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MINISTERS, THE LORD’S STEWARDS
1 Corinthians 4:1-2. Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God, Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
THE apostolic Churches were not so blameless as we are apt to imagine. Many evils obtained among them; and not in a few insulated individuals only, but in the great mass of the people. The Church at Corinth was peculiarly faulty: many and great evils obtained among them: dissension and division in particular, were fomented among them: and the very diversity of gifts which were exercised among them, instead of being an occasion of more exalted piety, was made a source of discord. The people had their favourite preachers, under whom they ranged themselves as partisans and followers; one being of Paul, another of Apollos, another of Cephas; and another of Christ, as having heard and enjoyed his personal ministrations. To allay this spirit, St. Paul teaches them what account to make of all their teachers, and what to look for at their hands: not flattery, as heads of parties; but fidelity, as stewards of their great Lord and Master.
Let us here see,
In what light people are to view their ministers—
Ministers come not in their own name, but as ordained of God for the benefit of the Church. They are to be viewed,
As ministers of Christ—
[They are sent by Christ. They come not of themselves, but as commissioned by him. It is his message which they bring; his will that they perform. By them it is that he speaks to men, As earthly kings are represented by their ambassadors, and speak by them in foreign courts, so the Lord Jesus Christ himself speaks by his ministers: they stand in his stead: they speak in his name: their word is not their own, but his; and must be received, “not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God.”]
As stewards of the mysteries of God—
[They are not merely servants or ministers, but servants of a peculiar class. The whole Church is one great family; and they are appointed as “stewards,” to “give to every one his portion in due season.” To them “the mysteries of God” are more especially committed, that they may dispense them to all, according to their respective necessities; giving “milk to babes, and strong meat to those who are of full age.” The whole of God’s revelation is full of mysteries, which, in due season, they are to unfold: but that which they are chiefly to make known, is the stupendous mystery of redemption. They are to shew, as occasion may require, the need there was of redemption; the means by which it is wrought, even by the incarnation and death of God’s only dear Son; and the way in which it is applied to men, by the mighty operation of the Spirit of God upon the soul — — — It is not necessary that they should be always insisting on one particular topic: the subject comprehends an immense range; and every part of it must be brought forward in its turn: but the one great mystery must be always kept in view; and the dispensing of it must ever be considered as the appropriate office of the ministers of Christ — — —]
This being their true character and designation, it will easily appear,
In what way ministers are to conduct themselves towards their people—
A steward in an household must be faithful to his charge: and so must a minister be in the Church of God: he must be faithful,
To his Master—
[He is to receive instructions daily from his Master, and to carry them into effect to the utmost of his power. He must never be doing his own will, or following his own way: he must “in no respect seek his own things, but invariably the things of Jesus Christ.” He must so act, as if the eye of his Master were immediately upon him; and so that he may be able to give a good account of his stewardship, whensoever he shall be called into his Master’s presence — — — He must never be swayed by any thing but his Master’s will: there must be no vacillation in his conduct, as arising from carnal hopes or fears; nor any negligence, as arising from sloth. What his Master has appointed, he must do: and “whatever his hand findeth to do, he must do it with all his might.”]
To his fellow-servants—
[He must make a due inquiry into their state and circumstances, in order that he may know what to apportion to each, in a way either of work or sustenance. Having his eye on all, he must deal out to them severally that measure of approbation or displeasure, which may be a sure criterion and earnest of the award which will be assigned them at the coming of their Lord. He is never to aim at “pleasing them, except for their good to edification:” I say, he must speak and act, at all times, “not as pleasing men, but God, that trieth the hearts.” He must indeed “speak the truth in love;” but the truth he must speak at all times, “commending himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” He must “never prophesy smooth things;” but “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine;” “doing nothing by partiality, and never preferring one before another.” The express command of God to him is, “He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat [Note: Jeremiah 23:28.]?” The word which he is entrusted to dispense must be in his mouth “as a fire, and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces [Note: Jeremiah 23:29.].” He must consider his own soul as at stake: and must so “declare the whole counsel of God, as to be pure from the blood of all men,” and, at all events, to “deliver his own soul;” that, if any have perished under his ministry, he may himself at least be approved of his God.]
Be thankful for the privileges which you enjoy—
[You have, I hope I may say, a faithful ministry. But you need to be cautioned against the error which obtained in the Corinthian Church. You know, that wherever there are more ministers than one, there is apt to arise an undue partiality for one above another: and this sometimes verges on an idolatrous attachment on the one part, and a contemptuous indifference on the other. But the Apostle tells us, that this is a very reprehensible carnality. For, granting that you find one more profitable to your soul than another, “what is any man, but a minister by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?” Look through men to God. All of them are “earthen vessels, and the treasure they dispense is God’s:” if you look to man, God will withhold his blessing from you: but if you look simply to him, he will, by one as well as by another of his faithful servants, comfort and enrich your souls.]
Be faithful, on your part, in making a due improvement of them—
[If faithfulness be required on our part, so is it also on yours. You must come to the ordinances with a real disposition and desire to “hear what the Lord God will say concerning you.” You must have your minds open to conviction, and “receive with meekness every word you hear, that it may be an engrafted word, effectual to save your souls.” You must not be offended with the faithfulness of your minister; but consider Almighty God himself as speaking to you by him. Then may you expect from God those blessings which your souls need, and a happy meeting with your ministers in the realms of bliss.]
PAUL’S INDIFFERENCE TO MEN’S JUDGMENT
1 Corinthians 4:3-5. 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. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord, 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 ministers of Christ are generally either unduly exalted, or undeservedly depreciated, by those around them; but they should discharge their duties with fidelity, without any regard to the opinions of men, and approve themselves to Him who will judge them righteously in the last day—
The tribunal to which Paul referred his character—
He was not concerned about man’s judgment—
[By some he was looked up to as the head of a party [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:4.]; by others he was deemed unworthy to live [Note: ver. 13.]; but he knew that men’s judgment would continue only for a day [Note: This is intimated in the original.]: he was therefore alike indifferent to their censure or applause.]
He could not wholly depend even upon his own judgment—
[He did not know that he lived in any allowed sin; yet he was aware that, through the deceitfulness of sin and of his own heart, he might be led to form too favourable an estimate of his own state: he knew that God might discern much iniquity where we see none [Note: Luke 9:55.]; he therefore could not venture too confidently to trust even to the testimony of his own conscience.]
He committed himself rather to the unerring judgment of God—
[He did not indeed hope for an acquittal on the ground of innocence, or expect a reward as due to him on the footing of strict justice; but he relied on God’s equity as tempered with mercy, and willingly left himself to the righteous disposal of his Judge.]
The tribunal to which we must also refer ours—
God has appointed a day wherein to judge the world—
[He has constituted the Lord Jesus the Judge of quick and dead. And in due season he will summon the whole universe to his tribunal. Then will he bring into judgment, not the actions only, but the inmost thoughts and desires, of the whole world. Men judge of actions only, and of those actions principally which have respect to the welfare of the community in which they live. They care little about the state of men’s souls before God. But God notices the inmost recesses of our hearts. “He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, (of which men can take no cognizance;) and will make manifest the counsels of men’s hearts,” and make the very designs and purposes of men the ground of his dealings with them to all eternity. He will notice what we have been as creatures — — — what as sinners — — — what as redeemed sinners — — — The very habit of our minds under all these characters will be brought before him; and, according as that has been conformed, or contrary, to his revealed word, will be his sentence of condemnation or approval in that day.]
To that period therefore we must all look, and for it we must all prepare—
[As by the written word we must all be judged, we should study it with all diligence, in order that we both know and execute God’s holy will. As for the world’s standard of religion, we must not regard it: nor must we regard the approbation or censure which it assigns to men in accordance with its own erroneous views. But to God’s judgment we must look forward with the deepest solicitude, labouring if by any means we may approve ourselves to him, and “have praise of him.” To what purpose will it be to have monumental inscriptions in our favour, when God has sealed our condemnation, and loaded us with his merited displeasure? Or what effect will the censures of men produce on our minds, when God has passed a sentence of approbation upon us, and seated us with himself on thrones of glory? Methinks that laudatory word, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord,” will richly repay all the obloquy that man can cast upon us, and all the pain that he could ever inflict.
Then live, my brethren, in expectation of that day, and in continual preparation for it. Mind not what man approves or disapproves, in comparison of what God commands: and be as attentive to the motions and desires of your hearts as to your outward acts. “if you seek to please man, you cannot be the servants of Jesus Christ.” You must therefore “not please men, but God who trieth our hearts.” And let me entreat you not to defer this surrender of yourselves to God. Think what is now the mind of thousands, who, having “sought the praise of man rather than the honour that cometh of God,” are now reaping the bitter fruits of their folly: and whatever the whole world may either say or do, (for you must “expect to be persecuted by them if you will live godly in Christ Jesus,”) “be steadfast, immoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord, assured that at last your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.”]
GOD TO BE ACKNOWLEDGED IN EVERY THING
1 Corinthians 4:7. Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if than didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?
IF there are advantages derived from education, there are also disadvantages not unfrequently attached to it; inasmuch as habit forms, as it were, a second nature; and often both indisposes us to see what is good, and disqualifies us to a great extent for the prosecution of it. The Corinthian Christians, whilst in their unconverted state, had been habituated to much evil, both intellectual and moral. From the wealth that abounded in their city, and the vicious courses that were there pursued, and particularly from the idolatrous regard shewn there to the leaders of different sects, they were but ill-disposed towards the humbling doctrines of the Gospel, and but ill-fitted for the self-denying habits to which it called them. We wonder not, therefore, that they brought on themselves heavier censures than any other of the apostolic Churches: for, in truth, all things considered, their piety seems to have been, in many respects, very low and questionable. The particular fault blamed in the passage before us was, their contentious disposition to exalt one teacher above another, and their readiness to range themselves under different heads or parties in the Church. The Apostle reproved their conduct with the utmost delicacy; transferring to himself and his friend Apollos the evils of which he complained; lest, by mentioning the names of others, he should provoke their hostility, and defeat his own ends.
His reproof may be fitly applied,
To those who glory in others—
[Amongst the Corinthian converts, some preferred one preacher, and some another: and, not content with exalting each his own favourite, they poured contempt upon those who were of a different sentiment, and thus produced sad divisions in the Church. The same fault obtains more or less in the Church, wherever the Gospel is preached: and men justify their partiality upon the ground of their favourite’s superior endowments, or on the ground of the benefits derived from him. But this supposes that the object of their attachment has something of his own, which may serve as a ground of boasting. But “what has any man, which he has not received” as a free gift from God? Supposing him to be possessed of gifts, have they not been conferred upon him by “God; who dispenses to men according to his own sovereign will” and pleasure; and, whatever the particular operations be, himself “worketh all in all [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:11.]?” Or, supposing him to be made preeminently useful in converting souls to God, is it by any power of his own that he has thus prevailed? Can any man open the eyes of the blind, or unstop the ears of the deaf, or determine whom he will convert to Christ? Paul himself could not effect these things. Had the conversion of souls been left to his disposal, he would have conferred that benefit on all: whereas, in every place, the great majority rejected his word, and were enraged by it almost to madness. To glory then in any persons, as though they possessed these talents or powers independently of God, is as absurd as it would be to glory in a sword which had effected the slaughter of many enemies. Every one sees that it is not the sword which has effected any thing: all that it has effected was done by the hand that wielded it: and the person so using it might, if it had pleased him, have taken any other sword as well as that. This is what God himself said, in answer to the vauntings of Sennacherib: “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it [Note: Isaiah 10:15.]?” True it was, that the Assyrian monarch had subdued many kingdoms: but he erred in supposing that it had been done by his own power. It was God who had made use of him, for the accomplishing of his own purposes; and it was not in the power of the proud boaster to go an hair’s breadth beyond the commission he had received. So, whatever a man has, he has it from “God, who is the Giver of every good and perfect gift [Note: James 1:17.];” and whatever he does, it is not he that does it, but God, who does it by him: and to God alone must be given the glory, which, through our ignorance and folly, we are but too apt to ascribe to man.]
But the text may also be very fitly applied,
To those who glory in themselves—
[If we have any particular endowments, whether of body or mind, we are apt to arrogate something to ourselves, as if we had ourselves been the authors of our own excellencies. But such a conceit is most offensive to Almighty God. For “who is it that has distinguished us, or made us to differ from others?” Suppose we have the highest attainments; for which of them are we not indebted to our God? We will suppose that we have light in our understandings: was it not “the Spirit of God who opened our eyes [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18.],” and “guided us into his truth?” Suppose that we possess decision in our wills: is it not God who “has made us willing in the day of his power [Note: Psalms 110:3.]?” Suppose we are blessed with success in our endeavours: is it not “God who has ordained it for us, and wrought all our works in us [Note: Isaiah 26:12.]?” How, then, can we take to ourselves the glory, which so evidently belongs to God alone? When a fawning multitude applauded Herod as speaking like a God, he accepted the compliment; and, by laying the flattering unction to his soul, provoked God to give him up to worms, which from that moment began to prey upon his vitals [Note: Acts 12:21-23.]. And we also shall incense our God against us to our destruction, if we take honour to ourselves of aught that we possess, and withhold from God the honour due unto his name. Let this, then, be an acknowledged principle within us, that, whatever eminence we possess above our brethren, “by the grace of God we are what we are;” and to Him must be given the absolute and undivided praise.]
I will reply to an objector—
[A person may ask, in reference to our first view of this subject, ‘Am I to entertain no preference for a man who has been the means of awakening, sanctifying, and saving my soul? Does not St. Paul say, in this very chapter, “Though ye have ten thousand instructors, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you, through the Gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me [Note: ver. 15, 16.]?” ’ I answer, We may have a peculiar love to those to whom we are so pre-eminently indebted: but we must never so exalt one, as to despise another; and never so love any man, as to forget, for a moment, that he is only an instrument in God’s hands, or that the glory of all is due to God alone.
Again, it may be asked, ‘Have I not used means which others have neglected; and obtained, in the use of means, that which has been withheld from others on account of their neglect?’ To this I readily reply, Your statement is true and just: but your inference from it is altogether erroneous. You have not, as you imagine, any ground for self-preference or self-complacency on this account: for it was “God alone who gave you both to will and to do, of his good pleasure [Note: Philippians 2:13.].” To draw the exact line between Divine agency and the freedom of the will, is difficult, or perhaps impossible, to such an ignorant creature as man: but so far as is necessary for practical purposes, it is easy. Suppose we say, that whatever comes within the range of your physical powers you may do: but to do it in a spiritual manner, and for spiritual ends, is beyond your reach: God alone can enable you to do that: you are indeed responsible to God for not using the powers which you have; and to him you must give account of your abuse of them: but, if you succeed in any thing that is good, you must ascribe that thing to God, as his workmanship; and say, “Not unto me, O Lord, not unto me, but unto thy name be the praise:” for “His is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.”]
I will turn the reproof into a fund of rich encouragement—
[Must it be said even to an Apostle, “Who made thee to differ? and what hast thou which thou hast not received?” It may with equal truth be said to the most insignificant of men, What shall you not receive, if you are willing to accept it at God’s hands, and to give him the glory of it? Verily, you need not envy any, if only you will cry unto your God. From your present selves, and from the ungodly that are around you, you shall differ: nor shall any thing be wanting unto you, if only you will wait on God in the exercise of prayer and faith. But take care that you pride not yourselves in any of his gifts; for as sure as ever you are “lifted up with pride, you will fall into the condemnation of the devil.” The more God magnifies his grace upon you, the more must you abase yourselves before him, and give him the glory due unto his name.]
1 Corinthians 4:12-13. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the earth, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.
AS there is a wide difference between the characters of the wicked and the righteous, so there are strong marks of discrimination between those who are truly pious, and those who have taken up a profession of religion without having felt its transforming efficacy. In too many there remains a proud, contentious spirit, amidst all their pretensions to piety: but in the upright Christian there is a meek, patient, and benevolent disposition, which will shew itself in the most trying circumstances, and afford a decisive evidence of his sincerity. Of the former description were those teachers, who, in order to gain over to themselves a party in the Corinthian Church, introduced among them contentions and divisions. But to these the Apostle’s conduct forms a striking contrast: and though he doubtless was peculiarly eminent in his attainments, we may see in him what every Christian, according to the measure of his grace, will surely practise.
We shall take occasion from his words to shew,
The treatment which every Christian meets with from an ungodly world—
The people of God have in every age been despised by the world—
[It was the common complaint of all the Prophets [Note: David, Psalms 25:19; Psalms 56:5-6. Jeremiah, Jer 18:18 and Lamentations 3:62. In reference to all of them, see Acts 7:52.], and Apostles [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:9.], and of Christ himself [Note: John 7:7; John 15:24-25.], that they were objects of hatred and contempt to all around them. We also are taught to expect the very same treatment at the hands of ungodly men [Note: Matthew 10:22; Matthew 10:24-25.]. We shall be “defamed” behind our backs, and “reviled” to our face: nor will our enemies be satisfied with injuring us merely by their words; they will also “persecute” us by acts of open hostility [Note: Mat 5:11 and 2 Timothy 3:12.]: yea, they will account us as the very scum of the earth, and as execrable wretches that are fit only to be sacrificed to devils, to appease their wrath in a time of public calamity [Note: This is the precise idea suggested in the text; and it refers to a custom which obtained in some heathen countries, and was probably well known at Corinth. See Doddridge on the place.].]
Strange as this may seem, it may be easily accounted for—
[Christians are not thus detested because they are worse than others (for they are “the excellent of the earth,” “more excellent than any of their neighbours [Note: Psalms 16:3.Proverbs 12:26Proverbs 12:26.],”) but because they exhibit a light which forces men to see their own wickedness [Note: Matthew 5:10. Luke 6:22. Joh 3:19-20.]. To this we must ascribe Cain’s murder of his brother [Note: 1 John 3:12.], and the universal opposition which the seed of the serpent make to the seed of the woman [Note: Genesis 3:15.Galatians 4:29Galatians 4:29. Psalms 38:20.]. If we were of the world, the world would love its own: but because we are chosen out of the world, and walk contrary to its sinful customs, it does, and will, hate us even unto death [Note: John 15:18-20.].]
Doubtless such treatment is hard to be borne; but the Christian distinguishes himself by,
His behaviour under it—
There are two things that characterize a true Christian under all his trials:
A passive meekness—
[The saints are men of like passions with others; but, through grace, they are enabled to repress the workings of corruption, and to regulate their tempers by the word of God. Instead of giving loose to a vindictive spirit, they bear with silent resignation the injuries that are inflicted on them, or, if they speak, it is only in words of gentle “entreaty.” David, in his conduct towards Shimei [Note: 2 Samuel 16:5-11.] and Saul [Note: 1 Samuel 26:8-9; 1Sa 26:18-20; 1 Samuel 26:24.], exemplifies in both these points of view the Christian’s duty, and the Christian’s experience. There are indeed occasions whereon, through inadvertence or the power of temptation, they may be overcome [Note: e. g. Moses, Numbers 20:10. Psa 106:32-33 and Paul, Acts 23:3-5.]: but, on the whole, they will “possess their souls in patience [Note: Luke 21:19.],” and “shew all meekness unto all men [Note: Titus 3:2.].” Rather than provoke contention they will endure the wrong that is done towards them [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:7.], and, forbearing to notice it in complaint to man [Note: Psalms 38:12-14.], will commit themselves into the hands of a righteous God [Note: 1 Peter 4:19.].]
An active benevolence—
[The natural man, under injuries received, is mindful only of his own troubles: but the Christian feels a concern for the souls of those who injure him. He is grieved for them [Note: Psalms 35:7; Psalms 35:11-17.]; and would be willing to sustain any temporal evils whatever, if by means of his own sufferings he might bring his enemies to a better mind, and avert from them God’s heavy displeasure [Note: Exodus 32:32.Romans 9:1-3Romans 9:1-3.]. He will even bless his enemies, and pray for them [Note: Luke 6:27-28. Romans 12:14.], and rendering to them good for evil, he will heap coals of fire, as it were, upon their heads, in order to melt them into love [Note: Romans 12:17; Romans 12:19-20.]. He will contend indeed; but he will use no weapon except that of love: and in this warfare he will fight strenuously, till, instead of being overcome of evil, he overcomes evil with good [Note: Romans 12:21.].]
How different is the judgment of God from that of sinful men!
[Men hate and despise the righteous [Note: Psalms 37:32.Isaiah 59:15Isaiah 59:15.]; and would pour out their blood as water, if God should withdraw his restraints from them [Note: Psalms 79:2-4.]. But God declares that, instead of their being unfit to live in the world, the world itself is not worthy of them [Note: Hebrews 11:38.]; that their blood is precious in his sight [Note: Psalms 116:15.]; that whoso toucheth them, toucheth the apple of his eye [Note: Zechariah 2:8.]; and that it were better for any man to be cast into the sea with a millstone tied about his neck, than that he should offend one of his little ones [Note: Matthew 18:6.]. Moreover the time is fast approaching, when this difference of sentiment shall be made to appear before the whole assembled universe, to the everlasting comfort of his afflicted people, and the eternal confusion of his enemies [Note: Isaiah 66:5.]. Let us then learn to “take up our cross daily,” and to follow the example of our blessed Lord [Note: 1 Peter 2:21; 1 Peter 2:23.]; so shall we approve ourselves his true Disciples [Note: Matthew 16:24-25.], and obtain a glorious reward in the day of judgment [Note: Matthew 5:12.].]
How superior are the operations of divine grace to all the suggestions of human wisdom, or all the efforts of human power!
[Philosophy never could devise means to eradicate a vindictive spirit from the heart: on the contrary, it extolled revenge as a virtue, and regarded the temper that is exhibited in the text, as meanness and pusillanimity. If men had even endeavoured to exercise such a disposition as Paul’s, they would have failed in the attempt, because unassisted nature is wholly incompetent to such a work. But what cannot the grace of God effect? It will turn a lion into a lamb; or rather, it will transform the vilest of the human race into the image of our incarnate God. Let us then follow the example of the saints and martyrs that have gone before us [Note: James 5:10.]. Let us exert ourselves in dependence on the Lord Jesus, and not doubt but that “his grace shall be sufficient for us.” Then shall our very enemies be constrained to “glorify God in us [Note: Galatians 1:24.],” and to “confess that God is with us of a truth [Note: 1 Corinthians 14:25.].”]
AN IMPORTANT ALTERNATIVE
1 Corinthians 4:21. What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod. or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?
AT Corinth, religion was at a very low ebb. Great were the abuses which obtained there, even amongst the professed followers of Christ. Yet to those very persons the Christian Church is much indebted, for the displays which they occasioned the Apostle Paul to make of the Christian character in its highest perfection. How perversely they acted towards him, the Apostle tells us: “Now ye are full: now ye are rich; ye have reigned as kings without us [Note: ver. 8. 10.]:” and, at the same time that they arrogated so much to themselves, they poured the utmost contempt on him: “We are fools for Christ’s sake; but ye are wise in Christ: we are weak, but ye are strong: ye are honourable, but we are despised [Note: ver. 12.].” But how did that blessed man conduct himself under these circumstances? He tells them: “Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we entreat.” And then, with most lovely delicacy, he adds, “I write not these things to shame you; but, as my beloved sons; I warn you [Note: ver. 14.].” Still it was necessary that he should correct what was amiss in them; and therefore he sent Timothy to rectify these abuses for the present, engaging that he himself would shortly come and put every thing in order. But the proud leaders of that Church said, he would never dare to obtrude himself among them. He, however, assured them that he would come to them, and with power too, if they constrained him to do so: and he submitted it, as it were, to their option to determine in what way he should come to them; whether of needful severity, or of unmixed love.
Now the Apostles had, occasionally at least, a power to inflict temporal judgments; as Peter did on Ananias; and as Paul did on Elymas the sorcerer: and to this there may be some reference in the menace before us. But every minister of God has such a measure of authority vested in him over the people of his charge, that he may with propriety address them in the language of my text; “Shall I come unto you with a rod; or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?”
That I may make a suitable improvement of these words, I will,
Set before you the diversified duties of a Christian minister—
A minister is not merely “a steward of the mysteries of God [Note: ver. 1],” to dispense to every member of God’s family his portion in due season; but
He is, as a father over them, to exert authority—
[Even a young minister, if there be occasion, is to “reprove” both sin and error [Note: 1 Timothy 5:20.]; yea, to “rebuke with all authority [Note: Titus 2:15.],” and even “sharply” too, rather than not effect the reformation he desires [Note: Titus 1:13.]. In this exercise of authority, he must seek “the edification, and not the destruction” of the offender [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:10.]: but he must rather proceed to the utter excision of a corrupt member, than suffer the whole body to sustain irreparable injury [Note: Galatians 5:12.]. Nor is he to be influenced in this matter either by fear or love. If the offender be as powerful as Ahab or as Herod, yet must Elijah reprove the one, and John the other: nor must the true Levite, the faithful minister, know even his own parents or children, so as to withhold from them the needful admonition [Note: Deuteronomy 33:9.]. Eli is, in this respect, a warning to all ministers [Note: 1 Samuel 2:27-36.], to “know no man after the flesh.”]
At the same time, he must act under the influence of love—
[Even in the use of “the rod,” a father is actuated by love: but where it is possible to effect his purpose without it, he would rather cast it away, and conduct himself only in a spirit of affectionate endearment. St. Paul, towards this very Church, and at a time when they were actually setting him at defiance, writes, “Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:1-2.].” And this was his constant habit. He could appeal to his converts, that “as a nursing-mother” he had cherished them; being so affectionately desirous of them, as to be willing to impart to them, not the Gospel of God only, but also his own soul, because they were dear unto him: and he further appeals to them, that, during his whole intercourse with them, he had “exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of them, as a father doth his children, that they would walk worthy of God, who had called them to his kingdom and glory [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8; 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12.].” K there were any of whom he stood in doubt, he “changed his voice towards them, and even travailed in birth with them, till Christ should be formed in them [Note: Galatians 4:19-20.].” This is the true pattern for a Christian minister: he must have courage and firmness to use “the rod,” where necessary; but in his soul he should affect nothing but “love, and a spirit of meekness.”]
Having stated the diversified duties of a minister, I will,
Address myself to the discharge of them—
St. Paul gave to the Corinthian Church their option between the two alternatives, and left them to determine in what way he should proceed with them. Now, as your stated minister, I am necessitated to “come unto you” from Sabbath to Sabbath: and I beg you to consider,
What is the treatment which you desire?
[Too many are utterly indifferent about the ministry of the word; and are equally unaffected, whether we come in a way of reproof or of consolation — — — Yet, methinks, it is not altogether thus with you: but, in answer to the question, “What will ye?” ye are ready to say, ‘Come in the way which you judge most suited to my necessities.’
Let me then proceed to ask,]
What is the treatment which you deserve?
[What is your conduct, in your collective capacity, as a Church? Are there among you “debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults?” Dear brethren, if this be the case, and “I find you such as I would not, you can expect only that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: and that, whilst I bewail your condition,” I shall only administer such correctives as the occasion may require [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:20-21.]. As to individuals, of course, except in extreme cases, nothing of a personal nature can be spoken, but only in a way of private intercourse. But, beloved, I wish you to examine, whether you are “profiting by the word preached,” and whether you “make that profiting to appear.” I wish you to examine, whether there be in you any secret declension from God; or whether you are advancing steadily in your Christian course, and “daily growing up into Christ in all things as your living Head [Note: Ephesians 4:15.].” If this be the case, we shall greatly rejoice: for, as St. Paul said, “I live, if ye stand fast in the Lord [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:8.];” and as St. John said, “I have no greater joy, than to hear that my children walk in truth [Note: 3 John, ver. 4.];” so I, brethren, according to the grace given unto me, would have all my own feelings and interests swallowed up in your welfare. If you are but “babes, I would feed you with milk: if you are grown to full age, I would administer strong meat” for your nourishment. In a word, I would endeavour to adapt my ministrations to your necessities, in accordance with the direction given me; “Warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, and be patient towards all men [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:14.].” The time is shortly coming, when both you and I must give account to God; I, of my ministrations; and you, of your improvement of them: and the Lord grant, that in that day I may be found to have discharged my duties with fidelity! and may you be my crown of rejoicing to all eternity! yea, of all of you, without exception, may I then be able to say, “Ye are our glory and joy [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20.]!”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter