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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
1 Corinthians 4

 

 

Other Authors
Introduction

APPENDED NOTES

1Co sqq. Since it was by preaching and teaching that Paul laid the foundation of the Church of Corinth, the builders must be different kinds of teachers. Since the matter taught is the material the teacher uses, this must be the gold, silver, wood, straw, etc. The results produced by the teacher in the hearts and lives of his hearer are the building he erects. He may produce good results which will last for ever and be to him an eternal joy and glory. Since these results are altogether the work of God, and are revealed in their grandeur only in the great day, they are a "reward" given by God in that day for work done on earth. But a teacher may produce results which now appear great and substantial, but which will then be found utterly worthless. He may gather round him a large number of hearers, may interest them, and teach them much that is elegant and for this life useful, and yet fail to produce in or through them results which will abide for ever. If so, the great day will destroy his work and proclaim its worthlessness. But he may be said to build upon the one foundation, Jesus Christ. For he is a professed Christian teacher, and people go to hear him as such. He may be a sincere, though mistaken Christian believer, and therefore be himself saved. But his work, as a teacher, is a failure. Now the permanence of a teacher's work depends upon the matter taught. The soul-saving truths of the Gospel enter into men's hearts and lives, and produce abiding results. All other teaching will produce only temporary results. We understand, therefore, by the wood and straw whatever teaching does not impart or nourish spiritual life. The three terms suggest the various kinds of such teaching. It may be clever or foolish, new or old, true or false; but not subversive of the "foundation," or it would come under the severer censure of 1Co 4:16 sq.… We have Christian examples in many of the trifling and speculative discussions which have been frequent in all ages. We also learn that even of the teaching which produces abiding results there are different degrees of worth; in proportion, no doubt, to the fulness and purity with which the teaching of Christ is reproduced. In both cases the results are the results, lasting or transitory, produced in the hearers' hearts by the use of these materials; results which are in some sense a standing embodiment of the teaching.—Dr. Beet.

"By Fire."—

1. It may be homiletically useful to cast into orderly shape the Bible use of "Fire." Needless to say that the Bible is not pledged to any such unscientific piece of obsolete antiquity as that Fire is an Element—one of four. It is content to take the visible fact, and its palpable effects, as a serviceable illustration, apprehended readily by the child or the heathen, and perfectly good as an illustration, whatever be the scientific revision of our knowledge of the state of the case. For teaching purposes Fire is Heat and, still more, Flame. Flame is now understood to be gas so highly heated as to become in some degree luminous, and generally made more luminous by being loaded with incandescent particles, whether of carbon or other matter. That is nothing new to the Divine Author of Scripture and of Nature; nor was it unworthy of Him, or untrue, that what was to be the popularly apprehensible phenomenon should in the original planning of Nature be so adjusted and adapted as to lend itself well to teach moral truth. Indeed, the devout students of Nature find that both the superficial, phenomenal facts and the deep scientific "laws" are alike parabolic and didactic Nature is full of man, and of truth which man wants. Creation is didactic. "Creation is redemptive."

2. A convenient starting-point is Heb : "Our God is a consuming fire." Closely connected with "God is Light." The difference is here: Light is what God is in Himself; fire what He is in relation to (sinful) mankind. Hence frequently the chosen symbol of His self-manifestation,: the Bush, Exo 3:2; the Pillar, Exo 40:38; Tongues of Pentecost, Act 2:3; Sinai, Exo 19:8; Exo 24:17; Deu 4:36; Vision of God's glory, Eze 1:4; Exo 24:9-11 (N.B. Nadab and Abihu), Dan 7:9; Rev 4:2. In Isa 4:5 we have three manifesting symbols of God combined—light, radiant splendour, burning fire. Still more frequently the accompaniment of His self-manifestation: e.g. "After the earthquake a fire," 1Ki 19:12; "fire goeth before Him," Psa 97:8. Loosely connected with all this are the fiery Chariot and Horses sent for Elijah, 2Ki 2:11; fiery Chariots round about Elisha, 2Ki 6:17. This last and the Pillar over Israel, or the Shekinah in its midst, are gathered up in Zec 2:5.

3. Hence when He accepted, "took," "ate," appropriated, a sacrifice, it was by a fiery manifestation. E.g. at the Ordination of Aaron and the Inauguration of the priestly system and ritual, Lev . So at the Dedication of Solomon's Temple, 2Ch 7:1-3. And in less important instances: Carmel, 1 Kings 18; on Araunah's threshing floor, 1Ch 21:26; Gideon's sacrifice, Jud 6:21. The Burnt Offering, as distinguished from the Sin and Peace Offerings, and as symbol of an entire surrender on man's part and an entire appropriation on God's part, was (as its name says) burnt with fire. And this links on the foregoing to the twofold employment of the symbol as exhibiting the active relation of a Holy God to sinful man.

4. All that could, so to say, be volatilised went up purified and in perfect acceptance; all that was gross and earthly was left behind, to be cast out. Hence, "Baptized with … fire," Mat ; Mal 3:2 brings out the action of the refiner's fire upon metals. So Isa 4:4, "Purged Jerusalem by the Spirit of Judgment and the Spirit of Burning"; "in that day," primarily the return of a purified remnant from Babylon, then the setting up of a Christian Zion, perhaps, by-and-by, a restored and purified Israel once more. Isa 30:23, and more remotely still Isa 29:6, perhaps may better come in later on. The same Holiness which is purifying to the man who desires to be purified, burns as a consuming fire against sin and the sinner who will not be parted from his sin. Hence fire frequently sets forth the holy, active antagonism to evil and evil men, in defence of His people. Isa 30:27, "His tongue a devouring fire; lips full of indignation." "Fury like a fire," Jer 4:4 (against unfaithful Judah and Jerusalem), Jer 21:2. So it proved, Lam 3:3. So against the heathen and Idumæa, Eze 36:5; against Gog, Eze 38:18-19. [Psa 83:14; Psa 140:10; Eze 24:9; Amo 5:6.] God and His people are so identified that they become a fire too, Oba 1:18; Zec 12:6. So in Isa 30:27-33 we have it again. Fire purging the faithful from the unfaithful, sifting the nations, then burning up the pile of Tophet. [But "the King" may (as Talmud) be the Eternal King, and Tophet the burning-place outside the purified, ideal Jerusalem, where all the refuse is to be cast (Mat 13:50).] Certainly the twofold action is seen in Isa 31:9, "Fire in Zion; furnace in Jerusalem"; Isa 33:14. As the Assyrian invasion approached, and the denunciations of holy wrath against sinners in and enemies of Zion, "sinners in Zion are afraid." "Who can dwell with devouring fire?" cry they, "… with everlasting burnings?" i.e. with a God whose holy antagonism to sin never relaxes, never spares, never ends. 1Co 4:15 is the answer. But the principle is here which has occasioned and justified a very frequent use made of this text. God's fierce, fiery antagonism to sin cannot cease unless sin cease—must last everlastingly if sinners live on everlastingly sinners still. Same connection appears in Nah 1:6. Indeed, the whole cycle of events connected with the Assyrian invasion seems the foundation of much Bible language concerning the punishment of wicked. Not only such as Psa 46:9 (usually [not in Speaker] connected with these events), but Isa 9:5, bring up the fires with which the dead bodies and the wreck of the host were cleared away (1Co 9:5 = no fighting, no blood, but simply burning of the litter and refuse and the dead), with, by the usual analogy, a future fulfilment. Isa 66:24 (foundation of Mar 9:44-46 [cf. Stier, Words of L. J., i. 156]; rather the figure of a holy Jerusalem with its Gehenna, its burning-place for all the refuse of the city [Mat 13:50]); here also the fires on the battle-field after Sennacherib's defeat are evidently in the mind of the writer. The battle-field is one vast Gehinnom outside the city walls.

5. Many actual examples of God's vengeance in which fire is the agent of punishment. N.B. these are all examples of sins very directly against His holiness and unique position and claims. Nadab and Abihu, Lev ; Taberah, Num 11:2; Achan, Jos 7:25; Korah, Num 16:35; Elijah and the captains, 2Ki 1:10 (unless, indeed, this be, first and chiefly, God's manifestation of Himself, appealing both to Elijah and to the witnesses and hearers of the event). Above all Sodom, Gen 19:24; referred to in Luk 17:29; and at least shaping the language of Psa 11:6; Eze 38:22; Rev 21:18. [Imagery of Mal 4:1-2 is anticipated by Gen 19:24; Gen 19:23.]

6. So, coming to the New Testament, we find three great cycles of type: (a) Sodom, (b) Gehinnom, (c) Assyrian invasion.

NEW TESTAMENT

1. General.—God's vengeance against sin is fiery, Mat (? primarily the Jewish nation), "Tree hewn down and cast into the fire"; Heb 6:8, the doom of the persistently barren ground. Also of individuals, Mat 7:19; Luk 3:9; Heb 10:27, "Judgment and fiery indignation; 2 These. 1Co 1:8, "In flaming fire taking vengeance."

2. God's holiness is testing.—1Co [though there is here very little of all this typology; hardly more than the commonly observed action of fire]; 2Pe 3:7 (Luk 12:49-52 is connected).

3. Sodom.—Jude , "Suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." Rev 19:20; Rev 20:10, "Lake of fire and brimstone, where the Beast and the False Prophet are" [Rev 18:9, Babylon; cf. Abraham beholding the ascending smoke of Sodom]; the Devil; Gog and Magog deceived by him (obvious ref. to Eze 38:22); who-soever "not found written in the book of life." Rev 14:10, worshippers of the beast and his image, who have received his mark.

4. Gehenna.—Mat , "Worm dieth not," etc.; Mar 9:44-46, referring to Isaiah 66. "Furnace of fire," Mat 13:42; Mat 13:50, where the latter verse, having nothing in the parable connected with it to suggest it—the fish are cast into the water—shows that the phrase had become, or was now first made by Christ, a customary equivalent for the doom of the wicked.

5. The battle-field.—Linked with Mark 9, as above, but originating the phrase "everlasting burnings." In Mat ; figure (almost?) lost. So completely the revelation of the future that we must say: "Whatever be the nature of the punishment of a lost, embodied spirit, if we might ask him what he suffered, he would say, ‘Fire,' as the only earthly analogy available."

6. Mar . A difficult verse. Every man shall—must—come into contact with the holiness of God. Will a man let it (Him) burn away all impurity, and himself thus become a sacrifice salted with grace, and so accepted? Or, refusing this, will he simply meet and feel the fire which never burns itself out?

1Co . There were Hebrew converts in Corinth, and such would easily catch St. Paul's allusion … to the national Temple. This national Temple in the Apostle's mind clearly enlarges and transfigures itself into a Temple spiritual. This living Temple of the Catholic Church is one Temple; it is one, yet elastic; it grows and expands, associating to itself and assimilating, so to speak, many lateral chapels. It is, in fact, an organic unity of several organs, each it itself a unity; it is, in brief, a unity of many contained unities. Each several Church, therefore, of the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church in miniature, so that of the whole all the several parts are themselves wholes; each branch of the Tree is a tree planted in Christ.—Evans, in "Speaker."


Verses 1-5

CRITICAL NOTES

1Co . So.—Choose between (a) a forward reference to "as" (e.g. with Stanley), and (b) a backward reference (with, e.g., Evans, in Speaker, and Beet) to 1Co 3:21-22; meaning: "Let a man account of us as Christ's servants, having moreover the greater thought also present in his thinking, and governing his estimate of us, that we are thus the house stewards in Christ's household for the very purpose of dispensing to him and his brethren these ‘all things' which belong to him, because he belongs to Christ." Servants.—Good note in Trench, Syn., § ix., on the four New Testament words for "servant." See διάκονος and δοῦλος together in Mat 20:26-28. [Mat 22:2-14, where Trench points out that the "servants" who bring in the guests are men, and can be δοῦλοι, but the executioners of the sentence of the Host are angels, who are only διάκονοι.] See δοῦλος and ὑπηρέτης (the word here) together in Joh 18:18. The δοῦλος [slave, bondservant] is bound to a person; the θεράπων does some service to a person, whether as his slave or a freeman, whether for the once, or frequently and customarily; the διάκονος is a man charged with a special task, and to the task, rather than to the person who enjoins it, the word points; the ὑπηρέτης is, so to speak, an attendant charged with the duty of an office. Our word may be studied in Act 13:5; Mat 5:25; Luk 4:20; Joh 7:32; Joh 18:18; Act 5:22. Must not overpress the derivational sense—the "under-rower in a galley"; the ship being the Church, Christ sitting at the helm, the passengers being the members of the Church. Stewards.—Might be slaves, though in positions of important trust. Joseph, e.g. was so. Here the thought is only that their business is to administer the household of their Master, and particularly to deal out the stores of soul-feeding "mysteries" to their fellow-servants of other offices and orders (Tit 1:7; well expounded in 1Pe 4:1, and 1Co 2:1; Eph 3:2). For "mysteries," see 1Co 2:1; certainly not the sacramenta, which word in ecclesiastical Latin, through the Vulgate, has become the equivalent of "mysteries."

1Co .—Notice "here," by a change of reading. Stanley (alone) joins the word with the preceding sentence. A maxim true of all stewardships in ordinary human affairs.

1Co . Judge.—Examine, as if dealing with a man on his defence in a court of justice. So 1Co 9:3. Judgment.—Lit. "day"; parallel to the "day" of God's judgment in 1Co 3:13. (See Separate Homily on that passage for general treatment of the subject.)

1Co . Know nothing by myself.—Not at all to be taken as: "I have no knowledge of Divine things but such as is a gift of the grace of God." Simply a piece of old-fashioned English, still lingering in the provincialisms of some counties. A Lincolnshire peasant, e.g., will say, "What do you think by it?" instead of "think of it," or "think about it." Paul only means, of course, "I am not conscious to myself of anything." He does not say "evil"; that is so generally, however, the issue of any examination and judgment of oneself that almost of necessity it is suggested by his language. Cf. 1Jn 3:20. The Lord.—Paul's largely predominant usage makes this almost certainly "Christ." This is confirmed by 1Co 4:5. It is always Christ who "comes," and who will act as Judge. Yet ultimately, and supremely, though the judgment and sentence is Christ's, the reward is "God's praise." Note "his praise" (giving the force of the article) in R.V.

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS—1Co

Theme: Judgment.

I. The minister's own judgment of himself.

II. Other men's judgment of him.

III. The master's judgment.

I. The preceding sentences of the letter (chap. 1Co ) have been concerned with the Corinthian habit of over-valuing themselves, and with the party idolatry of their (eponymic) leaders. As for Paul he wishes neither to be over-estimated nor to be under-estimated. [There is no virtue in undervaluation of oneself; such over-depreciation is not infrequently not humility at all, but pride—a subtle pride which is hungry to be told that it is too humble and that the self-asserted value is too low. For the sake of the Master's work, a man may well desire to know what he is worth, and what he is fit for, and to what he is adequate.] Paul would be judged "according to truth" (Rom 2:2). To what court shall he go for Justice and for Truth? To the court of Conscience, perpetually "sitting" within his own spirit? This has its value, and its supporting power to him, as he avows (2Co 1:17, where see). A man walking in the favour of God, his spirit continually illumined with the light of the Spirit of God, may know himself. He will guard against self-deception. The grace which is in him will keep him awake to the danger of such self-deception. And whilst there will always be ministers [and workers of every order] whose danger will be an undue, morbid self-depreciation and self-condemnation; just as there will also always be those whose danger lies quite at the opposite pole; in many more the healthy conscience will give them the sustaining force of the knowledge that their aim is as right as they know how to keep it, and their discharge of duty faithful, at any rate up to the measure of their ability and knowledge. Woe to the man who goes about his work without the approval of even his own conscience! Who is unfaithful, and knows that he is! Man's judgment may not condemn him. He may hit exactly the taste, he may meet exactly the desire, of those to whom he ministers; he may give them exactly the only teaching they will welcome, and do neither less nor more in his ruling of the flock than is agreeable to the sheep; he may be personally popular, therefore; he may have the applause of the public as a "successful man," the pastor of "a successful Church." Yet, if all the while the Spirit of God will not suffer him to approve himself, but will keep his sense of right so far alive that not only can he not forget the meaning of the ministry as a "stewardship," or the high ideal of faithfulness to God with which he began his work, but that a voice and verdict within him will ever persistently condemn, he is of all men most miserable. Wretched he who cannot even stand the judgment of himself upon himself.

II. It were folly to pretend to be literally indifferent to the judgment of others. Sometimes, when a conscience has been lulled, or drugged to sleep, or silenced by long neglect; when a man without the guard, or the goad, within him has sunk, not only far beneath the Master's standard of requirement as to faithfulness in His stewards, but even beneath what was once his own; then the rebuke and condemnation of outsiders may do the man a service. It may make for him an objective conscience, and compel him to hear again from others what he used to hear from himself. He has broken or made dull the mirror within him; then the condemnation of "man's judgment" may confront him with his own image in the mirror of Truth in their hand. It would be both foolish and false to pretend to be indifferent to the good opinion of others. If the faithfulness of the steward chance to secure the approval and esteem of other men, he will take it as a grace and a gift from his Lord, to be used, in its turn, like any and every other gift, for the advantage of his Lord's work. The goodwill and esteem of his people are a help to the minister towards doing the people good. Wise and loving fidelity may accomplish something—it must—even where its sharp rebuke or unwelcome dealing puts a strain upon the pleasant relationships between man and man; it will not utterly fail to do good, even when it does its work in the face of indifference or dislike. But where goodwill and affection, and a true estimate of the meaning of the minister's work and office, prepare for, and co-operate with, his fidelity, there it will "have free course." The design of the whole Divine ordinance of "stewardships" for the dispensing of "the mysteries of God" will be then most perfectly fulfilled. However indifferent Paul may have been to the judgment of men, his sympathetic, affectionate nature prized highly the love of those for whom he "spent himself" even to the "spending" of himself "out" (2Co ).

III. Yet none of these "courts" is that of Final Appeal. No absolute and unchallengeable acquittal [or condemnation] can be given even from the bench where Judge Conscience sits, and still less from that other tribunal where "Man" holds the "day" of his assize. Says Paul: "I desire greatly the approval of my own conscience; I believe I have it; as to my stewardship and my fidelity as a steward, I cannot charge myself with any wrong. I do not forget a legitimate regard for the ‘manifestation of myself in your consciences' (2Co ). As a matter of fact, I know that many of you do not give me a very approving verdict. Yet I dare not trim my sails to catch the breeze of your applause. I hold it, indeed, a matter of the smallest moment that you should approve or condemn, in comparison of the one greater, final, absolutely true and just verdict of the Lord." Man is so often to himself a problem utterly perplexing, that he knows not how to hold a just balance in his estimate of himself; he fears to approve too easily, he fears to acquit too readily, whilst, rightly enough, he does not desire to harass himself by condemning without reason. A Christian man is so conscious of the blinding effect of a biassed heart upon the clear vision of his judgment, that even if in the court within he be held clear, he will still report the verdict to the Higher Judge for His endorsement or revision. A faithful, honest worker will be so sensitive to the ensnaring power of too nice a consideration of man's favour or man's frown; he will be so conscious of the deflecting power of an anxiety what man will think or say or do, upon the compass-needle of his conscience; that he will never trust the steering of his course to anything lower than the judgment of his Lord. Up above earthly influences and bias, stable amidst all the revolutions and vagaries of man's opinions and judgments, there it shows, the Divine Pole Star of his direction. He will not disregard, as we have seen, the commendation of his fellows, but he will not "lay himself out" to win it. If they give him condemnation, then he "will appeal unto" the Greater than Cæsar. Against man's judgment, and from man's "day"; whatever also be the judgment of his conscience in its "day" of inquiry and sentence; the matter is carried up to the Great Judge and forward to His "day" and its "Great Assize." For that, amongst other reasons, do Christ's people "love His appearing" (2Ti 4:1; 2Ti 4:8). It was said of Dr. Pusey that the deepest note of thankfulness in all his Te Deum was this, "We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge.… We praise Thee, O Christ!" In that day all the clamour and conflict of the varying and uncertain verdicts of man will be hushed into silence, whilst He speaks. Even now it is no small comfort to a true-hearted "steward" to remember that He knows all about him and his work. All that under-life of motive and aim, which works its way to the surface and becomes obnoxious to man's judgment, only after struggling, as it were, through an overlying medium of imperfect knowledge and of many another limiting disability, is always, and altogether, in His clear view. It may be that He knows the man even better that the man knows himself; that He may judge him now and again more favourably than he judges himself. In any case, He will always be profoundly reasonable in what He expects from the "steward of the mysteries"; no prejudice, or favour, with Him; profoundly reasonable, and utterly and simply just. "Let me"—for the sentence as well as for its execution—"fall into the hands of," not "man," but "Christ." Moreover, the full and final verdict can only be pronounced when the coming of the "Day of the Lord" shall have completed the facts and evidence on which it most justly rest. So, then, Paul will pronounce no final verdict upon his own fidelity in the discharge of his office. "Let it stand over until He comes." The passing, temporary, human judgment may well go for little with him in the expectation of that other judgment. Indeed, he suggests not obscurely that his opponents and detractors at Corinth may have more reason for apprehension in view of it than he has. When "hidden things of darkness and the counsels of the hearts are dragged forth," some men, some apostles, may "have praise of God," but some may have—[How nearly without exception are all our judgments of men and conduct judgments before the right time! How often have even the lapse of a few years or months and the addition of even a single new fact caused an entire revision of some unfavourable judgment on men and actions, till we have stood ashamed at the bar of our own conscience that we judged so hastily, on such imperfect data, and so harshly, and perhaps gave in our words or bearing such unfair and unchristian effect to our hasty prejudice! "Wait till the Lord comes!" "Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the Judge standeth at the door" (Jas 5:9). How often a little more knowledge has shown us that the very confident verdicts of our "righteous" indignation were after all at the best wasted words, and at the worst were so hasty and uncharitable, as to have been sins against the Spirit of Christ! "Therefore judge nothing before the time."] And how precious and glorious a compensation for all the unfair, hasty, or even evil-hearted judgments of men will be His praise! In a moment, all the past swallowed up and forgotten, all the pain gone, all the temporary disadvantages past. Nor is it anything but a laudable motive that a man should make the winning of "praise" in that day an object for which he cultivates "fidelity" to his trust. If He says, "Well done, good and faithful," he surely does not intend, or expect, that we should be faithful for bare fidelity's sake. His "Well done" is in itself an object to be worked for. Finally, if praise is not for ability only, or chiefly, or for success, but for faithfulness, all may win that! [The Pounds, Luke 19, exhibits graduated reward according to graduated results from equal ability and endowment. The Talents, Matthew 25, exhibits equal praise for unequal ability and endowment, because of equal fidelity. Both are true principles of the judgment.] [Said Bishop Thirlwall, writing to a friend, "The law of God's kingdom is ‘He that is faithful in a few things shall be made ruler over many things.' But how little it matters whether there are many or few, so long as there is the faithfulness which makes the most of the few, and can do no more with the many."] [Robertson, Expos. Lectures, in loco, says: "Learn not to judge, for we do not know the heart's secrets. We judge men by gifts, or by a correspondence with our own peculiarities; but God judges by fidelity. Many a dull sermon is the result of humble powers, honestly cultivated, whilst many a brilliant discourse arises merely from a love of display. Many a diligent and active ministry proceeds from the love of power. Learn to be neither depressed unduly by blame, nor, on the other side, to be too much exalted by praise. Life's experience should teach us this.… And our own individual experience should teach us how little men know us! How often, when we have been most praised and loved, have we been conscious of another motive actuating than that which the world has given us credit for; and we have been blamed, perhaps disgraced, when if all the circumstances were known we should have been covered with honour. Therefore let us strive … to be tranquil; smile when men sneer; be humble when they praise, patient when they blame. Their judgment will not last; ‘man's day' is only for a time, but God's is for Eternity."]

SEPARATE HOMILIES

1Co . The Stewardship of the Minister.

I. The office.—

1. No great Fact in God's order is simple. It is only in the "elementary" stages of His work that we find what is not complex, many-sided in its aspects and relationships. The permanent, developed "ministry" of the Church was in even Apostolic times becoming a many-sided fact, needing many analogies to set it forth. Each one [as in all cases of teaching by analogy] has its strong point of teaching and applicability; often with its many weaker, where it does not bear pressing, or using at all. There it is supplemented by another, strong where it is weak, but needing in its turn the strength of the first to be its complement in exhibiting the whole round of the truth. The men are here called "ministers" (see Critical Notes); they are "Shepherds" (Eph , etc.) who "bear rule" (Heb 13:17) with whatever of authority a Shepherd must of necessity have over the Flock. They are "Teachers" (Eph. as above, etc.). They are "Presbyters" or "Elders" (e.g. Act 20:28), and indeed, like those of Ephesus, are "Overseers" or "Bishops." They claim whatever respect and weight of influence is needful to enable them "to watch over souls (cf. Ezekiel 3; Ezekiel 33) as they that must give account" (Heb. as above). This last clause completes the circle of ideas by inserting into its round the link of the thought found in the word "Stewards."

2. Stewards, not priests.—This name is never given to any order of men selected out of the general body of the Christian community. [Even as they are "ministers" of the Mediator, and not themselves mediators.] The priesthood of the Old Covenant order is, like every other essential, fundamental, basic idea of that order, brought forward into the new. There is a "priesthood" still. The essential lines which govern the representation of the office and function are still there, plain enough to establish the identity, the continuity. But they are modified; touched here, filled up in more detail there, emphasised in a third point; and, above all, are now found in complete exposition in the Man Christ Jesus, and only in Him. [Moses spoke of the coming Prophetic Order in Deu ; the prophets, every one, in anticipatory, suggestive, partial presentation embodied God's Idea, which was by-and-by to be fulfilled in the One Prophet. Of Him pre-eminently did Moses speak (Act 3:22; Act 7:37). Similarly he might have said, "A Priest shall the Lord your God raise up," etc. Indeed, the fulfilment of such a saying would already have begun in the Priestly Order which had been established. Also remember how the Idea of Priesthood in its highest function more and more clearly stood out to men's apprehension, until the very phrase "High Priest," unknown at first, became a necessity of religious thought and expression.] The complete, two-sided significance of Mediatorship is exhibited in Him who is "the Apostle"—sent out from God to man—and the "High Priest"—going in from man to God—"of our profession" (Heb 3:1). And the offering of a sacrifice which made atonement for sin, the culminating point of the priest's office, to which everything else was only sequential and subsidiary, is now restricted to Him. In that sense Christianity knows only the one "priest." The "steward" is no "priest." The many, mortal priests, themselves sinners needing atonement, have yielded up their office and honour to the undying, holy One—The Son, "consecrated for evermore" (Heb 7:23-28). And if indeed anything of the hierophantic office of the priesthoods of the Gentiles seem to cling to the work of the man who has to deal with the "mysteries of God," yet there is manifest and vital difference. The hierophant took in—into the penetralia of the building as well as of the doctrines—the few favoured ones, the esoteric circle, the illuminandi; took them in as a favour from himself, which he had the right to withhold, as well as to confer. The "steward" does impart "mysteries" indeed. But he has no right to withhold them; he has no right to make them the possession of a favoured few; their disclosure is his duty, he must bring them out to all. "Must bring them out" also. The figure must not be overpressed; but he is not the priest leading some into an inner darkness and secrecy; he is a steward bringing out from the store-chamber what is to be given freely to all waiting outside who need what he brings.

3. Stewards, not proprietors.—They have no controlling rights over the disclosure of the truth. They are only the "ministers" of Christ in the matter, passing on, giving round, to the hungry multitudes what He has blessed, and what has only been given into their hands that it may be given away widely by their hand. ["So" exactly means, "All things are yours," 1Co ; cf. 2Co 4:15.] They are not to indulge in the selfish indolence of the man who sits in his study, reading, reading, reading, thinking, learning, acquiring, but only slightly if at all attempting to enrich his people with the fruit of his growing knowledge of the "mysteries." They have it, they are entrusted with it, to pass it on. The apostles, no doubt, might and did satisfy their own hunger with the marvellous bread, but the fainting five thousand had the prior claim. Etymologically "stewardship" is "economy." But the ecclesiastical "economy" in the disclosure of truth has travelled a long and aberrant way from the idea of "stewardship." It is one thing to see to it that the "babes" have only their "milk," whilst the men of full age are fed with their "meat" (Heb 5:12-13); it is another thing in fear, or with dishonest tact, to suppress or modify truth, in the presumed interests of "truth," or in the interests of a Church or an order of men, or for the security of some conciliar or personal dogma. Whatever is the truth of God should all be told to all. He can be trusted to take care that its widest disclosure works no real, no lasting mischief. Better the risk of mischief than of manipulation by not too honest stewards. The Bible Society is an organised expression of the stewardship of the mysteries entrusted to the Church of Christ in the gift of the Word of God. It is given to the Church to be given by the "stewards" with world-wide liberality of distribution. They may not even detain it in the store cupboard!

4. Stewards, not discoverers.—God is the Fountain of all the knowledge they impart. The Son is the Revealer of it all; He has drawn back, so far as it is drawn back at all, the veil under which lay hidden what the time has now come to disclose. [Cf. "Has brought to light Life and Immortality" (2Ti ). They are not new things; they were facts before; they were there all along; but they were under a covering (? Isa 25:7).] His stewards do but publish widely what He has been Himself taught, and is commissioned to disclose. [He may take as bis own the words of Balaam, Num 24:13.] Nothing else lies within the four corners of a steward's commission; anything else is ultra vires. He may not devise a Gospel, he may not add to the Gospel speculations of his own, not fairly deducible, or to be proved, from the definite instructions and disclosures given to him (Gal 1:8-9). An "original thinker" in the ministry of the Church has properly his only "originality" in the analysis, and the fresher or clearer or more profitable presentation of the original corpus of "mysteries," and in the skill and fulness of knowledge with which he is able to bring from all quarters what may be laid under contribution for the illustration of their meaning and their message to men. He stands before his people as simply, by natural gifts, by special study, and by special training, "an expert" in their exposition.

["The mysteries" are dealt with under 1Co , 1Co 15:51.]

II. The fidelity expected of the steward.—There is

(1) fidelity, with responsibility, to the Lord Himself; and

(2) fidelity to the matter of the mystery and to the persons designed to be benefited by its disclosure; in these senses, partly accommodations of the idea of "fidelity," the responsibility is still, and only, to the Lord Himself. Beginning with

(2). Paul has his own illustration, from the innkeeper who adulterates his wine (2Co ). [The converse is suggested, under the connotation of another figure (1Pe 2:2).] There must be no tampering with the mysteries. The fashion in such "wine" may change; the public palate may be perverted; it may demand the produce of another vineyard; but he at least will only supply this, of the best and purest he knows how to procure. He will spare no cost of pains and prayer to get this, that he may have it to offer. But he dares not—he desires not—to offer anything else. He may have the pain, and be put to the test of fidelity, of seeing those whom he desires to supply, leave him, to turn aside to the man who will give them a more popular vintage. But, for one thing, that old Gospel [not to press the figure too far] saved him, and still comforts and sustains him. In "faithfulness" to the mystery whose revelation has blessed him, and many ten thousands more, he will still dispense that. It is his presumed function and office to preach and present the "mysteries of God" in their Divine, unmingled simplicity. He is a living falsehood if. whilst he is presumed to do that, and whilst the people expect that of him, he offers something of merely human devising or imagining; or the "mystery," indeed, but so overlaid with rhetoric, or the speculative supplements of undisciplined or uncurbed reasoning, that it is hidden and neutralised, put in such a form as never fed or saved anybody. He owes some "fidelity" to this very message, to the matter which has been disclosed by God, and of which he is a steward. Also, he must be faithful to his people. Indeed, if they are wise, they will wish him, and help him, to be faithful. If fidelity in a steward be needful anywhere, it is in dealing with Divine truth. "By these" mysteries "men live" (Isa 38:16). These are not merely gains to knowledge, however accurate, enlarging, ennobling. They are men's life. It is of urgent necessity to them to possess in its unadulterated purity and in unstinted quantity the truth in the mysteries. It is Bread of Life for dying souls. They are a foolish people who will only ask for, and will only tolerate, what truth is pleasant or conventionally correct; for their own sakes they will covet, and will honour, and will thank and love the man who will only deal honestly with them as a faithful steward, who will give them the whole message of God, and will not in fear or in wicked complaisance spare themselves. He is not accountable to them (1Co 4:3) indeed; yet his relation to them is one which demands of him fidelity as the truest kindness. [Such "kindness" to them as that of the Dishonest Steward (Luk 16:1-8) may serve his dishonest turn for a moment, but will not carry him or them very far!] But, above all,

(1) he will be faithful as a matter of responsibility to his Master, and to God whose mysteries he holds in trust for distribution "as every man has need." [The following verses, separately dealt with, give the noble portrait of a "steward" who is sustained under misconception, misrepresentation, detraction, malicious depreciation; or in the face of angry people, offended at the whole truth; by a sense of the approval of Christ, vouchsafed to him by One who knows how pure and direct his aim has been, how reverent and careful his handling of the disclosure of "the mysteries."] "The Master praises; what are men?" But does the Master praise? That is ever his main question. His every day's duty will be planned under his Great Taskmaster's eye, and will be discharged with constant reference to His judgment. Motives are so intermingled in our life, the tangle so often passes all our own power of unravelling, that he will not spend overmuch time upon self-analysis. His mingled aims—right after all in their main drift and object—will be simply laid before his Master en bloc, for His analysis and judgment and smile of reward. If He is satisfied, the rest matter little!

III. The people's estimate of the office and of the minister.—Two dangers threaten: an undue exaltation, or an under-valuing of the office; or, in another alternative, a party worship of the man, as at Corinth, or a superstitious estimate of the office.

1. The under-valuing of the office is a very real danger. The "minister" must not be simply the chief, and perhaps the only paid, officer of an organisation called "a Church," which "keeps a minister," as some in the congregation keep a clerk or a manager in their business. He must not simply be the chairman of their meetings; or the president of their social gatherings; or the intellectual leader of their speculations, or of the literary or artistic activity of the young life of the Church; or their deputy on whom they devolve all the initiative of religious and philanthropic agencies which the public expect from them. He may, happily and usefully, be all these. But these are the secondary things of his office. His first and essential duty—the "Hamlet-part" in the play, without which all is miserably incomplete—is to be a steward, blessedly made familiar with the mysteries of God, by close intercourse with God, their Giver, and coming forth from the holy intercourse to dispense them with a wisdom of adaptation to the needs of his people which is itself not a small gift and honour from God. If he only bring to his people—if his people only expect from him—spoken "leading articles" on topics of the week or of the time, perfect in literary finish; if they are satisfied with brief theses on half-secular themes, full of satirical, or sympathetic, or poetic power; if they are content with brief, admirable, but "natural," ethical prelections which do not lift up duty into any organic connection with religion, its motives, its power, its sanctions; if he never bring to their ears, and to their hunger, any of the revealed secrets of the heart and will of God,—he is not "fulfilling his ministry," nor discharging his "stewardship." If they have no hunger of heart, and do not definitely desire to be fed; and even resent the earnestness of the man who would gladly be to them a steward of God's mysteries, bringing them forth for the supply of their heart and conscience; they misunderstand and under-value the office. Desire him to be, pray for him that he may be, by sympathy with his aims and by grateful recognition of his work, help him to be, a steward and a faithful one! Not less than a steward!

2. On the other hand, not more than a steward. Do not think of him, do not accept of him, as a priest or an exclusive mediator with God. If he boast never so loudly of ordination by any special order of ministers, and claim to be of any special order himself; if he will thrust himself between God and the soul, as in any sense a necessary and indispensable intermediary; if he will claim over the judgment and conscience an authority which of old belonged to a prophet, and now belongs only to Christ, as represented by His Spirit, in the administration of redemption; if he will claim, in any sense, to offer a sacrifice which stands in any necessary relation to the forgiveness of sins or the maintenance of the spiritual life; if he claim priesthood in any sense which belongs exclusively to Christ, or in any sense which does not belong equally to every member of the "holy priesthood" (1Pe ),—then to acquiesce in such pretensions is to over-exalt the man and his office. Allow no priesthood; hear of nothing, think of nothing, but of "Ministry" and "Stewardship." Pray for him, listen to him, use him, as a steward, not less nor more. And if a man, credentialled no matter by whom, assume to be the way to God, say to him: "Thou art in the way! Stand out of my way! Christ is my Way. Let me come direct through Him to God." "Let a man so account of us." A true "minister" asks no more.

1Co . Faithful Stewardship.

I. If in the ordinary transactions of time it is imperative that those who are concerned in the management of temporal concerns should be faithful, how much more, in matters which relate to the soul and eternity, is it imperative that the stewards of God's mysteries should be faithful! The consequences of infidelity or dishonesty in the charge of the affairs of this life may be disastrous; but who can measure the ruin which follows when there is a want of fidelity in dealing with the things of the next life? In such case the ruin is irretrievable, the loss of the soul will stand no comparison with even the gain of the world.

II. Easy to perceive the fidelity required of the minister of Christ.

1. Personal fidelity. If a man has not experienced for himself the grace of God in convincing, converting, and sanctifying his own heart, how can he tell others of the change which is implied in all these workings of the Spirit?

2. Consistency of life and conversation. Even supposing that the doctrine preached is in accordance with God's Word, an inconsistent life will wither the power of the message and frustrate the ends of its delivery. Not only this; but

3. There must be fidelity in the declaration of the whole revealed truth of inspiration. It is not allowed to the ambassador to deliver only a part of his message; he must proclaim the whole revealed counsel of God. He is to preach the truth in all its integrity, keeping back nothing which is plainly revealed; but as a wise householder he must bring forth things new and old, in order that he may be faithful to Him who hath called him and invested him with such lofty responsibilities. ["It is written." "It is written again."]

III. There are lessons which all professing Christians may derive.—

1. "Of all our earthly possessions we are stewards, not proprietors. There is in the ordinary arrangements of Divine providence a vast employment of second causes, and many of the things we acquire appear to come in the course of our own efforts and as the effect of our own industry or skill; hence arises the idea of ownership, and forgetfulness that all things come of God, and that we have not a fraction to which we can lay claim as an independent possession, which we have a right to employ without reference to Him who gave it. But in truth all the secondary means … are gifts from God, and derive their efficacy from His imparted power or beneficence. So that, in the most literal sense, all things come of Him, e.g., gifts of intellect which qualify for conspicuous usefulness to others, gifts of wealth or power for influencing largely our fellow-creatures. The point to be remembered is that all these bestowments are entrusted to the keeping of those who possess them to be employed by them as stewards in trust … for God's service. Have you, then, consecrated large possessions and the gain of them to the Lord, and your substance to the Lord of the whole earth? Is the talent which belongs to authority over others employed for God, for upholding God's honour, for promoting the temporal and spiritual well-being of all within the range of your influence?"

2. Our fidelity must originate in personal piety.—"

(1) The root of Scriptural obedience consists in a right apprehension of the relationship in which we stand to God. We are His creatures, every faculty we possess is His gift, and we are bound to consecrate all we have and are to His glory.

(2) More than this, God has yet a stronger claim. If we constantly remembered the wonderful love of God in the gift of His Son, we should never lose sight of the obligations under which we lie, to consecrate our souls and bodies to His service, to act as stewards who are bound to be faithful in His sight.

(3) And what a motive for fidelity is supplied when we call to mind the shortness of our allotted period of service, and the near approach of the time when Christ will reappear to reckon with all His professing servants. Stewardship always implies a time of reckoning. It may be near or distant, but then there will be no escape or evasion. With what joy will Christ's true and faithful servants hear the welcome, ‘Ye have been faithful over a few things,' etc. How terrible, then, the condition of those who, though they were stewards, have not been found faithful; the measure of their privileges will be the measure of their fearful condemnation.

(4) Let us then bear in mind the lesson which this day's Epistle [Third Sunday in Advent] delivers for our direction. Knowing beforehand the strictness of the account which we must each one render, let us aim at dependence upon Divine grace to overcome every temptation, to conquer every difficulty, which opposes our progress in sanctification, and so to abound unto every good work that in the end we may attain to the recompense and the reward which in the last day awaits every one who shall be found to have been faithful to the stewardship confided to his keeping."—Abridged from Bishop Bickersteth, "Clerical World," i. 172.


Verses 6-13

CRITICAL NOTES

1Co .—From 1Co 3:5 he has discussed what applied to all the factions and their leaders, and even more to the others than to the so-called Pauline and Apollonian factions, in connection with himself and Apollos alone. "For their sakes" he has done so, to avoid arousing personal feeling or giving avoidable pain, content if, "in himself and Apollos" as sample cases, the question might be more calmly discussed and its conclusion more dispassionately arrived at. And the one lesson emerging from the discussion is, Not to think of themselves, or of teachers they were tempted to idolise, without taking account of what is written in such Scriptures as, e.g., he had quoted in 1Co 1:19; 1Co 1:31, 1Co 3:19; and therefore not to be, in any overweening conceit of themselves or their own judgment, such strong partisans for one teacher as against another teacher. Puffed up.—1Co 4:18-19; 1Co 5:2; 1Co 8:1; 1Co 13:4.

1Co .—Transition to the self-esteem which really underlay their party zeal for this or that leader. Who?—Certainly not yourself, nor the man to whom you attach yourself.

1Co .—Note the tenses in Sharply—not bitterly, but sadly—ironical. As if the Master's "judgment" (1Co 4:4) were over, the rewards distributed, and they were already on their thrones (Luk 22:29-30; Rev 3:21; Rev 1:6; Rev 5:10). Apart from Paul and Apollos! And yet to them, if to anybody, the Corinthian Church owed its very existence (1Co 3:6). "Would that the day for your thrones had really come! We should then be on our thrones too, and all this weary life of labour, suffering, obloquy, would be done with! But it is not done with yet!"

1Co .—The last batch of criminals doomed (say) to the lions, kept back as the climax of the show in the amphitheatre, where the Corinthians sit in comfort and royal state as spectators. As to the angel spectators, see Eph 3:10. The whole story of God's revelation in Christ had been through the ages unfolding itself before the eagerly interested gaze of the watching, studying "principalities and powers in heavenly places." Paul's career was a small incident in the history which was being wrought out under their eyes; and they studied him and his fortunes, like everything else, with closest attention. [Like his Master, he was "seen of angels." Cf. "set forth," Rom 3:25, as if uplifted and exhibited upon the cross, "appointed to death," to the gaze of heaven, and earth, and (perhaps) hell.] Apostles.—Whole reference is so vague, whilst mainly starting from himself and his career, that this does not necessarily include Apollos, or make him "an apostle." Paul is "numbering himself with the eleven apostles." (See also 1Co 9:1.)

1Co .—Note the ascending climax. All ironical, except that perhaps "Ye are wise in Christ" may not only be "You think you are," but also "You really are; and do not forget that you owe that indirectly to us who by the derided ‘message of the Cross'—‘such folly!'—led you to Christ." (The "folly," 1Co 1:18; 1Co 1:21; 1Co 1:23; 1Co 2:1-5. Their very real "wisdom," 1Co 1:5.)

1Co . This present hour.—Paul in Ephesus was still sustaining himself by manual labour (Act 20:33-34), which often left him (as it did in Corinth, 2Co 11:9) in real want. We.—True of apostles in general. Yet these, and Paul pre-eminently, were, of all men then living, of greatest worth to and importance for the world's interests and life. They were the little lump of leaven with which God was revolutionising the world! What a picture of Apostolic life is suggested! Naked.—Insufficiently clad (cf. 2Ti 4:13). Buffeted.—His Master was, literally (Mat 26:67); perhaps he himself may have been (2Co 11:7-12 [1Pe 2:20; 2Co 12:7]). No … dwelling-place.—Partakers with Christ again (Mat 8:20), and with the Old Testament saints (Heb 11:37). "A peculiar grief in the ancient world" (Stanley).

1Co .—"We use only the Christian weapons of resistance" (Mat 5:44; Luk 6:27). Paul's is "the earliest instance of such language being used" (Stanley).

1Co . Entreat.—Usually men who have been in the wrong do this, and who deprecate punishment. Or perhaps, more generally, "We give good words back in exchange for calumny." Offscouring.—E.g. Act 22:22. [So they cried of his Lord, "Away with Him!"] Not only did Israel cast him out, but the very Corinthians seemed to have less than no esteem for him; and the world outside, of course, counted him as vile and offensive. There seems to be some evidence that at Athens human sacrifices were cast into the sea as offerings to Neptune, with the words, "Be thou our ‘offscouring'" [the same word as the second here]; as procuring "salvation" or "redemption" in times of famine or plague.

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1Co

Kings; Real and False.

I. Where to look for the true kings.—"How it strikes a stranger" used to be the title of a pleasant bit of thinly veiled satire on many of the commonest facts and customs of our daily life, familiarity with which has dulled in us the perception of their absurdity or their unrighteousness. Had one of the "principalities and powers" from "the heavenly places" been told off, in the days of our Epistle, to guide through the Roman world a "stranger" from some other planet, and had been asked to show his planetary charge the men of that age who were destined to stand forth in all future ages as its greatest, and to leave their work most deeply on the centuries "after Christ," he would have conducted him to no philosophers or statesmen, but to a scattered dozen or so of Galilean country-people, who were beginning to be distinguished in their own obscure circle of friends as "the apostles"! "Find me, let me see," says the visitant from the distant sphere, "the greatest man of the time, the man who will be seen by-and-by to count for most in the story of your race, the man whose influence and example and teaching are going to live and grow and govern your world's life after he is gone. Where is the king of the world?" Certainly not within any then recent, or any then coming years, upon the throne of the Cæsars. The Stoics said more worthily, "The wise man is king"; but could hardly just then have found our inquirer a wise man of the first rank. As the verdict of the ages has pronounced, as the eliminating process of the oblivion of history has left names emergent from the general obscurity and forgetfulness of the remote past, our visitor would have needed conducting to a humble lodging in the city of Ephesus, to see a by no means striking-looking Jew sitting at work, with roughened, dirty hands, making goat-hair tent-cloth; perhaps, as he does so, dictating a letter to a friendly amanuensis who sits beside him, taking down from his lips, in only moderately good Greek, thoughts which are often sadly broken in their grammatical expression—sentences which, what with the pauses to allow for the writing down and with the impetuousness of the thinker's heart, not seldom get very disjointed in their logical form. Or they might happen to find him on the Jewish Sabbath, a private person in some synagogue, taking what opportunity he can get of discussing the story and the claims of one Jesus of Nazareth, to whom he seems greatly devoted. And he has a strangely unroyal story of persecution from his own friends and countrymen, of repeated scourgings from Roman lictor and Jewish synagogue officers, of shipwrecks and hunger and cold, and want of necessary clothing. Yet that man's name is going to stand forth as the foremost name of the age, as the most influential ruler of the thoughts and morals and activities and destinies of that and all after-ages. Our visitor might well wonder at the topsy-turveydom of the world where such things can be; where the kings are "fools" and "weak," "despised," "hungry," "naked," "buffeted" the "refuse" of the world, and where the "puffed-up" Corinthians, "full" of nothing but self-esteem, are kings and "judges," forsooth, of apostles; where "the world knows nothing of its greatest man." [

1. A commonplace of the cynical moralist in all ages. The age is past, the men are dead, before the sorting-out process of history relegates to their real obscurity many who lived loudest to the public ear and most obtrusive to the public eye in their own generation, and leaves the really great and strong and good and helpful to stand forth, like the temples of some ancient city amidst the wreck of the common buildings or the waste from which the very traces of other slighter edifices have disappeared.

2. The men of thought are really the kings of the race. Man is, in the last analysis of things, ruled by Mind; and, still more, by Mind plus Character. The royalty of Mind apart from principle has indeed the golden head, but the feet are of clay, and it cannot permanently stand the shocks and tests of time.

3. Paul would have said—and it is after all the Truth—"Jesus Christ is King; I am only king ‘in Him.'" And if in the year 27 A.D. our visitor from some other sphere had sought for the Man, the Name, the Ruler of the world, he must indeed have seen a Tiberius on the Imperial throne, the absolute ruler of the lives of millions of men, a monster of cruelty and vice, surfeited to utter nausea with the banquet of his own vicious pleasures, but must have turned away from him to far-away Judæa, to a desolate district amongst its most rugged mountain region, to find a peasant Carpenter, alone, hungry, tempted to help Himself to miraculous bread, seeing that His Father in heaven seemed to have left Him in a wilderness to starve. And yet earlier, though Magi from the East aimed more nearly true, when they sought the King, not in Rome or Athens, but in Jerusalem, yet even they missed the mark. The King was a Babe in a manger in a village khan in Bethlehem. And later they would have found Him on a cross.

4. The law of disturbed, topsy-turveyed order holds good of the King, and of His apostles, and of His people. The "meek are the heirs of the earth" (Mat ). The world is "out of joint." The Problem of Evil faces us, sooner or later, in every path of thought and inquiry we pursue, no matter what direction we take. For "God hath appointed" (1Co 4:9).

5. One thing, then, and one only, is clear: that Paul, or any other servant of God, should, and can afford to, go simply, directly forward day by day, doing duty, doing right, speaking all the message of God which is given him, bearing to be called a "fool" and "weak," to be buffeted whilst he only "entreats," to be "persecuted" etc. (as 1Co ), and leaving all question of the effect of his life, and of the estimate man forms of him (1Co 4:3 above), and of the rank he will by-and-by take before God and man. It will take care of itself. God will take care of it and of him. Once Paul stood at the bar of Felix. Soon after, Felix sat trembling before the arraignment of the man of conscience (Act 24:16-25). And which to-day does all the world count the greater, nobler man? But meanwhile:]

II. What a "royal" life! (1Co ).—

1. The greatest man of the time is the "filth" and "offscouring" of the world! The World—and even the Church of Corinth—are holding continually their "day" of judgment (1Co ). And, as though in petty mimicry of that greater "Day" the sequel of whose sentence shall be that out of the kingdom of the Son of Man shall be gathered "all things that offend" (Mat 13:41), they are sweeping out into the Gehenna of their condemnation and rejection Paul and his fellow-apostles.

2. Yet the kings, God's true kings, do come to their kingdom (1Co ). Their Lord has received His throne. He was cast out and rejected as though He had been the "off-scouring" of all kings. But His vindication and glory have come. And it is the pledge and foretaste of their vindication and glory and enthronement in the day when "the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Mat 13:43). When their Lord comes in His glory, they come into theirs.

3. A "royal" life! Why, it is hardly the life of common, peaceable, happy citizens! Rather call it the death-in-life of gladiators or criminals. Year after year it is one battle with forces and men, wholly evil, before which it seems certain they must succumb. [Yet they conquer by dying; as did their Lord. "It is finished!" is the cry of a Conqueror. Every one "that falleth on this stone shall be broken." Let the hard-pressed, persecuted Christian be patient. The victory is with the dying ones of the amphitheatre. How often has a dying Stephen pricked deeply the conscience of a Paul! And not only are the "angels" looking on. The Lord Himself is amongst the deeply interested spectators.] The world's kings are in the arena, gazed at, scoffed at, buffeted, slain. But one touch transforms it all! God has appointed it, has thus exhibited them in the world's great amphitheatre; and as they fall one after another, by the sword, the cross, the scourge, the fire, they cry, dying, "It is for Christ's sake!"

III. "We apostles, doomed to die, salute you!" Who are these human spectators whom the Apostolic band salutes from the arena? Those who sit complacently there criticising this Paul so confidently, as good judges might appraise the points of a good gladiator or a criminal down there in the sand; setting up, playing off one against another, of the dying band exhibited there; with lofty superiority of wisdom and strength shouting at them their taunts of "Weak!" and "Fools!" Who are these who are so "full" of knowledge that a Paul can teach them nothing more? Such judges of an apostle that they can weigh up and measure off and ticket with the exact bulk and size and value they have determined, a Paul, or a Cephas, or an Apollos? Why, one would think that they were "full" and needed hardly any more of God and His bounty; or, at least, that the Judgment was indeed over, and that they had already entered into the glory and the triumph of the "Kingdom of God," in its eternal and supreme form! These sit and talk and judge like kings! Yet every rag of their royal robe of wisdom and strength and Christian standing they owe to another. What is their own? And how nearly all do they, under Christ, owe to those very men, Paul and Apollos! To whom, moreover, do they owe it that there ever came a Paul into their city to bring the "glad tidings" of the King and the Kingdom? The premier Church in European Christianity? Perhaps; but if they sit upon the spectators' benches, in quasi-royal state, whilst apostles struggle and suffer and die down below, observed of angels and scorned of men, who seated them there? Yes, one thing is their own. God who, mediately or immediately, gave them all besides, never gave them the self-conceit which puffs them up. And, little as they suspect it, their inflated notion of their ability to judge between teacher and teacher, and their overweening, swelling self-centering of thought, make them the easy, willing bondmen of any party leader who will flatter their judgment and say "Yes" to their opinions. These inflated, "windbag" "kings" of Corinth are really subjects after all; but they have made their own yoke, and, in the vain wisdom of their foolish heart, have chosen their party-leaders for their lords. The servant of his own vain, darkened heart (Rom ) readily becomes the "servant of man" (1Co 7:23). If only a man may be honoured and flattered in the choosing of his own tyrant, he will wear any yoke. The sham king easily becomes the real slave! [Much of the revolt of unbelief against "orthodoxy" means only a change of masters. Free-thought is often entirely under the yoke of great names. Much in the same way as some nations have thrown off the yoke of an ancient, native dynasty of kings, only to put themselves under the yoke of a dictator or a despot, perhaps an alien. But then it is something to have chosen your own despot and your own bondage! "Heresy" originally meant only "choice"; but moral conditions and evil so constantly mingle with and colour and direct choice, that the evil connotation early attached itself to the word (beginning to appear even in Tit 3:10). There are schools of unbelief as well as of belief, where learners obediently take in the master's principles. Self-will doubts on authority as certainly as many Christians must needs believe on authority.]

[NOTE on 1Co .—Readers of this Commentary, on both sides of the Atlantic, who are interested in the Evangelical Revival in England in the eighteenth century, may find an apposite and helpful parallel to this verse in the following words of a prominent helper of John Wesley in the early days of the movement: "There was law for us, but we could not find a magistrate who had courage or honesty enough to put it in force. [No Gallio to drive the persecutors from the judgment seat.] Men of all ranks used their power and influence to stop the blessed work of God. They spoke all manner of evil against the work and the instruments employed therein. They dispensed with two or three awakened clergymen tolerably well; these were regularly ordained, men of learning, gentlemen, and divines; but to see a ploughman or an honest mechanic stand out to preach the Gospel, it was insufferable. Hell was roused from beneath.… Layman and ecclesiastic joined heart and hand to suppress these pestilent fellows; not with acts of kindness, Scripture, or reason, but with invectives and lies. Dirt, rotten eggs, brickbats, stones, cudgels—these were Satan's arguments in vindication of his own cause. It was the common cry in town and country: ‘Press them for soldiers, send them on board a man of war, transport them, beat them, stone them, send them to prison, or knock out their brains, and despatch them at once, for there is no law for them.'" (Christopher Hopper, Lives of Early Methodist Preachers, i. 191 sq.). The early history of the Friends in England abounds in many parallel stories of sufferings. In fact, such persecution is the opprobrium of no one Church, nor of "The Church" in any true sense. The persecutors may in name be Christians, but it is the work of the evil heart in man, in every age and Church, expressing in the like violence its hatred of good. Paul should be pictured, not as a prince-apostle, but as a working, tent-maker evangelist, and a Jew to boot; often roughly handled; and always, by the educated and high-placed of his day, when they happened to hear of such an obscure person, taken at the world's valuation of an early Methodist lay evangelist or a Quaker preacher.]

APPENDED NOTES

1Co sqq. Since it was by preaching and teaching that Paul laid the foundation of the Church of Corinth, the builders must be different kinds of teachers. Since the matter taught is the material the teacher uses, this must be the gold, silver, wood, straw, etc. The results produced by the teacher in the hearts and lives of his hearer are the building he erects. He may produce good results which will last for ever and be to him an eternal joy and glory. Since these results are altogether the work of God, and are revealed in their grandeur only in the great day, they are a "reward" given by God in that day for work done on earth. But a teacher may produce results which now appear great and substantial, but which will then be found utterly worthless. He may gather round him a large number of hearers, may interest them, and teach them much that is elegant and for this life useful, and yet fail to produce in or through them results which will abide for ever. If so, the great day will destroy his work and proclaim its worthlessness. But he may be said to build upon the one foundation, Jesus Christ. For he is a professed Christian teacher, and people go to hear him as such. He may be a sincere, though mistaken Christian believer, and therefore be himself saved. But his work, as a teacher, is a failure. Now the permanence of a teacher's work depends upon the matter taught. The soul-saving truths of the Gospel enter into men's hearts and lives, and produce abiding results. All other teaching will produce only temporary results. We understand, therefore, by the wood and straw whatever teaching does not impart or nourish spiritual life. The three terms suggest the various kinds of such teaching. It may be clever or foolish, new or old, true or false; but not subversive of the "foundation," or it would come under the severer censure of 1Co 4:16 sq.… We have Christian examples in many of the trifling and speculative discussions which have been frequent in all ages. We also learn that even of the teaching which produces abiding results there are different degrees of worth; in proportion, no doubt, to the fulness and purity with which the teaching of Christ is reproduced. In both cases the results are the results, lasting or transitory, produced in the hearers' hearts by the use of these materials; results which are in some sense a standing embodiment of the teaching.—Dr. Beet.

"By Fire."—

1. It may be homiletically useful to cast into orderly shape the Bible use of "Fire." Needless to say that the Bible is not pledged to any such unscientific piece of obsolete antiquity as that Fire is an Element—one of four. It is content to take the visible fact, and its palpable effects, as a serviceable illustration, apprehended readily by the child or the heathen, and perfectly good as an illustration, whatever be the scientific revision of our knowledge of the state of the case. For teaching purposes Fire is Heat and, still more, Flame. Flame is now understood to be gas so highly heated as to become in some degree luminous, and generally made more luminous by being loaded with incandescent particles, whether of carbon or other matter. That is nothing new to the Divine Author of Scripture and of Nature; nor was it unworthy of Him, or untrue, that what was to be the popularly apprehensible phenomenon should in the original planning of Nature be so adjusted and adapted as to lend itself well to teach moral truth. Indeed, the devout students of Nature find that both the superficial, phenomenal facts and the deep scientific "laws" are alike parabolic and didactic Nature is full of man, and of truth which man wants. Creation is didactic. "Creation is redemptive."

2. A convenient starting-point is Heb : "Our God is a consuming fire." Closely connected with "God is Light." The difference is here: Light is what God is in Himself; fire what He is in relation to (sinful) mankind. Hence frequently the chosen symbol of His self-manifestation,: the Bush, Exo 3:2; the Pillar, Exo 40:38; Tongues of Pentecost, Act 2:3; Sinai, Exo 19:8; Exo 24:17; Deu 4:36; Vision of God's glory, Eze 1:4; Exo 24:9-11 (N.B. Nadab and Abihu), Dan 7:9; Rev 4:2. In Isa 4:5 we have three manifesting symbols of God combined—light, radiant splendour, burning fire. Still more frequently the accompaniment of His self-manifestation: e.g. "After the earthquake a fire," 1Ki 19:12; "fire goeth before Him," Psa 97:8. Loosely connected with all this are the fiery Chariot and Horses sent for Elijah, 2Ki 2:11; fiery Chariots round about Elisha, 2Ki 6:17. This last and the Pillar over Israel, or the Shekinah in its midst, are gathered up in Zec 2:5.

3. Hence when He accepted, "took," "ate," appropriated, a sacrifice, it was by a fiery manifestation. E.g. at the Ordination of Aaron and the Inauguration of the priestly system and ritual, Lev . So at the Dedication of Solomon's Temple, 2Ch 7:1-3. And in less important instances: Carmel, 1 Kings 18; on Araunah's threshing floor, 1Ch 21:26; Gideon's sacrifice, Jud 6:21. The Burnt Offering, as distinguished from the Sin and Peace Offerings, and as symbol of an entire surrender on man's part and an entire appropriation on God's part, was (as its name says) burnt with fire. And this links on the foregoing to the twofold employment of the symbol as exhibiting the active relation of a Holy God to sinful man.

4. All that could, so to say, be volatilised went up purified and in perfect acceptance; all that was gross and earthly was left behind, to be cast out. Hence, "Baptized with … fire," Mat ; Mal 3:2 brings out the action of the refiner's fire upon metals. So Isa 4:4, "Purged Jerusalem by the Spirit of Judgment and the Spirit of Burning"; "in that day," primarily the return of a purified remnant from Babylon, then the setting up of a Christian Zion, perhaps, by-and-by, a restored and purified Israel once more. Isa 30:23, and more remotely still Isa 29:6, perhaps may better come in later on. The same Holiness which is purifying to the man who desires to be purified, burns as a consuming fire against sin and the sinner who will not be parted from his sin. Hence fire frequently sets forth the holy, active antagonism to evil and evil men, in defence of His people. Isa 30:27, "His tongue a devouring fire; lips full of indignation." "Fury like a fire," Jer 4:4 (against unfaithful Judah and Jerusalem), Jer 21:2. So it proved, Lam 3:3. So against the heathen and Idumæa, Eze 36:5; against Gog, Eze 38:18-19. [Psa 83:14; Psa 140:10; Eze 24:9; Amo 5:6.] God and His people are so identified that they become a fire too, Oba 1:18; Zec 12:6. So in Isa 30:27-33 we have it again. Fire purging the faithful from the unfaithful, sifting the nations, then burning up the pile of Tophet. [But "the King" may (as Talmud) be the Eternal King, and Tophet the burning-place outside the purified, ideal Jerusalem, where all the refuse is to be cast (Mat 13:50).] Certainly the twofold action is seen in Isa 31:9, "Fire in Zion; furnace in Jerusalem"; Isa 33:14. As the Assyrian invasion approached, and the denunciations of holy wrath against sinners in and enemies of Zion, "sinners in Zion are afraid." "Who can dwell with devouring fire?" cry they, "… with everlasting burnings?" i.e. with a God whose holy antagonism to sin never relaxes, never spares, never ends. 1Co 4:15 is the answer. But the principle is here which has occasioned and justified a very frequent use made of this text. God's fierce, fiery antagonism to sin cannot cease unless sin cease—must last everlastingly if sinners live on everlastingly sinners still. Same connection appears in Nah 1:6. Indeed, the whole cycle of events connected with the Assyrian invasion seems the foundation of much Bible language concerning the punishment of wicked. Not only such as Psa 46:9 (usually [not in Speaker] connected with these events), but Isa 9:5, bring up the fires with which the dead bodies and the wreck of the host were cleared away (1Co 9:5 = no fighting, no blood, but simply burning of the litter and refuse and the dead), with, by the usual analogy, a future fulfilment. Isa 66:24 (foundation of Mar 9:44-46 [cf. Stier, Words of L. J., i. 156]; rather the figure of a holy Jerusalem with its Gehenna, its burning-place for all the refuse of the city [Mat 13:50]); here also the fires on the battle-field after Sennacherib's defeat are evidently in the mind of the writer. The battle-field is one vast Gehinnom outside the city walls.

5. Many actual examples of God's vengeance in which fire is the agent of punishment. N.B. these are all examples of sins very directly against His holiness and unique position and claims. Nadab and Abihu, Lev ; Taberah, Num 11:2; Achan, Jos 7:25; Korah, Num 16:35; Elijah and the captains, 2Ki 1:10 (unless, indeed, this be, first and chiefly, God's manifestation of Himself, appealing both to Elijah and to the witnesses and hearers of the event). Above all Sodom, Gen 19:24; referred to in Luk 17:29; and at least shaping the language of Psa 11:6; Eze 38:22; Rev 21:18. [Imagery of Mal 4:1-2 is anticipated by Gen 19:24; Gen 19:23.]

6. So, coming to the New Testament, we find three great cycles of type: (a) Sodom, (b) Gehinnom, (c) Assyrian invasion.

NEW TESTAMENT

1. General.—God's vengeance against sin is fiery, Mat (? primarily the Jewish nation), "Tree hewn down and cast into the fire"; Heb 6:8, the doom of the persistently barren ground. Also of individuals, Mat 7:19; Luk 3:9; Heb 10:27, "Judgment and fiery indignation; 2 These. 1Co 1:8, "In flaming fire taking vengeance."

2. God's holiness is testing.—1Co [though there is here very little of all this typology; hardly more than the commonly observed action of fire]; 2Pe 3:7 (Luk 12:49-52 is connected).

3. Sodom.—Jude , "Suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." Rev 19:20; Rev 20:10, "Lake of fire and brimstone, where the Beast and the False Prophet are" [Rev 18:9, Babylon; cf. Abraham beholding the ascending smoke of Sodom]; the Devil; Gog and Magog deceived by him (obvious ref. to Eze 38:22); who-soever "not found written in the book of life." Rev 14:10, worshippers of the beast and his image, who have received his mark.

4. Gehenna.—Mat , "Worm dieth not," etc.; Mar 9:44-46, referring to Isaiah 66. "Furnace of fire," Mat 13:42; Mat 13:50, where the latter verse, having nothing in the parable connected with it to suggest it—the fish are cast into the water—shows that the phrase had become, or was now first made by Christ, a customary equivalent for the doom of the wicked.

5. The battle-field.—Linked with Mark 9, as above, but originating the phrase "everlasting burnings." In Mat ; figure (almost?) lost. So completely the revelation of the future that we must say: "Whatever be the nature of the punishment of a lost, embodied spirit, if we might ask him what he suffered, he would say, ‘Fire,' as the only earthly analogy available."

6. Mar . A difficult verse. Every man shall—must—come into contact with the holiness of God. Will a man let it (Him) burn away all impurity, and himself thus become a sacrifice salted with grace, and so accepted? Or, refusing this, will he simply meet and feel the fire which never burns itself out?

1Co . There were Hebrew converts in Corinth, and such would easily catch St. Paul's allusion … to the national Temple. This national Temple in the Apostle's mind clearly enlarges and transfigures itself into a Temple spiritual. This living Temple of the Catholic Church is one Temple; it is one, yet elastic; it grows and expands, associating to itself and assimilating, so to speak, many lateral chapels. It is, in fact, an organic unity of several organs, each it itself a unity; it is, in brief, a unity of many contained unities. Each several Church, therefore, of the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church in miniature, so that of the whole all the several parts are themselves wholes; each branch of the Tree is a tree planted in Christ.—Evans, in "Speaker."

SEPARATE HOMILIES

1Co . Human Differences; their Origin and Design.

I. Some modern scientific thought is tending to an over-emphatic assertion of the principle of Paul's appeal. According to it, there is nothing—not even conscience—which is not simply the special and most recent result in the individual of processes, or of a conflict of processes, and, so to speak, of interests, acting and interacting and reacting through long ages and issuing in man. Thinking, willing, desiring, even the moral judgments—all are the necessary and quasi-mechanical outcome of the unbrokenly continuous past of man's natural antecedents. Nothing is his own; he has so utterly "received" everything he has and is, that nothing is ever really begun de novo in his life; nothing is ever in any real sense originated within the man himself; there is no true independence, nor creative power in the will, no freedom. The natural heart over-does its protest, and in the opposite direction would tend to claim everything, except of course the obviously derived physical part of manhood and some features and degrees of capacity and inclination which are part of the original draught of that "character" in which plainly the individual has no choice. Man feels that he is not the mere creature of, at any rate, his present-day and personal environment. He is made by circumstances, but he is the master of circumstances; indeed, he is often first, and intentionally, the maker of the circumstances and conditions which then make him. He will not believe that it is only an illusion when he seems to find an independent power of origination and creation in his will. The man made by "self-help" is apt indeed to be so much his ideal; any help from the outside, and above all from God, is so apt to be, to all intents and purposes, out of his calculations and thanks; that he is his own maker, his own god. The little street Arab, in the mission school belonging to a London chapel, whose minister gave me the fact, refused point-blank to say, "Give us this day our daily bread." "I shan't ask nobody; I can get my own bread" (H. J. F., from W. J. H.). He is typical of the natural heart. The Corinthian heart is "rich," is "full," and "reigns" royally, not only without Paul, but without God. It is the danger of wealth; of high intellectual endowment, conscious of its own nobility of powers and exulting in every conquest of a new field; of all strong character, which cannot help but know its own force, finding its judgment sound, its business instincts sure and correct, other men's will obedient and plastic before its volitions. "Our lips are our own; who is Lord over us?" (Psa ) is no abnormal or isolated independence. It is the very antithesis of "the little child," in his readiness to believe and to do what he is told, and in his simple and natural and acknowledged dependence upon "father" for all he has and wants. But because it is so hard for the man—the manlier the harder—to "show himself the man amongst men" (1Ki 2:2) and to be notwithstanding only "a little child before God," it is therefore reputed "easier" for women and children to be religious than for men to be. Man's nobility, his Godlikeness, is his snare. He tends to deny any higher, any God, but himself. Paul appeals to such: "What hast thou that thou didst not receive?" etc.

II.

1. Natural character and constitution.—"From my parents?" Yes. "From my physical tempering together and make?" Yes. But all these only spell: "G-O-D." To a Christian man of science what is or may be proved of (popularly so-called) Evolution is only so much more ascertained detail about the method of God in creation, the processes and instrumentalities He has employed. We are continually putting more and more numerous links into the chain of physical antecedents and consequents which links the will of God to the finished product; we find links almost innumerable where our fathers neither knew nor suspected any. But to the Christian thinker the chain still begins at God, and God is still as really in every link as when they were fewer. Our fathers believed God in immediate and direct contact with the created thing. If we are to be compelled to interpose a complex physical process between the Creator and, e.g., the finished individual man, yet He will be as really the Creator as ever. [The little child says, "God made me." The parent, or the physician, or the modern physiologist, armed with all microscopic and other implements of the minutest observation and research, if he be a Christian, still says as simply as the little child, "God made me"; although, where the ignorance of the child or the uninstructed adult knows and dreams of nothing, he has watched a curious and highly complex physical process. To reconcile all that may emerge as proved fact in the evolutionary sketch of the history of creation, with a belief in a personal Creator, is only the "God made me" example on a larger scale.] "Tell me what your natural constitution is, what your inherited mental characteristics are. Tell me how the most recent scientific men settle questions of heredity and the like. I say God made you all that, and just that and no other sort of man. They are only ascertaining and exhibiting better than could ever be done before how He made you. You have nothing but what He put into you: your capacities and faculties are His gifts." "But I have worked hard for my bit of money; I was up whilst other lazy people were lying in bed; I kept my eyes open, whilst other men were dreaming and let the chances slip, or never saw chances which I seized." And so on. "True; and much of it—all the patient industry, the ungrudging labour, the diligent cultivation of natural powers, the honest thrift that watched every penny—all these and more are credit to the successful man. But remember that the original force of sense and business sagacity, the robust physical basis which made all this successful activity possible, where so many others were handicapped by sickness or other physical disability, are in the last analysis of all thought, God. He gave these as your capital, and in a score of ways He might have spoiled your returns from it, if He had pleased." "Thou receivedst."

2. The original surroundings and home.—No man chooses his own parents or birthplace, important factors as these are in all his after-career. "Chance!" is meaningless; it is no account of the matter at all; it is only a way of avoiding giving an account of it. It is only the baffled mind making its escape from the problem, covering its retreat—cuttle-fish fashion—with a dense wordy cloud. The sovereignty of God in election had in it this much of truth, evident in both Scripture and experience, that a thousand circumstances and conditions of life, all of which had some connection with, and influence upon, a man's final salvation, nearly or more remotely, were beyond his control, and from the first were settled, quite outside his own choice. Whether he should see the light in a heathen or in a Christian land, for example, is in vitally close connection with the question of a man's ultimate salvation, and, meanwhile, with his degree of moral responsibility, his standing and career and the influence of his life; this and numberless other elements in the case are ordered by rules which lie quite out of our sight, and are ordered by God. "Election" doctrine did not take sufficient account of a grace which held every man accountable for only the light and advantages he actually enjoyed, and which, on the other hand, made it possible for a man to be saved in any circumstances and with even a very limited measure of light. But, plainly, these things men "received." Men should be thankful for, not vulgarly or proudly boastful of, the social advantages of birth and station. These are no mean elements, when consecrated, in conspicuous success for God. The "gentleman" born, or the man of inherited wealth, is so much the more debtor to God to use these for the glory of Him who gave them, apart from all choice or merit in their possessor.

3. All "natural" goodness is grace, the gift of God.—All points of "natural" beauty of character—unselfishness, generosity, truthfulness; and, much more, all early tenderness of conscience, all early disposition towards good and towards God; such early "goodness" as makes some say, "They were naturally religious from their childhood,"—all are of God. The "natural" is all grace; the preliminary gift of the Holy Spirit. "Man received it." [The old theologians who drew stern pictures of human nature in its "total depravity" and its utter ruin and its entireness of evil, were dealing rather with a necessary conception of clear theological thought than with actual human nature. It was needful to state, as precisely and exactly as Scripture language, interpreted and verified by observation and experience—these being in their turn lighted up and explained by Scripture statements—would make it possible and would require, what human nature would have been, and would be again, without the grace of God. And no man, who knows his own heart, can doubt that, if that grace were wholly withdrawn, and himself were simply left to temptation, there is no depth to which he might not sink, no length to which he might not depart from God. But the old sketch of human nature wanted its hard, true outlines softening, and the whole picture transfusing, with the glow and life and tenderness of the grace of God shown in Christ to every man. Mere human nature, wholly evil, unrelieved by grace, has never been anything but a theological conception. In fact, there is good in every man; very much, and very early, good in very many. "But ‘thou hast received' it. It is not thyself, but God, not nature, but grace, even before any conversion, or the desire to be converted. ‘Why dost thou glory?' etc."

4. Never will right hearts fells this more deeply and wholly true than when they stand, "saved," in heaven's eternal security. All their crowns of holiness, happiness, earthly sainthood, heavenly service, all will be cast before Him who gave them all. There at last "No flesh will glory in His presence!"


Verses 14-21

CRITICAL NOTES

1Co .—Irony dropped. Even in 1Co 4:6 it was "Brothers!" Now, "Beloved children!" Yet surely he did desire to make them ashamed of their bearing towards and estimate of himself? Yes. But not vindictively, nor so as to humiliate them before others. It was only such fatherly use of "shame," as if in private between him and his erring children, as is really a most effectual "admonition" and educating force.

1Co . Instructors.—More accurately "tutors"; an illustration of his in Gal 3:24-25, with a different application. The slaves to whom the boy was intrusted during his school-life and minority, to look after him generally. [As the Master says, "I am the Shepherd to whom the sheep belong; others are but ‘hirelings.'" However faithful servants they may be, the sheep are "not their own."] (Stanley thinks of the (often) "harsh and despotic sway" of these pedagogues, and compares 2Co 11:20.) I begat you.—Not claiming any larger share in the origin of their spiritual life than in Gal 4:19; Phm 1:10; Php 2:22; 1Ti 1:2; 1Ti 1:18. All he had done was "in Christ Jesus"; no independent work or glory. "An approach to the doctrine of the new birth.… Paul's only direct reference to this doctrine is Tit 3:5" (Beet). [Jas 1:18 approaches Paul's "through the Gospel" here.]

1Co . Followers.—"Imitators," as in Php 3:17; 1Th 1:6, which again joins on to Eph 5:1. Says Pressensé: "Paul has attained to such a stripping off of self that he can without egotism propose himself as a model."

1Co .—To his "beloved children" he sends his "beloved child." [As the Great Householder sent His Son to the unfaithful, rebellious husbandmen, Mat 21:35.] As in 1Co 16:10, there is the always recurrent strain of appeal for a kindly reception of Timothy. For this cause.—I.e. in order that you may imitate me. Timothy will remind you of "my ways in Christ."

1Co .—"Timothy instead of himself! He dares not come himself! Or, at best, he does not know his own mind, or stick to his purpose long together!" Cf. 2Co 1:15-17. Thus would revive suspicions of vacillation or duplicity already awakened. Note the tense, which is exactly, "Some got puffed up" previously. The Lord.—Most probably Christ, as in 1Co 4:4-5.

1Co . Word … power.—Be ye prepared to match with facta non verba my own coming with facta non verba (cf. 1Co 1:18). [How irresistible Stephen was (Act 6:10). Cf. Act 8:6; Act 10:44; Act 17:11-12; Act 19:20; Act 14:1. If the preacher stands firing, and never hits anything or anybody, he must aim badly, or must have got the wrong sort of ammunition. The Truth, the Kingdom, are always "in power."]

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1Co

Fatherly Appeals; Fatherly Discipline.

I. The tender relationship.—Paul was a gardener (1Co ), then a "master builder" (1Co 3:10), then a "minister of Christ" (1Co 4:1), then a "steward" in God's household, the Church (1Co 4:1). Now he is a "father," even to such thankless sons as these Corinthians. His heart cannot keep up the satire and rebuke and self-vindication against them; to think of them, and to recall their past, even that he might rebuke, melts him down. The tears are in his voice, "my beloved sons." No tie more tender—no tie so tender—as that which binds together the minister and his spiritual children. No love deeper than that of the man who has seen in some souls the satisfaction of the sore travail of his own (Gal 4:19). No pain more acute than for the father to lose the love of his sons, or to see their life a flagrant contradiction to all he tried to teach and to be before them. They will not be his "imitators." That minister has not yet tasted the chief joy of the ministry who cannot say to any one soul, "In Christ Jesus have I begotten you in the Gospel." Is he after all nothing but their "instructor," their "tutor," their "pedagogue," fulfilling indeed a very useful function as he brings them to the school of some better teacher, and guards and shields and trains the young life committed to his care? The man who takes refuge in this, that he does not indeed "see conversions," but he "builds up the Church," certainly is not doing nothing, but is doing only that half of a minister's work which presupposes the new life to have begun. The "instructor" is needed, but the complete minister is the "father" also. And to his spiritual children that man will be like no other man. If they will hear "admonition" from any lips, surely it will be from his.

II. And the father is a model for his children.—"Be imitators of me." All reproach of egotism or vanity is beside the mark, when it is remembered that the father is talking thus, in that familiar love of family life which expects to be understood as a matter of course. The father is not on his guard against being mistaken when he talks to his children. (See also, for another turn to the thought, in Critical Notes.) One of the brothers, Timothy, shall tell them again, if they have forgotten them, their spiritual father's rules for "behaviour in the House of God" (as he afterwards himself gave them to this same Timothy, 1Ti ); Paul's little household code for the training up of the children's life and the ordering of their activities, which he was accustomed to enjoin wherever a new family circle—call it "a Church"—sprang up. How Paul's dear children would treasure up every word which their spiritual father had left behind him! How our boys remember "what father used to say"! How the girls copy "what mother used to do"! "Remember my ways which be in Christ;" it is a charming ideal. He is himself a man "in Christ." The formative principle, that which governs all his own life, and gives its distinctive tone to his judgments, and preferences, and dislikes, and volitions, is the Spirit of Christ dwelling in him. It is really Christ expressing and exhibiting Himself through Paul. If then he says, "Copy me, children," it is after all, "Copy Christ, children." It will be a task to distress and daunt the minister if he approach it from this side: "I must so bear myself, and so be, that my people may safely be imitators of me, even when I am least adverting to the effect of my very life upon them." But let him rather approach it from this side, "I must be in Christ," all the problem then falls into ordered simplicity of solution. All that springs out of the life "in Christ" may safely be followed. Be "in Christ," and leave the rest to take care of itself.

III. Yet the father must needs sometimes speak sharply, and even use "the rod."—Nothing but "love" and the "spirit of meekness" would be defective family government where the children are "puffed up" Even as "the rod" and the rebuke alone would be imperfect family government too. The "words" need the "power" behind them; but the "power" should be held, if it may be, in reserve. And (as in 2Co ) if Paul seems self-assertive, it is simply that the man lives so thoroughly in his message and work, the Gospel he preaches has put its own stamp so deeply upon the man, that what is true of it is true of him; and, conversely, as is the man so are the Gospel and the kingdom he preaches. [The man preaches no "Yes" and "No" Gospel; he is no "Yes" and "No" man (2 Cor. as above). So here:] He comes on no errand of personal vindication; he comes to vindicate the "kingdom of God," which has been endangered and endamaged at Corinth. It is not only or chiefly that he will show himself to have both "words" and "power"; and his thunder [says Jerome: "As often as I read Paul, I seem to myself to hear, not words, but thunder-claps"] to be wedded to swift-striking lightning. He comes only as the embodiment of a Gospel order of things in which indeed are words, tender or stern, as need may require, but where every word can be translated into a deed of blessing or of chastening wrath.

[IV.

1. This unconscious conformity of Paul to the Gospel he preaches is a real parallel to the, not conformity with but, identification of Christ and His Gospel. He and His religion, the Gospel of His Kingdom, are alike "the Way" (Act ; Act 19:9; Act 19:23); "the Truth" (not so precisely, but see, e.g., 2Co 13:8; 2Th 2:13; 1Ti 3:15); "the Life" (Act 5:20).

2. The same fundamental unity of character and form makes the paragraph under consideration so curiously and closely parallel to the case of God and His erring and wayward children, that, without any violence to sense or to essential Truth, it becomes almost a parable. Thus

(1) In all His dealings with sinful men in these days of His grace, God designs their amendment. Like Paul here, He desires to touch their heart into sorrow and into a reformatory love toward Himself. Even in their waywardness He does not deny them the name "children" or the epithet "beloved." For His Son's sake the race, even in their fall, are "the men of His goodwill." If they will not be "admonished," then there must come, even for these, the "shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan ).

(2) "One is your Father," said the Great Teacher, the Eldest Son of the Family (Mat ). "Your Father;" it is the new name for God which leaps instinctively to the lips of the pardoned and adopted sinner, when "the Spirit of His Son" is "sent forth into his heart" (Gal 4:6). It was unknown to the Old Testament saints [Psa 103:13; Psa 68:5 are no real exceptions; Psa 89:26 is theocratic rather than personal; Jer 3:4 is put into the lips of the nation, and is not personal]; no Old Testament saint got beyond "Friend," and ordinarily were only "servants," trusted and beloved and honoured indeed, but never, as does every New Testament saint, saying "Abba, Father," as the customary, instinctive word of address to God. Nor does a man in the Old Testament stage of his spiritual life—for every man's spiritual history recapitulates in brief summary the history of "the dispensations"—say "Abba."

(3) And the "Fatherhood" and the "Sonship" depend on a new-born life; the children have "been begotten again" (1Pe ), and this "through the Gospel," the living, "incorruptible seed" of a new life (1Pe 1:23).

(4) He says—as Paul, with a special reference, once says for Him (Eph )—"Be ye imitators of Me." Indeed, their new-created life is "after God," the Pattern (Col 3:10; Eph 4:24).

(5) And has He not sent a "beloved Son," "faithful" (Heb ) to His Father's commission and errand, who brings into men's remembrance God's "ways"? What He desires, what He is—the verbal pattern and the character-pattern to which God would have His children conform—where are they so spoken, where are they so seen, as by and in the Son who has been sent to men in their forgetful, wayward, rebellious mood of mind and heart?

(6) But men are "puffed up" as though God were afar off, and never could or would draw nigh, to any practical purpose. The natural heart is epicurean in the God it imagines and desires. Deism, which recognised a God, and even a Creator, but relegated Him to a distant aloofness of place and heart and relation towards His world, and towards the life of the individual man, was only a quasi-philosophical expression of the thought of the natural heart everywhere. "Don't bring God too near me! Let me get into some far country away from Him!" Even believing science and history and politics do not escape the infection and tendency of the time, but are apt to minimise the supernatural. The scoffers of the last days cry, sometimes with a heart which feels a sinking misgiving underneath the loud mockery, "Where is the promise of His coming?" (2Pe ). (As they said it of Paul at Corinth.) Paul himself, in veiled language, has reminded us how The Coming (the Parousia) will burst in upon a world in which lawless revolt in voice and act will have risen to its climax of daring against God and His Christ (2Th 2:8). [It is no mere accidental parallel that, only a moment or two before the Life-giver would raise from the dead the ruler's child, the neighbours and hired mourners "laughed to scorn" the words, "Not dead but sleeping" (Mat 9:24). Their mockery is a prelusive, anticipatory suggestion and hint of the loud, mocking naturalism of unbelief which shall be never more scornful and daring than on the very eve of the Parousia and the Resurrection.] Corinthian Church members who say, "Paul will never come here again—not he!" are but exhibiting the unbelieving habit of the natural heart in all men. [The parallel is not to be forced, but, until Paul arrive, Timothy will so be Paul's representative at Corinth that he who saw and heard Timothy would see and hear Paul (cf. then Joh 14:9).]

(7) When He says, "Behold I come quickly, … to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rev ), it is as though we had Paul's words in our paragraph "writ large," written out on the Divine scale. In that day preeminently will the "kingdom" come "in power"! The Son, the "Minister" and Representative of God in that day of visitation, will bear the "rod"—of iron (Psa 2:9). The "spirit of meekness" (Mat 11:29), on which men have been presuming too far, will give place to the "wrath of the Lamb" (Rev 6:16). Mutatis mutandis, one might have said to the refractory, rebellious Church at Corinth, in regard to the Advent of Paul, "Be wise now therefore, O ye Corinthians," etc. (as Psa 2:10-12). Such flexibility and ready adaptability of Scripture language to such varying purpose; the fact that the same vessel of language will so readily hold such varying contents; such often minuteness of coincident particulars as between the contents—events or series of events, trivial and tremendous,—are not to be dismissed off-hand as fanciful or accidental. Is it not part of the organic interdependence and intercoherence of the One Book which has been, on the human side, the gradual, and largely unconcerted, accumulation of books, in process through many widely separated centuries?]

SEPARATE HOMILIES

1Co . Word and Power.

I. True of Christianity in contrast with other ethical systems.—As to their excellence "in word" they many of them deserve high praise. The religion of Jesus Christ gains nothing by an advocacy which does not do justice to the elements of truth in other religions—particularly moral truth. [As, for instance, the strong filial piety of Chinese life. Yet justice should be done to Christianity. Exaggerated praise is sometimes given to non-Christian systems. E.g. Confucius several times gave the rule, "What ye would not that men should do to you, do ye not do to them." There is a surface similarity in this to the "golden rule" of Christ. But no such similarity (nor any ground in history) as to warrant the supposition that Christianity has incorporated an article of Chinese morality. As a matter of historical and chronological possibility or probability, it would have been more reasonable to assert that it should have "incorporated" the equivalent saying of Shammai: "What is unpleasing to thee do not to thy neighbour." These two sayings may show the high-water mark of natural altruism; yet, as is easily seen, and often pointed out, these are negative; they restrain the hand from evil-doing; Christ's saying, "Do unto others," etc., sets the hand to busy, active benevolence and well-doing.] Hardly any considerable system of morals, ancient or modern, but enunciates some noble sentiments and precepts; the "Light that lighteth every man coming into the world" (Joh ) has not left Himself without a witness in heathen minds and hearts in any country or age. Yet two facts are acknowledged by general consent. First that there was never any general agreement as to a moral standard or code of rules for conduct; and next, that, however admirable and noble the "word" of moral teaching might be, the systems never gave, or taught, the power to carry out the teaching and fulfil the code. All fail there. They have offered a marvellously complete analysis of human nature, but they are altogether wanting in motive power, and in practice the machinery of such morality was found to stand still. "Words," plenty of them, and beautiful and noble; but no "power." The result of man's unaided moral experiment, as tried in its most highly developed form,—that of classical antiquity,—and with the greatest advantages, with philosophers for teachers whose names stand highest, beyond all comparison or competition, is exactly gathered up in Ovid's well-known confession: "I see and approve the Better; I follow the Worse." And this because power to follow the Better with any steady and persistent steps was not forthcoming. [Not only was the standard varying and uncertain, from teacher to teacher, no finality being attained, progress in ethical inquiry being "progress on a treadmill"; but no adequate motives were supplied for obedience to any one truth taught, no sanctions for the laws laid down; it was open to the individual to deny the cogency of any political or personal prudential "reasons," and the authority of even the power and loftier dictates of his own nature, when it was at its best. Cicero long ago mockingly pointed out how seldom their moralisings produced much effect upon the lives of the very teachers themselves (Tusc. Quœst., 2). And, above all, nobody himself knew, or could teach others, how to fulfil his own ideals.] "Now as a matter of fact, Christianity has introduced into humanity a moral power, unknown apart from the presence of Christian faith and knowledge. This power has proved itself adequate to the vanquishing of the natural enmity of the heart to self-control and self-denial. The Christian religion has found and revealed a way of rendering virtue—which is admittedly admirable and desirable—actually attainable; has made the path of obedience progressively congenial, attractive, and delightful. There is a general agreement that this is the distinguishing characteristic of Christianity. First, in point of time, comes the provision for pardon; but first in point of real importance comes the provision of a spiritual power, which secures the love and practice of holiness." [Professor J. Radford Thomson, whose words may stand for many more. But the fact is undisputed.]

II. True of Christianity as compared with Judaism.—This had a code, higher and most perfect in its comprehensive and adequate range of directions. And, further, it rooted its most thoroughly symmetrical and perfect code in the personal relation to God: "I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have," etc. [A sceptical lawyer began to read the Bible in order from the beginning, and "pulled up" at last at the Decalogue, with the pregnant exclamation, "Where did Moses get that law?"] Further, and more remarkably still, it stated the true secret of all law-keeping, in its most condensed form: "Love the Lord thy God; love thy neighbour as thyself." [Though note how little prominent is this latter (Lev ), a mere sentence among a series, until, so to speak, disinterred by Christ, and exhibited in all its significance as one of the two cardinal enactments of the whole Law.] Yet, though it was a Divine directory of life, it was annulled "for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof" (Heb 7:18). The Law "could not make" the comers to its sacrifices and other ordinances "perfect" (Heb 10:1). God erected this fingerpost of duty; the highway of righteous life was in no sort of doubt. But the Law was only a fingerpost; it showed the way, but gave no help to walk in it. It condemned trespass swiftly and sternly, but it gave no direct aid to obedience. "By the Law was the" clearer and clearer "knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20). But in the Law itself was nothing more. [Under the Old Testament order there was no doubt not only knowledge, but obedience, and obedience which meant victory over opposing evil within and around the man. Yet this was not in the Law, but was an anticipation and foretaste of the grace of the Gospel.] Jewish seekers after a life of moral perfectness found all the inner moral division and weakness which the heathen felt and mourned over; they understood it better than the best of heathen moralists could. But all their struggle ended in the moral breakdown and confessed failure of Rom 7:12-24. The Law said, "Do and live," "Do or die"; but of itself it could not show how to "Do." It was in word only, not "in power."

III. The kingdom of God has, and brings, power.—In its clearer revelation as to Rewards and Punishments in the future life it has supplied sanctions such as even Judaism could not furnish. In its Central Person, Jesus Christ, it has supplied a perfect Pattern, a living Summary of all perfect human nobility and righteousness of life and character. In its love to that Personal Saviour it has supplied a perfect, a self-acting motive to obedience; a motive which, as matter of fact, has produced results which no other power could effect, and has done this in some drawn from the lowest types and grades of human life. [That love for Christ, moreover, supplies the most perfect legislation for the individual, prompting a very instinct for law where there is no express command.] Yet even in the most perfect Example it is only in a figurative sense that there is "power" to secure obedience and to elevate and purify; the real power is in the man himself, in his own will. Even a motive is not power. Love for Christ is a "power" only in the same quasi-poetic sense as Example is. The real spiritual dynamic that enables the will, and brings men at last to the secret of "power," is in the working of the Holy Ghost upon, with, in the will of man. "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" makes a man "free from the law of sin and death" (Rom ). All this is experience in the man who has "entered into the kingdom of God" (Mat 18:3); or as, with a significant reversal of the polarity of the thought, it is sometimes put, who has "received the kingdom," and let it enter into him (Mar 10:15). The philosophers do but analyse more clearly and fully and cast into accurate and orderly language what all human hearts more vaguely think and feel on moral questions. No representative question is ever raised by them and discussed which earnest men somewhere have not at some time less definitely recognised and dealt with. [The problems and solutions of Job, e.g., or of Ecclesiastes are not so definitely those of any special age or country or philosophy, as to yield any basis for locating date or authorship. They are the questions and answers of serious men everywhere, always.] Every man's spiritual life, as he is led up to and into the "Kingdom of God," recapitulates the moral history of the race. He has his patriarchal age and his Mosaic dispensation, before he comes into the Christian era of his life and experience. [Hence such passages and descriptions as in Gal 4:3-7 are true, as between Judaism and Christianity and men living on the border-time of both, and as between the days during which the individual is being led "unto Christ" and those during which he lives "in Christ." In Paul and many of his Christian contemporaries the dispensational contrast and the personal were coincident. They lived, historically as well as experimentally, through the transition from the one age to the other.] The Law showed the way; the Gospel accompanies and directs and upholds the traveller. Conscience is light, not force; knowledge, not help or power. The bitterest of the bitter cup of true repentance is the experience, "When I would do good, evil is present with me"—present, and so much master that, "The evil that I would not, that do I." "Our moral nature is disordered, and one of the chief evidences of the disorder is the conflict between duty and inclination. Conscience and the will are not at one. We may form beautiful ideals, but we cannot realise them. Desires which are known to be mean and poor often prevail in us against the voice of conscience and even the protests of reason. And often the state of things is worse than that of a conflict in which the bad usually gets the better of the good. In many the result is a state of helpless captivity. In these cases lusts of the body rise to sovereign power and crush down in ignominious bondage every good and wholesome desire. Men and women are degraded far below the level of brutes. In the grip of imperious lusts they are powerless, struggle as they may. When the outward evil is not so great, the triumph of evil is not so conspicuous; but that evil reigns is often lamentably apparent, even to the persons themselves. Often their lives are governed by a selfishness that, regardless of others, seeks to secure everything for themselves. [Culture, with its tendency to fastidiousness of liking and judgment, is often exceedingly selfish. Of itself it certainly has no redemption from self in it.] The will of God, which they know to be the true sovereign authority of the world, is little regarded except in so far as the ordinary usages of society may happen to agree with it. These lives do not conform to any noble standard. And even at their very best there is such a discord between what they are inclined to do and what they ought to do, that their highest achievements in duty are but the result of a hard struggle, not the free, spontaneous movements of souls delighting in the ways of truth and righteousness." (Dr. W. G. Blaikie.)

IV. But the Gospel scheme provides "power."—It has been a power working with the preacher of the kingdom of heaven. With what sledge-hammer force does the Gospel word, when full of the power of the Holy Ghost, break open the door of the most utterly evil heart, and find admittance for conviction and for Christ! How this power has again and again borne down before it, and swept away in its victorious rush, all the barriers of social pride, of personal reserve or timidity, bringing to open concern the most unlikely hearts! The man also who receives into himself the Spirit of God as a Spirit testifying to his adoption into the family of God (Rom ) finds he has received the "Spirit of power" as well as "of love and a sound mind" (2Ti 1:7). As a matter of mental and moral scientific analysis, no question is more perplexing, or seems more nearly insoluble, than that of the enabling effect of the Spirit of God upon the human will. But the simplest child of God finds that the same Spirit whose inwelling brings him peace and joy and hope brings power also. Old habits seem like Samson's bonds of new rope when touched with His fire. The old struggle with the heart and its inclinations still may many times be a severe one; but it ends, not as in Romans 7, in defeat, but in victory. Evil may be "present," but it rules no longer. The "new creature" is but "new" with the strength of the child, but that strength may be increased until the walk is with the firm and victorious tread of the man in Christ. Self-control, though in no strength of Self, is enjoyed and exhibited; patience and forgiveness of injuries—an impossible task to the natural heart—become possibilities and facts. Every mission-field, every Christian congregation, has its "modern miracles," its moral miracles: degraded ones lifted out of the slough of gross or cruel sin; the utter, hard, proud, cold worldling-life melted away, and giving place to humility, unselfishness, tenderness, sympathy, self-sacrificing benevolence, and so on. Facts prove Paul's words true. And only the Gospel of the kingdom of God has ever thus solved the moral problems which were the despair of the noblest ancient philosophers and ethics. The privilege of the regenerate life, moreover, should not be taken to stop short of this possession of moral power. The Gospel gives the moral leverage and the fulcrum—both—with which the world may be lifted. And this is no mere Christian boasting, but an assertion whose truth is verified in the whole history of the modern world. The representative world was sick at heart and corrupt, hastening to political and social ruin and disintegration, when Christianity came and put a new force into man and society. The world took a new start, and began a new life, at the era of the advent of the "kingdom of God." And if it has seemed to fail in persons or in societies since, it is when it has degenerated into a thing of "words" only, in creeds and pulpits and life; and, indeed, has reverted to the ethics of cultured heathen naturalism in its doctrine of human nature; still bearing the Christian name, wearing the Christian mask, but heathen—natural—at heart, and in all essential principles and motives, and in the force which is appealed to for recovering man from degradation and moral failure and ruin.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/1-corinthians-4.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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