2:7), the central message they proclaim (1 Corinthians 3:11), and around which they must unite, for it is He who has been made to them the wisdom from God, even righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). He is the one foundation on which they are built (1 Corinthians 3:11). The church is one and it is this message that separates them from the outside world which in its folly and blindness despises Him ( 1Co 1:20-23 ; 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 2:8) and what He came to accomplish. Thus must they maintain unity in Him, partaking in His one body (1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13), presenting a united witness to the world (1 Corinthians 1:10-12), recognising that they are the one Temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16), rather than splitting up into a group of different argumentative philosophical groups having lost the recognition that what they have come to believe in Christ is central to the whole future of all things. They need the grand vision.

Verse 3

‘But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by man’s day.’

Indeed so essential is this relationship between master and steward that anyone else’s opinion becomes unimportant. It is to Him alone that the steward is accountable. The Corinthians may make judgments about him as much as they like. They may examine his ministry and ‘compare’ him with, judge him alongside (’anakrino), other teachers, but as long as he is being a faithful steward in so far as his abilities will allow, their judgments matter little. He is not of course talking about a situation where Teachers are clearly failing in their responsibility through neglect, arrogance or laziness. He is talking about judging a man who is doing the best he can with the abilities he has, and is concentrating on being faithful to his master

As Jesus Himself pointed out. To justify himself in their eyes would mean little, for it is God alone who knows the heart, and that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God (Luke 16:15).

‘Or by man’s day.’ He may also be judged by the world in the light of their own perspectives, their own way of life and ideas. For this is ‘man’s day’, when all is judged in the light of what man thinks suitable, fit or important. But, not understanding the ways of God, they are in no position to judge God’s servants. So he does not expect such people to pass a fair judgment on him. ‘Man’s day’, the time when things are judged from man’s point of view, here contrasts with the coming ‘Christ’s day’ when things will be seen differently, and are judged from His point of view.

Verses 3-4

He does not, however, want them to think that he is disparaging their judgment. So he points out that he will not even judge himself, because he is quite frankly not adequate to do so. He may be totally satisfied with what he teaches and how he behaves as an Apostle. He may feel he has done well. He may even fall into despair. But that does not declare him to be in the right or wrong. There is only One Who can do that, and that is the Lord (see Proverbs 21:2). So let them beware of making hasty and false judgments, just as he is.

Again we must stress that he is talking about those who are seeking to be faithful. It is right to judge those who are not of the household of God. Who are being unfaithful. It is right to urge stewards to greater faithfulness. But what is not right is to pass judgments on them and dismiss them by comparing them to others.

‘Yet I am not hereby justified.’ Paul knows very well that the fact that he knows nothing against himself does not mean that He will be accepted by God as righteous. It is God alone Who justifies or condemns.

Verse 5

‘Wherefore judge nothing before the time until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and make openly clear the counsels of the heart. And then shall each man have his praise from God.’

‘Until the Lord comes.’ Not the change in terminology. Jesus is ‘the Lord’. He is not just a superior Teacher. There is one Lord, Jesus Christ. As the Son He is Lord over God’s household. All are to live in the light of Him and His expected return, for then He will pass true judgment and men will have to give full account of all they have done. Compare the many parables of Jesus which describe exactly this (e.g. Luke 12:35-48)

‘Judge nothing before the time.’ He is here thinking primarily of teachers such as Apollos, Peter and himself, and all their fellow teachers (1 Corinthians 3:22). But it also refers to all who would teach faithfully and are accountable to their Lord. He does not mean that the Corinthians should not judge the rightness of doctrine, or wrongdoing, or immoral behaviour. He later shows that to be their responsibility. He is saying only that they should concentrate on Jesus Christ, consider what is given to them, and not pass judgment on the adequacy or otherwise of His assistants and their motives. It is the quality and spiritual effectiveness of men’s service that should not be judged. That is the Lord’s responsibility. When He comes what is unknown will be brought to light and men’s motives and aims, hidden within their hearts, will be made clear. Then will God praise each one according to what he deserves. Much of what they have done, which men admired and praised, will be burned up, revealed as dross, but other will stand the examination and will come through as pure, refined gold and silver and costly jewellery (1 Corinthians 3:13).

However what is said here also applies to all Christians. In the end we have to account to Him for all we do and say. Then judgment will not be on appearance but on what is true. What we have kept hidden within ourselves will be laid bare. And for all His own there will be some praise from God, for any who are unworthy of any praise have thereby proved that they were not truly His.

‘The hidden things of darkness.’ These are the things that men do not want to have brought to the light. All have had such things in their lives, wrong aims, wrong motives, lack of spiritual application. And sadly many such things have gone on in church affairs. Much is done that is done for wrong motives and for self-gain. And we can be sure that they will all come out. But these are things that only God can judge. For only He can pierce into the darkness.

‘The counsels of the heart.’ What men think deep within. What lies behind their smooth words, or their faithful and often misunderstood service. All will be made openly clear.

‘And then shall each man have his praise from God.’ Then the reward will be given. Then will He say, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’ Compare Matthew 25:21-23. Each will receive of the gracious giving of a solicitous Lord.

Verses 6-7

‘Now these things, brothers, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to go beyond the things that are written, that no one of you be puffed up for the one against the other. For who makes you to differ? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you glory as if you had not received it?’

He now stresses that he has been using himself and Apollos as illustrations as he has gone along, altering the figure as he did so, whenever it was necessary, in order to suit the point he wished to make. But he points out that what he has said in fact should be applied to all Teachers. Each has his part to play but none should be exalted above the others. Christ and Him crucified, and not some Teacher, is the One Who must always be central in their thinking and teaching, and he hopes that from them (Paul and Apollos) they (other teachers, or the Corinthians themselves) might learn not to go beyond ‘the things that are written’. In view of use of the regular introductory ‘it is written’ we are probably to see in this a reference to the Scriptures. The Scriptures, ‘the things that are written’, point to Jesus Christ as Lord, the suffering Servant of God Who was finally exalted (Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12), they point to the One Whom God will send Who will be made Lord over all things (Isaiah 11:1-4; Daniel 7:13-14 with Matthew 16:27; Ezekiel 37:25) and they must not go beyond that by exalting some human wisdom or some human personage, being ‘puffed up for one against the other’, with pride exalting one against the other, or by introducing newfangled doctrines. They are to be good stewards of the mysteries of God.

Indeed it is God Who has given them spiritual gifts (12-14; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 3:7; 1 Timothy 4:14-16) and as they exercise these, the gift of prophecy, the ‘word of knowledge’, the gift of ministry, the gift of teaching, they will receive wisdom and knowledge, they will gain understanding, and are to impart it to others. But all that they receive will need to be judged against the Scriptures. Like Paul and Apollos they must spiritually discern (1 Corinthians 14:29). Nor must they exalt the channels of such illumination, for they are merely recipients and channels. The glory must go, not to the channels but to the source, to God (1 Corinthians 1:31). For if they become ‘puffed up’ through being puffed up by others, expanding their chests like a bullfrog, they will lose their usefulness.

These words apply to all gifts. Whatever talents or gifts we possess, they have come from God. We should therefore exercise them with gratitude and not with pride, for we do not have them because we are somehow more deserving than others, but because God in His sovereign power has graciously allowed them to us. And when we see others with these gifts we should give thanks to God for them too and not exalt the one so blessed as to have been given the gifts.

‘These things.’ He has written much and now he looks back over what he has written so that he can apply it to them. He mentions only Apollos and himself. This has been his practise when giving names as examples for illustration purposes. This is in contrast to 1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 3:22 where ‘Cephas’ (note, not ‘Peter’ but the Aramaic form) had been mentioned in order to draw attention to their party divisions, probably because some pointed to Christian teaching with a Jewish emphasis. But clearly such ideas were not in themselves central to the church’s problems or causing doctrinal difficulties, for they are nowhere specifically mentioned. The problems that had arisen were more to do with disagreement and division and concentration on secondary matters, on a supposed new wisdom, to the detriment of the word of the cross. (And he did not want them to think that he was attacking those who came from Cephas, or indeed Jewish Christians at all. They knew full well how he loved Apollos. To use him as an illustration would not mislead).

‘That in us you might learn not to go beyond the things that are written.’ Literally, ‘in order that in us you may learn the (to) not above/beyond what is written’. The Greek is probably colloquial but the idea would seem to be that Paul wants them to make sure that they remain Scripturally based. ‘What is written’ may refer to the Scriptural quotations and references he has given in the passage (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:19; 1Co 1:31 ; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 3:19-20), thus advising them to look only to the Scriptures or to God for wisdom, or it may refer to the whole Scriptural position that ‘is written’ generally. The ‘to’ (definite article) used in this way regularly introduces a quotation. Thus the suggested translation, ‘in order that in us you may learn the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written”. The stress is on the need not to be carried away with things not founded in Scripture.

Verses 6-13

Those Who Are True To The Word of the Cross Endure Suffering For Christ. The Corinthians Need To Re-examine Their Foundations (4:6-13).

Paul now stresses that all that he has said has been with them in mind. He has done it gently as though he were speaking of himself and Apollos. (We can see what confidence he had in Apollos). But really he has been thinking of them and those who profess to be their teachers. He has wanted them to consider their ways.

For the truth is that those who are faithful to the word of the cross are enduring suffering for Christ as is evidenced by the Apostles and what they endure. Thus the belief of the Corinthians that somehow they are superior is clearly wrong. They think they are wise but they are neglecting the true wisdom, replacing it with what is secondary, and artificial. They are concentrating on different aspects of doctrines which they see as ‘wisdom’, and neglecting the true wisdom of God which is revealed through the word of the cross. They are failing to be true servants of Christ.

Verse 8

‘Already you are filled, already you are become rich, you have reigned without us. Yes and I would that you did reign, that we also might reign with you.’

But that is what they have been doing, and such ideas have given them ideas above their station. Paul here speaks with deep irony and contrasts their view of their own position with that of the Apostles. They have come to such an exalted view of themselves that they see themselves as satiated with blessings, as filled with heavenly wisdom, as already fully having all that God can give them spiritually, as already being rich in great wisdom and in spiritual knowledge and blessing, even as reigning. And all without Paul and Apollos being included, thanks to their spiritual gifts. And yet meanwhile they have been disputing hotly with each other, and expressing their own superiority as against each other, to the detriment of the centrality of Christ crucified.

It would seem that what they had received through their prophetic gifts, not wisely tested against Scripture, had given them the idea of their own great spirituality, and exaltation, so that felt that they could leave Paul and Apollos far behind. They seemingly saw themselves as in some way reigning in some supernatural way, possibly in view of earthly Messianic expectations (compare Luke 22:29-30). Unwise Christians can soon get such exalted ideas from unwise teachers in times when all is going well. Paul is sceptical. Sarcastically he says that he would that they did reign so that he and Apollos could reign with them! We are probably not to take this comment too literally, although if their ideas were connected with the Kingly Rule of God it may be that Paul nostalgically wished that it would indeed come.

‘Yes and I would that you did reign, that we also might reign with you.’ Paul sarcastically wishes that they really reigned as truly spiritual Christians so that he and his fellow-workers, who were truly reigning in life (Romans 5:17; Romans 6:11-14; Revelation 5:10), could rejoice and reign with them. Then they would be united as one instead of being divided.

Alternately the idea (in view of what follows) might possibly be that he wishes that their doctrine of present Messianic blessing were true so that they could all share it together. But he goes on to point out that the fact that it was not true was demonstrated by what the Apostles were suffering.

He wants them to know that all their claims were certainly in contrast with the Apostles’ expectations, for he goes on to demonstrate that they certainly do not enjoy such fullness, such riches, such reigning as the Corinthians claim. Rather they are paraded around, they are mocked, they go hungry and unclothed, they are beaten and have no home, they are treated as the filth of the world. So it should be clear that by their claims the Corinthians are claiming to be superior to the Apostles themselves! And yet in the remainder of his letter he will demonstrate that far from reigning they are revealing their continuing moral inadequacy.

Corinth was a wealthy city, and many of the Corinthian Christians were thus seemingly well enough off to consider that this somehow demonstrated their spiritual superiority. Possibly they considered that they were enjoying these blessings because of what they saw as their spiritual status. Possibly they considered that they had entered into Messianic blessing. But sadly they were like the Laodicean church (Revelation 3:17-18), poor and wretched, miserable, blind and naked. There are many today who equally tend to look on prosperity as a sign of their spiritual status. There are some who teach it, and they too might profitably consider these words, especially when there is such need all around and their Christian brothers are going hungry and suffering around the world.

But the truth was that their spirituality was a show, a pretence. Their view of themselves based on their exercise of, and overindulgence in, spiritual gifts, was without regard to the quality of their lives. They did not really reign. They walked blindly. They stumbled and fell. They exalted personages, and debased those to whom they owed the most. They divided themselves into ‘wisdom schools’ arguing with each other over secondary matters, and criticising each other, while ignoring what should have been their central concern. They tolerated, and some even practised, immorality. They took each other to court. They criticised and attacked Paul and others like him. They treated idolatry lightly, even though it made others stumble. They grumbled at what God did. They were selfish and overlooked the good of others. Many got drunk at the Christian love feasts. Others failed to share their good things with their poorer brothers. They were inconsiderate, thoughtless and selfish. And yet they claimed to be reigning!

This tendency to interpret the Scriptures in the light of particular circumstances is prevalent today. Christians in Western countries may interpret them in the light of their affluence, as the Corinthians did (although not all), while those in countries where they go hungry, and suffer, and have little opportunity, may see them very differently. The lesson Paul is giving here is that if doctrine does not fit in with all cases then it is not correct doctrine.

Verses 9-10

‘For, I think, God has set forth us the apostles last of all, as men doomed to death. For we are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You have glory but we have dishonour.’

These Corinthians seemingly thought that they had been put first. That they were specially chosen. That they were commencing the Messianic reign as God’s elect. Well let them consider the situation of those most spiritual of men, the Apostles, whose gifts from God far exceeded those of all others. They were seemingly doing the opposite of reigning. They had seemingly been put last. They were seemingly at the back of the queue when it came to prestige and honour and glory. Rather than being exalted they were doomed to death. This may refer to the fact that in the triumphal processions of Roman conquerors, in which their captives were made a spectacle, those captives who were doomed to death in the arena were made to walk last. So rather than reigning Christ’s Apostles were being made a spectacle in the sight of the whole world, both of angels and of men, and being paraded, as it were, as doomed captives, as animal fodder.

‘Of angels and of men.’ It may well be that the reference to angels had in mind that these Corinthians saw themselves not only as exalted above men, but also as exalted in the eyes of the angels, as almost angels themselves. Or he may be referring to the fact of the angels who are present to watch over God’s people (Hebrews 2:14) and are therefore spectators to all that goes on on earth.

Rather than boasting of wisdom and strength the Apostles were looked on as fools and could only boast of weakness and humiliation Note how all this fits in with what Paul has been saying earlier about those who were Christ’s (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 1:26-28). Indeed while the Corinthians were displaying themselves as wise in Christ the Apostles were being paraded as fools for Christ, as the truly wise. While the Corinthians rejoiced in glory, the Apostles, those especially chosen men of God, were despised and dishonoured. They were a show for others to jeer at or clap.

For Christ’s sake the Apostles were prepared to be looked on as fools, and to say things and behave in a way that made men think they were fools, proclaiming openly the word of the cross. Their only desire was to honour Christ. They had died to their own ways and desires so that they might live to Him, and it had led to poverty and worldly dishonour. Clearly someone had got their bearings wrong somewhere. Either the Corinthians were right, or the Apostles were. Paul is making his final bid to show them how wrong they in fact are. They are being misled about spiritual priorities because they are overlooking the cross. They need to leave their study of ‘wisdom’ and their experience meetings and take the word of the cross out to the world. They would then soon find then whether the Messianic age had come.

What a contrast then were these fleshly Corinthian Christians and their views when compared with the Apostles. They saw themselves as wise (sensible and prudent and with extra spiritual knowledge), and strong and glorious. But of course it was all an illusion based on their particular circumstances. They were really the opposite. They were not the spiritual giants that they thought they were. Rather they lived to excess in everything, in disputes about different Teachers and different wisdom teaching, in sexual misbehaviour (chapter 5), in legal disputes, taking fellow Christians before pagan courts (chapter 6), in partying and drunkenness (1 Corinthians 11:20-22), and in the misuse of spiritual gifts (chapter 14). They had no real concept of oneness in Christ, of chasteness and purity, of concern for others, and of the use of spiritual gifts for the benefit of others rather than themselves. Far from enjoying Messianic blessings they were Messianic misfits. They had not learned to live sacrificially, like the One Who had nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58). And all this was evidence that the word of the cross was not pre-eminent in their lives.

‘God has set us forth.’ But they should note what God has done. It is God Who has done what He has to the Apostles. He has deliberately set them forth as a spectacle. How then does this tie in with the Corinthians’ way of thinking?

So we note here that in the last analysis it was God Who had brought these things on the Apostles. Paul is not complaining. He is giving them as an example. None need despair or lose courage for it was within His purpose and was the means by which He brought about His will. Those who are not God’s true servants may seem to ‘prosper’, but those who are His may expect to find themselves constantly assailed by trial and tribulation, (although their prayer must always be, ‘lead us not into testing, but deliver us from evil’, for their confidence must be in Him and not in themselves).

‘To the world and to angels and to men.’ For the idea of the angels as observers of men see 1 Corinthians 11:10; Hebrews 1:14. As suggested earlier this may indicate that the Corinthians had an exalted view of themselves as above angelic status. Or ‘angels and men’ might be intended to define ‘the world’ in which we operate, peopled by men, watched over by angels.

Verse 11

‘Even to this present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and are knocked about, and have no certain dwelling place. And we toil, working with our hands. Being reviled, we bless, being persecuted, we endure, being defamed we entreat. We are made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things, even until now.’

Paul now defines the life of the Christian witness. How differently from many today those who sought first the Kingly Rule of God, and His righteousness, lived, those who walked the way of the cross. They did not feast. They hungered and thirsted and went without, they were not fashionably dressed but lived in minimum clothing, they were not pampered but were knocked about, they did not bask in luxury but toiled, working with their hands. They were regularly reviled, persecuted and defamed, and regularly misrepresented, because they thrust themselves into the spiritual battle among unbelievers. Indeed they were treated as refuse, as what men dispense with in disgust. And in return for their maltreatment they blessed their persecutors (see Luke 6:27-28), and endured, and answered in a friendly way, and continued to entreat men to come to Christ. They were those of whom the world was not worthy (Hebrews 11:38). Perhaps there was a deliberate hint in this that the Corinthians were not obeying their Master in this and should learn to do the same.

In this the Apostles followed Christ. He too hungered (Luke 4:2; Matthew 21:18), thirsted (John 4:7; John 19:28); was naked (Mark 15:24); was knocked about (Mark 14:65); had no certain dwelling place (Luke 9:58); and was reviled, persecuted and defamed (1 Peter 2:23; John 15:20; Mark 15:29-31).

‘Toil, working with our hands.’ This was toil resulting in calluses, weariness and fatigue (2 Thessalonians 3:8), the labour of love that works itself to the bone for those it loves (1 Thessalonians 1:3). There was no life of ease and relaxation for those who served Christ truly. And they wanted not to be a burden to others. The Jews respected toil. All Jewish teachers were expected to support themselves. But the Greeks tended to despise it. Such was for slaves and the lower classes. Thus Paul is indicating that they were seen as at a low level in Greek eyes.

Note Paul’s emphasis. ‘Even to this present hour --- even until now’. For those who served Christ faithfully the times of plenty were not yet here, the Messianic age was not yet come, nor would it until God’s purposes were come to fruition. So if the Corinthians boasted of their prosperity and of their luxurious living it was no indication of their spiritual status but rather of their spiritual bankruptcy.

The Corinthians are a picture of all who live in prosperity and excess while the world languishes. Paul is saying that evangelists and ministers who live in luxury are a contradiction in terms. Prelates who dress splendidly are a contradiction of the Gospel. Those who bask in fame and plaudits do but demonstrate their own unspiritual state. Those who own more expensive properties than their congregations and larger cars show their unspirituality and even hypocrisy. For those who serve faithfully will be living lives of sacrifice and self-control in order that Christ may be lifted up. By their fruits (by how they live and what they produce) they will be known.

While the Scriptures nowhere condemn godly men who have wealth, they certainly condemn those who fail to use it wisely to help the needy. Consider Luke 10:33-36; Luke 12:18-19; Luke 16:9; Luke 16:19-23; Luke 18:22. And they also command us to lay up treasure, not on earth but in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-20) and give us the example of the widow and her pittance which she gave to God, reminding us that God does not look at how much we give so much as at how much we have left (Mark 12:43).

‘The offscouring of all things.’ This described such things as the grease and grime wiped from pots and pans. That which was wiped off and thrown into the cesspit. See also Lamentations 3:45.

Verses 14-16

‘I write these things not to shame you but to admonish you, as my beloved children. For though you might have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers. For in Christ Jesus I brought you to birth through the Gospel. I beg you therefore, you be imitators of me.’

Paul now assures them that he writes this way as a loving father, not as a despot. He is admonishing them sternly because of his love for them. They are his beloved children, and he wants the very best for them. For in at least one thing he is unique, that it was he who first introduced the Corinthians to Christ, and through whom they found new life in Him. This at least proves his soundness and effectiveness. There are a multiplicity of Teachers (slave tutors) who will teach them many things, some good, some bad. But they do not have the same qualifications, as far as the Corinthians are concerned, as Paul has, for they are his spiritual children, and he was their spiritual father, and the way that he brought them to birth was not through ‘wisdom’ but through the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17-18). Thus he begs them to be imitators of him as a child so naturally is of a father, living the Christian life as he lives it, behaving as he behaves (in 1 Corinthians 11:1 he amplifies his words as ‘be imitators of me as I am of Christ’. There is no question of them imitating him for himself alone). Compare Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). For as the means of their conversion he has proved, at least this to them, that he enjoys the power of God. Can the other Teachers say the same?

‘Though you might have ten thousand tutors in Christ.’ Paul is basically saying that such tutors are two a penny. Anyone can set himself up as a tutor. They crowd round for the privilege of teaching the Corinthians their own ideas professing that it is in the name of Christ. The slave tutor had responsibility for children in a well-to-do family. He would watch over them, guide them, see them safely to school, watch over their morals, teach them good manners, and so on. But he was easily replaced if he turned out to be inefficient. The one who was really concerned for their welfare was their father. He was permanent.

‘Yet you do not have many fathers.’ This is the fact of the matter. Those who really care for them are relatively few. Those who have brought them to birth have demonstrated by so doing that God is behind them, and that they truly care. They are not seeking ‘a following’ but intent on leading them to Christ. Young Jewish students who were trained in the Torah by a teacher would recognise him as a ‘father’. Thus Paul is to be seen as their father, because he brought to them and taught them the traditions of Jesus and the truth of the Scriptures. He preached to them the word of the cross. Casual tutors seeking to usurp the father’s authority and seeking a following should not be seen as on the same level.

Jesus had to warn the Rabbis about seeking the title ‘Master’ and their students on calling them ‘father’ (Matthew 23:8-9). Both were to look to God as servants of God. Paul is not advocating such a thing. What he is doing is stress his loving concern and the events that have revealed that he is truly their father in Christ Jesus. Let them therefore hear him and look to Christ. It was a bad day for the Christian church when Christians began to look to men as their ‘father’. He came between them and Christ.

‘My beloved children.’ It is when Paul feels most deeply and speaks most strongly that he uses such endearments (2 Corinthians 6:13; Galatians 4:19).

‘I brought you to birth through the Gospel.’ Paul sees himself as a father giving them life through the preaching of the Gospel in power, resulting in them being born from above by the Spirit of God (John 3:1-8; 1 Peter 1:23) and receiving new life in Christ (Romans 6:4; 2 Peter 1:4). He is of course their father in a secondary sense, for it was the Father Himself Who of His own will really brought them to birth through the word of truth (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3). Paul was merely the channel. But that is Paul’s point, that he, and he alone was the channel through which God revealed His saving power, thus proving him to be a true channel of the Spirit.

‘I beg you therefore, you be imitators of me.’ As we have seen 1 Corinthians 11:1 adds, ‘as I am of Christ’. But here he is challenging their willingness to copy him, rather than the opposition. That in the end will be the test of their response to his words, and he is about to put it to the test in chapter 5. There he will discover whether they are willing to copy him or not.

Verses 14-21

Let Them Then Remember That He Fathered Them And That Through Him God’s Power Was and Is Revealed (4:14-21)

Verse 17

‘This is the reason why I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, even as I teach everywhere in every church.’

It is because of his love for them and because he is their spiritual father that he is now sending Timothy to them. Note the comparison and contrast between ‘beloved children’ (1 Corinthians 4:14) and ‘beloved and faithful child’. Comparison because he wants them to have a fellow feeling with Timothy as all having been brought to Christ by Paul, and contrast because Timothy has stood firm and retained his faithfulness to the truth, unlike the Corinthians. Thus he is truly ‘in the Lord’. So Timothy is well qualified to remind them of Paul’s ‘ways which are in Christ’.

There is the definite hint here that their ways are not ‘in Christ’. They have chosen their own ways as he has already pointed out, and will again point out shortly. They need to return to the ways of Christ, the ways of lowliness and self-giving, the ways of obedience to Scriptural morality, the ways taught by Paul in every church. By these words he also makes clear that Timothy is his trusted emissary. They might well call to mind Jesus’ parable of the vineyard when the lord who had gone away sent his beloved son to the workers in the vineyard. Timothy has come to speak in his name, and he speaks in Christ’s name.

The fact that Timothy is not included in the initial greeting might arise from his youthfulness, or it may be because he was not there with Paul at the time. It is possible that Paul sent to him wherever he was and asked him to go to Corinth to represent him.

Verses 18-20

‘Now some are puffed up as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. For the Kingly Rule of God is not in word, but in power.’

Now he turned his attention to those who seemed to think (and probably claimed) that he had deserted the Corinthians. They accused him of being a fly-by-night, and that he would not be coming back. Well, they were wrong. In God’s will he intended to come to them shortly, although it did of course depend on God being willing (compare 1 Corinthians 16:7; James 4:15), for Paul was an assistant to Christ and not His master. And then he would see what power these men who puffed themselves up really had in their ministry. For it in the end it was not a matter of words but the power of God. Through those who were His true servants, God works in power, for the Kingly Rule of God was revealed in power (Mark 9:1; Acts 1:7-8; Acts 3:12; Acts 4:7; Acts 4:33; Acts 6:8) and continued in power. This would especially include power, not in mere words, but in the word of the cross. It finishes off where Paul began. But he may well have intended them to remember miracles that God had done through him. Could these puffed up ones speak of the same?

It is clear that these opponents were using any tactic to discredit him. They also tried to downgrade him by making out that he used gifts that he was given in order to look after his own needs and to make himself comfortable, and give himself plenty of free time (1 Corinthians 9:3-7). They accused him of misuse of funds and time-serving. Indeed they were spreading so many rumours and innuendoes that Paul felt it necessary to defend himself against the charge. Fortunately he had the perfect answer. He earned his own living. But he also makes clear out of deference to his colleagues that a soldier of Christ in the field has a right to be supported (1 Corinthians 9:7-18). So Paul is not just being unkind when he speaks of the being puffed up. He is defending himself against their unpleasantness and pointing out what they really are, boasters and liars.

‘Some are puffed up.’ Compare 1 Corinthians 5:2. This makes clear that they are self-seekers, but it is also preparation for the jolt he will shortly bring home to them when he deals with one of the causes of their being puffed up. In 1 Corinthians 8:1 he will state that ‘knowledge puffs up’. These are some who are puffed up by knowledge. And this has caused them to think too much of themselves. They see no good in anyone but themselves.

‘Not the word -- but the power.’ Here ‘the word’ represents their teaching. They may be eloquent. Their words might be beautifully put together and seem to have something heavenly and mysterious about their content. But are they spiritually effective? That is the test. Do they make men holy? He will in the next chapter demonstrate that they certainly do not.

‘The Kingly Rule of God.’ This is God’s present rule among His people revealed in His powerful activity and the resulting spiritual living and service. Compare Romans 14:17. Note that here the Kingly Rule of God is specifically linked with the word of the cross in power. We have no right to separate ‘the kingdom of God’ from the Gospel. Note also that it is expressed through power. Thus it ties back to the idea of the word of the cross in power (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In 1 Corinthians 4:8 he had hinted at the claim of these opponents that they were rulers in heavenly things and had sarcastically wished that it was true. Now he makes clear that it is not true. They lacked the power that suggested that they truly reigned with Christ under the Kingly Rule of God.

The reference to the Kingly Rule of God is also further preparation for chapters 5 and 6. What is to be described there is very much connected with what is being described here, and with the word of the cross. The reason that they can act as judges within the community of the church is because the Kingly Rule of God is here and because God has spoken in terms of the cross.

Verse 21

‘What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and in a spirit of meekness?’

So he closes this section by leaving them a choice. Do they prefer severity, or love and gentleness. As a concerned father he is prepared to use the rod of chastening (Hebrews 12:5-11 compare Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 23:13-14) but would prefer to come in love and gentleness. It is up to them and will depend on how they respond to his letter. The rod may have in mind ‘the rod of iron’ (Revelation 2:27; Revelation 12:5) as in Psalms 2:9, ‘the iron sceptre’ of judgment. The latter would tie in with his claim to reveal the Kingly Rule of God in power. But the context more suggests the father’s correcting rod. Perhaps he wanted some to see one and some the other. However he is making it clear that he would prefer to come as a father, arriving in love and gentleness to greet responsive children. Some see here a reference to the Holy Spirit, but in view of the contrast we are probably intended to see it as signifying Paul’s own spirit.

This leads immediately into chapter 5. He is about to exercise his fatherly authority. Let them consider how they will respond to it.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/1-corinthians-4.html. 2013.
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