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A further Account respecting Ministers. The humbling View Paul gives of himself, and his few faithful companions.
(1) Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. (2) Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. (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. (4) For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. (5) Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
The Apostle opens this Chapter, with a very modest account of himself, and his fellow laborers in the ministry, desiring the Church to consider them in their proper character, as literally no more than ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God; though Paul himself was an Apostle, and eminently called to be an Apostle, and might have just taken to himself the honor of that exalted station. But he declined the whole. He rather kept in view the awful responsibility of the trust, than prided himself upon the dignity of the office. And he desired, that everyone would consider him, and his companions in the ministry, with whom he put himself upon a level, in no higher light. How exceedingly to be wished were it, that in every succeeding age of the Church, men who profess the ministry, had taken the Apostle for an example. For what is a minister but a servant? according to our Lord's own statement of the character, Matthew 20:26-27 . And what is a steward, but one whose chief office it is, to make provision for the food of the family, and to give the household their portion in due season, Luke 12:42-43 . And the importance of considering things in this light, is very evident, when it be recollected, that the Lord of the household, when he finally comes to reckon, will take account of his servants, not for the dignity of their office, but for their usefulness in his employment; not for rank, but labor, not according to their station among men, but for their labors in the house of God. And, what a tremendous account will those have to give, who have thrust themselves into his service, uncalled, unauthorized, by Him; and when there, have neglected his service, and lorded it over God's heritage, and taken the oversight for filthy lucre? The Lord Jesus hath already read the sentence of all such, in that solemn Scripture. The Lord of that servant will come in the day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint his portion with the unbelievers, Luke 12:46 .
(6)And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. (7) For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? (8) Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. (9) For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. (10) We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honorable, but we are despised. (11) Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; (12) And labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: (13) Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.
The Apostle is here speaking by a figure of speech, in allusion to what he had said of the similitude the Gospel Ministry bears to planting, or watering, in the preceding Chapter, And the Apostle follows up, the same doctrine, in those verses, in referring all gifts, whether spiritual, or temporal, to the Lord. And as Paul's design in this representation was to heal the divisions made in the Church by the people classing themselves under different ministers; never could he have taken a more effectual method, than the one he hath here adopted; in bringing all upon a level, to shew, that everything a man hath, either in gifts, or graces, is of the Lord.
I beg the Reader to pause over the humble, but faithful portrait Paul hath drawn of himself and his companions in the ministry. As the Lord and Master himself was, so were his servants: What! A gazing stock, and reproach to the world's wonder? As it was prophesied of Christ and his people, so eminantly with reference to his ministering servants was it said: Behold, I and the Children whom the Lord hath given me, are for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts which dwelleth in Zion, Isaiah 8:18 . Perhaps there is not a more striking testimony to the truth as it is in Jesus, than this verdict the world gives to Christ and his followers. It is not indeed as much considered as it merits, by the faithful; but evidently from this striking prophecy, and the accomplishment of it, in all ages, down to the present hour, the Holy Ghost hath given it for a blessed token, to his faithful people; and it is their privilege to regard it accordingly. In the present day, which is a day of a Christ-despising generation, it comes home with peculiar blessedness to the few of the Lord's little flock, whom the Lord commands to fear not, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give them the kingdom, Luke 12:32 . I will beg the indulgence of the Reader to dwell a little upon it. Paul here speaks of himself, and his companions in the ministry, as set forth last of all, a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. Perhaps the theatre, on which Paul considered himself and them exposed, alluded to the singularity of their ministry, which, to the world, was sure to subject them to insult, and derision, and cruelty. And the angels he had in view, might either mean, ministering angels of good, whom the Lord commissioned to their protection, and who looked on, and observed their faithfulness, with pleasing testimony: Hebrews 1:14 . Or, more probably, evil angels, and the apostate spirits of darkness, whose malice, thwarted them in all their labors. But whosoever they were which looked on, he and his followers became the subjects of a gazing stock, and derision.
Reader! pause over the review, and behold the conformity in this instance, as in many others, in the Lord's honored ones, being predestinated to his image, Romans 8:29-30 . Though Christ was declared by a voice from heaven, and in the hearing of the people, to be the beloved Son of his Father; yet was he despised and rejected of men, and accounted for a blasphemer, and as one that had a devil. And as they called the Master of the house Beelzebub, so they counted them of his household. The Old Testament Saints, as Well as the New Testament Believers, were all branded, in their day, and generation; with obloquy and reproach. David, under the oppression, cried out : I am as a wonder unto many; but thou, 0 Lord, art my, strong refuge, Psalms 71:7 . And the Church at large felt the same, and said : Have mercy upon us, 0 Lord; have mercy upon us, for we are exceedingly filled with contempt, Psalms 123:3-4 . And the Prophet speaking to Joshua, and the Church, who as High Priest was a type of Christ, and his people, thus expressed himself: Hear now, 0 Joshua the High Priest, thou, and thy fellows which sit before thee; for they are men wondered at, Zechariah 3:8 . And, if they were simply wondered at for their singularity of character, in preferring the reproach of Christ, to all the treasures of the world, as Moses did : Hebrews 11:26 , it would be of little consequence. But, being hooted at, is the smallest evil, sustained for an attachment to the Lord Jesus Christ: cruelty to their persons were added to contempt.
And what rendered the matter the most distressing was, that this treatment, came not so much from the heathen world, from whence it might have been expected, as from those who acknowledged the Lord. The professor, more than the profane, opposed, the Lord's people. Hence, by the Prophet, the Lord comforted his chosen ones; under the assaults and scoffs of their opposers. Fear the word of the Lord (said God,) ye that tremble at his word. Your brethren that hate you, that cast you out for my name's sake said: let the Lord be glorified. But he shall appear to your joy: and they shall be ashamed, Isaiah 66:5 . And in the after ages of the Church, the Lord Jesus pointed out this persecution, as particularly arising from brethren, and kinsfolks, for his name's sake. Yea, saith Christ, they shall put you out of the Synagogues: and the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doeth God service, Luke 21:16-17 ; John 16:2 .
Pause, Reader! and when you have taken a leisurely review of the subject, in marking the treatment shown to the Old Testament saints, and New Testament believers, for their singularity of sentiment, in holding the blessed and special truths of godliness in their purity, from the more ordinary and general profession of them : I would beg you to look at the subject, as it relates to the present hour. Whoever looks deeply, and beyond the mere surface of things, cannot but observe that a full, free, and finished Gospel, is as much despised now, by mere nominal professors, as it ever was, in the days of the Apostle Paul. The preaching which holds forth Christ, as all, and in all, is a sect as much now as ever everywhere spoken against. He that would escape the censure of licentiousness, it is not enough, that he manifests the purity of his principles by an holiness of life, and conversation; but he must compliment human nature, at the expense of divine truth. The great, and leading doctrines of our holy faith, must be kept in the back ground of preaching; and a man must insist more upon the moral law, as a rule of life, than the grace of God, which bringeth salvation: more upon a supposed work wrought within us, than the work of Christ wrought for us. Paul could net thus preach, and therefore he fell under condemnation. His whole doctrine led to the contemplation, and the enjoyment of the electing love of God the Father; the grace of union with Christ, and interest in all that belonged to Christ, as the free, unmerited gift of God by Christ: and the absolute necessity of being regenerated from the death of sin, in the Adam-nature in which the whole Church of God is born, by the work of God the Spirit. These were the sole topics of Paul's preaching. And the one sole object of his desire was, that he might win Christ, and be found in Him. Reader! see to it, as it respects yourself, that Paul's desire is yours; for depend upon it, that where the truth, as it is in Jesus, is preached, it will be found, that the offence of the cross is not ceased. An accommodating spirit to the times, in preaching anything, and everything, but Christ, is among the awful and portentous signs of the present day. A Church chosen of God, redeemed and justified wholly by sovereign grace, sanctified in Christ and regenerated by the Spirit; these are the source and fountain of all spiritual life. But when men make these but as procuring causes, and blend with Christ and his finished and all-perfect work, the creatures faith, and repentance, and obedience, as the means of favor; the spring of all spiritual life is gone: and to all such preachers it might be said, as by them of old, when wild gourds were mingled with their food: O thou man of God, there is death in the pot! 2 Kings 4:40 .
(14) I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. (15) For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. (16) Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. (17) For this cause have I sent unto you Timothy, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. (18) Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you. (19) But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. (20) For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. (21) What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?
So much hath been said from those words of the Apostle, concern spiritual Father s, and of the begetting souls to Christ by conversion, that I cannot wholly pass over the subject. I have indeed elsewhere, in my Poor Man's Concordance, given my humble opinion, that the term is improper; and that I conceive the Apostle himself had no such meaning as is generally supposed, in calling himself the spiritual Father of those Corinthians. And certainly it savors much of vanity, hath a great tendency to nourish spiritual pride, and is altogether foreign to Paul's account of himself to Timothy, as the chief of sinners, 1 Timothy 1:15 . But, in addition to the observations I there offered, I would beg to say, that as regeneration is the sole work of God the Holy Ghost, it is not possible to reconcile it with common sense, how any act of a minister, can be considered as a co-worker, or a subordinate worker, in such an act, as re-creation. It is true, indeed, that faith is said to come by hearing; and hearing by the word of God: Romans 10:17 . But hearing, implies life to hear, and when a soul, which was, before regeneration, dead in trespasses and sins, is brought into life; faith cometh by hearing, as a means of grace. But there is a mighty difference between hearing, and creating. And, as man hath no hand in the old creation; so neither in the new. The work itself is solely the Lord's. It is the peculiar and special office of God the Holy Ghost. And is rife of Heaven's wonders. And surely, none less than He, which brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, can be competent to bring from death, those who by nature, are dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1 .
I shall leave the consideration of the subject to the Reader's own judgment, under the Lord. But I confess I cannot but conclude, that it must be highly unsuitable, irreverent, and blamable, to assume the name of spiritual Father, from any supposed services, in the ministry of Christ. It is the special office of God the Spirit to beget souls from the death of sin. It is his work : and it is his sole glory. And when we hear the Lord speak of his jealousy, as we do in many parts of Scripture, it ought to be well considered, how the Lord expresseth himself: I am the Lord, that is my Name: and my glory will I not give to another: neither my praise to graven images, Isaiah 42:8 .
Reader! do observe with what lowliness of heart, Paul desired the Church to regard him, and his companions in the ministry : mere servants and stewards, not as lords over God's heritage. Paul's great object was, to be found faithful. He considered, that all he was, and all he had, his gifts, graces, knowledge, time, talents, were wholly for the benefit of Christ's Church. And, as he told the Lord's followers upon another occasion, when writing to them, so in all the departments of his ministry, he felt a willingness to have imparted unto them, not the Gospel of God only, but also his very soul, because they were dear to him. Oh! the blessedness of sect a frame of mind, when found among the servants of the Lord's sanctuary.
But, Reader! do not overlook the sure consequence of faithfulness in the ministry. Paul experienced it then : and the same, more or less, is the same now. Simply to preach Christ, in all his glory, fulness, and all-sufficiency, never did, nor ever will fail, to call forth the anger of all self-righteous Pharisees, and excite the indignation of the mere nominal professor, even more than the profane. It was so in the days of the Apostle, it is so now, and will continue through the whole time-state of the Church. But, oh! how sweet to eye Christ amidst all exercises, and to refer all events into his sovereign hand, as Paul did; he that judgeth me, (said he,) is the Lord!
Almighty Master! give to all thy faithful servants grace, that when reviled, they may bless; when persecuted, may suffer it; when defamed, they may entreat. May they be content to suffer shame, so Jesus be but honored; and delight to go forth unto their Lord, without the camp, bearing his reproach!
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29