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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

a. Apostles are dispensers of God’s mysteries, to be judged solely by God, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.

1. A man—Any or every person.

Us—The apostles, and, inferentially, all true ministers.

Ministers—The Greek word signifies etymologically under-rowers; as if Christ were chief navigator in the boat and his apostles were rowing under him. Thence it commonly means any servant or subordinate aid.

Stewards—Any dispensers of any treasured value, as cashiers or distributers of property.

Mysteries—The entire mass of divine truths, hitherto held secret by God, but now for the first time revealed in Christ; hence embracing all that was truly new to the world, Jews or Gentiles, in the doctrines and institutes of the Christian dispensation. The disclosing these mysteries was the high office of the first commissioned evangelists and apostles. To them primitively Christ had said, (Matthew 13:1,) “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” In this, Paul means to say, consists the broad difference between the Christian apostle and the sages of Greek philosophy. The former received their system by revelation from Christ; the latter invented theirs from their own brains. Christ is alone the divine original.


Verse 2

2. Faithful—The sophos, or sage, was expected to be original, fertile, creative of plausible and, if possible, true theories. Of the steward could only be required that he be faithful in transmitting and communicating what he had received.


Verses 3-5

3-5. In these verses, though Paul speaks in the first person singular, as a chief specimen and instance, yet the other apostles, and all true ministers, are, by analogy, included.

Judged of you—The steward is not responsible to the receivers of the bounty he dispenses, but to the giver from whom he receives. Let the apostle be but the true and faithful reporter of what he receives from Christ, and he is responsible to no other judge.

Judge not mine own self—From the first hour that he surrendered himself, on the road to Damascus, to the Lord Christ, he had received Christ to judge in all things for him.


Verse 4

4. Know nothing by myselfI am conscious of nothing against myself— Such is the sense of the Greek; and such was the sense of the English at the time our version was made. Paul was unconscious of any wrong.

Not hereby justified—For our judgment of ourselves is often very partial, and so erroneous. The maxim of human law is, that no man is a true judge in his own case. Yet though conscience is no infallible judge of right in our own case, it is the best natural guide that man possesses, and when followed with profound and devout honesty the man will, by divine goodness, be guided to salvation.

Judgeth… Lord—Our final Judge is the only infallible Judge. And our only sure way is to repent most deeply of every even unknown sin, and submit ourselves supremely to him.

Judgeth me—Having placed himself entirely under the service of that Judge, Paul claimed to be solely judged by him.

Judge nothing—We cannot, indeed, avoid forming an opinion before the judgment day; but what Paul claimed was, that he was by apostolic office, as by them admitted, superior to their present judgment.

Bring to light—Shed light upon.

Hidden things of darknessThings hidden or covered by darkness. All the partisan conclaves and plots at Corinth.

Counsels—The mental plans and purposes of parties and leaders.

Praise—From delicacy speaking of praise only, though plenty of blame may be supposed in many cases.

Of God—Hence, 1 Corinthians 3:21, glory in men is unnecessary.


Verse 5

5. The true Dignity of the Apostles, 1 Corinthians 4:1-13.

1. Stewards of divine mysteries to be judged by their own masters, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.

2. Not to be treated with partisan arrogance, 1 Corinthians 4:6-8.

3. The effects of which arrogance on the suffering apostles is vividly depicted, 1 Corinthians 4:9-13.


Verse 6

b. Apostles not to be treated with arrogance, 1 Corinthians 4:6-8.

6. In a figure—By way of illustration.

Transferred—Applied. Though the same things or utterances might be well predicated of other apostles and apostolic men, nay, even of all true ministers in all times, yet he had spoken them of Apollos and himself as representative cases.

Your sakes—That you might understand the position in which, as your apostles, we stand.

Might learn in us—By taking the example of Paul and Apollos they might learn that these true leaders shared not their strifes, and so return to unity and peace.

Above… written—In the Scriptures of the Old Testament, the only Scripture perhaps then known to Corinth. The Scripture standard according to which they should think of men, is suggested by Paul in his quotations 1 Corinthians 3:20-21.


Verse 7

7. With their haughty spirit, St. Paul now expostulates. Christian modesty should inspire us, not with pride in our superiorities, but with gratitude to Him who gave them.

Maketh… differ—This question refers not to that difference by which one man is an heir of heaven and another is an heir of hell; for that stupendous difference is made by God to result largely from ourselves. For if even our salvation be of God, certainly our damnation is of ourselves. It refers to those temporal advantages by which one set was proudly swelling over the other.

Didst not receive—Piety does not require us to be unconscious of wealth, or talent, or power. It indeed breathes into us a sweetly humbled gratitude to God, who gives, and an earnest desire to use them with sweeter zest to his glory.

Glory—Implying a self-inflation as repugnant to manly character as it is to Christian piety.


Verse 8

8. Full—St. Paul describes them, with a gentle irony, as they felt themselves. Full, implying a general self-satisfaction, as if they had all they could wish.

Rich—Referring to that secular wealth by which, in a rapidly growing city, many of the members may have grown suddenly rich.

Have reigned… kings—Kings in royal fancy.

Without us—All this was in Paul’s absence; and although their power and true glory as a Church was due to him, their inflation had forgotten him and had only puffed up themselves.

I would… ye did reign—As the righteous will reign in glory.

With you—For in the blessed reign of the glorified kingdom all the saints of God will reign together.


Verse 9

9. For—I could desire to reign with you, for we are sad sufferers in our present state. With a deep pathos the apostle describes his own personal sufferings, yet in words includes the other apostles in the picture. The passage seems to justify the belief that the other apostles had a history of suffering, but lacked an historian.

God—He recognises the appointment of God in this divine mission of suffering. The suffering had to be endured by somebody, and God wisely selects his instruments.

Set forth—St. Paul here delicately pictures an ideal amphitheatre, familiar to the Corinthian memory. The world, with angels and men for spectators, and the apostles as victims to the beast. Such ideal martyrdom was realized in later history, of which this passage is a shadowy prophecy. The theatre was a semicircle, the amphitheatre a double theatre in full circle.

Apostles last—Equivalent to lowest.

A spectacle—The original is a theatre; for exhibition in the amphitheatre.

Unto men—Literally, to the world—both to angels and to men.


Verses 9-13

c. The effects of such arrogance on the apostles depicted, 1 Corinthians 4:9-13.

The vivid picture of their exaltation is now darkly contrasted with the dangers, (1 Corinthians 4:8-9,) depreciation, (1 Corinthians 4:10,) privations, (1 Corinthians 4:11-12,) and insults, (1 Corinthians 4:12-13,) really endured by the apostles.


Verse 10

10. Wise… strong… honourable—These were the epithets with which the proud element of the Church puffed themselves and each other up.

Fools… weak… depised—Such were the epithets the apostles were obliged to encounter in their missions through the world.


Verse 11

11. Even unto this present hour—While I write to you from Ephesus I am the subject of such a life.

Buffeted—Struck with the clenched fist.

No certain dwellingplace—Without position, or fixed residence.


Verse 12

12. Working… hands—Not only at Corinth at first, (Acts 18:3,) but in Ephesus now. Acts 20:34.

Reviled… bless—The words, perhaps, indicate that St. Paul had read the Gospel of Matthew. See Matthew 5:39; Matthew 5:44.


Verse 13

13. Filth… offscouring—Washings, scrapings. The former word refers to matter or things washed off by water in cleansing the object; the latter signifies matter rubbed off by scraping or friction. Hence both terms are figuratively used to designate worthless persons. But as it was customary among the pagans in time of any great calamity (as plague or defeat) to put to death some worthless person as a sacrifice to the gods to avert the evil, so both these words came to be used to signify a sacrificial victim.


Verse 14

14. I—Whether he has spoken in the singular or plural heretofore, he has generally meant himself only as a representative, including a constituency. Here he means his own personal self.

These things—The ironies upon their pride, (1 Corinthians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 4:10,) and the pictures of apostolic sufferings, 1 Corinthians 4:11-13.

Warn you, that these feuds and prides will bring penalty upon you.


Verses 14-21

6. The personal apostolic authority of Paul asserted, 14-21.

Unequivocally St. Paul at last concentrates upon the single point to which he has been converging from the very first start of the epistle at 1 Corinthians 1:10. In rebuking the Corinthian feuds, and renouncing all leadership of that sort, he was preparing, step by step, to lead them to the true ground on which, as their founder, father, and apostle, his authority was sole and divine.


Verse 15

15. For—As the ground of my assuming this authority.

Instructors— Tutors, or children-governors.

Fathers… I—At this decisive point Paul asserts his authority as one and sole.


Verse 16

16. Followers—Imitators, as of a model. Christianity is new; and what fashion of character it requires us to shape ourselves to needs not only an inspired instruction but a living pattern. It was a greatness in St. Paul, that, disclaiming all originality, and claiming to be like Christ, he could call the world to imitate himself. Notes on Acts 20:17-38.


Verse 17

17. For this cause—To keep my model of Christianity fresh before you. For as I imitate Christ so Timothy imitates me, and so do you imitate Timothy. Thereby, through me and Timothy, you shall be shaped to the true Christ-model.

Bring… into remembrance—You learned it once, when I was with you; but, alas! through my absence and your sinfulness you have too much forgotten it.

My ways—My style of Christian character as an example; and my methods of promoting the conversion and sanctification of souls.

As I teach—In doctrine and morals, of which the future chapters of this epistle are an example for later ages.


Verse 18

18. Some—They must have been a small and bitter minority. The large majority was Pauline; the admirers of Apollos were in affinity with the Pauline; and even the Christine party would prefer the apostle of the Gentiles to the Judaizers, who abused the name of Peter by writing it upon their banners. It is among these last that we must specially look for this bitter some.

Puffed up—Swelling with boastful hostility.

Would not come—This spurious apostle, say they, who never saw Christ except in a fancied daydream, and who abolishes circumcision, will scarce dare to return to Corinth and face us, the true circumcised disciples of Peter, the chiefest of Jesus’ own apostles.


Verse 19

19. I will come—Emphatic will, if not defiant.

Lord will—A reverent proviso qualifying the defiance. See James 4:15.

Will know—By direct issue and full experiment.

Not the speech of them—Which is all we have thus far had.

Power—Their efficiency in refuting my gospel and impeaching my apostolic authority to preach it.


Verse 20

20. Kingdom of God—God’s sovereignty in establishing the gospel and Church of his Son on earth. Not exerted in word only, but in power both of a divinely energized preaching and miraculous deeds.


Verse 21

21. What—Now St. Paul brings the assertion of his apostolic absoluteness to its final and sharpest point.

A rod—An emblem denoting right to punish, whether by parent, by tutor, or by magistrate, and St. Paul was now all three.

Love—As the antithesis of severity, which, however, is often only a form of love.

Spirit—The temper.

Meekness—Gentleness in action.

On this chapter we note:—

1. St. Paul claims to speak with a binding authority; not because he was personally infallible in all he said and did, but because he was writing to the Church in his apostolic office, whereto he was called by Christ, and wherein he spoke with the inspiration and authority of Christ. Reciprocally the spiritual in the Church was endowed with more or less power to discern the Spirit of Christ as speaking in him with a divine authority. So St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:15 appeals to the wisest Corinthians to judge what he says; in 1 Corinthians 14:33 he quotes the “Churches of the saints;” and in 1 Corinthians 14:37 he appeals specially to the judgment of the “spiritual.” Hence it is by the double witness of inspired apostle and inspired Church that our holy canon of Scripture is authenticated.

2. The Church is, indeed, earlier and older than Scripture. The Church of the New Testament was for a time without a New Testament. And we may concede to the Romanist that it is the Church that gives the Scriptures to the world. Nevertheless the same Spirit that gave the Church gave also the Scripture, as rule and law to the Church. Just because tradition is, by lapse of time, liable to mutation and misunderstanding, the Spirit moved holy men to write. The Church of Corinth, being endowed by the Spirit to realize the divine authority of the apostle, was bound by that authority. So even the Church that gives the Scripture is not superior, but subordinate, to the Scripture she gives, and must be judged by it.

3. Doubtless the apostles wrote many a letter which has not been preserved, as they spoke many a word that was never recorded. It does not follow that those lost letters were inspired, or that the loss was a loss to the sacred canon. Very probably the Church, as a whole, was moved and overruled to deposit in her archives, to read in her Sunday service, and to hand down to posterity, only those writings that were truly canonical.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-corinthians-4.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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