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1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Judgments, human and Divine, respecting ministers.
1 Corinthians 4:1
Let a man so account of us. Since it is inevitable that Christians should form some estimate of the position of their ministers, he proceeds to tell them what that estimate should be. Ministers are not to be unduly magnified, for their position is subordinate; they are not to be unduly depreciated, for if they are faithful they may appeal from frivolous human prejudices and careless depreciations to that only Judge and Master before whom they stand or fall. Ministers; here huperetas; in 1 Corinthians 3:5 diakonous. They are huperetai (in its derivation "under rowers") in their relation to Christ; diakonoi in their relation to men. Of Christ; and therefore responsible to Him. Stewards; dispensers, subordinate distributors. These "agents" were higher slaves (Luke 16:1-8). Of the mysteries of God. The word "mysteries" means truths once hidden but now revealed; as in Luke 8:10, "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God." In later patristic usage the word means "sacraments;" but St. Paul has expressly said (1 Corinthians 1:17) that his mission was to preach the gospel, not primarily to administer the sacraments. (For descriptions of the work of a minister according to St. Paul's lofty ideal, see the pastoral Epistles, and 1 Thessalonians 2:7-11; Colossians 1:25-29; Acts 20:18-21, Acts 20:24-28. St. Peter's is given in 1 Peter 4:10, 1 Peter 4:11; 1 Peter 5:2-4.) A minister is not to be estimated as a supernatural teacher, or a civil autocrat, or an infallible critic, but as an ambassador from Christ, who reveals to the "initiated" that which they could not otherwise know.
1 Corinthians 4:2
Moreover. The true reading (א, A, B, C, D, F) is ὧδε κοιπὸν, here, moreover; i.e. "on this earth." It may be required of him as a minister that he should be faithful, but if, being faithful, he is misjudged and depreciated, his appeal lies to a truer and loftier tribunal. It is required. This is the reading of א, A, C, D. Other manuscripts have "ye require;" but the sound of the two words in Hellenistic Greek would have been almost indistinguishable. That a man be found faithful. We have a right to demand that on trial he be proved to be honest and diligent. So our Lord has described the "faithful and wise steward" in Luke 12:42, Luke 12:43. What is required of ministers is neither brilliancy, nor eloquence, nor profound knowledge, nor success, but only—fidelity.
1 Corinthians 4:3
But. The Corinthians might have expected that the conclusion of St. Paul's remarks would be a recognition of their right to sit in judgment on his faithfulness; but it is, on the contrary, an expression of his complete indifference to their shallow and unfair estimate, and an appeal to the approval of his own conscience and to the judgment of the Lord. It is a very small thing; literally, it is for the least. That I should be judged of you; rather, that I should be examined by you (anakritho). Technically the word anakrisis means "an examination preliminary to trial." Or of man's judgment; literally, of man's day. The brief day of human life is bounded by too narrow an horizon for accurate judgments. Many of the greatest and best men have felt, like Lord Bacon, that they must leave to other generations the right estimate of their characters, views, and actions. St. Jerome reckons the expression "day" for "judgment" among the "Cilicisms" of St. Paul (Jeremiah, 'Ad Algas.,' 10), i.e. the expressions due to his early training in Cilicia. More probably (as Grotius thinks) there is a reference to the "day" fixed for earthly trials (diem dicere, equivalent to "to impeach''), and to the phrase "the day of judgment"—"the woeful day" of Jeremiah 17:16. The word "day" in all languages and idioms signifies "judgment" (Hammond). From dies, a day, comes the phrase "a diet." A "daysman" means an arbitrator. Yea, I judge not mine own self. Here, as in the previous clause and in 1 Corinthians 6:4, the verb is not krino, I judge, but anakrino, I examine. Thus the verse discourages all morbid self introspection. It also shows that St. Paul is not arrogantly proclaiming himself superior to the opinion of the Corinthians, but is pointing out the necessary inadequacy of all human judgments. The heart is too liable to self deceit (Jeremiah 17:9, Jeremiah 17:10) to enable it to pronounce a judgment with unerring accuracy. Hence neither a man's contemporaries nor the man himself can form any final estimate of him or of his fitting position, because their knowledge is too imperfect. History often reverses the decision of contemporaries.
1 Corinthians 4:4
I know nothing by myself; rather, nothing against myself. The phrase of the Authorized Version originally meant this, but is now obsolete in this sense. "I am sorry that each fault can be proved by the queen," says Cranmer to Henry VIII. It is like the Latin Nil conscire sibi. The same phrase occurs in the LXX. of Job 27:6. St. Paul says, "The verdict of my own conscience acquits me of all intentional unfaithfulness;" but this is insufficient, because God sees with clearer eyes than ours. "Who can understand his errors?" asks the psalmist (Psalms 19:12); and the "secret faults" against which he prays are not hidden vices, but sins of which he was himself unconscious. It must be remembered that St. Paul is here only speaking with conscious integrity of his ministerial work. Nothing could have been further from the mind of one who elsewhere calls himself" the chief of sinners" than to claim an absolute immunity from every form of self reproach. They who claim immaculate holiness can as little quote the sanction of St. Paul (1Co 9:27; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 3:8; Philippians 3:13, etc.) as of any other saint. The confessions of the holiest are ever the most humble. Yet am I not hereby justified. Because "every way of a man" is apt to be "right in his own eyes," but God pondereth the hearts, and therefore in God's sight "no man living is justified." St. Paul is here using the word in its legal rather than its theological sense. He that judgeth me is the Lord. This is a reason for serious awe and deep self searching of heart (Psalms 130:3; Job 9:2). Yet also for hope and confidence when a man can, like the modern statesman, "look from the storm without to the sunshine of an approving conscience within." For God, being "greater than our hearts" (1 John 3:21), may count "the long 'yes' of life" against the one "no," or the single faithless minute. Knowing whereof we are made, remembering that we are but dust, he looks on us
"With larger other eyes than ours,
To make allowance for us all."
1 Corinthians 4:5
Judge nothing. St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, insists with some indignation on this duty of checking the tendency to vain depreciation, both because we have not the capacity for forming adequate judgments, and because censoriousness is a very common though thoroughly unchristian vice (Romans 14:4, Romans 14:10, Romans 14:13). Before the time. The time is when God shall "judge the secrets of men" (Romans 2:16), and when "the day shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Corinthians 3:13). Until the Lord come. The advent is called in the New Testament sometimes the "epiphany," and sometimes the parousia of Christ. The word used for "until" (heōs an) points to a time entirely indefinite. Both; rather, also; i.e. among other things. The hidden things of darkness. "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13; comp. Ecclesiastes 12:14). God "shall illuminate the crypts of the darkness which naturally fills the self deceiving heart." The counsels of the hearts. These may bear no scrutiny, even when the actions of the life have been made to look plausible enough. And then. God only "seeth in secret" (Matthew 6:4), and therefore the praise and blame of men may in this life be equally unjust. Shall every man have praise of God; rather, each one shall then have his praise (i.e. such praise as he deserves) from God. Some of the Greek Fathers (e.g. Theophylact) here make "praise" a "word of intermediate sense," involving either praise or blame. But St. Paul says "praise" for two reasons—partly because he is thinking of faithful teachers like Cephas, Apollos, and himself, who were depreciated by rival factions; and partly because he, like other apostles, shows an invariable tendency to allude to the bright rather than to the dark side of judgment. The "praise from God"—the "Well done, good and faithful servant"—is so infinitely precious that it reduces to insignificance the comparative value of human praise or blame.
1 Corinthians 4:6-13
Contrast between the inflated self sufficiency of the Corinthians and the earthly humiliation of the apostles.
1 Corinthians 4:6
Brethren. The occasional use of this and similar expressions ("beloved," etc.) often serves to strengthen an appeal, or, as here, to soften the sternness of a rebuke. I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos. The meaning seems to be that St. Paul has prominently transferred to himself and to Apollos, or rather to the parties who chose their names as watchwords, the proof as to the sin and futility of partisanship which applied equally well to the parties which ranged themselves under other names. (For the verb "transfer"—more often "transform" see 2Co 11:13, 2 Corinthians 11:14, 2 Corinthians 11:15; Philippians 3:21.) He abstains purposely and generously from publicly naming the fuglemen of the antagonistic factions. For your sakes. By rebuking party spirit in his own partisans and those of the teacher who was most closely allied to himself, he robbed his remarks of all semblance of personality or bitterness. It showed his generous delicacy not to allude rather to the adherents of Cephas and the Judaean emissary. Than ye might learn in us. I made Apollos and myself instances of the undesirability of over exalting human teachers, that by our case you might learn the general principle. Not to think of men above that which is written. The true reading is merely, not above the things which have been written, as though the words were a sort of proverb, like Ne quid nimis or Milton's "The rule of not too much" (μηδὲν ἆγαν). The word "to think" is omitted in the best manuscripts. The phrase, "which have been written," is of very uncertain meaning. It may refer generally to "the scriptural rule" that all boasting is wrong (Jeremiah 9:23), or to the humble estimate of teachers which he has just been writing down for them. All his Old Testament quotations so far (1 Corinthians 1:19, 1 Corinthians 1:31; 1 Corinthians 3:19) have referred to humility. Some see in it a reference to Matthew 23:1-39. Matthew 23:8 "Be not ye called Babbi;" but it is uncertain whether St. Matthew's Gospel was yet written; and St. Paul never refers so directly to any written Gospel. Perhaps it is a sort of proverb," Keep always to strict evidence;" "Say nothing which cannot be proved in black and white." The text, like so many others, has only a very remote connection with the sense in which it is usually quoted. That no one of you he puffed up. St. Paul was painfully impressed by this inflation of the Corinthians, and he often recurs to this word as a description of their vain conceit (1 Corinthians 4:18, 1Co 4:19; 1 Corinthians 5:2; 1Co 8:1; 1 Corinthians 13:4; 2 Corinthians 12:20). In other Epistles the word is only found once (in Colossians 2:18). For one against another. The expression is a profound one. The glorying in men (1 Corinthians 3:21), undesirable in any circumstances, becomes the more pernicious because the exaltation of one set of teachers is almost invariably accompanied by mean and unjust depreciation of any who could be supposed to be their rivals. The Corinthian who was "for Cephas" would be almost certain to be, to some extent, "against Paul."
1 Corinthians 4:7
Who maketh thee to differ? literally, Who distinguisheth thee? He means that this glorification and depreciation of rival views and rival teachers sprang from unwarrantable arrogance. It involved a claim to superiority, and a right to sit in judgment, which they did not possess. That thou didst not receive? Even supposing that you have some special gift, it is a gift, not a merit, and therefore it is a boon for which to be thankful, not a pre-eminence of which to boast.
"Satan, I know thy power, and thou know'st mine,
Neither our own, but given. What folly, then,
To try what arms can do!"
(Milton, 'Paradise Lost.')
1 Corinthians 4:8
Now ye are full, now ye are rich; rather, already ye have been sated, already ye grew rich. There is a strong but healing irony in these expressions, and in the entire contrast between the comfortable, full fed, regal self satisfaction of the Corinthians, and the depression and scorn in the midst of which the apostles lived. The loving delicate irony is, in a different way, as effective as the stern denunciation of St. John: "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). St. Paul's satire is always akin to charity; it is never satire with no pity in it. Ye have reigned as kings. The word simply means "ye reigned." Like the Stoics, so each little Corinthian sectarian regarded himself as a king. "To reign" was, however, a proverbial phrase (like the Latin vivo et regno) for being "happy as a king." Without us (comp. Hebrews 11:40). The Corinthians were cultivated enough to appreciate the deep irony of the phrase, "We poor apostles have become quite needless to you in your lordly independence." And I would to God ye did reign. The words "to God" should be omitted. The loving heart of St. Paul could never long keep up a strain of irony. He drops the satire, and passes on to impassioned and affectionate appeal. That we also might reign with you. If the exalted eminence which you now only enjoy in your own conceits had been but real, then we, whose "hope, and joy, and crown of exultation you are in the presence of Christ" (1 Thessalonians 2:19), should share the grandeur with you.
1 Corinthians 4:9
For. This word shows how different was the reality. Hath set forth; displayed as on a stage (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Us the apostles. St. Paul identifies them with himself; but undoubtedly he had "laboured more abundantly than they all." Last. Servants of all; in the lowest circumstances of humiliation. The apostles. Not the twelve only, but those who might be called apostles in a wider sense, who shared the same afflictions (Hebrews 10:33). As it were appointed to death. This daily doom is referred to by St. Paul in 1Co 15:30, 1 Corinthians 15:31; 2 Corinthians 4:11; Romans 8:36. Tertullian renders the word "veluti bestiaries," like criminals condemned to the wild beasts ('De Pudicit.,' 14). But the day had not yet come when Christians were to hear so often the terrible cry, "Christianos ad leones!" A spectacle; literally, a theatre. The same metaphor is used in Hebrews 10:33. To angels. The word, when used without an epithet, always means good angels, who are here supposed to look down in sympathy (comp. Hebrews 12:22).
1 Corinthians 4:10
We are fools for Christ's sake. The irony is softened by the intervening sentences, and as regards the apostles there is no irony. St. Paul was called "a seed pecker" (spermologos) by the Epicureans and Stoics at Athens, and Festus in full court called him "mad." Ye are wise in Christ. He could not say as before, "for Christ's sake;" for even though he is using the language of irony, "the pseudo wisdom of the Corinthians had other motives." We are weak. The consciousness of physical and personal weakness weighed heavily on the mind of St. Paul in moments of depression (2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 13:4). Ye are honourable, but we are despised; literally, ye are glorious, but we are dishonoured. The word "dishonoured" also means "disfranchised.''
1 Corinthians 4:11
Unto this present hour. In these three verses he draws a picture of the condition of the apostles, especially of the trials to which he was himself subjected, on which the best comment is in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. This letter was written from Ephesus, where he had so much to do and to endure (Acts 20:31). Hunger and thirst. "In hunger and thirst, in fastings often" (2 Corinthians 11:27). Are naked. And are buffeted. The verb means literally, are slapped in the face. Such insults, together with scourgings, fell to the lot of St. Paul (Acts 23:2, etc.) and the other apostles (Acts 16:23, 1 Peter 2:20), as well as to that of their Lord (Matthew 26:57, etc.). It showed the utter contempt with which they were treated; for though St. Paul ought to have been exempt from such violence, both as a freeman and a Roman citizen, he was treated as vilely as if he had been a mere foreign slave. Have no certain dwelling place. This homelessness was among the severest of all trials (Matthew 8:20; Matthew 10:23).
1 Corinthians 4:12
Labour, working with our own hands. St. Paul supported himself by the dreary toil and scant earnings of a tent maker, in the express determination to be no burden upon his converts (Acts 18:3; Acts 20:34; 1Th 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; 1Co 9:6; 2 Corinthians 11:7, etc.). Such conduct was the more noble because all mechanical trades were looked down upon by the Greeks as a sort of banausia. And though it was repellent and mechanical work to be handling the strong scented black goats' hair all day, yet by this labour he maintained not only himself but also his brother missionaries (Acts 20:34). Being reviled. The early Christians were falsely accused of the most execrable crimes, so that the very name "Christian" was regarded as equivalent to "malefactor" (1 Peter 4:14, 1 Peter 4:16). We bless. Herein they obeyed the direct precept of our Lord (Matthew 5:44), as well as his example (Luke 23:1-56. Luke 23:44; 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Peter 3:9).
1 Corinthians 4:13
Being defamed, we entreat. The expression "we entreat" is very general. It may mean "we entreat men not to speak thus injuriously of us" (Calvin); or "we exhort them to do right." As the filth of the world. The Greek word katharmata has a technical sense, in which it means "men devoted to death for purposes of expiation" (homines piaculares). The word perikatharnmta has the sense of "sin offerings" in Proverbs 21:18; Tobit 5:18. It is, however, doubtful whether this meaning of the word could have been at all familiar to Greek readers, and it is only in a very general and distantly metaphorical sense that the sufferings of God's saints can be regarded as, in any sense of the word, vicarious. It is better, therefore, here to retain the sense of "refuse" (purgamenta, things vile and worthless). The offscouring of all things; perhaps rather, of all men. The word peripsema means "a thing scraped off," and this word also was used in expiatory human sacrifices, where the formula used to victims thus flung into the sea, in times of plague or famine, was, "Become our peripsema". Thus in Tobit (v. 18), Anna the wife of Tobias says, "Let the money be used as a peripsema for the child;" and Ignatius uses the phrase, "I am your peripsema." From this and the similar phrase in the Letter of Barnabas," I am the peripsema of your love," it seems to have become a current expression of tenderness among Christians, "I am your peripsema." But in this case also it may be doubted whether the sacrificial idea was present in the apostle's mind. He is thinking of scenes which he had already faced and would have to face hereafter, when mobs shouted against him that lie was "a pestilent fellow" (Acts 24:5) and not fit to live (Acts 22:22).
1 Corinthians 4:14-21
The practical steps which he intends to take with reference to these party divisions.
1 Corinthians 4:14
To shame you. Such seems to be the meaning of the word, for it is so used in the LXX. (compare the use of the verb in 2 Thessalonians 3:14; Titus 2:8; and of the substantive in 1 Corinthians 6:5; 1 Corinthians 15:34). I warn; rather, I admonish. St. Paul here gives the reason why he cannot write angrily or bitterly, even though he has used strong expostulation and keen irony. It is because he regards himself as their spiritual father.
1 Corinthians 4:15
Ten thousand; never so many. The word in Greek is used indefinitely, but here implies a touch of impatience at the itch of teaching which seems to have prevailed at Corinth. Tutors; rather, pedagogues, in a technical sense. We have no exact equivalent in English to the paidagogos, the slave who led boys to school. The word also occurs in Galatians 3:24, Galatians 3:25. The father loves most, and has the nearer and dearer claim. In Christ. So he says, "The Law was our paidagogos to Christ." These guides or guardians were such "in Christ," i.e. in the sphere of Christian life. Not many fathers. St. Paul felt a yearning desire that his unique claim as the founder of their Church should not be so ungratefully overlooked, as though it were of no importance. I have begotten you. The word is here only used in a secondary and metaphoric sense, as in Philemon 1:10; Galatians 4:19. In the highest sense we are only begotten by the will of God, by that Word of truth (James 1:18), to which he alludes in the words "through the gospel." The "second birth" is, however a doctrine more dwelt on by St. John (John 3:3; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:1, etc.) than by St. Paul, who, as Mr. Beet observes, only refers to it in Titus 3:5.
1 Corinthians 4:16
Be ye followers; rather, imitators. He makes the same appeal in 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17. Of course, he only uses his human example as a guide to them in the special virtues of humility, self denial, and faithfulness (1 Peter 5:3; Hebrews 13:7). In the highest sense we can only be "imitators of God" (Ephesians 5:1).
1 Corinthians 4:17
For this cause. Because, as your spiritual father, I naturally take the deepest interest in your well being. Have I sent; rather, I sent. Timothy had started before this letter was despatched (Acts 19:22), but he did not reach Corinth till after its arrival, because he had been unable to go by sea, and had to travel round by Macedonia. St. Paul, on hearing the grave news from Corinth, seems to have countermanded him (1 Corinthians 16:10, "If Timotheus come"), but was uncertain whether the messenger would reach him in time. The necessity for despatching Titus had been more immediate. My beloved son, and faithful in the Lord; rather, who is my beloved and faithful child (teknon) in the Lord. St. Paul had converted him, and felt towards him all the love of a father (1Ti 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; Philippians 2:20-22). Shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ. The expression shows all St. Paul's delicacy. He is not sending the youthful Timothy as an authoritative teacher, since the Corinthians, fond of high pretension and soaring oratory, might scorn to show any submission to a shy and shrinking youth; but he is only sending him because, as his closest companion, Timothy would be best able to explain to them his plans and wishes in the organization of Churches.
1 Corinthians 4:18
Are puffed up; rather, were puffed up; at the time that they made these disparaging comparisons of me with others. As though I would not come to you; rather, as though I were not coming to you. St. Paul was on the eve of starting for Macedonia on his way to visit them (1 Corinthians 16:5), but, owing to the grievous state of the Church, he subsequently changed his purpose (2 Corinthians 1:15, 2 Corinthians 1:23). When he left them he had promised to return, "if God wilt" (Acts 18:21). His many enemies and critics were likely to say, "He is afraid to come himself, and so he sends Timothy." They flattered themselves that he was alarmed by their culture and intellectualism.
1 Corinthians 4:19
I will come to you shortly (Philippians 2:24; 2 Timothy 4:9). He came soon after writing the Second Epistle. At this time he was preparing to leave Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8); his actual departure was precipitated by the tumult (Acts 20:1-38. l, 2). If the Lord will. The apostolic use of the phrase was something more than a mere form (Romans 15:32; Hebrews 6:3; James 4:15); it expressed a real and humble spirit of dependence. Not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. He will use his gift of spiritual discernment to discover whether the haughty self assertion and sounding phraseology of these inflated partisans would not collapse when confronted with real authority. The "speech" was there in abundance; but was there anything genuine, any real spiritual force, behind it?
1 Corinthians 4:20
The kingdom of God. The Christian life, with all its attainments and all its hopes. Is not in word, but in power. It is not a matter of profession, or of eloquence, or of phrases, but of transforming efficacy. St. Paul always appeals for the corroboration of his authority to the signs and power of the Spirit (2Co 10:1-18 :45; Romans 15:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:5), to the "demonstration'' of which he has already referred (1 Corinthians 2:4).
1 Corinthians 4:21
What will ye? "The whole thing lies with you" (Chrysostom). With a rod; literally, in a rod a not uncommon Greek phrase. The meaning of this expression is best seen from 2 Corinthians 10:2; 2 Corinthians 13:10. In love. He would come to them "in love" in any case; but if they now rejected his appeals the love would be compelled to manifest itself in sharpness and stern deeds. In the spirit of meekness. Meyer here gives to the word "spirit" the sense of "the Holy Spirit," as in John 15:26; 2 Corinthians 4:13; but the simpler sense of the term is almost certainly the true one.
1 Corinthians 4:1-7
A true and a false estimate of genuine ministers of the gospel
"Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ," etc. Here we have—
I. A TRUE ESTIMATE of genuine ministers of the gospel.
1. They are servants of Christ. "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ." There are some who regard ministers of the gospel as servants of their Church. The Churches guarantee their stipend, and they require that their dogmas shall be propounded and their laws obeyed. The paymasters, whether deacons, or elders, or the state, naturally expect subordination in their ministers. He who yields in any measure to such an expectation degrades his position, and is not in the truest sense a minister of Christ. He who is the true servant of Christ will feel and act as the moral master of the people—the leader and commander. "Obey them that have the rule over you," etc. There is no office on this earth so dignified and royal as that of the true servant of Christ.
2. As servants of Christ, they are responsible. "Stewards of the mysteries of God." The "mysteries of God" here mean the gospel, which in the second chapter is said to be "the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world." The gospel is a mystery, not in the sense of absolute incomprehensibility, but in the sense of progressive unfoldment, both in respect to communities and individuals. It is a mystery to the man who at firsts begins its study, but as he gets on it becomes more and more clear. The true minister is entrusted with these "mysteries;" he is to bring them out, translate them into intelligible ideas, and dispense them to the people. As a steward of such things, his position is one of transcendent responsibility.
3. As servants of Christ, they are faithful. "Moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful." Fidelity is an essential attribute of a true minister. He must be faithful to his trust, not abuse it, but use it according to the directions of its owner. Faithful to its owner, in all things regulated by his directions. He must be faithful to his hearers, seeking no man's applause, fearing no man's frown, "commending himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God."
4. As servants of Christ, they are independent. "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment." Whilst no true minister will despise the favour or court the contempt of men, he will not be concerned about their judgment so long as he is faithful to his God. Paul gives utterance to this sentiment in order, no doubt, to reprove those preachers in the Corinthian Church who were seeking the praise of men. Paul seems to indicate here three reasons for this feeling of independency.
(1) His own consciousness of fidelity. "For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified." "The sense is," says a modern expositor, "I am not conscious of evil or unfaithfulness to myself; that is, in my ministerial life." It is well remarked by Calvin that "Paul does not here refer to the whole of his life, but only to his apostleship. And the sense is, 'I am conscious of integrity in this office. My own mind does not condemn me of ambition or unfaithfulness. Others may accuse me, but I am not conscious of that which should condemn me or render me unworthy of this office.'"
(2) His confidence in the judgment of God. "But he that judgeth me is the Lord." I am content to abide by his judgment. If his judgment of me agrees not with my own judgment of myself, I will loyally submit.
(3) His belief in a full revelation of that judgment. "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness," etc. Do not let us judge one another; do not let us even trust too much to our own judgment of ourselves. Let us await Heaven's judgment.
(a) There is a period appointed for that judgment, "Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come." There is a "day appointed in which he will judge the world in righteousness." Ah! that day.
(b) At that period there will be a full revelation of our characters. "Who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts."
(c) At that period, too, every man shall have his due. "And then shall every man have praise of God." "Praise" here does not mean approbation, but that every man shall receive his just due. Such considerations as these may well make ministers independent of the judgments of men, and regardless alike of their smiles and their frowns.
II. A FALSE ESTIMATE of genuine ministers of the gospel. "And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos," etc. Paul here means to say that he spoke of himself and Apollos to show the impropriety of one minister being pitted against another. The members of the Corinthian Church had evidently formed an incorrect estimate of the true gospel minister.
1. They seemed to estimate ministers in proportion as they met their views and feelings. Every true preacher preaches the gospel as it has passed through his own mind, and as it passes through his own mind it will, of course, be more interesting to the minds most in harmony with his own experience, capacity, and sympathies. Hence, in the Corinthian Church, those who preferred Peter's preaching thought no one was like Peter; those who preferred Apollos' thought there were none like him; and so with Paul. It is so now. "There is no minister like our minister; all others are grades below." This is very false, for inasmuch as the great bulk of the community are more or less uneducated, unreflecting, and sensuous, the preacher who approximates most to their type of mind will attract the largest crowd and get the loudest hosannas. But is he on that account superior to others? By no means. Thus it is that some of the most inferior preachers are over rated and the most elevated and devoted degraded; whereas all true ministers are "servants of Christ," the "stewards of the mysteries of God," and as such should be honoured.
2. They seemed to estimate ministers according to the greatness of their natural endowments. "Who maketh thee to differ from another?" etc. Between the natural endowments of Paul, Apollos, and Peter there was a great difference, and, indeed, between all ministers of the gospel there is a difference in natural endowments, and a great difference in the quality and measure of mind. But what of that? There is nothing in those natural endowments for boasting; for they all came from God. The man of the most far reaching intellect, the most brilliant imagination, and transcendent genius has nothing which he has not received from that Spirit which distributes to every man according to his own will. No man or angel deserves credit on account of natural abilities.
CONCLUSION. "Let us strive," says F. W. Robertson, "as much as possible to be tranquil. Smile when men sneer; be humble when they praise; patient when they blame. Their judgment will not last; 'man's judgment,' literally, 'man's day,' is only for a time, but God's is for eternity. So, would you be secure alike when the world frowns its censure or its applause upon you? feel hourly that God will judge. That will be your safeguard under both. It will be a small thing to you to be judged of any man's judgment; for your cause will be pleaded before the Judge and the Discerner of all secrets."
1 Corinthians 4:8
Apostolic treatment of vanity.
"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." Vanity is a state of mind at once the most prevalent and detestable; it is a plant that springs from self ignorance, and is disgusting to the spectator in all its forms and fruits. See how the apostle treats it here.
I. WITH WITHERING SARCASM. "Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us." The Bible furnishes us with many instances of irony (see 1 Kings 18:27; Job 12:2), but nowhere have we it in language more full and forceful than here. "Now ye are full," or "already are ye tilled." You have had enough, you want nothing; "ye are rich" or "already ye are become rich." You are affluent in all gifts and graces. "Ye have reigned as kings without us." "Here are three metaphors, the first taken from persons tilled with food, the second from persons so rich that they require no more, the third from those who have reached the highest elevation—obtained a throne." Paul seems to say to these conceited teachers that they were so great that they did not require such services as his. We scarcely know of a more effective way of treating vanity than by sarcasm. Treat the vain, swaggering man before you, not according to your judgment of him, but according to his estimate of himself. Speak to him as one as stupendous as he believes himself to be, and your irony will stab him to the quick. Sarcasm is often the instrument of a great manly soul when roused into indignation.
II. WITH A NOBLE GENEROSITY. "I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you;" or, "I would ye did reign." Here the north wind of sarcasm gives way to the south breezes of love. What he means is a wish that they were as truly full, rich, and royal as they thought themselves to be. The irony of a Christly man, however pungent, is not malign, but generous.
1 Corinthians 4:9
Man an object of angelic observation.
"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." The margin reads "theatre" for "spectacle," from the Greek word θέατρον. The reference, in all probability, is to the ancient amphitheatre, whose arena was surrounded by circular seats, capable of accommodating thousands of spectators. In this arena trained athletes struggled for prizes in the ancient games; on such an arena Paul speaks of himself and fellow labourers as struggling, the objects not only of human but of angelic spectators. The world is indeed a moral theatre, every man an actor, and disembodied spirits look on as spectators. "We are encompassed about," etc. Angels as spectators are intelligent, interested, numerous, constant. If the eyes of such intelligences are constantly upon us, what are the practical conclusions?
I. THAT OUR CONDUCT HERE CONCERNS THE UNIVERSE. No man lives unto himself; each unit is a link in being's endless chain. His actions must tell banefully or beneficently on the creation; hence all loving and loyal intelligences direct, their attention to him with deep and unabating interest. Besides, men and angels are offsprings of the same Father, participators of the same nature, subjects of the same moral government. No wonder they are so concerned.
II. THAT OUR PART SHOULD BE CAREFULLY PLAYED. How doubly careful are our actors on the stage, in the presence of spectators distinguished for the highest genius, erudition, and artistic culture! It behoves every man to be cautious how he acts in the presence of his fellow creatures, whether they are children or adults, plebeians or princes; but how much more cautious should he be when he knows that angels, whose pure natures loathe sin in all its forms, have their keenest gaze fastened ever on his life.
III. THAT THERE IS NO CHANCE OF CONCEALING OUR SIN. The attempt to cloak or dissemble our sins is absurdly futile. Whilst there is One who reads the heart, there may be millions who mark all our overt acts, whether wrought in darkness or in light.
IV. THAT WE MAY EXPECT HELP IN ALL HOLY ENDEAVOURS. Those celestial spirits are sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation. They have received a Divine commission to bear us up, lest we dash our feet against a stone. In all ages they have rendered assistance to the good. They helped Abraham on the plains of Mamre, and Lot in his flight towards Zoar; they freed the apostle from the prison; they bore the spirit of Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham.
CONCLUSION. "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us" (Hebrews 12:1).
1 Corinthians 4:10-14
Paul's treatment of self. conceited teachers.
"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. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day. I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you." Paul is still thinking of those teachers of the Corinthian Church who were "puffed up," inflated with conceit. He treats them here with—
I. AN IRONIC APPEAL. "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;" or, "ye have glory, but we have dishonour." "W are fools," we know nothing, "but ye are wise," you know everything; "we are weak," timid, and feeble, "but ye are strong" and fearless. "ye are extolled, but "we are despised," the "offscouring of all things." All this is sarcasm again, well deserved, and well directed. How would our little penny-a-liners feel if such a man as Thomas Carlyle were to stand before them and speak in this way? If they had any sense remaining, they would quiver into nothingness. How much more would those small pretentious teachers in the Corinthian Church feel this stroke of satire dealt out to them by the great apostle to the Gentiles!
II. A PERSONAL HISTORY. Here he refers to his privations: "Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place"—without nourishment, without clothing, without the shelter of a home. Here he refers to his labours: "And labour, working with our own hands." Here he refers to his persecutions: "We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things." Then he refers to the spirit in which he endured the sufferings: "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat." Now, why did he state all this? Not for the sake of parading his great trials and toils, but for the sake of bringing these proud teachers to their senses. They could not fail to acknowledge that he was an apostle—a pre-eminent minister of Christ; notwithstanding this, in the world he was treated with cruelty and contempt, he was poor and despised. What, then, had they to be proud of as ministers?
CONCLUSION. From this subject it is natural to ask—Who in the present age engaged in the Christian ministry are most likely to be of apostolic succession? Those who are "full," and "rich," and royal, and "wise," and "strong," who pride themselves in all these things; whom the people favour and flatter? or those who, like the Apostle Paul, in the discharge of their ministry, endure privations, persecutions, and all in the magnanimous spirit of self abnegation and generous forgiveness of enemies? Call no man a successor of the apostle who has not the apostolic character. To call a man a successor of the apostle who has not the apostolic character—manfully noble, Christly loyal, and withal self sacrificing—is a mischievous imposture.
1 Corinthians 4:15
"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." The subject of these words is spiritual paternity, and three remarks are suggested.
I. THAT ONE MAN MAY BECOME THE SPIRITUAL FATHER OF ANOTHER. What is it to become the spiritual father of another?
1. Something more than to become the father of one's ideas. There are men in society gifted with that intellectual vitality and vigour which enables them to generate the leading ideas in the minds of their contemporaries. This they do by their conversation, their speeches, their writings. But these are not spiritual fathers, they are mere schoolmasters or teachers. Coleridge and Carlyle are examples of this.
2. Something more than the author of a certain style of thinking. There are men in society who not only generate leading thoughts in the minds of their contemporaries, but, what is perhaps something higher, a style of thinking—a style characterized by precision, freshness, and force. Aristotle, Bacon, etc., are examples. But a spiritual father is one who is the father of man's moral character, one who generates in another his own spirit, sympathies, and aims, one who transforms the character of another into his own image.
II. THAT THE NOBLEST SPIRITUAL FATHER IS HE WHO BEGETS IN ANOTHER THE CHRISTLY CHARACTER. Many are the moral characters prevalent amongst men—the sensual, the sceptical, the selfish. The Christly character stands in sublime contrast to these; it is disinterested, spiritual; Divine.
1. The man who generates in others this character imparts the highest good. In the Christly character is harmony, kinghood, and paradise. To be like Christ is the highest end of being, it is the summum bonum of souls.
2. The man who generates this character in others creates the highest mutual affection. Far deeper and profounder is the affection subsisting between the spiritual father and his offspring than that which exists between the physical. Christ recognized this when he said, "Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brothel and my sister, and my mother." Paul called Timothy his "beloved son;" and elsewhere he speaks with inexpressible tenderness of his converts as his little children, with whom he travailed in birth (Galatians 4:10).
III. THAT THE CHRISTLY CHARACTER IS ONLY BEGOTTEN IN OTHERS BY THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. "I have begotten you through the gospel." Natural religion cannot do it; Judaism cannot do it; Mohammedanism cannot do it; heathenism cannot do it; no speculative creeds, no moral codes, no ritualistic religions can do it. The gospel alone is the power to generate in man the true Christly character; it is that transformative glass into which as we look we get changed into the same image from "glory to glory."
CONCLUSION. Learn from this:
1. The supreme interest of man. What is that?—learning, wealth, fame? No; Christliness. He who has this has everything; all things are his. He who has not this has "nothing," says Paul.
2. The grandest distinctions amongst men. What are they?—sages, soldiers, sovereigns? No; spiritual sires. The man who generates in another the Christly character has done a greater work than any sage as sage, king as king, has ever done. Every man may and ought to become a spiritual father.
1 Corinthians 4:16-21
Six subjects worth reflection.
"Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me," etc. There are six noteworthy subjects in these verses.
I. A REMARKABLE REQUEST. "Be ye followers of me." Were Paul an ordinary man, such an exhortation would resound with arrogance; but he was a man of preeminent excellence, Christly in spirit, deportment, and ministry. There were three reasons why they should imitate him.
1. He was a follower of Christ. There was no living man who had followed his Master so closely. Elsewhere he says, "Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ."
2. He was their spiritual father. He had begotten them in the gospel; they were his moral offspring. They had numerous instructors, but he was their father; they gave them ideas, he gave them character.
3. He was no partisan. Other teachers amongst them became the leaders of parties, these parties were contending one with another; but Paul belonged to no party, he followed Christ, knew "nothing amongst men but Christ, and him crucified." Such a man was justified in calling on others to follow him. "Ministers," says an old writer, "should so live that their people may take pattern from them, and even after their copy; they should guide them by their lives as well as by their lips, go before them on the way to heaven, and not content themselves with pointing."
II. A HIGH TESTIMONY. "For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, 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." He is dear to me as a "son;" he is "faithful in the Lord;" he knows my "ways." High testimony this. And this is the man he promises to send to them. What for? That he might give them good reasons why they should be followers of him. I do not want you to follow me in the dark; I send him that he may throw light upon my ways everywhere, "in every Church." A man must have a high consciousness of rectitude who can trust the representation of his character to one who knows him as well as a son knows his father, and withal a man of incorruptible honesty.
III. A FOOLISH EXULTATION. "Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you." There were those in the Church at Corinth who were out of sympathy with Paul, and who had no desire that he should visit them, and as the "wish is father to the thought," when they heard he was coming they would not believe it. When the intelligence that he was sending Timothy to them reached them, they would be likely to say, "This proves the truth of our assertion; he is afraid to come himself, and so he sends Timothy." In this they seem to have rejoiced; they were "puffed up." Now, I rail this a foolish exultation, because the visit of Paul to them was what they deeply needed, and was intended to confer on them the highest blessing. How often do we foolishly rejoice in deliverance from visitations fraught with priceless blessings!
"Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head."
IV. AN EXEMPLARY DECISION. "But I will come to you shortly if the Lord will," etc. Paul believed that God had a will concerning him, and that will determined his destiny. Hence on this he based all his calculations in life; all his plans and purposes were subject to that will. "If the Lord will." This is an exemplary decision. His will is not only absolute and righteous, but benevolent; therefore to acquiesce in that will is not only right, but wise. "Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain; whereas ye know not what will be on the morrow?
V. A GLORIOUS SYSTEM. "For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." By this he means, I presume, the gospel ministry. It is a divinely regal "kingdom;" it is not a thing of sentiments or ceremony; it is invested with Divine authority. It is not a thing of mere "word;" it transcends all language, however logical in force or rhetorical in beauty; it is "power"—the "power of God unto salvation."
VI. A SOLEMN PROPOSAL. "What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?" In any case I shall come as a father. Shall I come as a father to chastise you with a "rod," or with looks of "love" and words of commendation and sympathy? God's minister is bound to deal with men according to their states of mind. His ministry to some must be as the severity of Sinai, with others as the tenderness of Calvary. Evermore is it true that the effects of Divine visitations depend on the spirit in which they are received, and what this spirit shall be is for man to determine. God says to every man, "What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?" This is the solemn proposal.
HOMILIES BY C. LIPSCOMB
1 Corinthians 4:1-7
Ministers as stewards.
The idea of the ministry as a Divine institution, set apart as a peculiar calling and charged with an infinite trust, cannot as yet relax its hold on St. Paul's mind. Tenacity of a great truth is not altogether a matter of our volition. At first the will has much to do in directing attention to a truth and keeping it fixed; but in no long time, if the man has trained himself to reflect, and, above all, if he is an earnest man, the truth recurs by some process of self suggestion. After a while, indeed, it happens with many who give themselves to profound investigations, that the subject gains a certain mastery over them, so that it costs more effort to dismiss it than was originally needed to concentrate attention. No capacity of the mind is so pliant as the capacity to be absorbed in an object of thought, and it seems independent of idiosyncrasy. Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Walter Scott both refer to the difficulty they had in discharging a topic from their minds if it had enlisted their interest. St. Paul had said much on the office of the ministry, but the theme was by no means exhausted. One aspect, a special one, remained, viz. stewardship. Ministers are "stewards of the mysteries of God;" if so, fidelity is their highest duty, or rather the soul of every duty. If the preacher had to set forth so unpopular a doctrine as Christ crucified, so obnoxious to worldly culture, so alien to the civilization of the age, then this "foolishness of preaching" was a very urgent reason for faithfulness. What need of watchfulness here! "Who can understand his errors," and especially these errors? Apostles were "men of like passions" with others; and this very likeness, while fraught with dangers both obvious and occult, made them fit, under God, for their work. The idea of stewardship was familiar to these Corinthians, perhaps keenly so to some of them; for in the business of that day much had to be entrusted to agents. Now, the master in such cases cannot give detailed instructions to his stewards, and hence a good deal must be left to their judgment. The hazard, let it be observed, is not on the side of the understanding; no rare intellectual outfit was requisite in this instance; the one supreme doctrine of Christ crucified had wisdom and power sufficient to impart truth of thought and emotion to all subordinate doctrines. But the danger lay in a want of fidelity. And had not St. Paul evinced this faithfulness while with these Corinthians? Yet, whether they admired or blamed, whether acquitted or condemned, what was that to him? "A very small thing was man's judgment;" nor, forsooth, would he judge himself, but leave all judgment to the Lord Jesus. Spiritual discernment has its functions; insight is a glorious gift; but the Lord reserves judgment to himself. That judgment awaits its day of revelation, when "the hidden things of darkness" and the "counsels of the hearts" shall be made manifest. Then, indeed, men shall see themselves as Christ sees them. Here, in this world, even in our most enlightened state, consciousness is partial. Much of a man lies far down in unillumined depths; the secrets of motives and impulses evade his personal cognizance; only in fragments can he realize himself; how much less can he comprehend others! And, "therefore, judge nothing before the time." Obviously, then, humility of judgment is not only an intellectual excellence but a spiritual virtue. It is a Divine discernment of our limitations, a Divine insight into the fact that there is an unconscious man no less than a conscious one in every human being, and that, meantime, fidelity stands free of all restrictions and abatements. Does fidelity look at office? It does not see popularity, honour, preferment, but duty, duty alone, duty ever; and this sense of duty, inspired and directed by the Holy Ghost, educates the man in tact and skill, in diligence and patience. Does fidelity look at others? It neither exaggerates nor depreciates them, nor can it regard them as rivals, since no man can possibly have a sense of rivalry who realizes Christ in the most essential fact of work, viz. brotherhood. And consequently, one of the many beautiful provisions of Christianity to secure fidelity is found in the brotherhood of Christians. Does fidelity look into its own heart? Even then infirmity clings to its energetic searching. On its good side it may be too self exacting, morbid, harshly critical of itself; on its weak side it may be lenient and over indulgent. And hence St. Paul, while conscious of knowing nothing against himself, declares, "Yet am I not hereby justified," and relies solely on the justification of Christ at that great assize, which, among all its wonders, shall surprise men most of all by its divinely revealed estimates of human character. "For your sakes," so he argues, "I have been thus explicit and emphatic, transferring these things to myself and Apollos," in order that the Corinthians might clearly see his own disinterestedness. This point assured, the way is open for remonstrance. Why are ye puffed up? If we are recipients; if Paul and Apollos are mere stewards of the Master's riches; if self judgments and judgments of others are impossible to men under the limitations of consciousness and observation; if "the counsels of the hearts" keep out of sight and hold their latency intact for the final day; and if, meantime, fidelity to duty is the supreme concern and adequate to call out and employ all the spiritual resources of our nature under grace; and, finally, if you owe all your means of acting on one another and the world to the brotherhood of the Church;—why do ye stand arrayed in sharp hostility against one another and rend asunder the Lord's body?—L.
1 Corinthians 4:8-13
A vivid contrast.
Having shown that the Christian consciousness was a twofold realization of the worthlessness of whatever was its own, and the infinite worth of the "all things" in Christ, and having proceeded thence to the idea of stewardship and the urgent need of faithfulness, how can St. Paul withhold the stern application of such truths? Had it been a childish self complacency with which he was dealing, we know how he would have treated it. But it was an active jealousy, a pompons arrogance, a virulent self conceit, a carnal temper in which the natural man survived, that he had to combat. Now, therefore, he would show them what they were. The weapons of his warfare were not carnal, but, nevertheless, they were weapons, and withal such weapons as Elijah had employed, and even the Lord Jesus had not disdained to use. If, by means of contrast, we know everything external, and if thereby we know ourselves too and realize our identity by discriminating one mood of consciousness from another, it follows that irony has its legitimate place and may be sanctified to the best purposes, Men are acutely sensitive to its caustic probe, and, as they will not exercise it on themselves, its application is one of those offices, severe but humane, which must be performed on them. Is the conflict over and the victory won? Full and rich, lo! ye are reigning "as kings," and significantly enough, "without us," the apostles, the sent of God, in this movement. And what dominion is that from which we are excluded? Where are your apostles in this hour of your coronation as kings? "God hath set us forth"—a terrible contrast to their self glorification—at this instant are we so set forth, like criminals doomed to death, and made a spectacle as in a vast theatre, "unto the world, and to angels, and to men." Alas! the only use just then to which the great Apostle to the Gentiles could put his knowledge of Greek games in the amphitheatre was in an outburst of indignation and sorrow. And then follows one of his characteristic sentences, in which impassioned feeling is quite as condensed as strong thought: fools, weak, despised, are we the apostles, while ye are wise and strong and honorable. The formal contrast is dropped, and now, how like the rapid summation of his experience to the sufferings of his Lord? Fidelity in suffering, fidelity to suffering, reconciliation to it, acceptance of its law as basic to his life, not an exceptional thing occurring at rare intervals as most of our sad experiences, but common and habitual, wounds unhealed and yet deeper wounds, "even unto this present hour." Hunger and thirst, nakedness, buffetings, homeless, refusing all remuneration and earning our own support, returning good for evil and blessing for cursing, objects of persecution, denied recognition as the friends of humanity and lovers of their kind, abused and vilified, ay, treated in the centres of this world's intelligence and refinement as "the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things," and no break or cessation, "unto this day." The sameness of these sufferings is twice mentioned, and the wondrous biography, first and last, is one chapter of woes. Over all stands a single motto, which came and could only come from Christianity: "For Christ's sake." At this juncture, call to mind a fact of some moment. Men are wonderfully individualized by sufferings. Considering how suffering abounds, it is noticeable that few truly regard themselves as providential sufferers, and realize in their experience the Divine discipline they are appointed to undergo. There is much selfishness in our ways of enduring the ills of life, in the uses made of affliction, and the habits of intellect and sensibility growing therefrom; and St. Paul strikes the heart of the subjects when he connects his sufferings with "Christ's sake." This gives an instant pathos to the recital and an instant nobility to the apostle as a sufferer. Furthermore, only for "Christ's sake" does he go into this affecting detail of the number, variety, and continuation of iris sorrows. A noble sufferer like St. Paul could find no selfish pleasure in such an enumeration; nay, in itself it would be painful. Vain men, ignoble men. gratify their littleness in recounting what they have endured, and these pensioners of public opinion—it may be the public opinion of a very diminutive world—find their account in the illusory sense of sympathy. Far from this weakness—very far—was this heroic man, to whom it was a new suffering to tell his sufferings, but who, in the courage of humility, the most courageous of the virtues in a true man, was even ready to uncover a bleeding heart for "Christ's sake." We shall now see that his love for these erring Corinthians prompted him to make the narration of his sufferings.—L.
1 Corinthians 4:14-21
Warnings of tenderness.
From mood to mood, yet in all, St. Paul had the same dominant zeal and affection in behalf of his converts. Rebuke was not with him a pleasure to which the natural man ministered, but a very painful duty that proceeded from conscience and kept sensibility unalloyed by animal passion. Herein he is distinguished from men who love authority because it is a signal of personal eminence and a means to make others feel their inferiority. A really superior round never likes to dwell on the infirmities of ignorance and littleness in those below him. The mountain points upward, and the higher the summit the more is it lost in the heavens. "Who maketh thee to differ?" is always present as the interrogatory of consciousness in such a nature, and the answer thereunto, whenever a true man has to vindicate his authority and especially in rebuke, is as Divine as the question. The delicacy of the apostle and his depth of insight have not forsaken him in this trying hour, nor would he expose the vanity of such as made themselves leaders and assumed transcendent powers, save in a manifest spirit of self abnegation. Manner is not a mere mode; it is a spirit; it is the very spirit of a man taking on a visible embodiment, and hence the rebuke administered by St. Paul is impregnated with the humility of his soul. There are men who commit
"Mischievous foul sin in chiding sin;"
but it would be a poor compliment to the apostle to say that he was not one of this class. What is most truly to his honour is his purpose to make the Corinthians sensible of the wrong to their better nature, and quicken from that side of their character the feeling of repentance. This brings out the sentiment of his soul in the words, "I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you;" and again the master thought of all his thinking recurs—Christ Jesus—in whom he had begotten them through the gospel, urging them to be imitators of Christ in him. To be genuinely serviceable, imitation must not be mechanical and servile, not be the literal copying of a pattern or model, but an education in the art of discriminating, and particularly a sense of the ideal in those whom we follow. For this reason, that they may be reminded of his "ways which be in Christ," he has sent Timotheus unto them. Prudence dictated this course. Circumstances were such as that absence would be his most effective presence—one of those occasions when a man's thoughts had better do their work unattended by the emphasis of eye and voice. But would they misinterpret this and attribute it to cowardice? "I will come to you shortly," leaving the time to the will of the Lord, for in executing a grave purpose it is not enough that we have the Spirit in our motive and aim, but we must wait patiently on the providence of the Spirit, which is often our best discipline. St. Paul's expectations were rarely fulfilled promptly, instance his visit to Rome; hope grew more reverent by delay; and in no aspect is his career more interesting than in that which shows how postponed gratification of desire ennobled the desire itself and secured a larger good to others. Fruit must grow, ripen, mellow, especially inward fruits, and St. Paul prized the mellowing touch of time. Many a lesson he gives us unawares in psychology, many an insight into the philosophy of true feeling, many a revelation of the soul, which but for him would have been a "hidden mystery." But, while waiting for "time and place to cohere," he utters his opinions strongly as to those who are "puffed up." What an ever recurring sense of cardinal principles! Great truths are never long out of sight, and hence the declaration, "The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." Did he underrate language? Nay; who ever spoke of language in a higher strain than he who did not hesitate to allude to his own preaching as not in the "words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth"? But the idle and impotent word, the word of swelling vanity, the word that dishonoured the Word,—for this he had only rebuke and condemnation. Such use was stolen use, the gift turned against the Giver, a redeemed gift wrested from the Redeemer, a recognized organ of the Holy Ghost taken from its only Sanctifier. For this must be said of language, that it is not merely or chiefly a medium of acting on others, but that it reacts on the man himself. Apart from its conventional functions, it is an instrument of communion with self, of stating self to self, of inspiring, while defining faculty to faculty in the mind's solitary cognizance of its own powers. Language is far mightier for introverted conception, for images that never escape the picturesque world in which they have their birth and life and death, for emotions and affections to which silence is the most precious of blessings—far mightier, we say, is language in this respect than in its economic uses. From the lexicon we learn the language that gives us inter. course with men. From our own souls and by conversing with them we learn the language by menus of which we compare "spiritual things with spiritual." Even on the plane of common life, the former is confined to communication. Expression is a very different thing from bald communication. Expression is due to the ability of the Spirit to vitalize words by imparting its own life to them. Something individual, something distinctly personal, imparts itself in expression. Hyperboles are matters of fact to the inmost consciousness, and all eloquence and poetry are but symbols of what the soul sees and can only intimate in this half articulate way. "I will know when I come"—so St. Paul reasons—"whether your speech is empty words, the wisdom which man's wisdom teacheth and is foolishness to God, or the power of the Spirit." This is the test—God's power. Only through that power can these Corinthians advance the kingdom of God; for only through it can they have oneness with Christ and fellowship with his disciples. Come to them St. Paul will—come to them as a father—the acknowledgment of them as sons, beloved sons, precedes him, and he will not forget his relation to them; but how shall he come? With a father's rod or in love? Will they relieve him of the necessity of discipline? And the thought of love lingers in his mind, amplifies itself, seeks fuller utterance, and the father's heart throbs once more in the associated clause—"the spirit of meekness."—L.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
1 Corinthians 4:1, 1 Corinthians 4:2
In the Corinthian Church two errors were prevalent with regard to the apostolic and other ministries—there was a tendency to exaggerate the importance of the agents by whom the truth was communicated, and there was a disposition to set one of these agents up as against another; so that partisanship and sectarianism violated the Christian unity.
I. THE SUBORDINATE POSITION OF CHRISTIAN TEACHERS. None need deem it a denudation or an undue humiliation to stand where the apostle stood; indeed, Paul is an acknowledged and admired model to all who work for the kingdom.
1. They are, in relation to Christ himself, ministers. They serve him, and count it an honour so to do. For his sake, and in his Name, they act as servants to their fellow men.
2. They are, in relation to the truth they promulgate, stewards. That is to say, the truth is not revealed by them, but to them; it is held not as their property, but as their trust; it is not appropriated to their own use, but dispensed by them for the benefit of others; they are not at liberty to do as they like with it—they are accountable to the Lord of all for the way in which they deal with it.
3. This being so, faithfulness is the virtue they are bound to cultivate and display. Whilst those who are independent are not especially bound to this duty, all who have derived from another, and are accountable to that other, are emphatically called to be faithful. Such is the position of all the ministers of Christ.
II. THE TRUE DIGNITY OF SPIRITUAL SERVANTS ARISES FROM THEIR RELATION TO THEIR LORD AND TO HIS WORD. There is a contrast between the service and the Master, between the stewardship and the mystery. The minister cannot think too lowlily of himself or too loftily of his theme and trust.
1. If they are ministers, they are ministers of Christ. An ambassador may be a person of lowly birth and feeble powers, but if he is an ambassador, his relation to his sovereign and the credentials and commission he has received entitle his message to peculiar consideration. And however the pastor, teacher, or evangelist may in himself be lacking in claims upon the respect of the superficial society called "the world," however he may be destitute of the shining gifts which command the admiration of the Church, still neither he nor those whose welfare he seeks are ever at liberty to forget that he is an ambassador from heaven, that he is commissioned and authorized by the King of kings.
2. If they are stewards, they are stewards of the mysteries of God. By mysteries the apostle meant truths which had in the past been hidden but were now revealed. Revealed in Christ, the Divine purposes of grace, salvation and life to all mankind, were published by the apostles and. their fellow labourers. And the declaration of the mind and heart of God was well worthy of being regarded as the impartation of a mystery compared with which all the wonders of Eleusis sank into insignificance. Of this Paul was conscious, and it would be well if every preacher of the gospel were ever to have this before his mind. We have this treasure, though "in earthen vessels." The solemnity of publishing Divine truth and the responsibility of hearing it are alike by these considerations brought very vividly before the mind. Thus are ministers unto some a savour of life unto life, unto others a savour of death unto death.—T.
1 Corinthians 4:3-5
Judgment, human, and Divine.
No man can work entirely with reference to his own labours and his own opinion of them. We all need to live under the sense that others are taking some notice of what we do; and with most there is danger of attaching exaggerated importance to human criticism. But it is well for us to cherish the feeling of the nearness and the supervision of the omniscient Searcher of hearts. In this passage St. Paul represents the effect which both human and Divine judgment should have upon the Christian's life.
I. THE JUDGMENT WHICH IS DEPRECATED. This is the judgment:
1. Of our fallible fellow men. For they have not the necessary material or the due knowledge and opportunity for forming a just judgment. Men are influenced in the opinions they form of one another by their prejudices and prepossessions. We judge our friends too favourably, and are too severe in our censure of our opponents. Hence our Lord has warned us, "Judge not!"
2. That which is passed at this present time. This is the time for work, not the time for judging and for recompense. No man's work can be Girly judged until it is completed. And beside this, we cannot see life in its true proportions when we look at it from a point of view so near. To judge now is to judge "before the time."
II. THE JUDGMENT WHICH IS ANTICIPATED.
1. This is God's judgment. He will bring every work into judgment. His acquaintance with all who shall appear before his bar is perfect. His material for forming a judgment is complete. His mind is unclouded by human prejudices. He is infinitely just.
2. This shall take place upon our Lord's return. His parousia, is what the Church looks forward to with affectionate interest and hope. Her children offer the frequent prayer: That at thy whom God hath appointed to judge the quick and the dead."
3. This shall be accompanied by revelation. There are hidden things of darkness which must be brought to light; virtues and vices of which the world has taken little or no note, but which must be brought forward and taken into account, in order to a just decision and award, There are counsels of the heart to be made manifest; for whilst men necessarily judge by the conduct, God will take into account the secret intentions and motives of those who have laboured for him, both good and evil.
4. This will be by a perfect discrimination. The hypocrite shall be distinguished from the sincere, the diligent from the idle, the time server and men pleaser from the true servant of God.
5. This will be the occasion of recompense. The case of the utterly unfaithful is left out of view as irrelevant in this connection. But among the faithful it is presumed that there are degrees of fidelity; and every man shall have his praise from God. This implies that each has a special need for special service; and it also implies that praise shall be accompanied by a substantial and everlasting recompense. It is well, therefore, to work "as ever in the great Taskmaster's eye," to avoid judging one's self, to be indifferent to the partial judgment of men, and to wait for the revelation and the awards of eternity.—T.
1 Corinthians 4:7
All is of grace.
Paul's quick, impulsive mind here flashes out into indignation at the spectacle of partisanship and schism in the Corinthian Church. They who lay great stress upon individual human teachers and ministers are in danger of forgetting, perhaps already have forgotten, two things, viz.
(1) that every minister and teacher has a special blessing for the Church; and
(2) that all such agents are but messengers from the court of heaven, and distributors of the blessings of God.
I. WE MAY TAKE CREDIT TO OURSELVES ONLY FOR OUR WANTS AND FOR OUR CAPACITY. Why should any man be proud, when he remembers that he was born a helpless babe; that he was dependent upon the kind services of others for the preservation of life; that he has learned nothing which he was not taught; that he enjoys nothing except through the good offices of his fellow men? And why should any Christian be "puffed up" with spiritual conceit, when he remembers that all he brought to the Scriptures, to the Church, to the Lord, was just his necessities and his capacity to receive spiritual blessings?
II. WE ARE INDEBTED FOR ALL THINGS TO HUMAN MINISTRATIONS. When we regard our circumstances, our worldly possessions, our education, our position in life, our family, our friends, this fact is obvious enough. But the same is true of our religious advantages, our spiritual blessings. The Bible was secured to us by human efforts and labours; the gospel was preached to us by human lips; the Church has been to us the fellowship of our human teachers and brethren; our religious knowledge has been conveyed to us by human interpreters; our piety has been inspired by human examples,
III. DIVINE MERCY HAS MADE HUMAN MINISTRIES SUBSERVIENT TO OUR SPIRITUAL WANTS. It is not wise or just to discriminate too nicely between human gifts and Divine. The human gifts are Divine gifts bestowed by human hands. It is the privilege of the devout and enlightened mind to look through the seen to the unseen; to recognize in every Christian helper and friend the messenger of God, the minister of Christ. The form, the voice, may be earthly, but there is behind a spiritual presence and a Divine power. It is the Giver of every good gift and every perfect gift who is so near.—T.
1 Corinthians 4:9
In the midst of his irony and sarcasm, Paul here reverts to the more natural habit of his mind. The self exaltation and self importance of the Corinthians were mingled with depreciation of the apostle, at least on the part of some. But alas! if his own converts, so deeply indebted to his labours and his care, could think slightingly of him, what earthly compensation could he expect for all the pain, hardship, contempt, and danger he cheerfully endured? Were not he and his fellow apostles like gladiators doomed to be flung to the wild beasts—"a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men"?
I. THE GRANDEUR AND SUBLIMITY OF THEIR POSITION DEMANDS OUR ADMIRATION. They were not as slaves cast to the lions. They were men who might have led a quiet and peaceful, and some of them an honourable and distinguished, life. But they gave their hearts to Christ, and having done so gave up all for him. There was no exaggeration in the apostle's language. On the contrary, he spoke the plain truth when he represented himself as standing before the universe as a witness to the Lord Christ. The position was one of dignity and moral impressiveness; the angels felt it then, and the world of humanity has come to feel it now.
II. THE PATHOS OF THEIR POSITION DEMANDS OUR SYMPATHY. We observe the bodily privations, the homelessness, the physical toil, the ignominy, the persecutions, the general contempt, which the apostles passed through; and we cannot observe all this unmoved. Doubtless it touched the heart of that Divine Saviour who was made perfect through sufferings; doubtless there were those who wept with their leaders when these were constrained to weep. Nothing in all human history is more profoundly affecting.
III. THE MORAL PURPOSE OF THEIR POSITION DEMANDS OUR APPRECIATION. The motives that induced Paul and his colleagues voluntarily to submit to such experience as they relate were two—fidelity to Christ and pity for men. Christ the Master had condescended himself to be upon the cross a spectacle to the world; and those who benefited by his redemption and shared his Spirit were ready to follow his example. They were the true followers of him who "endured the cross, despising the shame." And their aim and hope was to bring the world to the foot of the Saviour's cross. For this end they "counted not their life dear unto them." It was for the sake of their fellow men that they consented to brave the scorn of the philosopher and the jeer of the multitude.
IV. THE MORAL LESSONS OF THEIR POSITION DEMAND OUR STUDY.
1. It is a rebuke to self indulgence and ease. Shall we be satisfied and enjoy our ease in the midst of the world's errors and sins, when we call to mind the heroic and pathetic sufferings of our Lord's first followers?
2. It is a consolation under any contumely and discredit we may endure in the Christian profession and vocation for Christ's sake. "The like afflictions have befallen our brethren who are in the world."
3. It points on to the glory which shall be revealed. "Through much tribulation ye must enter into the kingdom of heaven." The apostles have ended their struggles, and now enjoy their victory; the Church militant will soon become the Church triumphant.—T.
1 Corinthians 4:15
Children, tutors, and fathers.
Our religion makes use of all the many and various relationships that obtain among men to set forth and to assist us in understanding spiritual realities.
I. GENERALLY SPEAKING, CHRISTIANS MAY BE DESCRIBED AS CHILDREN.
1. Like the Corinthians, most members of the Church of Christ need constant and watchful care. Providence has appointed that children should be born more dependent than the offspring of the inferior animals upon parental attention and devotion. From infancy unfit the approach of manhood and womanhood, human beings stand in need of the supervision and assistance of their parents. So is it with the members of Christ's Church. They are in need of pastoral care and kindness, and without this are not likely either to grow in Christian character or to escape the assaults of their foes.
2. In addition to care, they need wise and fatherly counsel. It would be well if spiritual pastors bore in mind the inexperience of a large proportion of the flock. Paul was a faithful counsellor, and in writing to these Christians at Corinth he warned them very faithfully against the faults and errors they were in danger of falling into. Not with severity, but with directness and earnestness, he admonished his spiritual children, and entreated them to render obedience to his advice and directions. Even sincere disciples of Christ are often in peril by reason of their own want of knowledge and experience, and by reason of the temptations which beset them in this world. Hence the importance of such pastoral admonitions as those of which Paul here gives an example.
II. THERE ARE IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST THOSE WHO MAY BE DESIGNATED SPIRITUAL FATHERS. At Corinth the apostle occupied a pre-eminently honourable and influential position. He claims in this passage to have been, what the history of the Acts shows that he was, the planter of the vineyard, the founder of the edifice, the father of the family. It was by his labours, his bravery, his perseverance, that the Christian community came into existence. In the highest sense, of course, the Father was God himself, who gives the Spirit of adoption to all his people. But instrumentally, the apostle was blessed by God, through the preaching of the gospel, to the begetting and birth, so to speak, of this congregation, this spiritual household. This relationship involved the obligation on their part to reverence, honour, obey, and gratefully to love and rejoice in, one to whom they were, under God, so immeasurably indebted. For his was a unique position with regard to them. No other could claim to stand in the same relation, and Paul was bold to tell them so. Still are there those who are honoured by the calling of God to this spiritual fatherhood; and such should meet with that respectful and grateful recognition which is the due of benefactors so signally favoured by God himself.
III. TUTORS AND INSTRUCTORS IN CHRIST OCCUPY IN THE CHURCH A POSITION ONLY INFERIOR TO THAT OF SPIRITUAL FATHERS. At Corinth the charisma of teaching seems to have been imparted and exercised in a measure almost embarrassing in its abundance. Paul speaks hyperbolically of the "myriads" of tutors who followed up his apostolic labours. The same Spirit bestows gifts in multiplicity and variety. Let Christians be grateful for all the "means of grace," and especially for the holy and devout ministrations of the learned, the wise, the sympathetic, and the strong. For thus is it appointed that the Church should grow in grace.—T.
1 Corinthians 4:20
The power of the kingdom.
The Corinthians were given to words; they delighted in eloquence; they were addicted to disputations. The Apostle Paul, who fulfilled his ministry by language, written and spoken, was not the man to disparage words. But no man was more impatient of mere words—of words with no reality, no force, no conviction. He had reason to complain of his converts at Corinth, and was resolved to bring matters to an issue with them; and it should be a contest, not of barren verbiage, but of spiritual force.
I. THE NATURE OF GOD'S KINGDOM PROVES THAT IT CANNOT BE MERELY IN WORD.
1. A kingdom implies authority exercised, obedience rendered. Although a kingdom not of this world, not maintained and supported by human means, by laws and arms, still God's empire is a reality. Christ is the King and Head; his laws are binding and stringent, although the motives that inspire obedience are gratitude and love—his subjects are willing and submissive.
2. Such a kingdom is incompatible with the reign of words. To be a subject of Christ is not
(1) to be merely by verbal assent, as by confirmation or any other form of admission to Church privileges, associated with the society of Christians; nor is it
(2) to make any kind of profession; nor
(3) to recite and maintain the great Christian creeds; nor
(4) to utter words expressive of devotion.
Men may make use of many and sacred words, and be none the nearer the kingdom of heaven. A nominal and verbal kingdom is weak and despicable; such is not the spiritual kingdom of our Lord.
II. THE ORIGIN AND NATURE OF THE POWER OF THE KINGDOM.
1. Words may be only from man; power is from God. All natural and physical power originates in him. But moral power is either good or evil; and the good only but always is from God. Christ is "the Power of God."
2. When we contemplate this spiritual power which pervades the new kingdom, what do we find it to be? The power of truth, the power of goodness, the power of pity and of love.
III. WHERE AND HOW THIS POWER DISPLAYS ITSELF.
1. Its seat is the soul; there it first enthrones itself, and thence it spreads until it pervades the whole nature, changing the beliefs, the feelings, the principles, and the habits. For "the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
2. The power of this kingdom manifests itself through the whole realm of human nature and life; both by the forces, obstacles, and oppositions it overcomes, and by the results it produces. We observe these effects especially in
(1) the newness of life which is characteristic of the kingdom, as emphatically in the case of the first disciples, brought out of Judaism and paganism into the marvellous light of the gospel;
(2) in the social results, which were exhibited in the cities where the gospel took root, and where the sentiment of brotherhood proved a new power in humanity, sanctifying society within and attracting elements from without.
(3) We have a proof of this power in the case of those martyrs who for Christ's sake were content to lay down their life; for here we have evidently a new spiritual force, capable of inspiring with a fortitude in the cause of an unseen Lord which surpassed the heroic devotion of a Roman to his country's good.
(4) The progress and perpetuity of this power stamps it as Divine, as the one great prevalent and successful force working in human society for its purification, its elevation, its lasting and highest welfare.—T.
HOMILIES BY E. HURNDALL
1 Corinthians 4:1, 1 Corinthians 4:2
"Ministers of Christ."
I. WHAT THEY ARE.
1. Ministers. Not masters; servants, not lords. The word means literally "under rower," or common sailor, and is generally used of the lower class of servants. Ministers are the mere servants of Christ; they have no authority save that which they may receive from him. "Be not ye called Rabbi" (Matthew 23:1-39. Matthew 23:8). A domineering despotic spirit is altogether out of place. If any will be chief, he must be servant of all. Many ministers have trouble with their Churches because of their own masterful spirit. Like Rehoboam, they do not heed the sage counsel, "If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever" (1 Kings 12:7). Some of the Corinthians had unduly exalted their teachers (1 Corinthians 1:12); others perhaps had regarded them as utterly insignificant ("I of Christ"); Paul defines the legitimate position. Ministerial activity is hinted at; ministers are to be workers, not idlers.
2. Ministers of Christ. This makes their calling most honourable. They are servants of the Church, servants of their fellows, but not primarily. They serve the Church and their fellow men because they desire to stove Christ. They are
(1) appointed by Christ;
(2) responsible to him;
(3) to be judged by him;
(4) to be devoted to him;
(5) to speak in his Name;
(6) to preach him and his redemption;
(7) to rely upon his help;
(8) to take orders from him;
(9) not to originate, but to ascertain his mind.
3. Stewards. A position
(1) of trust and confidence;
(2) of influence;
(3) of responsibility;
(4) of some peril;
(5) of much honour.
4. Stewards of the mysteries of God. "Mystery" in the New Testament does not mean something incomprehensible, but something beyond the reach of unaided human intelligence. The "mysteries of God" are thus "hidden" (1 Corinthians 2:7) until revealed by him. They are the truths of the gospel—"the truth as it is in Jesus." Ministers have special charge concerning these truths—
(1) to preserve them;
(2) to dispense them.
As stewards, they should be deeply impressed with
(1) the vast importance of the "riches" entrusted to them;
(2) the need of utmost care in discharging the duties of their office;
(3) the awful issues to themselves and others if they are remiss.
Many are satisfied if self approved or if praised by others; but Paul looked to the judgment of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:4). We are not to be despondent if we are "unpopular" with men, so that we are approved by our Lord. Though "unpopularity" with men is very far from being an argument that we please our Master: "The common people heard him gladly," and probably would so hear us if we were more like him.
II. A NECESSARY QUALIFICATION. Faithfulness. This is a first requisite in those who are "stewards of the mysteries of God." Stewards must not use their lord's goods for their own advantage. What evils result from unfaithfulness in an earthly stewardship I who can estimate the evils flowing from an unfaithful ministry! A minister should be faithful:
1. To Christ, in
2. To his flock.
(1) Preaching unadulterated doctrine. Not corrupting the Word of God. Not substituting something else for it.
(2) Rightly dividing the word of truth.
(3) Reproving, rebuking, exhorting with all long suffering and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2).
(4) Striving "to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus" (Colossians 1:28).—H.
1 Corinthians 4:3-5
Human and Divine judgments.
I. REFLECT THAT HUMAN JUDGMENT IS FALLIBLE. It is needful to remember this. Many laugh at "infallibility" when it affects a pope at Rome, but are much disposed to believe in it when it affects a pope at home. We should not forget that
(1) our powers are limited;
(2) our information often very defective;
(3) our minds very subject to bias. Our fallibility should lead us:
1. To take heed how we pronounce final judgments. There are some things about which we should not judge at all, as altogether transcending our powers and province. About many things we are compelled to form judgments, and to act upon the judgments formed. But finality of judgment may often be profitably avoided. We should particularly observe this when our judgments affect:
(1) The providence and dealings of God.
(2) The character, motives, deserts, of our fellows. We see the deeds, and may pronounce upon them as such, but we must remember that the heart is hidden from us.
(3) Certain matters connected with ourselves, it may be well to judge ourselves severely, since our tendency is to take too favourable a view of our own conduct. We may acquit ourselves when we ought to condemn ourselves. Implicit faith cannot be reposed in the voice of conscience; it may be perverted. Our judgment of ourselves should command our confidence only when we feel sure that our judgment agrees with God's judgment.
2. Not to be disconcerted if harshly judged by our fellows. If an enlightened conscience does not condemn, fallible human judgment should not greatly depress us. We should value human judgment, not overvalue it. Rightly estimated, it is under such conditions "a very small thing;" under all conditions, a very small thing compared with the judgment of God. To our own Master we stand or fall. So fallible is human judgment that often the best men have been counted the worst, and the worst the best.
II. REFLECT THAT DIVINE JUDGMENT IS INFALLIBLE. That judgment will be exercised upon us and all around us when the Lord comes; or rather, that judgment is now being exercised, and then will be declared. The day of the Lord will be a day of universal and infallible judgment. When the Lord comes:
1. Hidden things of darkness will be brought into the light. So much is hidden from us; nothing will be hidden from him. We judge from part; he sees all. No darkness can hide from him; no hiding can baffle him.
2. There will be heart revelation. How carefully veiled the heart often is now! How different the counsels of the heart from the expressions of the lips and the actions of the hand! Heart revelation must bring widespread condemnation. Yet may we not say also that often, if we had known the counsels of the heart, we should have more favourably estimated the conduct? The whole man will be disclosed at the day of the Lord.
3. There wilt be award. Praise will be administered—"due praise;" for so the rendering might be. Therefore valuable, for unmerited praise is of nothing worth. When God judges, the result will not be all condemnation by any means. There will be praise as well as blame—"due praise," and, let us not forget, "due blame." The reference, however, is not to our salvation, but to God's judgment of our conduct as his servants.
Live for the judgment of "the day of the Lord," not for the judgment of "man's day". The one "a small thing" indeed! The other how great! When the Lord comes, some praised of men will be censured, and not a few blamed of men will be praised.—H.
1 Corinthians 4:7
Our indebtedness to God.
I. REFLECT UPON THE FACT. Are apt to forget it altogether. So anomaly is often presented of our quarrelling over "possessions" which do not belong to us, and boasting of that to which we have no title. The air we breathe, the world we dwell upon, our food, clothing, and shelter, our "prosperity" as we fondly call it,—these things are lent to us by God. So also our powers—yea, our very existence is not of ourselves, but of God. If we were to have taken away from ourselves all that we have received through the free benevolence of God, what would be left? Our salvation, our spiritual joys, our glad prospects, are also of him.
II. DUE REMEMBRANCE OF OUR INDEBTEDNESS WILL HELP TO CHECK PRIDE. We are apt to regard things as though we had not received them—as though they were our own in some other sense than as received from God. Thus we become proud of our attain merits and belongings, and glory in ourselves as possessors, if not originators, and not in God. For the luxury of boasting we easily delude ourselves. A gracious recollection of the actual state of the case should do something in the way of shaking the throne of conceit and vain glory. Pride is great folly as well as great sin, and when we indulge in it we have to smother our common sense. And of all pride, "spiritual pride" is the most reprehensible and the most absurd.
III. DUE REMEMBRANCE OF OUR INDEBTEDNESS MAY INCLINE US TO USE ARIGHT WHAT WE HAVE RECEIVED. Instead of pride, we should feel responsibility. Instead of boasting, we should desire to employ wisely and well the Divine benefaction. The things which we handle, see, and have, are not ours, but God's. We are stewards, and presently shall have to give an account of our stewardship. We should ask, For what are these things given? What does God wish us to do with them?
IV. DUE REMEMBRANCE OF OUR INDEBTEDNESS WILL TEND TO INSPIRE GRATITUDE AND LOVE. He distinguishes us by his bounty. All we receive is of pure benevolence; we have done no work for it, we have not merited it. If only a little had been withheld, we should have lived in misery. Our joy and usefulness are dependent upon Divine gift. We thus get glimpses of the love of God, and, as he has first loved us, we should also love him.
V. DUE REMEMBRANCE OF OUR INDEBTEDNESS WILL TEND TO QUICKEN FAITH. How much God has done for us! We have not to trust for that! It has come to pass. And will not the Unchangeable continue to help us and to supply all our need? We have the promises, and the past tells us of no broken promise. Past experience should speak death to present doubt and fear.—H.
1 Corinthians 4:8-10
Irony in religion.
I. SCRIPTURE WARRANTS THE USE OF IRONY IN CERTAIN CASES. Scripture is here fully at one with common sense and experience. There are certain conditions which can be most successfully touched by the shafts of ridicule: certain positions which can be carried most effectually by light artillery. In the Old Testament the folly of idolatry is often exhibited in ludicrous lights. Take, for example, Elijah's words on Carmel (1 Kings 18:27). Here Paul employs the weapon of satire. The Corinthians, in their carnality, conceived themselves to be at the very height of spirituality, They had attained already—and that without much knowledge of the daily cross. They had reached the goal suspiciously early, They were full; their knowledge was complete. They were rich; never were there such amply endowed Christians. They reigned as kings—none so high as they—monarchs of all they surveyed. And all this without the insignificant aid of such a very commonplace teacher as Paul! They had far transcended their early master. They were now so wise that he in comparison was quite a fool (1 Corinthians 4:10). They were strong, impregnable, triumphant; he evidently was weak, very weak still. Had he not been with them "in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" (1 Corinthians 2:3)? Was not that a very common condition for him to be in? Upon them crowded honour, dignity; they were "all honourable men." He was despised and despicable; clearly they were in paradise. In the paradise of fools! and with majestic simplicity, but with keenest irony, Paul states the case as it appeared to them, and as it necessarily resulted from the position which they had assumed. If that did not open their eyes, they were blind for evermore. The Corinthians resembled the Laodiceans (Revelation 3:17).
II. BUT IRONY IS A KEEN AND DANGEROUS WEAPON, AND SHOULD BE EMPLOYED WITH GREAT CARE. A suitable weapon for the hands of Paul, not of necessity for ours. Appropriate for some occasions, not for all.
1. Its use should be limited. We may easily run to excess. Irony is rather a pleasant weapon to use. Its employment in Scripture is not frequent. In this Epistle it is, indeed, used, but only occasionally.
2. It may profitably be accompanied by sober argument. So we have it here.
3. It should be employed in a spirit of love and with sincere desire to benefit. Not to make men ridiculous for the sake of making them so. Not for our own diversion. It should not be bitter. Paul was intensely solicitous to benefit the Corinthians; he had no pleasure in causing them pain. Note how in the midst of ironical utterances he expresses his fervent longing, "Yea and I would that ye did reign" (1 Corinthians 4:8), The object of his irony is to lead them from a mock kingship to a true.—H.
1 Corinthians 4:11-13
The best and most useful often the most afflicted.
I. HISTORY AND PERSONAL OBSERVATION TEACH US THIS. Read Hebrews 11:35-38. Paul's case is a striking illustration. Note the
(3) strangeness, of the apostolic afflictions.
See also another list (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
II. LET US LEARN THAT:
1. Affliction is not always significant of Divine displeasure. Often we have chastisement because of our sins, but sometimes sorrow comes to us when most firmly we tread the path of duty. Under such circumstances it should not dismay or depress us.
2. Suffering—even severe suffering—is not always a valid reason for relinquishing active service. Some people are too anxious to "retire." Work done under suffering is sometimes marvellously effective, Our woes fit us to deal with the woe begone. When under great stress we feel that we can do nothing, we sometimes become Samsons; when we feel that we can do everything, we are generally mere Philistines.
3. Much affliction need not necessarily be even a hindrance to us in our work. Paul's sufferings did not make him less active in the cause of Christ. He abounded in toil whilst he abounded in sorrow.
4. Affliction comes to us in the path of duty, it should not drive us from that path. Most of Paul's sorrows were caused by his zeal and faithfulness. He would preach Christ. To choose an easier path would not have been wise for him—is not wise for us.
5. Affliction is sanctified to God's faithful servants. Beyond all doubt Paul was greatly the better for his many sorrows. Humanly speaking, he could never have been Paul without them. That which seems likely to hinder may help. Men who have to do much have generally to suffer much. Biography furnishes multitudinous illustrations of this.
6. Extraordinary sufferings sometimes bear with them the promise of unusual usefulness. Idlers have thus been made remarkably diligent, sleepers have been awakened, the worldly have become consecrated. The first true and inspiring view of Christian service has been obtained from the flame of the furnace. The apprenticeship of some "of whom the world was not worthy" has been served in the fires. Some great lives have begun with martyrdom.
7. Affliction should be received in a spirit of meekness, even when it comes directly from men who have no reason to use us ill. Paul, when reviled, blessed; when persecuted, calmly endured it, without after retaliation; when defamed, he entreated (perhaps God to pardon his enemies). Herein Paul was like Christ. He employed conquering kindness. To imitate him will require much grace. It is often much easier to take affliction from the hands of God than from the hands of men.—H.
1 Corinthians 4:14-21
I. A VERY TENDER RELATIONSHIP. Paul notices:
1. The way in which the relationship is formed. (1 Corinthians 4:15.) The spiritual father
(1) "begets" his children
(2) in Christ Jesus
(3) through the gospel.
He finds them "strangers to the covenant of promise," strangers to Christ, strangers to the Church; but under the preaching of the truth they are led by the Spirit to lay hold of salvation: they become in Christ "new creatures," are "born again;" and he who has been the instrument employed in their conversion becomes their spiritual father. This relationship is a limited one, but nevertheless deeply interesting and important.
2. That it differs from the relationship existing between a mere teacher and learner. None can be to us what those are who have brought us to Christ. They have a peculiar claim upon our love and gratitude. "Ten thousand instructors make not one father." We may love our teachers, but they are not our parents.
II. THE DUTIES OF THE FATHER TO HIS SPIRITUAL CHILDREN.
1. He should be watchful over them. As Paul was. They need much care; they should not be left to shift for themselves. A pernicious opinion is rife, that when people are "converted'' no further trouble need be taken about them. As though when a child is "born" it is to be cast adrift and left to take care of itself! No wonder that there are so many spiritual cripples, so many diseased, so many weaklings, and not a few religious imbeciles. Fathers should look after their spiritual children; as far as possible we should see that our converts, if not under ours, are under good influences.
2. He should manifest a loving spirit towards them. They should be peculiarly dear to him. In many ways they may try his patience, but it should bear the trial. He should cherish them. Paul fed the Corinthian babes with milk; he did not discard them because they were not what he would have had them to be. He did not indulge in undue severity; fathers are not "to provoke their children to wrath" (Ephesians 6:4).
3. He should be faithful, ever inclining towards tenderness, but not sparing the rod when it is called for. (1 Corinthians 4:21.) Willing to rebuke when rebuke is necessary, but not fond of rebuking. Paul was gentle but decisive. He sought to nip evil in the bud. Foolish fondness lets the evil grow till it is too great to cope with. Correction must be wise, or it will be pernicious. Sometimes the placing of a faithful child amongst the unfaithful may be very efficacious for the latter. Paul sent Timothy (1 Corinthians 4:17).
4. Acting and living so as to be a fit example. We have no right to expect our spiritual children to follow us closely unless we are following Christ closely. Paul could say, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1). He does not exhort them to follow him as a party leader, but to imitate him as he sought to imitate Christ. He set a good example. It is what we are rather than what we say that has influence. Spiritual children have quick eyes.—H.
HOMILIES BY E. BREMNER
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
"The ministers of Christ."
The Corinthians were to be delivered from their tendency to glory in men, by being taught to regard them as a part of their heritage. All teachers were for their use, not the particular one whom they chose as their party leader. Besides, a right view of the ministerial office should prevent all boasting in men.
I. HOW MINISTERS ARE TO BE REGARDED. They are:
1. Servants of Christ. They are not "lords over God's heritage" (1 Peter 5:3), the chiefs of the kingdom. Their true dignity lies in serving the Lord Jesus, from whom they take their orders. They have no authority beyond that which is committed to them. Nor are they the servants of men. Obedience to their own Master delivers them from subjection to every ether (comp. on 1 Corinthians 3:5).
2. Stewards of the mysteries of God. The Church is God's house, in which he alone is Master; apostles and other teachers being dispensers of the good things of the house, the great doctrines of the faith. Every man is a steward, being entrusted with the laying out of the gifts conferred upon him, and the improving of the opportunities put in his way. But this is true in a special sense of the Christian minister. He is entrusted with the dispensation of the Divine mysteries to men. He is not called to deal out his own things, but the saving truth of God, giving to each his portion of meat in due season. How responsible an office! This view of the Christian ministry should guard us against two common extremes. On the one side, ministers are not lords, endowed with a kind of supernatural power, and set to rule the consciences of men. On the other side, ministers are not the servants of the people, appointed to teach only some favourite type of doctrine. They are the servants of Christ, charged to deliver his truth, whether men will hear it or not.
II. FAITHFULNESS THE GREAT REQUISITE. Every steward must give account of his stewardship, and the chief thing required is fidelity. Men ask of a preacher, "Is he able, eloquent, attractive?" God asks, "Is he faithful?" Fidelity does not depend on the quality or quantity of the original gifts, but on the use to which they are put. The man with two talents receives the same reward as the man with five, because he has been equally faithful (Matthew 25:21, Matthew 25:23). Nor is fidelity measured by what men call success, since it is often incompatible with popularity. Let the much gifted minister beware; let the little gifted take comfort. "Well done, good and faithful servant."
III. THE MINISTER'S JUDGE.
1. Not the congregation. It was a very small thing in Paul's view to be judged of men. The verdict of the people on a minister's discharge of duty is not to be lightly laid aside. If they praise, let us beware of being satisfied with this; if they condemn, let us the more thoroughly search ourselves. But from this verdict there must ever be an appeal to a higher tribunal. Men cannot read the motives that lie behind the outward act, nor can they gauge the proportion between a minister's powers and the use he makes of them. Their measure of fidelity must always be imperfect.
2. Not the minister himself. The apostle disclaims being his own judge. He cannot charge himself with any remissness in duty, but he does not regard this as an unfailing proof of fidelity. He distrusts his own verdict. Let those who think themselves perfect ponder this statement. A good conscience is very precious, but let us not run into the folly of measuring ourselves by ourselves. Conscience is not the final judge in the matter.
3. The Lord is his Judge. "Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? to his own lord he standeth or falleth" (Romans 14:4). This is man's judgment day; let us wait "until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts." The verdict of that day will proceed upon a perfect knowledge of the whole case, and every steward shall receive the praise of God according to the just award of the Judge. Wherefore:
(1) Do all your work remembering that Christ is your Judge. He knows your weakness as well as your strength, and sees the honest desire to serve him beneath many an apparent failure.
(2) Do not sit in judgment upon, others. Christ will judge his own servants.—B.
1 Corinthians 4:6-13
Against self conceit.
Party spirit leads to the undue exaltation of men. The head of a faction becomes a hero in the eyes of those that belong to it. Two evil consequences follow—pride, self sufficiency, conceit, on the one hand; undue depreciation of others and boasting against them, on the other hand. Against this hateful spirit the apostle has already presented a variety of arguments; and while speaking chiefly of himself and Apollos, he has in reality been teaching us how to regard all the ministers of Christ. They are not to be exalted beyond the position assigned them in Scripture, nor are they to suffer themselves to be puffed up with pride one against another.
I. A COGENT ARGUMENT. "For who maketh thee to differ?" If we are better than our neighbours, or possess gifts which they do not possess, we have God to thank for it. This question should be asked in view of all earthly privileges—health, wealth, position, education. More especially with regard to spiritual benefits. Who maketh thee to differ from that reeling drunkard, that erring sister, that condemned felon, that poor imbecile, that blind heathen? "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10). The thoughts awakened by such an inquiry should silence all boastfulness, and call forth praise to him to whom we owe all. Spiritual pride robs God of his glory.
II. AN IRONICAL PICTURE. "Already are ye filled, already ye are become rich, ye have reigned without us." You speak as if you had already attained perfection and participated in the millennial glory. You are not only rich, but seated as kings upon the throne. I would it were really so, for then we also might share in your glory; but alas! ye reign without us. You fortunate ones are exalted, but we poor apostles are still suffering on the earth. Thus does Paul hold up the self conceit of the Corinthians to derision. A warning for all time to those who run off with a part of the truth as if it were the whole. Like the perfectionists of our day, these Corinthians had fallen into the delusion that they had reached the goal. Spiritual pride is very subtle and very dangerous. This picture is suggestive when viewed in connection with the low morality prevalent in the Christian community at Corinth. Note here the legitimate use of irony, as in the case of Elijah (1 Kings 18:27) and Isaiah (Isaiah 44:9, etc.). Evil has its ludicrous side, and the exhibition of this is sometimes more effective than plain argument. Irony, however, is a dangerous weapon, and needs to be handled with skill. The anger that pours ridicule upon an opponent must have behind it a heart of love, if its wounds are to prove wholesome.
III. A PATHETIC CONTRAST. With the proud position of the Corinthians, Paul contrasts the suffering condition of himself and his brother apostles. Consider:
1. The general picture. "For, I think, God hath set forth us the apostles last of all, as men doomed to death." He seems to have in view the exhibitions given in the amphitheatre, at the close of which criminals condemned to death were brought in to fight with wild beasts or with one another. The sufferings of the apostles were a spectacle to the world, men and angels beholding them with interest. And what was true of these servants of Christ is true in part of every believerse We are wrestlers in the arena, fighting for dear life, with a myriad eyes upon us (comp. Hebrews 12:1).
2. The details of the picture. Very touching is this description of apostolic life, supplemented by the fuller details in the Second Epistle (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). Follow the steps of the homeless evangelist as he goes from place to place, earning his own bread while preaching the gospel, suffering many privations, exposed to many perils, and treated as the refuse of the world. No wonder if men called him a fool. Looked at from the outside, scarcely any life could appear more miserable; but all is changed when we know that it was lived "for Christ's sake." Love to him made the fellowship of his sufferings a matter to boast of. Are we willing to endure hardship for the Lord's sake? Are we taking up the cross he lays athwart our path?
IV. A CHRIST LIKE SPIRIT. Suffering for Christ is also suffering with Christ. He too was despised and rejected of men; and where he is there must also his servant be. In addition to this we have here suffering endured in the Spirit of Christ. "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure, being defamed, we entreat." This was according to the Lord's commandment (Matthew 5:44), and after his example (1 Peter 2:23). How really noble is such a life! The truly strong man is he who can rise above the reproach and hate of men, and regard them with Christ like compassion. Contrast this humble following of Jesus with the proud boasting of the Corinthians.—B.
1 Corinthians 4:14-21
The father and his children.
The apostle has used sharp words, but they have been dictated by love. He has written as a father who desires the correction and not the shame of his children.
I. SPIRITUAL FATHERHOOD.
1. How constituted. "For in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel." Conversion is the beginning of a new life, the birth by which we enter on spiritual being. This change is wrought by the agency of the Holy Spirit, on the basis of Christ's redemptive work; the Spirit's instrument is the Word, the incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23); and this Word is administered by servants of the gospel. In a subordinate sense, Paul could speak of himself as the father of the Corinthian Church, inasmuch as he was the means of introducing them to the Christian life. The relationship is a peculiarly tender one, carrying with it much honour and much responsibility.
2. How distinguished. "For though ye should have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers." The teachers who succeeded Paul at Corinth, and of whom they made so much, were like pedagogues who superintended the education of children. Theirs was an important work, but it did not alter the fact that the apostle was their spiritual father. They built on the foundation which he had laid. There is no disparagement of those who minister to the culture of the Christian life, as compared with those who are instrumental in commencing it. The evangelist and the teacher have each his own place in the Divine economy. Yet the relation of spiritual fatherhood is one by itself, different from that subsisting between teacher and scholar. Often the two go together, the pastor being also the father.
3. Implies the duty of admonition. It is the part of a father to "reprove, rebuke, exhort," in all fidelity. Spiritual fathers must not be blind to the faults of their children. Love must patiently instruct, affectionately entreat, sharply chastise. Witness the paternal severity of the apostle in this Epistle as he "admonishes his beloved children."
4. Implies the setting of a worthy example. "Be ye imitators of me." The eyes of the children are towards the lather, and they cannot help copying him. Example is powerful in all spheres, and most of all in a sphere so conspicuous as the Christian ministry. It confirms the truth taught, encourages believers, rebukes the ungodly, draws inquirers to the Saviour. Every servant of Christ should be able to say, "Follow me." Yet our imitation of other Christians, even the most eminent, has its limits. Men are imperfect, reflecting but brokenly the image of Christ; and no wise teacher will desire to see his own peculiar mannerisms reflected in his people. Human example is useful only in so far as it helps us to imitate Jesus.
II. SOLICITUDE FOR THE CHURCH'S SPIRITUAL INSTRUCTION. Like a true father, the absent apostle desires to further the spiritual growth of his converts, and with this view sends to them a personal deputy.
1. The mission. In order to promote their imitation of his humble, self denying life, he sends a messenger to recall to them "his ways in Christ." The remembrance of a good man's life is a help to piety. The memory of some departed saint has often proved a guiding star. And so is the recollection of truth already learned. It is part of the preacher's work to press home old truths and deepen their hold of the heart and conscience.
2. The missionary. There was wisdom in sending a deputy, and in the choice of Timothy for the mission. As the apostle's "beloved and faithful child," he stood in the same spiritual relation to him as did the converts at Corinth. He could speak to them as a brother of their common father's doctrine and life. The visits of wise and faithful servants of Christ are often instrumental in reviving the Church's life.
III. APOSTOLIC VISITATION.
1. Carried out in the face of detraction. Those who sought to undermine Paul's authority asserted that he would not again venture to visit Corinth; but in spite of this he declares his intention of doing so. The servant of Christ needs courage.
2. Subject to Divine direction. "if the Lord will" (comp. James 4:15). Man proposes, but God disposes. All our plans for the future must be subject to his control.
3. To test spiritual profession. The proud boasters at Corinth were great in talk, and Paul wished to show whether there was reality behind it. For power is the chief thing, not mere speech. The kingdom of God, i.e. genuine Christianity, is not an affair of words, but of living power. "Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost" (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Profession must be tested by practice. A religion of the lip is vain without the religion of the life.
4. Proceeds according to circumstances. Whether Paul was to come with a rod or in love depended on themselves, The discipline of the Church takes its complexion from the character of the persons with whom it deals, being severe or tender, as the case requires. A combination of fatherly love and wisdom is required in those who are called to deal with the erring.—B.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
1 Corinthians 4:2
This is a principle approved alike of God and man. Stewardship implies responsibility, and responsibility demands faithfulness. The principle is applicable specially to the ministry of the Word. No responsibility like that of those who are called to keep watch and guard over the mysteries of God, to minister in Christ's Name the richest treasures of his grace. Note St. Paul's own profound sense of his responsibility. It was a comparatively "small thing" to him to be "judged of man's judgment;" but the consciousness of the righteous judgment of God was always present with him, and the anxiety to approve himself to him as one who "needed not to be ashamed" was perhaps the deepest and strongest emotion he knew. And the principle may be applied to everything that distinguishes us personally among men, and that puts any power for good into our hands (Parables of the Unjust Steward, of the Talents, etc.). Intellectual capacity, educational advantages, wealth, social position, power of speech, any kind of artistic or constructive skill, vigour of physical health, abundance of leisure time,—these and such as these are endowments that put the possibility of incalculable good within our reach, and for the use of which we must give account. All human life is a sacred stewardship. In every position in which Providence has placed us our fidelity is being put to the test, our loyalty to God and to conscience, to the eternal principles of truth and righteousness, to the sovereign authority of the Law of Christ. It is required of us that we should be faithful always and in everything. And if at heart we are faithful men, it will be seen to be so. Observe respecting this stewardship—
I. THAT IT IS INDEPENDENT OF WHAT SEEMS TO BE THE RELATIVE IMPORTANCE OF THE POSITIONS WE OCCUPY AND THE MATTERS WITH WHICH WE HAVE TO DEAL. What we call the trivial and commonplace affairs of life are quite as effectual a test of moral faithfulness as the greater; often more so. We are prone to treat lightly what seem to us to be "little things," and for that very reason they are often the truest revealers of our character. Our real dispositions come out most clearly in the way in which we deal with them, because then our behaviour is most spontaneous, unpremeditated, free from artifice. If you want to know what a man really is, don't judge of him as he appears on the broad open platform of public life, but follow him into his more private ways, and see how he speaks and acts when he feels himself to be beyond the ear and eye of the world, and in matters on which no great consequence seems to hang. It is quite possible to raise a purely artificial standard of moral obligation, and to magnify unwisely certain scruples of conscience. But a really conscientious man will be conscientious in everything. And as a feather or a straw will show which way the stream is flowing, so do the trivial circumstances of life reveal the moral drift of our being. (Note the bearing of this on the probation to which Adam was subject: "Thou shalt not eat," etc.) What is daily life to every one of us but a series of silent tests of our inward fidelity? We are hedged in by little restrictions, called to take upon us manfully the burden of many unwelcome duties; to suffer many abstinences, rebukes, self mortifications. And when we are disposed to overstep the boundary, because at certain points it seems so narrow or so low, we show that we have not learnt the full surrender of the spirit of obedience. "Offending in one point" of the law of our allegiance, we betray a spirit that is "guilty of all." So as regards the right use of faculty and passing opportunities of doing good. The temptations that belong to a low order of personal faculty and a narrow range of personal influence are often greater than those that belong to the highest and the largest. You do nothing because the utmost you can do is so little; or you do carelessly and half heartedly what, as it seems to you, for anything the world would really be the better for it, you might neglect to do at all. The spirit that dictates this is one that would trifle with the loftiest powers and abuse the noblest possibilities of life. "He that is faithful in that which is least," etc. (Luke 16:10).
II. ALL PRACTICAL FIDELITY IN THE STEWARDSHIP OF LIFE HAS A TENDENCY TO DEVELOP INTO HIGHER CAPACITY AND NOBLER DEED. Note here the power of habit. Accustom yourself with an earnest spirit to meet the claims of every day duty as in the Master's sight, and you call to your aid a power and obey a law of life by which the highest moral victories shall ultimately, be won. Let our children be trained to act from principle and not from mere passion or policy, to habits of self surrender, to simple forms of Christian service, and they will become so habituated to the right way that when the heavier responsibilities of life begin to fall upon them they will be prepared bravely to meet them—the "yoke will be easy and the burden light." Thus is it given to us all to educate ourselves for what awaits us in the future. The Jews say of David that "God tried him first with those few sheep in the wilderness, and then, because he faithfully and bravely kept them, took him from the sheepfolds to feed his people Israel." Only use manfully whatever moral power you possess, and you need not fear any strain that shall ever be put upon it. Cast yourself freely upon your faith, and though it be now but as a "grain of mustard seed," it shall be mighty enough one day "to remove mountains."
III. SUCH FIDELITY LEADS TO BLESSED ISSUES IN THE GREAT FUTURITY. It is not given to us to trace the path of moral threes very far in this world. Our judgments are often at fault, our forecasts often strangely falsified. Only very imperfectly and with cautious hesitating steps can we follow the winding and widening stream of earthly issues. And who shall say how some of the unnoticed doings of every human life, and the results that grow out of them, will appear in the all revealing light of the day when "God will bring every work into judgment and every secret thing, whether it be good or bad"? But of this we may be perfectly well assured, that to a lifelong endeavour to serve and please the Lord Jesus Christ there must be a blessed eternal reward. Let our life be a faithful one, a work faithfully wrought out in his Name, and we need not fear but that it will prove itself to be a life worth living and that ends well "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).—W.
1 Corinthians 4:20
Not in word, but in power.
The exact point of this affirmation is to be determined by the circumstances that called it forth. The apostle refers in the context to his personal adversaries in the Church at Corinth. They spoke against him, "puffed up" by the spirit of proud hostility. But he will come and put their pretensions to the test. He will "know, not their words" only, but the amount of real "power" that there is in them. This suggests the genera! relation of the "word" to "the power" in the kingdom of God as an organized fellowship. Seen in several particulars.
I. ITS MEMBERSHIP. Not a question of professed creed, or ritual observance, or forms of godliness; but of the energy of a Divine life in the soul, transforming the whole being of a man into a "new creature." "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit," etc. (John 3:5); "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink," etc. (Romans 14:17); "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision," etc. (Galatians 6:15).
II. ITS MINISTRY. Not by the utterance of mere forms of speech, the establishment of ecclesiastical systems, the multiplication of the means of Christian culture; but by the diffusion of the living force of truth, and the silent sovereign power of the Spirit of God. "It is the Spirit that quickeneth," etc. (John 6:63); "Our gospel came unto you not in word only," etc. (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
III. ITS ADMINISTRATION. Not by hollow pretence, or blatant assumption, or self constituted officialism; but by the authority that lies in real personal capacity, distinguished goodness, saintly character, effective spiritual power (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9).—W.
1 Corinthians 4:20
The kingdom is power.
The contrast between word and power is familiar to our minds. To say of a man that he is a stickier for the letter, a pedant about forms, a zealot for words, is to say that he is shallow and tiresome. A wise man looks beneath the skin and shape of things to their substance. An effective man goes in for power. Yet the world is governed by words as the expressions of thought and purpose. Education is conducted, opinion is formed, all human combinations of knowledge and practical force are got together, and held together, by means of fit words. The kingdom of God itself is introduced by the Word of testimony. What avails not is mere repetition of words after the manner of a charm, or "vain jangling" about verbal forms. Especially irksome must all such metallic clatter of words without profit have been to a man so much in earnest as St. Paul. No doubt there was much of it among the Christians at Corinth, where to the minute pedantry of Jews was added the inveterate disputation of Greeks. The apostle wished to discourage their sharp word contests, and gave notice that, on his next visit, he would probe the arrogant pretensions of certain talkers very closely. Their speech would avail them little if they failed in spiritual power. Such cautions against religious verbalism are needed constantly. Just because Christianity owes so much to true and faithful utterances, rests on testimony, and requires much teaching, it is peculiarly liable to be weakened by hollow, pretentious, or disputatious speaking. Therefore must we emphasize the futility of religious words without the informing Spirit of life and power. The great characteristic of the kingdom of God, as announced by Jesus Christ, and spread abroad by his apostles, was its penetrating and elevating dynamic. It had a quiet but potent energy. It could "turn the world upside down;" could break off Jews from self righteousness and Gentiles from idolatry, abase the proud and exalt the lowly, make the wise simple and the simple wise. And what was this power? It was the force of truth, the diffusive element of light, the majesty of righteousness, the sublime persuasiveness of love. It was all this, and more. It was the heart piercing and enthralling energy of the Holy Ghost, working with and by the Word. God gave the increase. In the light of St. Paul's compact and weighty saying, look at—
I. THE KINGDOM OF GOD AMONG OURSELVES. We speak not of a particular Church, but of the kingdom moving forwards in the midst of Churches variously constituted and administered. Church usages and appointments may, and indeed must, change. It is not possible or desirable to reproduce in the nineteenth century, and in the West, the very Church of the first century in the East. But the kingdom of God must be, and is, the same. It is "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." Wherever these are found, they betoken the presence of a heavenly power. But a Church may appear strong, and yet be at heart cold and weak. It may be irreproachable in word and form, clothed with venerable traditions as some old wall is mantled with ivy; it may be exemplary in all the routine of prayer and preaching, and yet be barren and ineffective, because it has nothing but forms and words; and "the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." It is quite impossible to overcome the world, abase the proud, sober the frivolous, arrest the mind that is busy with a thousand trifles, or lift up the spirit that has debased itself to avaricious deceits or to those fleshly vices which civilization cannot overcome, by words ever so well chosen, services ever so comely, forms of godliness ever so correct. What is wanted is the kingdom of God in power.
II. THE KINGDOM OF GOD ELSEWHERE—EVERYWHERE. Even if we take a very hopeful survey of missionary work, we must confess that Churches have been too languid in purpose, too pedantic in method, and in some places too jealous of one another, too ready to cry, "Lo, here!" "Lo, there!" It is the kingdom of God which should be preached; and if only its power comes to be felt, we might all keep our minds comparatively easy about the moulds into which new life may flow, or the forms under which Christian activity may organize itself throughout the world. It is a startling and mournful fact that in countries where our faith has been professed for centuries, we have yet to discuss the evidences of Christianity. Christian literature has reached an almost prodigious development; and Christian teaching and preaching are not scarce. Yet the world does not believe or obey the gospel. Surely there is a hiding of power. Rise up, Christians! gird up the loins of your mind. Be evidences of Christianity, known and read of all. There is no witness so luminous and so irresistibly convincing as that which comes from the practical effect of the gospel on the minds, consciences, dispositions, and conduct of the men and women who profess to believe it.—F.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
1 Corinthians 4:1, 1 Corinthians 4:2
The Christian teacher a steward.
The apostle here intimates what are right thoughts for Christian people to cherish concerning their teachers, tie uses two words, "ministers," "stewards," the former of which is familiar, the latter needs some explanation. A minister is "one who serves," and no more honourable thought can be attached to the Christian teacher than that he serves Christ among his people, and serves the people for Christ's sake. Our Lord himself said, "I am among you as he that serveth;" and St. Paul says to his converts, "Ye serve the Lord Christ." We propose now to dwell more fully on the figure of the steward. A Christian teacher is to be thought of as a "steward of the mysteries of God." The word "steward" is used in England for a "land bailiff;" but in the East it was employed for a person put in trust of all his master's goods—"such as was Eliezer in the house of Abraham (Genesis 24:2-12), and Joseph in the house of Potiphar (Genesis 39:4). It was one of the main duties of such a steward to dispense their portions of food to the different members of the household (Luke 12:42), to give the slaves or servants their "portion in due season." Compare the words "housekeeper," "house ruler," "house feeder," and see Matthew 24:45. The apostle's point is that the Christian teacher is not to be esteemed for any particular qualifications which he may have of his own, but simply for his faithfulness in doing his work as the servant of God. Christian congregations may fall into either of two errors; the "Christian minister may be glorified, or made an idol of, in two ways—by party worship of the man, or by attaching a mystical or supernatural power to the office." Both the minister himself, and those among whom he labours, do well to keep ever in mind that he is but a steward, only Christ's servant, to minister to them in Divine things. We consider, then—
I. THE STEWARD'S TRUSTS. "The mysteries of God." Mysteries were familiar things to those whom the apostle addressed. "The word 'mysteries' is derived from a word signifying to close, to shut, and was in the old Greek civilization used to denote those rites which were only permitted to the initiated, and were kept a strict secret from the outside world. Of such a kind were the well known Eleusinian mysteries, which were kept every fifth year at Eleusis, in Attica; the rites of the Bona Dea, which were observed at Rome; and those of Isis and Mithras, which were of Egyptian and Persian origin." It should be noticed that the word "mystery" is used in the Scriptures in two distinct senses:
(1) for things that are hidden from the ordinary understanding; and
(2) for things that in past times were unknown, but are now revealed to those who believe the gospel. The term is chiefly used in this latter sense. When St. Paul exclaims, "Great is the mystery of godliness," he means the "revealed mystery," of which he immediately speaks, even God, or Christ, being "manifest in the flesh." The trust of the Christian teacher is, then, the revealed mystery of the gospel, and this may be said to have three centres round which it gathers:
(1) the Incarnation;
(2) the Sacrifice;
(3) the Resurrection.
The Incarnation reveals the mysteries of God and of man; the Sacrifice reveals the mysteries of sin and of redemption from sin; and the Resurrection reveals the mysteries of immortality and of sanctification. So these are the great truths and trusts of which the Christian teachers are "stewards." Their work is to minister these truths, in all their varied adaptations and applications, to the people of their charge. Happy, indeed, are they who can close their ministry pleading as St. Paul did, "I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God."
II. THE STEWARD'S RESPONSE TO HIS TRUSTS. "Found faithful." The thought of St. Paul seems to have been that due inquiry is made into the character and trustworthiness of a man before he is put into the office of a steward; as he elsewhere says, "Let them first be proved." But we may fairly include under his language the reasonable expectation that the man who is entrusted with a responsible position and work will be "found faithful" in his doing of it. Then we must inquire what should be the faithfulness of a Christian teacher, or indeed of the Christian man, to whom the gospel mysteries have been revealed. It should be manifest in three departments:
1. He must be faithful to his Master, God; seeking his service only, and his glory only.
2. He must be faithful to the truths he has received; carefully setting them, and not any mere ideas he may have about them, before the people; and seeking to set the whole of them, and not merely portions in which he may be personally interested, before his congregation.
3. He must be faithful to the people to whom God may have sent him; taking up the burden of their spiritual needs on his own heart; feeling ever as did good Samuel Rutherford when he said, "God is my witness, that your salvation would be two salvations to me, and your heaven two heavens to me!" Impress that the more deeply we feel the greatness of our trusts, as having had the great religious mysteries in part revealed to us, the more serious becomes for us the question of our "faithfulness;" and the more shall we feel the need for solemn times of self searching and self criticism. It is an unspeakable honour to be entrusted with the "mysteries" of God and of Christ and of redemption from sin; but all true and humble souls say with the apostle, "But who is sufficient for these things? "—R.T.
1 Corinthians 4:3-5
A threefold judgment of the Christian teacher.
The thought of the apostle is evidently occupied with the disposition of the Corinthians to form judgments for and against different Christian teachers, and to make parties by their preference for one over another. There seems to have been a critical habit, which was applied to the work of each minister; and such a habit is always found seriously to injure the work of our ministers, and fatally to influence that openness and receptivity of spirit on which due reception of Christian teachings depend. It may be especially pointed out that the habit of discussing the work of the clergy in our families, depreciating some of them, and unduly praising others, has a most mischievous influence on the younger members of our households. In this passage St. Paul strongly urges his indifference to any judgments that may be formed about him. He was simply but heartily trying to do Christ's work under Christ's lead, and he could wait for his Master to judge what had been the quality and the value of his work. He speaks of three kinds of judgment to which the Christian teacher may be subject.
I. MAN'S JUDGMENT. We must all do our work with the feeling that, at least, our fellow men have their eyes upon us, and form their opinions concerning us. Illustrate how we form estimates of one another. When great men die, the judgments which their contemporaries formed of their work finds expression in numerous articles and books; and when the friends of simpler folk meet at their funerals, their talk shows how the tone and character of the dead man's life has been fully—sometimes fairly, and at other times unfairly—estimated. Now, such judgments of our fellow men may be helpful to us when they find expression in our lifetime.
(1) They are if they help to increase our sense of the seriousness of our duty;
(2) they are if they lead us to know ourselves better, to see and to correct our mistakes;
(3) they are if they make us more anxious to win men's approval by a higher faithfulness to our duty.
But the thought of man's judgment may be mischievous if it
(1) makes us nervously sensitive to merely human opinion;
(2) if it makes us self conscious; and
(3) if it makes us in any sense or degree more anxious about the praise of men than the praise of God. We may value men's good opinion as an encouragement; we may consider men's severe judgments as helping us to see our faults; but we may not permit our settled life work to be hindered by men's opinion, nor our hearts to be depressed by men's criticisms. We serve the Lord, not men.
II. SELF JUDGMENT. St. Paul says, "I judge not mine own self." Show how important to all Christian workers is self knowledge, and the power to fairly weigh and estimate one's own doings. So many fail because, while heeding everybody's criticism, they fail to criticize themselves. But wise and helpful self judgments are
(1) very dependent on natural disposition;
(2) on particular bodily and mental moods; and
(3) on the measure and degree of a man's self love.
The duty is plainly taught by the apostle when he said, "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged" (1 Corinthians 11:31).
III. THE LORD'S JUDGMENT, "He that judgeth me is the Lord." That judgment is stricter than any man's, and than any which we can make concerning ourselves. These points may be illustrated as impressing the superiority of the Lord's judgment.
(1) It is most searching;
(2) it concerns even our motives;
(3) it is infallibly correct;
(4) it is going on every day now;
(5) it is in measure revealed to us now;
(6) it is in measure kept from us now, that our freedom may not be unduly limited;
(7) it will be fully revealed to us by and by; and
(8) on it our allotments of place and work in the "eternities" must entirely depend.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 4:6
Differences according to grace received.
One can but be struck with the prudence and delicacy of the apostle in not mentioning the actual names of the party leaders at Corinth, but illustrating his principle from such more prominent names as his own, that of St. Peter, and that of Apollos. He avoids any charge of personality; and names only the greater leaders, that the Corinthians might learn not to be puffed up for any minister. All teachers are but men, and all are to be esteemed for the Divine gifts that may be entrusted to their charge. We may not "glory in man," only in God, who distributeth to each man severally as he wills, using this man and that for whatever service he may please. F.W. Robertson, speaking of the Christian ministry, well says, "The qualities which are requisite for the higher part of the ministry are—great powers of sympathy; a mind masculine in its power, feminine in its tenderness; humbleness; wisdom to direct; that knowledge of the world which the Bible calls the wisdom of the serpent; and a knowledge of evil that comes rather from repulsion from it than from personal contact with it. But those qualifications which adapt a man for the merely showy parts of the Christian ministry are of an inferior order—fluency, self confidence, tact, a certain histrionic power of conceiving feelings, and expressing them. Now, it was precisely to this class of qualities that Christianity opened a new field in places such as Corinth. Men who had been unknown in their trades suddenly found an opportunity for public addresses, for activity, and for leadership. They became fluent and ready talkers; and the more shallow and self sufficient they were, the more likely it was that they would become the leaders of a faction." The correction of this evil is indicated in our text. The humble sense of grace received, and the burden of responsibility in so high a trust, should keep all Christian teachers in their right place. Recognizing the differences of men's gifts according to the grace they have received, we should value each man for what gift and grace he may have; but we should take care never to make contrasting estimates, nor allow ourselves to be "puffed up for one against another." The following points may receive illustration from other portions of St. Paul's Epistles, especially from the two to the Corinthians, and from those known as the "Pastoral Epistles" (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus):—
I. THE DIVERSITY OF GIFTS ENTRUSTED TO CHRISTIAN TEACHERS, The work to which they are called is very various in its forms and demands. In the family there must be a variety of services, and ability for each; and in the state a variety of offices, and a fitness for each. So in the Christian Church. For its upbuilding there is needed the gift of architect, and carver, and mason, and labourer, and carpenter. The gift of the preacher differs from that of the teacher, and that again from the gift of the organizer. If we once fully admit that all gifts are of grace, and each an unspeakable honour and an overwhelming responsibility for him to whom it is entrusted, envy of each other would pass for ever away, and we should thankfully use each man for the service God has fitted him to render.
II. ALL DIVINE GIFTS ARE UNTO EDIFICATION. God never bestows anything on any man that he may get praise of men or worldly honour for it. All God's gifts are for use. All are entrusted to us for the sake of others. All bear upon the "fully furnishing of our fellow men unto all good works."
III. ALL, TOGETHER, WILL BE FOUND TO MAKE UP A COMPLETE CIRCLE OF THE MEANS OF GRACE. We fail in:
1. The effort to bring out the various gifts of men into use. The Church is everywhere rich with the gifted unknowns, and the gifted idler.
2. In the due recognition of the spiritual completeness which God, in his providential leadings, brings to our Churches.
3. In the consequent freeing of men from duties for which they are unfitted, that they may fully cultivate and use their special gift. Impress that the thankful recipiency and use of the Divine provisions for our spiritual needs should master all personal feeling towards individuals. We should honour the Master who arranges the gifts, and honour the servants only for his sake.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 4:8-12
Suffering for others a proof of interest in their welfare.
Recall Paley's argument from the sufferings of the early Christians as to the sincerity of their belief. Similarly, St. Paul urges here that the troubles and persecutions which he and the other teachers had endured in ministering to the Churches, ought to convince the people of his love and zeal for their highest welfare; and should also be felt to set him in such intimate and confidential relations with them that he might claim the right to reprove and correct. We all know that reproof cannot be easily or usefully accepted, save from those whom we know love us truly and sincerely seek our highest well being. From these verses two subjects may claim consideration—
I. GOD'S MISSION FOR APOSTLES, LOOKED AT, KINDLES ENTHUSIASM. "We are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men." Watching such a devoted, self sacrificing, heroic life as that St. Paul lived ought to stir us up to enthusiastic efforts to follow so noble an example. Illustrate how the story of great martyrs and great missionaries has, in all ages, been used to inspire lesser men to noble things. "Lives of great men all remind us," etc.
II. GOD'S MISSION FOR APOSTLES, CARRIED OUT, AWAKENS SYMPATHY. (1 Corinthians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 4:12.) Fully detail the sufferings which St. Paul underwent, and the bodily frailty which made those sufferings so exceedingly trying (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-30). After our Lord in his closing sufferings, no man so awakens our tenderest sympathy as does the Apostle of the Gentiles. Illustrate how, in modern missions, the Pattesons and Livingstones have excited world wide sympathy. Illustrate also how their constant sufferings made Baxter's and Robert Hall's continued and devoted labours so affecting to us. Or refer to the power, on his little audience, of Adolphe Monod's talks from his bed of suffering and death. St. Paul shows what made his sufferings so interesting to us—they were borne as submissive obedience unto God; and as vicarious for us; and this ought to give him a persuasive power and a full right to advise, and reprove, and correct, and warn, and teach.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 4:16
Imitators of men.
The Revised Version of this passage reads, "I beseech you therefore, be ye imitators of me." It may, however, be disputed whether the word "followers" is not a better and more suitable one to express the apostle's idea. Mere imitating is the work of the unintelligent; it is represented by the mere reproduction of sounds and manners such as we have in the parrot or the monkey, or more fully in the child. For men, all mere imitations are either signs of mental and moral weakness, or they are the accidents attending on an intelligent acceptance of the principles which another man exhibits in conduct. We are not, in the limited sense of the word, even to imitate Christ; we are to "copy his example," and to "follow in his steps;" but when more fully and worthily apprehended, we find that what we really are to do is to "let that mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus." In the passage now before us St. Paul has been speaking of his relationship to the Corinthian Christians. He was their father in Christ; "For in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." And he is really pleading with them to preserve the family likeness which should accompany such a relation. But it may be said—Are we ever justified in following or imitating our fellow men? We reply—Yes, so far as men are Christ like, we may; so far as they are more Christ like than ourselves; so far as they have reached any Christly virtue or grace beyond us, we may. And since there is a sense in which Christ must ever seem to us out of reach; since of his virtue we must ever say, "It is high, I cannot attain unto it;"—it may often be really helpful to us to see his virtue reflected in a fellow man, and manifestly brought within the reach of human attainment. This may help us while we are weak, but when we more fully grasp the truth of our Lord's humanity, we shall realize that Divine virtues were shown by him in a human life precisely that we might feel the possibility, of attaining them, and so seek to be "changed into his image." After dwelling on the "imitative faculty," its uses and abuses, consider that—
I. GOOD MEN MAY BECOME MODELS FOR US. Observe:
1. That in every age some men have risen above their fellows in moral virtues; and some have been set in prominent positions so as to attract the attention of their fellows.
2. From the Scripture models which are preserved to us, learn:
(1) That no merely human being can present his entire human life, the whole circle of his doings, for our imitation. "There is none righteous; no, not one." Illustrate the sides of moral infirmity in all Scripture characters—Abraham, Moses, David, Hezekiah, Peter, Paul, etc.
(2) That each becomes a model of some one characteristic feature; e.g. Abraham of faith, Moses of disinterestedness, David of habits of personal piety, Paul of singular loyalty to the living Christ. So with modern saints, and the holy ones from our own circles; in some one thing each is strong, and just in that one thing each may be a model.
II. GOOD MEN'S MODELS ABE, AT THE BEST, BUT IMPERFECT. Sensible of this, David says in his prayer before God, "My goodness extendeth not to thee; but to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent." Even in the one thing in which they are strong, God can find weakness. When we most admire, we are compelled sadly to feel that the "trail of the serpent is over it all." So we must use men's examples as but incomplete copies of the Divine, and remember that our aim is to transcend any previous human attainments, and to be "perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect." Whatever there is in men that is imitable is but a reflection of Christ, and we may have shining on us what they have in measure caught, even the very light of Christ himself. We may "follow his example, who did no sin?
III. CHRIST IS OUR GREAT MODEL, AND MEN ARE MODELS ONLY SO FAR AS THEY BRING HIM NEAR AND GLORIFY HIM TO OUR THOUGHT. We must take this knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus, and have, in measure, caught his likeness. Impress that we may fully copy Christ's life, but only very seldom can we copy men's actions; we can only seek to be possessed and ruled by the same principles.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 4:18-20
Speech and power.
These are by no means always associated together in the same man. Oftentimes they seem quite unable to dwell together. Speech is in inverse ratio to power. The free talker is seldom a vigorous thinker; and the boaster can never gain any real power by his extravagances. It seems that, at Corinth, there were some loud talkers, who depreciated St. Paul's authority, and endeavoured to destroy his influence. They made out that his "bodily presence was weak, and his speech contemptible;" and they mockingly said, "No doubt he writes very vigorous and terrible letters, but he is afraid to come himself." "These persons persuaded themselves that they had so undermined his reputation that he would not dare to come again to Corinth, and they grew more self asserting in consequence." Paley notices an undesigned coincidence between this passage and 2 Corinthians 1:15-17; 2 Corinthians 2:1. There evidently had been some uncertainty about his visit, of which his opponents took undue advantage.
I. SPEECH WITHOUT POWER. A mere gift of fluent talk is granted to some men. It is seldom associated with vigorous mental power, and is a perilous gift because it can be so readily misused. Such speech may be pleasant to listen to, as is the murmur of a flowing stream. It may be popular; it may be exciting to mere sentiment; it may be boastful. Its influence is small and temporary. It bears very little relation to the correction of moral evils, or the culture of the godly life.
II. SPEECH WITH POWER. Speech which is
(1) the utterance of thought;
(2) which bears the "accent of conviction;"
(3) which is carefully set in adaptation to the hearer; and
(4) which is uttered in dependence on Divine leadings and inspirations.
Here the word is used by St. Paul especially to mean "the power that is derived from Christ, which he himself possesses to influence the heart of man. It includes, no doubt, the power of working miracles, for, with one or two exceptions, the miracles of the gospel were manifestations of Christ's power to deliver humanity from the dominion of evil and its consequences." Speech with power is that kind of speech which directly influences the heart and the conscience, and leads to the fuller apprehension of truth, the conviction of sin, or the discovery of neglected duty. It may comfort, instruct, counsel, or warn. Dr. Horace Bushnell says, "Three distinct elements must be included in preaching which has the genuine power.
(1) A descent to human nature in its lower plane of self love and interested motive, and a beginning made with the conscience, the fears, and the boding expectation of guiltiness.
(2) The due exhibition of the Christian facts. In the Apostles' Creed nothing is included but the simple facts of Christ's life. Too little by a thousandfold is made of these facts. How much easier to preach the decoction (doctrine), and let the dried herbs of the story go! It might be so if they were really dry; but since they are all alive, fresh and fragrant as a bank of roses, how much better to go and breathe among them, and catch the quickening odours!
(3) The right conception of the gospel, and the fit presentation of it, under the altar forms provided for it." And Canon Liddon, in his 'Bampton Lectures,' pp. 168, 169, has the following passage:—Picture to yourselves a teacher who is not merely under the official obligation to say something, but who is morally convinced that he has something to say. Imagine one who believes alike in the truth of his message, and in the reality of his mission to deliver it. Let his message combine those moral contrasts which give permanency and true force to a doctrine, and which the gospel only has combined in their perfection. Let this teacher be tender, yet searching; let him win the hearts of men by his kindly humanity, while he probes, ay, to the quick, their moral sores. Let him be uniformly calm, yet manifestly moved by the fire of repressed passion. Let him be stern yet not unloving, and resolute without sacrificing the elasticity of his sympathy, and genial without condescending to be the weakly accomplice of moral mischief. Let him pursue and expose the latent evil of the human heart, through all the mazes of its unrivalled deceitfulness, without sullying his own purity, and without forfeiting his strong belief in the present capacity of every human being for goodness. Let him know 'what is in man,' and yet, with this knowledge clearly before him, let him not only not despair of humanity, but respect it, nay, love it even enthusiastically. Above all, let this teacher be perfectly independent. Let him be independent of the voice of the multitude; independent of the enthusiasm and promptings of his disciples; independent even when face to face with the bitter criticism and scorn of his antagonists; independent of all save God and his conscience. In a word, conceive a case in which moral authority and moral beauty combine to elicit a simultaneous tribute of reverence and of love. Clearly such a teacher must be a moral power." Impress that such teachers we should seek to find; such was the Apostle Paul; and under the power such can exert we may hope to grow into the "stature of the perfect man in Christ Jesus."—R.T.
1 Corinthians 4:21
Adaptation the teacher's power.
Evidently St. Paul desired to be precisely adapted to those whom he would teach. The tone and the substance of his teachings would directly depend on their moral condition. As a faithful teacher, he tells them it must depend on them whether he came to them "with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness." A brief outline will sufficiently guide thought on this subject.
I. ADAPTATION INVOLVES KNOWLEDGE.
1. General knowledge of human nature.
2. Particular knowledge of those to whom we minister.
3. Sufficient knowledge of the measure of our authority and influence.
4. Practical knowledge of the corrective instruments which we may use.
II. ADAPTATION INVOLVES DISCERNMENT.
1. Discrimination of the precise condition in which those we influence are at the time.
2. Of the differences in which each one may stand related to the evil we reprove.
3. Of the limitations to which reproof may be wisely subject, and of the time when the tone may be changed to one of encouragement.
III. ADAPTATION MAY DEMAND SEVERITY. Which may be very trying to our feelings, and very difficult in view of our disposition; but must be made to characterize our relations, if we would be found faithful. The severity of gentle souls is the mightiest persuasive to goodness. It was quite out of St. Paul's way to be severe, but, for that very reason, we feel his severity the more.
IV. ADAPTATION PREFERS COMMENDATION. So St. Paul writes, urging the Corinthians to remove the evils before he comes, for he would so much rather have only kindly and encouraging things to say. Impress that, as we are to God, he must show himself to us. See Psalms 18:24-26. And in the same way, as we are in godly habits, in moral and spiritual condition, so—in precise adaptation—must our faithful teachers be.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/