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 kingdom of God.”

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

Jerusalem, or finally the wicked);  the word used for “until” - e[wv, (heos an) points to

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)

by the Epicureans and Stoics at Athens, and Festus in full court called him “mad.” (Acts

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 Macedonia

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?



                                                ADDITIONAL NOTES


                        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

            plains of Mamre, (Genesis 18:1-16) and Lot in his flight towards Zoar; (ibid.

            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).