I Corinthians 4
Judgments, Human and Divine, Respecting Ministers. (vs. 1-5)
1 Let a man so account of us” - Since it is inevitable that Christians should form some
estimate of the position of their ministers, Paul proceeds to tell them what that estimate
should be. Ministers are not to be unduly magnified, for their position is subordinate; they
are not to be unduly depreciated, for if they are faithful they may appeal from frivolous
human prejudices and careless depreciations to that only Judge and Master before whom
they stand or fall – “as of the ministers” - They are uJphre>tav -–huperetai – (in its
derivation “under rowers”) in their relation to Christ; they are diakonoi -–diakonoi –
(servant, attendant, minister), [ch. 3:5] in their relation to men – “of Christ” – and
therefore responsible to Him - “and stewards of the mysteries of God.” - musth>rion,
- moos-tay’-ree-on; The word “mysteries” means truths once hidden but now revealed;
as in Luke 8:10, “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the
A minister is not to be estimated as a supernatural teacher, or a civil autocrat, or an infallible
critic, but as an ambassador from Christ, who reveals to the “initiated” that which they could
not otherwise know. 2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found
faithful.” - It may be required of him as a minister that he should be faithful, but if, being
faithful, he is misjudged and depreciated, his appeal lies to a truer and loftier tribunal.
What is required of ministers is neither brilliancy, nor eloquence, nor profound
knowledge, nor success, but only — FIDELITY! 3 But with me it is a very small
thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment” - The brief day of human
life is bounded by too narrow an horizon for accurate judgments. Many of the greatest and
best men have felt that they must leave to other generations the right estimate of their
characters, views, and actions. The Corinthians might have expected that the conclusion
of Paul’s remarks would be a recognition of their right to sit in judgment on his faithfulness;
but it is, on the contrary, an expression of his complete indifference to their shallow and
unfair estimate, and an appeal to the approval of his own conscience and to the judgment
of the Lord – “yea, I judge not mine own self.” - Here, as in the previous clause and in
ch. 6:4, the verb is not kri>nw - krino, I judge, but ajnakri>nw - anakrino, I examine.
Thus the verse discourages all morbid self introspection. It also shows that Paul is not
arrogantly proclaiming himself superior to the opinion of the Corinthians, but is
pointing out the necessary inadequacy of all human judgments. The heart is too liable to
self deceit (Jeremiah 17:9-10) to enable it to pronounce a judgment with unerring accuracy.
Hence neither a man’s contemporaries nor the man himself can form any final estimate of
him or of his fitting position, because their knowledge is too imperfect. History often
reverses the decision of contemporaries. 4 For I know nothing by myself” - rather,
nothing against myself. The phrase of the Authorized Version originally meant this,
but is now obsolete in this sense. The same phrase occurs in the LXX. of Job 27:6.
Paul says, “The verdict of my own conscience acquits me of all intentional unfaithfulness;”
but this is insufficient, because God sees with clearer eyes than ours. “Who can
understand his errors?” asks the psalmist (Psalm 19:12); and the “secret faults”
against which he prays are not hidden vices, but sins of which he was himself unconscious.
It must be remembered that Paul is here only speaking with conscious integrity of his
ministerial work.. The confessions of the holiest are ever the most humble –“yet am I
not hereby justified” – Because “every way of a man” is apt to be “right in his own
eyes,” but God pondereth the hearts, and therefore in God’s sight “no man living is
justified.” Paul is here using the word in its legal rather than its theological sense – “but He
that judgeth me is the Lord.” This is a reason for serious awe and deep self searching of
heart (Psalm 130:3; Job 9:2). Yet also for hope and confidence when a man can, like the
modern statesman, “look from the storm without to the sunshine of an approving
conscience within.” For God, being “greater than our hearts” (I John 3:20-21), may
count “the long ‘yes’ of life” against the one “no,” or the single faithless minute. Knowing
whereof we are made, remembering that we are but dust, (Psalm 103:14) He looks on us
“With larger other eyes than ours,
To make allowance for us all.”
5 Therefore judge nothing before the time” - Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, insists
with some indignation on this duty of checking the tendency to vain depreciation, both
because we have not the capacity for forming adequate judgments, and because
censoriousness is a very common though thoroughly unchristian vice (Romans 14:4,10,13).
“until the Lord come” - The advent is called in the New Testament sometimes the
“epiphany,” - ejpifa>neia, —the advent of Christ (past or future): and sometimes
the “parousia” - parousi>a, —advent (often, return; specially of Christ to punish
a time entirely indefinite – “who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness”
“All things are naked and open unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do”
(Hebrews 4:13, compare Ecclesiastes 12:14) – “and will make manifest the counsels
of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” - rather, each one
shall then have his praise (i.e. such praise as he deserves) from God. The “praise from
God” — the “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21,23) is so infinitely
precious that it reduces to insignificance the comparative value of human praise or blame.
Contrast Between the Inflated Self-Sufficiency of the Corinthians and
the Earthly Humiliation of the Apostles (vs. 6-13)
6 And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos
for your sakes” – Paul, by rebuking party spirit in his own partisans and those of the teacher
who was most closely allied to himself, he robbed his remarks of all semblance of personality
or bitterness – “that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written,
that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.” The expression is a profound
one. The glorying in men (ch. 3:21), undesirable in any circumstances, becomes the more
pernicious because the exaltation of one set of teachers is almost invariably accompanied by
mean and unjust depreciation of any who could be supposed to be their rivals. The Corinthian
who was “for Cephas” would be almost certain to be, to some extent, “against Paul.”
7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst
not receive?” - Even supposing that you have some special gift, it is a gift, not a merit,
and therefore it is a boon for which to be thankful, not a pre-eminence of which to boast.
“now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?
8 Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I
would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. 9 For I think that
God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death:” This daily
doom is referred to by Paul in ch.15:30-31, II Corinthians 4:11, Romans 8:36) – “for we
are made a spectacle” - qe>atron, — theh’-at-ron; literally, “a theater”. The same
metaphor is used in Hebrews 10:33 – “unto the world, and to angels,” - The word,
when used without an epithet, always means good angels, who are here supposed to look
down in sympathy (comp. Hebrews 12:22; I Peter 1:12) – “and to men.” 10 We are
fools for Christ’s sake” - The irony is softened by the intervening sentences, and as
regards the apostles there is no irony. Paul was called “a seed pecker” (spermologos)
Epicureans and Stoics at
26:24) - “but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak” - The consciousness of physical and
personal weakness weighed heavily on the mind of Paul in moments of depression (II
Corinthians 10:10; 13:4) – “but ye are strong; ye are honorable, but we are despised.
11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are
buffeted” - The verb means literally, are slapped in the face (comp. II Corinthians 12:7).
Such insults, together with scourgings, fell to the lot of Paul (Acts 23:2) and the other apostles
(Acts 16:23, I Peter 2:20), as well as to that of their Lord (Matthew 26:67). It showed the
utter contempt with which they were treated; for though Paul ought to have been exempt
from such violence, both as a freeman and a Roman citizen, he was treated as vilely as if he
had been a mere foreign slave – “and have no certain dwelling place” – This
homelessness was among the severest of all trials (Matthew 8:20, 10:23) 12 And labor,
working with our own hands:” Paul supported himself by the dreary toil and scant
earnings of a tent maker, in the express determination to be no burden upon his converts
(Acts 18:3; 20:34; I Thessalonians 2:9; II Thessalonians 3:8; ch. 9:6; II Corinthians 11:7).
Such conduct was the more noble because all mechanical trades were looked down upon
by the Greeks as a sort of βάναυσος banausia, an epithet of the class of manual laborers
or artisans in Ancient Greece. And though it was repellent and mechanical work to be
handling the strong scented black goats’ hair all day, yet by this labor he maintained not
only himself but also his brother missionaries (Acts 20:34) – “being reviled, we bless;
being persecuted, we suffer it: 13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as
the filth” - perika>qarmata - per-ee-kath’-ar-mah-tah – filth, refuse, (modern
garbage) – “of the world and are the offscouring of all things” - peri>ywma, —
per-ip’-so-mah; off-scrappings, scum, off-scouring – He is probably thinking of scenes
which he had already faced and would have to face hereafter, when mobs shouted
against him that he was “a pestilent fellow” (Acts 24:5) and not fit to live (Acts 22:22) -
“unto this day.
Practical Steps in Dealing with Party Divisions (vs. 14-21)
14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you” –
rather, I admonish. Paul here gives the reason why he cannot write angrily or bitterly,
even though he has used strong expostulation and keen irony. It is because he regards
himself as their spiritual father (comp. II Corinthians 6:13; 12:14-15; I Thessalonians 2:11).
15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many
fathers: - Paul felt a yearning desire that his unique claim as the founder of their Church
should not be so ungratefully overlooked, as though it were of no importance (chps. 3:6;
9:1-2; Acts 18:11) – “for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.” - rather, imitators. He makes
the same appeal in ch.11:1; Philippians 3:17. Of course, he only uses his human example
as a guide to them in the special virtues of humility, self denial, and faithfulness (I Peter 5:3;
Hebrews 13:7). In the highest sense we can only be “imitators of God” (Ephesians 5:1).
17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and
faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be
in Christ, as I teach every where in every church. 18 Now some are puffed up,
as though I would not come to you.” - Paul was on
the eve of starting for
on his way to visit them (ch.16:5), but, owing to the grievous state of the Church, he
subsequently changed his purpose (II Corinthians 1:15, 23). When he left them he had
promised to return, “if God wilt” (Acts 18:21). His many enemies and critics were
likely to say, “He is afraid to come himself, and so he sends Timothy.” They flattered
themselves that he was alarmed by their culture and intellectualism. 19 But I will come
to you shortly, if the Lord will” – exhibiting a real and humble spirit of dependence
upon the Lord – “and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but
the power. 20 For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. 21 What will
ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?
Man an Object of Angelic Observation (v. 9)
“For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to
death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.”
The margin reads “theatre” for “spectacle,” from the Greek word qe>atron. The reference,
in all probability, is to the ancient amphitheatre, whose arena was surrounded by circular
seats, capable of accommodating thousands of spectators. In this arena trained athletes
struggled for prizes in the ancient games; on such an arena Paul speaks of himself and fellow
laborers as struggling, the objects not only of human but of angelic spectators. The world is
indeed a moral theatre, every man an actor, and disembodied spirits look on as spectators.
“We are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” – (Hebrews 12:1).
Angels as spectators are intelligent, interested, numerous, constant. If the eyes of such
intelligences are constantly upon us, what are the practical conclusions?
man lives unto himself; each unit is a link in being’s endless chain. His
actions must tell banefully or beneficently on the creation; hence all loving
and loyal intelligences direct, their attention to him with deep and
unabating interest. Besides, men and angels are off-springs of the same
Father, participators of the same nature, subjects of the same moral
government. No wonder they are so concerned.
doubly careful are our actors on the stage, in the presence of spectators
distinguished for the highest genius, erudition, and artistic culture! It
behoves every man to be cautious how he acts in the presence of his fellow
creatures, whether they are children or adults, plebeians or princes; “whoso
shall offend one of these little which believe in me, it were better
for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he
were drowned in the sea” – (Matthew 18:6) but how much more cautious
should he be when he knows that angels, whose pure natures loathe sin in all
its forms, have their keenest gaze fastened ever on his life.
attempt to cloak or dissemble our sins is absurdly futile. Whilst there is
One who reads the heart, there may be millions who mark all our overt
acts, whether wrought in darkness or in light.
Those celestial spirits are sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation.
(Hebrews 1:14) - They have received a Divine commission to bear us up,
lest we dash our feet against a stone. (Psalm 91:11-12, Matthew 4:6) In all
ages they have rendered assistance to the good. They helped Abraham on the
Mamre, (Genesis 18:1-16) and
19:18-22), they freed the apostle Peter from the prison; (Acts 12:7) - they
bore the spirit of Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham. (Luke 16:22)
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us
run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and
finisher of our faith” - (Hebrews 12:1-2).