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1 Corinthians 4

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Verse 1

1 Corinthians 4:1

I. What is the meaning of the word "mystery" in the New Testament? It is used to describe not a fancy, not a contradiction, not an impossibility, but always a truth, yet a truth which has been or which is more or less hidden. A mystery is a truth, a fact. The word is never applied to anything else or less; never to a fancy, never to an impossibility, never to a recognised contradiction, never to any shadowy sort of unreality. But it is a partially hidden fact or truth. Truths are of two kinds, both of them truths, and, as such, equally certain; but they differ in that they are differently apprehended by us. There are some truths on which the mind's eye rests directly, just as the bodily eye rests on the sun in a cloudless sky; and there are other truths of the reality of which the mind is assured by seeing something else which satisfies it that they are there, just as the bodily eye sees the strong ray which pours forth in a stream of brilliancy from behind the cloud and reports to the understanding that if only the cloud were to be removed the sun would itself be seen. Now, mysteries in religion, as we commonly use the word, are of this description; we see enough to know that there is more which we do not see, and while in this state of existence we shall not directly see, we see the ray which implies the sun behind the cloud. And thus to look upon the apparent truth, which certainly implies truth that is not apparent, is to be in the presence of mystery.

II. Science does not exorcise mystery out of nature; it only removes its frontier, in most cases, a step farther back. Those who know most of nature are most impressed, not by the facts which they can explain and reason on, but by the facts which they cannot explain and which they know to lie beyond the range of explanation. And the mysterious creed of Christendom corresponds with nature. After all, we may dislike and resent mystery in our lower and captious, as distinct from better and thoughtful moods; but we know on reflection that it is the inevitable robe of a real revelation of the Infinite Being, and that if the great truths and ordinances of Christianity shade off as they do into regions where we cannot hope to follow them, this is only what was to be expected if Christianity is what it claims to be.

H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 1152.

I. What were the distinctive functions of the Christian ministry? To gain a satisfactory answer to this question we must in all honesty consult the New Testament itself as to the primitive idea of the ministry and the terms used to describe its office, and not allow ourselves to be entangled in the technical phraseology which a later theology, not always adhering to the primitive idea, but overlaying it by false analogies, and subsequently by ambitious assumptions of lordship over God's heritage, introduced. Approaching the question, then, in the first instance from the negative side, we may ascertain that the books of the New Testament distinctly abstain from employing for the new ministry of the Christian Church the language which had been used to describe the ministers of religion of the Mosaic system. Christian ministers are never in the New Testament called priests ( ἱερεῖς ) that is, if we are to adopt the definition given by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, "persons taken from among men, ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that they may offer gifts and sacrifices for sins." The term ἱερεῖς , or sacrificial offerer, is repeatedly employed of the heathen priests and of the Jewish priests, but never of Christian officers. Wherever the idea of priesthood in its sense of ἱεράτεια is recognised as having place in the Christian Church, it is applied to all Christian people and not to the authorised officers specially. Jesus Christ has made them all kings and priests to God and His Father. All form a spiritual priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ these spiritual sacrifices are prayers, praises, thanksgivings, or on another side they are "ourselves, our souls and bodies," the rational not material offering, and the whole congregation of Christian people have a full right, as well as a bounden duty, to offer these.

II. The determination of the negative side of the Scriptural doctrine of the ministry enables us to proceed with advantage to the positive side. And there we find ourselves almost embarrassed by the multitude of terms which are used as descriptive of ministerial functions. They who are in a position of authority over their brethren are called messengers, ambassadors, shepherds, teachers, preachers of the word, rulers, overseers, ministers, stewards. Each term represents some varying aspect of the Christian officers, and suggests to them corresponding duties. The central idea of the Christian ministry appears to be the proclamation of the word of the gospel with all its vivifying and manifold applications to the intellects and hearts and consciences of men rather than an administration of an external ceremonial and ritual. It is a high spiritual and moral mission from Christ with which the ordained officers of the Church are charged. To keep alive the belief of one supreme God, the Maker and Upholder and Final Cause of the universe, amidst the sensualism and materialism of a complex civilisation, to evoke the sentiments of love and trust and worship towards Him, to hold up Jesus Christ His only Son as the fullest revelation in human form of the Almighty Father, to unfold the mysteries of His incarnation, the abiding results of His life and ministry and passion and resurrection, to bid men imitate, so far as in their frailty they can, the matchless ideal of goodness and justice and purity and charity exhibited in Him, to proclaim the brotherhood of all men in Him the world's Redeemer, to point men to Him as the Deliverer from sin and the Consoler of suffering, to help their brethren to live the Christian life by example and precept and doctrine, this is the glorious function of the Christian ministry.

W. Ince, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, Jan. 31st, 1878.

References: 1 Corinthians 4:1 . J. M. Neale, Sermons in a Religious House, 2nd series, vol. i., p 238; G. Moberly, Plain Sermons at Brighstone, p. 123; A. Barry, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 49; H. P. Liddon, Ibid., vol. xxvi., p. 385; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 150. 1 Corinthians 4:1 , 1 Corinthians 4:2 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 80; vol. v., pp. 271, 272; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. i., p. 303. 1 Corinthians 4:1-6 . F. W. Robertson, Lectures on Corinthians, p. 54. 1 Corinthians 4:2 . C. Garrett, Loving Counsels, p. 1.

Verse 3

1 Corinthians 4:3

The judgment of our fellow-creatures upon our acts and our characters is, practically speaking, an inevitable accompaniment of human life.

I. Human judgments keep order in the world of thought and in the world of conduct a certain sort of order, at any rate. (1) They do not, for instance, go far wrong when they are brought face to face with a great public crime which, as being such, is patent, whether to the natural or to Christian conscience. Take, for instance, such crimes as the massacre of St. Bartholomew, or the massacre in Glencoe. At the present day no writer of character, of any persuasion, or in any country, would venture to defend these acts. By the light of the natural conscience of man, by the light of the principles of the gospel of Christ, they are condemned irrevocably. (2) Again, the common judgment of man does not err when it pronounces upon the more personal acts of an individual, supposing them to be well attested. The betrayal of our Lord by Judas is an act upon the character of which all men can pronounce a judgment. An ingenious writer of the last generation tried to show that Judas was not so bad after all. The conscience of man listens for a moment to these ingenious audacities. It listens; perhaps it is indignant; perhaps it smiles; it passes on; it forgets them. (3) Once more, the judgment of man ventures, at times, a step farther to pronounce with reserves upon character. These judgments are uncertain, tentative, and partial.

II. St. Paul has more reasons than one for treating the conclusions of the Corinthians as a very small thing. (1) The Corinthian judgment about him was like a portrait painter's sketch at a first sitting. They had not yet had time to learn what a longer acquaintance might have taught them. (2) This estimate was a strangely biassed one. What they called a judgment was, in reality, a formulated prejudice. (3) The Corinthians were passing judgment on a point which they had no real means of investigating. (4) St. Paul did not feel or affect indifference to the question whether he was or was not faithful. In matters of the soul he would go straight to the fountain of absolute justice. "He that judgeth me is the Lord." The knowledge that that judgment was going on day by day the knowledge that it would be proclaimed from heaven here-after relieved him of all anxiety whatever as to the opinion which might be pronounced on him at Corinth. "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment."

H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 995.

Reference: 1 Corinthians 4:3 . J. M. Neale, Sermons in a Religious House, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 190.

Verses 3-4

1 Corinthians 4:3-4

The Christian's Relation to Public Opinion .


I. That St. Paul was judged unfavourably at this time at the bar of the public opinion of the church of Corinth. The expression "public opinion" describes the common fund of thought which belongs to a larger or smaller number of associated human beings. Every village, every town, every city, has its public opinion its own characteristic way of dealing with people and things about it. And, as earthly societies, churches have a public opinion of their own, first created by their members, and which, in turn, controls them. And this public church opinion is by no means certain to be always and everywhere just. St. Paul stood face to face with a section of this opinion at Corinth when he wrote: "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you or of man's judgment.

II. St. Paul is not at pains to conceal his perfect independence of the hostile opinion of the Corinthians. Not that we can suppose him to have taken any pleasure either in feeling or in proclaiming this independence, for he was a man of quick sympathy, rejoicing if he could be sure of the love of his converts, and not caring to conceal how much they could do to promote or to mar his personal happiness. But, as matters stood, he brushed aside a whole world of inward feeling to say that he was unconcerned as to their judgment upon his apostolical faithfulness. "With me," he said, "it is a small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment."

III. Notice what was the consideration which sustained St. Paul in his conscious opposition to the opinion of the Corinthian Christians. He spoke as from a higher atmosphere, which was already moving him out of the reach of these human voices. He spoke as from the vestibule of a Divine presence-chamber. Just so far as a man is loyal to known truth and known duty, does he assert his manhood; and not in petulance or in scorn, not in indifference or in anger, he is thereby raised though he be raised upon a cross raised above the opinion of the world. It is a small thing that he is judged unfavourably by it, because in that higher presence he dares not judge himself at all, and yet he believes his intentions to be accepted by the justice and the charity of his God.

H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 855.

References: 1 Corinthians 4:3 , 1 Corinthians 4:4 . T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i., p. 155; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 272. 1 Corinthians 4:4 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 258. 1 Corinthians 4:5 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vii., p. 285; J. W. Reeve, Penny Pulpit, No. 3271. 1 Corinthians 4:7 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v., No. 262; vol. xxii., No. 1271; vol. xxiv., No. 1392; T. Gasquoine, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 168; H. P. Liddon, University Sermons, 2nd series, p. 18. 1 Corinthians 4:7-21 . F. W. Robertson, Lectures on Corinthians, p. 62; J. Edmunds, Sermons in a Village Church, p. 265. 1 Corinthians 4:11 . Homilist, new series, vol. i., p. 126. 1 Corinthians 4:14 . H. D. Rawnsley, Ibid., vol. xxxii., p. 186. 1 Corinthians 4:15 . H. P. Liddon, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 253. 1 Corinthians 4:15-17 . L. Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxi., p. 228. 1 Corinthians 4:18 . F. O. Morris, Ibid., vol. xvii., p. 185.

Verse 20

1 Corinthians 4:20

The Spiritual Mind.

How are we the better for being members of the Christian Church?

I. If we would form a just notion how far we are influenced by the power of the gospel, we must evidently put aside everything which we do merely in imitation of others and not from religious principle. The obedience I condemn as untrue may be called obedience on custom. How are we better or worse, if we have but in a passive way admitted into our minds certain religious opinions, and have but accustomed ourselves to the words and actions of the world around us?

II. We may have received the kingdom of God in a higher sense than in word merely, and yet in no real sense in power: in other words, our obedience may be in some sort religious, and yet hardly deserve the title of Christian. To be Christians, surely it is not enough to be that which we are enjoined to be, and must be, even without Christ; not enough to be no better than good heathens; not enough to be, in some slight measure, just, honest, temperate, and religious. I am not wishing to frighten imperfect Christians, but to lead them on, to open their minds to the greatness of the work before them, to dissipate the meagre and carnal views in which the gospel has come to them to warn them that they must never be contented with themselves, or stand still and relax their efforts, but must go on unto perfection.

III. What is it, then, that they lack? Observe in what respects the higher obedience is different from that lower degree of religion which we may possess without entering into the mind of the gospel. (1) In its faith which is placed not simply in God, but in God as manifested in Christ. (2) Next, we must adore Christ as our Lord and Master, love Him as our most gracious Redeemer. (3) Further, we must for His sake aim at a noble and unusual strictness of life, perfecting holiness in His fear, destroying our sins, mastering our whole soul, and bringing it into captivity to His law. This is to be a Christian: a gift easily described, and in a few words, but attainable only with fear and much trembling; promised indeed, and in a measure accorded at once to every one who asks for it, but not secured till after many years and never in this life fully realised.

J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. i., p. 72.

I. What is the distinction between the kingdom in word and the kingdom in power? Those of human kind who do not submit to the Lord and His Anointed branch off into two streams. One division adopts a falsehood, and intrusts it with real power; the other division makes a profession of the truth, but a profession only. In contrast with either form of error, the Church of the living God is distinguished by the union of truth and power. Christians proclaim the right King, and render to Him a real obedience. False appearances abound. A word-kingdom, destitute of power, overspreads the land and deceives the people. To a great extent the kingdom of God has been owned, but the word which owns it is an empty word. Men will not bear the burden of a real kingdom will not submit to the authority of a real King. Those who allow falsehood to wield the real power of their life are acute enough to perceive that we do not so surrender ourselves to the truth which we profess.

II. What is the kingdom in power? (1) The instrument of the power is revealed truth. The Scriptures, in relation to the kingdom of God, constitute the lade which contains and conveys the water. (2) The essence of the power is Christ. Here is the fountain-head of all the force which, through the preaching of the truth, can be brought to bear upon the hearts and lives of men. The word and ordinances stand ready to convey the power, but the redemption that is in Christ is the power which must be led to men's hearts and let on. If this do not move them, they will never be moved. (3) The application of the power is effected by the ministry of the Spirit. When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord lifts up a standard against him. Thus Christ's kingdom is maintained until He come again. (4) The effects of this power are great and various. ( a ) It subdues, ( b ) it comforts, ( c ) it levies tribute. Yield yourselves as instruments of righteousness, whereby the operations of the kingdom may be carried on. Ye are not your own; He who bought you claims not only yours, but also you.

W. Arnot, Roots and Fruits, p. 285.

Look at the subject:

I. In relation to individual Christian life. It is one thing to feel the power of God in the soul, and another to be able to vindicate doctrines and to establish a great visible outwork of service. Men cannot always do themselves justice in speech, yet where there are few words there may be true power. On the other hand, men may have great facility in speech, yet their hearts may be but partially under Divine dominion. A man should himself always be greater than his words. However eloquent his speech, his life should be deeper, broader, diviner, than any words can ever reveal. It is possible, too, that from the poorest words there may be poured an irresistible, all-convincing, and all-blessing life, as from the bush in Horeb there flamed a glory not of earth, and from the raiment of the transfigured Nazarene there shone a brightness more splendid than the fire of the sun. A man is not to be judged by the poverty of his words, but by the moral power of his life. The simplicity of his motives, the nobleness of his temper, the purity of his conversation, his forbearance, gentleness, catholicity, self-denial these are the convincing signs that in his heart are set the pillars of God's throne.

II. In its bearing upon Church organisations or individual methods of Christian service. I suppose that we cannot altogether escape some degree of officialism in our religious life, yet it is to be feared that societyism is not always kept within the limits of our spirituality. We cannot have too much preaching of the right kind. Divine truth is Divine power. Open every pulpit, and let the gospel be declared in many ways, by many means; we cannot have too much exposition of Divine truth or too much enforcement of Divine appeal; but save us from the pious frivolity, the complimentary lying, the courteous hypocrisy, and the ambitious ladder-climbing of a degenerate platform.

III. In relation to religious controversy, taking the term controversy in its widest meaning. In this relation it behoves Christian teachers to remember with special care that "the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. Let us, working in the name of Jesus Christ, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and health to the diseased, and let these works be our answer to the challenge of the scoffer, the laughter of the fool. Constantly we must have exposition of great principles, occasionally we must have defence; but the business of our lives is to show forth the mighty and wonderful works of God. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal. A living man is the best argument to those who rail against Christianity. Do not let us think it necessary to defend every point in our faith by elaborate preparation in words. Let us go on the Master's business, and in our Master's spirit carry light into the places of darkness, lifting up those that have no helper, giving men to feel that there is a Divine spirit in us; and in doing this we shall answer all controversy and objection by the beneficence of life, and by well-doing we shall put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.

Parker, City Temple, 1870, p. 110.

References: 1 Corinthians 4:20 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 367; New Outlines on the Testament, p. 127. 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 . Expositor, 1st series, vol. iii., p. 355. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 . F. W. Robertson, Lectures on Corinthians, p. 80. 1 Corinthians 5:3-6 . F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. vi., p. 49. 1 Corinthians 5:6 . T. Armstrong, Parochial Sermons, p. 45; W. Landels, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 371. 1 Corinthians 5:6 , 1 Corinthians 5:7 . F. W. Aveling, Ibid., vol. xiv., p. 121. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 965; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 336; R. S. Candlish, The Gospel of Forgiveness, p. 338. 1 Corinthians 5:7 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii., No. 54; Three Hundred Outlines, p. 141; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 8.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/1-corinthians-4.html.
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