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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament
1 Corinthians 4

 

 

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Verse 1-2

THE APOSTLES BUT THE MINISTERS OF CHRIST

1, 2. Here he certifies that they are but the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Therefore it is exceedingly out of place to follow them. If it was glaringly inconsistent for them to follow the apostles, how infinitely more so it is for the people in our day to be following the uninspired denominational leaders! It is a shame.


Verses 3-5

3-5. He is now striking at those who had impeached his apostolical authority, pronouncing him an innovator or an interloper, because he was not one of the original twelve. Well does he assure them that God, the Judge of all, will settle all of those controversies.


Verses 6-8

6-8. Here for a matter of mere convenience he applies the controversy to himself and Apollos, shaming those partisans who had been disposed to focalize around a favorite apostle, instead of receiving all possible good from each one of them, and giving God the glory. “In order that you may not be puffed up one in behalf of one against another.” Well does he impute the party spirit manifested to pride, that old mother sin down in the deep interior of the heart, which nothing but the sanctifying fire of the Holy Ghost can exterminate, substituting for it perfect humility. Paul knew that if they were perfectly humble they would simply love all their preachers with perfect love, and praise God for all the good they saw in each one, and go ahead, following Jesus only. He now indulges in some withering irony, castigating them severely for their party spirit. While the Aegean Sea rolled between them, he does his best to correct their errors, follies and apostasies before he meets them face to face.


Verse 9

9. For I think that God has manifested forth us apostles, lashed, as it were, exposed to death, because we became a theater to the world, to angels and to men.” Having above scathingly withered their spiritual pride by his cutting irony, referring to them as enjoying regal splendor, he swings to the opposite pole of the battery, intensifying the contrast between pride and humility by describing the extremely low and humble estate of the apostles, the representatives of perfect humility. They are daily exposed to martyrdom. The word translated “gazing-stock” in the E.V. is theatron, i. e., theater, the same Greek word used in the English language. This is quite significant. The true, real, free spiritual gospel effects Satan’s rabble just like a theater, as they are utterly blind to the spiritual side of it, and only see the curious, the ludicrous, tragical and comical. When I was preaching in Cincinnati fifteen years ago, a German youth, a born infidel, with a very hard infidel father, one of those bright young fellows born to rule, was reveling in a life of frolic and fun, the recognized leader of a great rowdy band both male and female. Having never been inside of a church, as his father had taught him that it was all hypocrisy and humbuggery, accidentally entering Grace Methodist Church, where Dr. Watson was conducting a wonderful revival, he is literally electrified with the novelty and curiosity. He at once writes a card to each member of his rowdy band, “Come at once, for there is a thing running here that beats the theater out of sight, and does not cost you one cent.” Immediately they pour in. Their champion, a little Dutchman, is eclipsed by the crowd, so he can not see the fun about the altar to his satisfaction. So next night he leaves his rowdy band and comes near the front. Dr. Watson preaches and opens the altar. Many pour in, and red-hot workers run throughout the house. One, putting his hand on the shoulder of the infidel, asks him to come to the altar. The first thought is horrific, repelling. Instantaneously an electric shock passes out of the man of God and runs through the infidel from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. He rushes to the altar and cries aloud. In a half- hour he is up shouting and back preaching to his rowdy band with all his might; and he is preaching yet, God wonderfully blessing his labors. All this resulted from the theatrical phase of that gospel meeting. When a church is alive and all on fire, it affects the unsaved rabble just like a free theater. I have seen this a thousand times. When I had the physical vigor to run evangelistic meetings God made them so magnetic that everything round about was drawn in. They came to see the monkey show, got convicted and stayed to pray. Lord, give us back the apostolic theater. We see this theater is not simply for the entertainment of men, but of “angels.” They are all around us, sympathizing with heroic labor for souls.


Verse 10

10. This verse continues the bold irony by which he castigates their spiritual pride by contrast with apostolical humility.


Verse 11

11. Unto this hour we hunger and thirst.” When they had nothing to eat, they rejoiced in a fast and profited by it spiritually. If I ate like other people, I could not do the work God has given me. I am editor in the morning, teacher in the afternoon, and preacher at night. Hence one meal and a lunch are all I can manage. “We are naked.” This is literal. Of course, it is to be understood in a modified sense. The Orientals do not clothe the entire body like the Occidentals. At that time there were no factories, therefore clothing was scarce and costly. We can not evade the conclusion that the apostles suffered much from insufficient clothing. Their overland traveling was all on foot, which was decidedly in their favor. They were great walkers. “We are buffeted;” i. e., they were often cruelly flogged (2 Corinthians 11:25). “We tramp.” When you turn with disgust from tramps, remember the apostles were tramps. If Jesus were now on earth, He would everywhere be so considered. If Christ and His apostles were now on earth, walking from place to place — their clothing meager, cheap, poor and insufficient, peculiar to the poorest people, soiled and untidy, preaching on the streets and in the hovels of the peasantry, denouncing sin in the clergy as well as the laity — they would be shunned by the influential, shut out of the churches, ostracized from society, and very probably arrested, punished and imprisoned, as when they were on the earth; going into a popular church and speaking, as was their custom, the officers would lead them out, and the service go right on as if nothing had happened.


Verse 12

12. We toil, working with our own hands.” Like tramps in our day, they were ready to perform manual labor for temporal support. “Being reviled, we bless.” Lord, help us to bless people when they abuse us. “Being persecuted, we bear it with no retaliatory spirit whatever.” Lord, help us to do likewise.


Verse 13

13. Being scandalized, we entreat;” i. e., when they tell the most infamous lies on us, covering us with the blackest disgrace, we simply plead with them to turn to our Savior, the sinner’s Friend. “Who became as the offscouring of the world, the refuse of all things to this day.” We see here Paul and his comrades ranked in popular estimation at the very bottom of society, without money, reputation, social standing, influence or friends. Jesus came down to the bottom that He might put His shoulder under the lowest and lift them up. The apostles were like Him. This was necessary to effect an eternal divorce from the world, with its power. “That the excellency may be of God and not of man.” How hard it is to get there and stay! Where is the church that would succumb to it?

“Moreover, the Son of man having come, shall he find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8.)

Lord, help us to accept the situation and be like Thee and Paul.


Verse 14

14. I do not speak these things shaming you, but admonishing you as beloved children.” Truly they needed that plain admonition to save them from the pride which was discovered cropping. God help us all to profit by these admonitions and remember our place is down on the Lord’s bottom; while there we never can fall, as there is no place to fall. Humility is the primary and most important Christian attribute, the antithesis of pride, the most dangerous enemy.


Verse 15

15. For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, but you have not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel;” i. e., the gospel was one instrument in their conversion and Paul was another, and both used by the Omnipotent Spirit in their regeneration. Some have very erroneously tried to construe this passage in favor of regeneration without the Spirit, which is utterly untrue. Paul was simply speaking of the instrumentality, and not of the Omnipotent Agency.


Verse 16

16. During Paul’s absence of three years in Asia, much error had crept in. Many preachers had been with them, some all right, others not so. He prefers to correct the heresies and reform the apostasies at a distance, lest if he waited until his arrival he would have to enforce severe discipline.

Meanwhile he sent to them Timothy, his favorite preacher, who in point of humility, orthodoxy and plainness was almost a facsimile of Paul, whose wholesome teaching was just what they needed.


Verse 18

18. Certain ones were inflated, as if I would not come unto you.” During Paul’s long absence in Asia, some of the preachers from Judea (doubtless sincerely, who were eye-witnesses to the fact that he was not with Christ during His ministry), unfortunately had impeached his apostolical authority. How natural for those who had been with Jesus from the baptism of John to say, “Well, Brother Paul is a good preacher, but no apostle, for I was with Jesus when He called the twelve, and Paul was not in the country, and never came into Judea till after Pentecost. So of course he is no apostle.” The same preachers pointed them to Peter, who also had been there, and commended him as a genuine apostle; not only one of the original twelve, but the senior, honored with the first gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost. This had damaged Paul’s influence among them for good. Some who had imbibed party spirit to their spiritual detriment, and fallen in line with the Apollosican and the Petrine party (though Apollos and Peter gave those parties no encouragement), were crying, “He will not come back here any more.”


Verse 19

19. I will come unto you quickly, if the Lord will, and I will not know the word of those who are puffed up, but the dynamite:


Verse 20

20. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in dynamite” (power). Dynamite is the word here used by Paul, and inspired by the Holy Ghost. It is very significant as the most potent agent in the material world. Some may object to its destructive signification. That is the great salient truth. Humanity is right if the devil and his works were out. God never made anything bad. He made humanity. Hence it is good, if devil-nature were only out. The dynamite of God’s kingdom is fully competent to blow all sin and all devils out of the human organism, spiritual, mental, and physical. When that is done, we are all right. Hence the kingdom of God consists not in word, but in power (Greek, dunamis). It is all right to preach the Word. Through faith in the Word preached, the Holy Ghost imparts the heavenly dynamite for just what we believe, whether conviction, regeneration or sanctification, and we get what we believe for, which is a blowing up into a genuine conviction when the Sinai gospel is believed, a sky-blue conversion when the Calvary gospel is believed, and a glorious sanctification when the Pentecostal gospel is believed. Such is the prerogative of God’s kingdom.


Verse 21

21. The apostle here refers to the castigatory rod of church discipline, which he may find it necessary to wield with great severity; however, he hopes to be able to come to them in “Divine love and the spirit of meekness.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4:4". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ges/1-corinthians-4.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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