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1 Corinthians 4

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4063. A.D. 59.

As a further antidote against the pride and the factious spirit working, and ready to prevail, among the Christians at Corinth, the apostle, in this chapter,

(1,) Leads them into several useful reflections on the nature of the ministerial office, and the final judgment of Him who searches all hearts, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 .

(2,) Represents the obligations they were under to the divine goodness for every advantage by which they were distinguished from others, and cautions them against thinking highly of themselves on account of what they had received, and against despising him and his fellow-servants, on account of the ignominious treatment they met with from the world; which treatment he contrasts with that easy state in which the Corinthians were, 1 Corinthians 4:6-13 .

(3,) He claims their regard to him as their spiritual father in Christ, 1 Corinthians 4:14-16 .

(4,) He shows that, in great concern for them, he had sent Timothy to them, and intended himself to come and rectify disorders among them, warning them not to force him to use severity, which he was very averse to do, 1 Corinthians 4:17-21 .

Verse 1

1 Corinthians 4:1. Let a man, &c. Having warned the believers at Corinth against entertaining an undue esteem for their own ministers, he now proceeds to show them in what light they ought to view all true ministers of Christ: and lest, from what was advanced in the preceding chapters concerning the inspiration of the apostles by the Holy Spirit, these Corinthians should imagine that Paul claimed to himself and his brethren an authority not derived from Christ, he here tells them that even the apostles were only Christ’s servants; obliged in all things to act in entire subjection to him, and obedience to his will. So account of us as of the ministers of Christ The original word, υπηρετας , properly signifies such servants as laboured at the oar in rowing vessels, and accordingly intimates the pains which every faithful minister of Christ takes in his Lord’s work. O God! where are these ministers to be found? Lord, thou knowest! and stewards of the mysteries of God Dispensers of the mysterious truths of the gospel. “The apostle gives to those doctrines, which in former ages had been kept secret, but which were now discovered to all through the preaching of the gospel, the appellation of the mysteries of God, to recommend them to the Corinthians. And he calls himself the steward of these mysteries, to intimate, that the deepest doctrines, as well as the first principles of the gospel, were intrusted to him to be dispensed or made known.” Macknight.

Verses 2-5

1 Corinthians 4:2-5. Moreover As for what remains to be done in the discharge of this office; it is required of stewards Since they also, as well as lower servants in the family, are subject to account; that a man be found faithful That he act according to his commission, and neither withhold any privilege, or any part of God’s will from the people; nor deliver his own notions as the will of God, nor take more authority upon him than God has given him; as also that he discover and communicate divine truths and blessings as the hearers are able to receive them. With me it is a very small thing A thing that concerns me very little; that I should be judged of you Ινα ανακριθω , that I should be examined, as the word properly signifies, namely, in order to the being judged, or to a judicial sentence being passed, which is evidently the meaning of the same word in the last clause of the verse; or of man’s judgment A judgment passed by any man whatsoever, though in the most solemn manner. The original expression, ανθρωπινης ημερας , is literally, human day; namely, of judgment, in allusion to the great day of judgment. Yea, I judge not myself Namely, finally, infallibly, definitively: my final state is not to be determined by my own judgment. For I know nothing by myself I am not conscious to myself of doing any thing evil, or of any unfaithfulness or negligence in the discharge of my ministry; yet am I not hereby justified Acquitted from all fault in God’s sight, who observes those failings in us which we cannot discern in ourselves; for who can understand his errors?

Psalms 19:12: or, I do not depend on my own conscience not condemning me, as a sufficient justification of myself in God’s sight: but he that judgeth me is the Lord By his sentence I must stand or fall. Therefore judge nothing before the time Appointed for judging all men; until the Lord come To judge the world in righteousness; who In order to pass a righteous judgment, which otherwise would be impossible; will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness The things covered with the veil of impenetrable obscurity, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart The most secret springs of action, the principles and intentions of every heart: and then shall every man Who is sincere, faithful, and praiseworthy; have praise of God Both commendation and reward.

Verses 6-7

1 Corinthians 4:6-7. And these things Mentioned 1 Corinthians 1:10, &c., 1 Corinthians 3:4, &c.; I have in a figure very obviously transferred to myself and Apollos And Cephas, instead of naming those particular preachers at Corinth, to whom you are so fondly attached; that ye might learn in us From what has been said concerning us; not to think of any man above what is written Here or elsewhere, in God’s word; that is, above what Scripture warrants; not to set a higher value upon any of your teachers, or their gifts and abilities, than what I have expressed, 1 Corinthians 3:6-8, agreeable to Scripture; namely, that they are only instruments in God’s hand, and that all the success of their labours depends on his blessing. Thus this great apostle, by stripping himself of all honour, and by taking to himself the simple character of a servant of Christ, taught the heads of the faction to lay aside their boasting, and behave with modesty, especially as all the teachers at Corinth did nothing but build upon the foundation which he had laid, and exercised no spiritual gift but what they had received, either through him or through some other apostle. That none of you be puffed up for one against another That you should not value yourselves by reason of your relation to, or dependance upon, one teacher more than another, thereby magnifying one, and vilifying another. For who maketh thee to differ Either in gifts or graces; or who has so far advanced thee in point of wisdom and judgment above all other believers, as that thou canst, by thy own authority, set up any one teacher above another? What hast thou that thou didst not receive From God, who has given as much to others also? Why dost thou glory Or boast in the unmerited gift of his liberal goodness; as if thou hadst not received it? As if thou hadst it originally from thyself?

Verse 8

1 Corinthians 4:8. Now ye are full The Corinthians abounded with spiritual gifts; and so did the apostles. But the apostles, by continual want and sufferings, were preserved from self-complacency. The Corinthians suffered nothing; and having plenty of all things, were pleased with and applauded themselves. And they were like children who, being raised in the world, disregard their poor parents. Now ye are full, says the apostle, in a beautiful gradation; ye are rich; ye have reigned as kings A proverbial expression, denoting the most splendid and plentiful circumstances; without us That is, without any thought of us; or, by the ministry of your own teachers, without our help. And I would to God ye did reign In the best sense: I would ye had attained to an eminence of grace and holiness as well as of gifts; that we also might reign with you Might have no more sorrow on your account.

Verse 9

1 Corinthians 4:9 . For God hath set forth us the apostles And all faithful ministers; last, as it were appointed to death He alludes to the Roman theatrical spectacles, in which those persons were brought forth last on the stage, either to fight with each other, or with wild beasts, who were devoted to death; so that if they escaped one day, they were brought out again and again, till they were killed. For, from a passage of Seneca’s Epistles, quoted by Whitby, it appears that in the morning those criminals, to whom they gave a chance of escaping with their lives, fought with the wild beasts armed. But in the afternoon the gladiators fought naked, and he who escaped was only reserved for slaughter to another day; so that they might well be called επιθανατιους , persons appointed to death. “By comparing the apostles to these devoted persons, Paul hath given us a strong and affecting picture of the dangers which the apostles encountered in the course of their ministry; dangers which at length proved fatal to most of them. Their labours and sufferings were greater than those of the ancient prophets.” A spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men “By the angels, to whom the apostles were made a spectacle, some understand the evil angels, who may be supposed to delight in the blood of the martyrs. Others understand the good angels, to whom the faith and constancy of the apostles gave great joy. Probably both were intended. For it must have animated the apostles in combating with their persecutors, to think that they were disappointing the malice of evil spirits, while they were making the angels in heaven and good men on earth happy, by the faith, and patience, and fortitude, which they were exerting in so noble a cause.” Macknight.

Verses 10-13

1 Corinthians 4:10-13. We are fools In the account of the world, for Christ’s sake Because we expose ourselves to so many dangers and sufferings for his cause: or because we preach the plain truths of the gospel, and affirm such high things of one who was crucified as a malefactor. But ye are wise in Christ Though ye are Christians, ye think yourselves wise; and ye have found means to make the world think so too: or, you think you have found out a way at once of securing the blessings of the gospel, and escaping its inconveniences and persecutions. We are weak In presence, in infirmities, and in sufferings: but ye are strong Just in opposite circumstances. Ye are honourable Adorned with extraordinary gifts, in which you are ready to glory, and some of you appear in circumstances of external distinction; but we are despised Treated with contempt wherever we come. Or the apostle may be considered in this verse as repeating ironically the things which his enemies in Corinth said of him, and as attributing to them, in the same spirit of irony, the contrary qualities. Even unto this present hour Not only at our first entrance upon our office, when all the world was set against Christianity, but still, though many thousands are converted; we both hunger and thirst, &c. Are destitute of necessary food and apparel, and exposed to wants of all sorts. Who can imagine a more glorious triumph of the truth than that which is gained in these circumstances? When Paul, with an impediment in his speech, and a person rather contemptible than graceful, appeared in a mean, perhaps tattered dress, before persons of the highest distinction, and yet commanded such attention, and made such deep impressions upon them! Being reviled, we bless, suffer it, entreat We do not return revilings, persecution, defamation; nothing but blessing, We are made as the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things Such were those poor wretches among the heathen, who were taken from the dregs of the people to be offered as expiatory sacrifices to the infernal gods. They were loaded with curses, affronts, and injuries, all the way they went to the altars. And when the ashes of those unhappy men were thrown into the sea, those very names were given them in the ceremony.

Verses 14-16

1 Corinthians 4:14-16. I write not these things to shame you Publicly to disgrace you, and stain your credit with other churches; but as my beloved sons I warn you Show you in a mild and tender way what is wrong in your conduct, and put you in mind of your duty. It is with admirable prudence and sweetness the apostle adds this, to prevent any unkind construction of his words. For though you have ten thousand instructers To advance you in the knowledge of Christ; yet have ye not many fathers; to convert you to Christ: for in Christ Jesus By his blessing upon my labours; I have begotten you through the gospel Been the first instrument of your conversion. This excludes, not only Apollos, his successor, but also Silas and Timothy, his companions. And the relation between a spiritual father and his children brings with it an inexpressible nearness and affection. Be ye followers of me In that spirit and behaviour which I have so largely declared.

Verse 17

1 Corinthians 4:17. For this cause That you may be better able to trace my steps, and may be animated to do it with the greater care; I have sent unto you Timotheus, my beloved son One whom I love with an entire fatherly affection, as if he were my son, 2 Timothy 1:2. Elsewhere he styles him brother, but here paternal affection takes place. And faithful in the Lord In the Lord’s work, (Philippians 2:20,) and by his assistance; who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways My Christian course of life for your imitation, 1 Corinthians 4:16. As I teach everywhere According to the constant tenor of my preaching. With regard to Paul’s sending Timothy to Corinth, the case seems to have been this: the great success with which the apostle preached at Ephesus having induced him to remain a while longer there, after he heard of the dissensions in Corinth, he judged it proper to send Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia, (of which mention is made Acts 19:22,) to learn how matters stood at Corinth. And if, on the information they received, they should judge their presence would be of use in composing the disagreements among the Corinthians, they were to go forward and attempt it, by putting them in remembrance of the apostle’s doctrine and practice. Yet it appears from 1 Corinthians 16:10, where he says, if Timothy come, that he was uncertain whether he went to Corinth or not.

Verses 18-21

1 Corinthians 4:18-21. Now some are puffed up Are grown insolent; as though I would not come To censure them for their misconduct, and to reform abuses; fancying that, because I have sent Timothy, I am not coming myself, being afraid to appear in a place where I have so many opposers. The apostle saw, by a divine light, the thoughts which would arise in their hearts. But I will come to you shortly So he purposed in spirit,

(Acts 19:21,) intending to take Macedonia in his way; if the Lord will Who guides us in all our journeys, Acts 16:7-10; Galatians 2:2; and will know Consider, examine, and find out; not the speech of them that are puffed up Their specious profession of religion, and vain ostentation of knowledge and eloquence; but the power How much of the power of God attends the ministrations of such of them as take upon them to teach, and how much true and vital godliness is found in their disciples. For the kingdom of God Real, genuine religion, Romans 14:17; is not in word Does not consist in empty professions, and vain boastings, nor in delivering elegant and eloquent discourses; but in power Namely, the power of God, creating men anew, and governing their hearts and lives in the fear and love of God, and obedience to his holy will. What will ye What, on the whole, do ye desire? Shall I come unto you with a rod To chastise by the exercise of my apostolic power? Will you, by persisting in your dissensions and disorders, compel me to come in this spirit, and for this purpose? Or in love, and a spirit of meekness Commending and comforting, instead of chastising? Will you amend your ways, and reform what is amiss, that I may be kind and gentle toward you? The apostle, in speaking of coming with a rod, alludes to the power which he and the other apostles possessed of punishing obstinate offenders by miracle. For that they had often such a miraculous power, extending even in some cases of aggravated offence to the inflicting of temporal death, appears from several other passages of Scripture; (see Acts 5:5, &c.; Acts 13:10; Act 13:14 ; 1 Timothy 1:20;) and is referred to more than once or twice in these epistles to the Corinthians; (as 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:23; 2Co 10:6 ; 2 Corinthians 10:8; 2 Corinthians 13:2-3; 2 Corinthians 13:10.) And here we see the wisdom of Providence in permitting such opposition to arise against St. Paul, particularly at Corinth; as it gave him an opportunity of making the strongest appeals to what they knew of his miraculous power; appeals which, had they not been indeed founded on the most certain and evident truth, must, instead of restoring him to their regards, (as we find in fact they did,) have been sufficient of themselves utterly to have ruined all his reputation and interest among the Corinthians, had it before been ever so great.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/1-corinthians-4.html. 1857.
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