1.Let a man so account of us: As it was a matter of no little importance to see the Church in this manner torn by corrupt factions, from the likings or dislikings that were entertained towards individuals, he enters into a still more lengthened discussion as to the ministry of the word. Here there are three things to be considered in their order. In the first place, Paul describes the office of a pastor of the Church. Secondly, he shows, that it is not enough for any one to produce a title, or even to undertake the duty — a faithful administration of the office being requisite. Thirdly, as the judgment formed of him by the Corinthians was preposterous, he calls both himself and them to the judgment-seat of Christ. In the first place, then, he teaches in what estimation every teacher in the Church ought to be held. In this department he modifies his discourse in such a manner as neither, on the one hand, to lower the credit of the ministry, nor, on the other, to assign to man more than is expedient. For both of these things are exceedingly dangerous, because, when ministers are lowered, contempt of the word arises, while, on the other hand, if they are extolled beyond measure, they abuse liberty, and become “wanton against the Lord.” (1Ti_5:11.) Now the medium observed by Paul consists in this, that he calls them ministers of Christ; by which he intimates, that they ought to apply themselves not to their own work but to that of the Lord, who has hired them as his servants, and that they are not appointed to bear rule in an authoritative manner in the Church, but are subject to Christ’s authority — in short, that they are servants, not masters.
As to what he adds — stewards of the mysteries of God, he expresses hereby the kind of service. By this he intimates, that their office extends no farther than this, that they are stewards of the mysteries of God. In other words, what the Lord has committed to their charge they deliver over to men from hand to hand — as the expression is — not what they themselves might choose. “For this purpose has God chosen them as ministers of his Son, that he might through them communicate to men his heavenly wisdom, and hence they ought not to move a step beyond this.” He appears, at the same time, to give a stroke indirectly to the Corinthians, who, leaving in the background the heavenly mysteries, had begun to hunt with excessive eagerness after strange inventions, and hence they valued their teachers for nothing but profane learning. It is an honorable distinction that he confers upon the gospel when he terms its contents the mysteries of God. But as the sacraments are connected with these mysteries as appendages, it follows, that those who have the charge of administering the word are the authorized stewards of them also.
Let a man so account of us – This is a continuation of the subject in the preceding chapter; and should not have been divided from it.
The fourth chapter would have begun better at 1Co_4:6, and the third should have ended with the fifth verse (1Co_4:5).
As of the ministers of Christ – Ως υπηρετας Χριστου. The word υπηρετης means an under-rower, or one, who, in the trireme, quadrireme, or quinquereme galleys, rowed in one of the undermost benches; but it means also, as used by the Greek writers, any inferior officer or assistant. By the term here the apostle shows the Corinthians that, far from being heads and chiefs, he and his fellow apostles considered themselves only as inferior officers, employed under Christ from whom alone they received their appointment their work, and their recompense.
Stewards of the mysteries of God – Και οικονομους μυστηριων Θεου, Economists of the Divine mysteries. See the explanation of the word steward in the note on Mat_24:45, (note); Luk_8:3, (note); Luk_12:42, (note)
The steward, or oikonomos, was the master’s deputy in regulating the concerns of the family, providing food for the household, seeing it served out at the proper times and seasons, and in proper quantities. He received all the cash, expended what was necessary for the support of the family, and kept exact accounts, which he was obliged at certain times to lay before the master. The mysteries, the doctrines of God, relative to the salvation of the world by the passion and death of Christ; and the inspiration, illumination, and purification of the soul by the Spirit of Christ, constituted a principal part of the Divine treasure intrusted to the hands of the stewards by their heavenly Master; as the food that was to be dispensed at proper times, seasons, and in proper proportions to the children and domestics of the Church, which is the house of God.
1Co 4:1 Let a man account us, as servants of Christ – The original word properly signifies such servants as laboured at the oar in rowing vessels; and, accordingly, intimates the pains which every faithful minister takes in his Lord’s work. O God, where are these ministers to be found? Lord, thou knowest. And stewards of the mysteries of God – Dispenseth of the mysterious truths of the gospel.
Let a man – Let all; let this be the estimate formed of us by each one of you.
So account of us – So think of us, the apostles.
As the ministers of Christ – As the servants of Christ. Let them form a true estimate of us and our office – not as the head of a faction; not as designing to form parties, but as unitedly and entirely the servants of Christ; see 1Co_3:5.
And stewards – Stewards were those who presided over the affairs of a family, and made provision for it, etc.; see the note at Luk_16:1. It was an office of much responsibility; and the apostle by using the term here seems to have designed to elevate those whom he seemed to have depreciated in 1Co_3:5.
Of the mysteries of God – Of the gospel; see the note at 1Co_2:7. The office of steward was to provide those things which were necessary for the use of a family. And so the office of a minister of the gospel, and a steward of its mysteries, is to dispense such instructions, guidance, counsel, etc., as may be requisite to build up the church of Christ; to make known those sublime truths which are contained in the gospel, but which had not been made known before the revelation of Jesus Christ, and which are, therefore, called “mysteries.” It is implied in this verse:
(1) That the office of a minister is one that is subordinate to Christ – they are his servants.
(2) that those in the office should not attempt to be the head of sect or party in the church.
(3) that the office is honorable as that of a steward is; and,
(4) That Christians should endeavor to form and cherish just ideas of ministers; to give them their TRUE honor; but not to overrate their importance.
Ministers of Christ (huperetas Christou). Paul and all ministers (diakonous) of the New Covenant (1Co_3:5) are under-rowers, subordinate rowers of Christ, only here in Paul’s Epistles, though in the Gospels (Luk_4:20 the attendant in the synagogue) and the Acts (Act_13:5) of John Mark. The so (houtos) gathers up the preceding argument (3:5-23) and applies it directly by the as (hos) that follows.
Stewards of the mysteries of God (oikonomous musterion theou). The steward or house manager (oikos, house, nemo, to manage, old word) was a slave (doulos) under his lord (kurios, Luk_12:42), but a master (Luk_16:1) over the other slaves in the house (menservants paidas, maidservants paidiskas Luk_12:45), an overseer (epitropos) over the rest (Mat_20:8). Hence the under-rower (huperetes) of Christ has a position of great dignity as steward (oikonomos) of the mysteries of God. Jesus had expressly explained that the mysteries of the kingdom were open to the disciples (Mat_13:11). They were entrusted with the knowledge of some of God’s secrets though the disciples were not such apt pupils as they claimed to be (Mat_13:51; Mat_16:8-12). As stewards Paul and other ministers are entrusted with the mysteries (see note on 1Co_2:7 for this word) of God and are expected to teach them. “The church is the oikos (1Ti_3:15), God the oikodespotes (Mat_13:52), the members the oikeioi (Gal_6:10; Eph_2:19)” (Lightfoot). Paul had a vivid sense of the dignity of this stewardship (oikonomia) of God given to him (Col_1:25; Eph_1:10). The ministry is more than a mere profession or trade. It is a calling from God for stewardship.
But it is required in ministers- It is as though he had said, it is not enough to be a steward if there be not an upright stewardship. Now the rule of an upright stewardship, is to conduct one’s self in it with fidelity. It is a passage that ought to be carefully observed, for we see how haughtily Papists require that everything that they do and teach should have the authority of law, simply on the ground of their being called pastors. On the other hand, Paul is so far from being satisfied with the mere title, that, in his view, it is not even enough that there is a legitimate call, unless the person who is called conducts himself in the office with fidelity. On every occasion, therefore, on which Papists hold up before us the mask of a name, for the purpose of maintaining the tyranny of their idol, let our answer be, that Paul requires more than this from the ministers of Christ, though, at the same time, the Pope and his attendant train are wanting not merely in fidelity in the discharge of the office, but also in the ministry itself, if everything is duly considered.
This passage, however, militates, not merely against wicked teachers, but also against all that have any other object in view than the glory of Christ and the edification of the Church. For every one that teaches the truth is not necessarily faithful, but, only he who desires from the heart to serve the Lord and advance Christ’s kingdom. Nor is it without good reason that Augustine assigns to hirelings, (Joh_10:12,) a middle place between the wolves and the good teachers. As to Christ’s requiring wisdom also on the part of the good steward, (Luk_12:42,) he speaks, it is true, in that passage with greater clearness than Paul, but the meaning is the same. For the faithfulness of which Christ speaks is uprightness of conscience, which must be accompanied with sound and prudent counsel. By a faithful minister Paul means one who, with knowledge as well as uprightness, discharges the office of a good and faithful minister.
Moreover … – The fidelity required of stewards seems to be adverted to here, in order to show that the apostles acted from a higher principle than a desire to please man, or to be regarded as at the head of a party; and they ought so to esteem them as bound, like all stewards, to be faithful to the master whom they served.
It is required … – It is expected of them; it is the “main” or “leading” thing in their office. Eminently in that office fidelity is required as an indispensable and cardinal virtue. Fidelity to the master, faithfulness to his trust, as the virtue which by way of eminence is demanded there. In other offices other virtues may be particularly required. But here fidelity is demanded. This is required particularly because it is an office of trust; because the master’s goods are at his disposal; because there is so much opportunity for the steward to appropriate those goods to his own use, so that his master cannot detect it. There is a strong similarity between the office of a steward and that of a minister of the gospel. But it is not needful here to dwell on the resemblance. The idea of Paul seems to be:
(1) That a minister, like a steward, is devoted to his master’s service, and should regard himself as such.
(2) that he should be faithful to that trust, and not abuse or violate it.
(3) that he should not be judged by his fellow-stewards, or fellow-servants, but that his main desire should be to meet with the approbation of his master – A minister should be faithful for obvious reasons. Because:
(a) He is appointed by Jesus Christ;
(b) Because he must answer to him;
(c) Because the honor of Christ, and the welfare of his kingdom is entrusted to him; and,
(d) Because of the importance of the matter committed to his care; and the importance of fidelity can be measured only by the consequences of his labors to those souls in an eternal heaven or an eternal hell.
3.But with me it is a very small thing- It remained that he should bring before their view his faithfulness, that the Corinthians might judge of him from this, but, as their judgment was corrupted, he throws it aside and appeals to the judgment-seat of Christ. The Corinthians erred in this, that they looked with amazement at foreign masks, and gave no heed to the true and proper marks of distinction. He, accordingly, declares with great confidence, that he despises a perverted and blind judgment of this sort. In this way, too, he, on the one hand, admirably exposes the vanity of the false Apostles who made the mere applause of men their aim, and reckoned themselves happy if they were held in admiration; and, on the other hand, he severely chastises the arrogance of the Corinthians, which was the reason why they were so much blinded in their judgment.
But, it is asked, on what ground it was allowable for Paul, not merely to set aside the censure of one Church, but to set himself above the judgment of men? for this is a condition common to all pastors — to be judged of by the Church. I answer, that it is the part of a good pastor to submit both his doctrine and his life for examination to the judgment of the Church, and that it is the sign of a good conscience not to shun the light of careful inspection. In this respect Paul, without doubt, was prepared for submitting himself to the judgment of the Corinthian Church, and for being called to render an account both of his life and of his doctrine, had there been among them a proper scrutiny, as he often assigns them this power, and of his own accord entreats them to be prepared to judge aright. But when a faithful pastor sees that he is borne down by unreasonable and perverse affections, and that justice and truth have no place, he ought to appeal to God, and betake himself to his judgment-seat, regardless of human opinion, especially when he cannot secure that a true and proper knowledge of matters shall be arrived at.
If, then, the Lord’s servants would bear in mind that they must act in this manner, let them allow their doctrine and life to be brought to the test, nay more, let them voluntarily present themselves for this purpose; and if anything is objected against them, let them not decline to answer. But if they see that they are condemned without being heard in their own defense, and that judgment is passed upon them without their being allowed a hearing, let them raise up their minds to such a pitch of magnanimity, as that, despising the opinions of men, they will fearlessly wait for God as their judge. In this manner the Prophets of old, having to do with refractory persons, and such as had the audacity to despise the word of God in their administration of it, required to raise themselves aloft, in order to tread under foot that diabolical obstinacy, which manifestly tended to overthrow at once the authority of God and the light of truth. Should any one, however, when opportunity is given for defending himself, or at least when he has need to clear himself, appeal to God by way of subterfuge, he will not thereby make good his innocence, but will rather discover his consummate impudence.
Or of man’s day.-While others explain it in another manner, the simpler way, in my opinion, is to understand the word day as used metaphorically to mean judgment, because there are stated days for administering justice, and the accused are summoned to appear on a certain day. He calls it man’s day when judgment is pronounced, not according to truth, or in accordance with the word of the Lord, but according to the humor or rashness of men, and in short, when God does not preside. “Let men,” says he, “sit for judgment as they please: it is enough for me that God will annul whatever they have pronounced.”
Nay, I judge not mine own self. -The meaning is: “I do not venture to judge myself, though I know myself best; how then will you judge me, to whom I am less intimately known?” Now he proves that he does not venture to judge himself by this, that though he is not conscious to himself of anything wrong, he is not thereby acquitted in the sight of God. Hence he concludes, that what the Corinthians assume to themselves, belongs exclusively to God. “As for me,” says he, “when I have carefully examined myself, I perceive that I am not so clear-sighted as to discern thoroughly my true character; and hence I leave this to the judgment of God, who alone can judge, and to whom this authority exclusively belongs. As for you, then, on what ground will you make pretensions to something more?”
As, however, it were very absurd to reject all kinds of judgment, whether of individuals respecting themselves, or of one individual respecting his brother, or of all together respecting their pastor, let it be understood that Paul speaks here not of the actions of men, which may be reckoned good or bad according to the word of the Lord, but of the eminence of each individual, which ought not to be estimated according to men’s humors. It belongs to God alone to determine what distinction every one holds, and what honor he deserves. The Corinthians, however, despising Paul, groundlessly extolled others to the skies, as though they had at their command that knowledge which belonged exclusively to God. This is what he previously made mention of as man’s day— when men mount the throne of judgment, and, as if they were gods, anticipate the day of Christ, who alone is appointed by the Father as judge, allot to every one his station of honor, assign to some a high place, and degrade others to the lowest seats. But what rule of distinction do they observe? They look merely to what appears openly; and thus what in their view is high and honorable, is in many instances an abomination in the sight of God. (Luk_16:15.) If any one farther objects, that the ministers of the word may in this world be distinguished by their works, as trees by their fruits, (Mat_7:16,) I admit that this is true, but we must consider with whom Paul had to deal. It was with persons who, in judging, looked to nothing but show and pomp, and arrogated to themselves a power which Christ., while in this world, refrained from using — that of assigning to every one his seat in the kingdom of God. (Mat_20:23.) He does not, therefore, prohibit us from esteeming those whom we have found to be faithful workmen, and pronouncing them to be such; nor, on the other hand, from judging persons to be bad workmen according to the word of God, but he condemns that rashness which is practiced, when some are preferred above others in a spirit of ambition — not according to their merits, but without examination of the case.
It is a very small thing that I should be judged of you – Those who preferred Apollos or Kephas before St. Paul, would of course give their reasons for this preference; and these might, in many instances, be very unfavourable to his character as a man, a Christian, or an apostle; of this he was regardless, as he sought not his own glory, but the glory of God in the salvation of their souls.
Or of man’s judgment – Η υπο ανθρωπινης ημερας, literally, or of man’s day: but ανθρωπινη ημερα signifies any day set apart by a judge or magistrate to try a man on. This is the meaning of ημερα, Psa_37:13 : The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his Day, η ημερα αυτου, his judgment is coming. Mal_3:17 : And they shall be mine in the Day, εις ημεραν, in the judgment, when I make up my jewels. It has the same meaning in 2Pe_3:10 : But the Day, the Judgment, of the Lord will come. The word ανθρωπινος, man’s, signifies miserable, wretched, woful; so Jer_17:16 : Neither have I desired, יום אנוש yom enosh, the day of man; but very properly translated in our version, the woeful day. God’s Days, Job_24:1, certainly signify God’s Judgments. And the Day of our Lord Jesus, in this epistle, 1Co_1:8; 1Co_5:5, signifies the day in which Christ will judge the world; or rather the judgment itself.
I judge not mine own self – I leave myself entirely to God, whose I am, and whom I serve.
But with me – In my estimate; in regard to myself. That is, I esteem it a matter of no concern. Since I am responsible as a steward to my master only, it is a matter of small concern what men think of me, provided I have his approbation. Paul was not insensible to the good opinion of people. He did not despise their favor or court limit contempt. But this was not the principal thing which he regarded; and we have here a noble elevation of purpose and of aim, which shows how direct was his design to serve and please the master who had appointed him to his office.
That I should be judged – The word rendered “judged” here properly denotes to examine the qualities of any person or thing; and sometimes, as here, to express the result of such examination or judgment. Here it means to “blame” or “condemn.”
Of you – By you. Dear as you are to me as a church and a people, yet my main desire is not to secure your esteem, or to avoid your censure, but to please my master, and secure his approbation.
Or of man’s judgment – Of any man’s judgment. What he had just said, that he esteemed it to be a matter not worth regarding, whatever might be their opinion of him, might seem to look like arrogance, or appear as if he looked upon them with contempt. In order to avoid this construction of his language, he here says that it was not because he despised them, or regarded their opinion as of less value than that of others, but that he had the same feelings in regard to all people. Whatever might be their rank, character, talent, or learning, he regarded it as a matter of the least possible consequence what they thought of him. He was answerable not to them, but to his Master; and he could pursue an independent course whatever they might; think of his conduct. This is designed also evidently to reprove them for seeking so much the praise of each other. The Greek here is “of man’s day,” where “day” is used, as it often is in Hebrew, to denote the day of trial; the Day of Judgment; and then simply Judgment. Thus, the word יום yowm “day” is used in Job_24:1; Psa_37:13; Joe_1:15; Joe_2:1; Mal_4:1.
Yea, I judge not my own self – I do not attempt to pronounce a judgment on myself. I am conscious of imperfection, and of being biased by self-love in my own favor. I do not feel that my judgment of myself would be strictly impartial, and in all respects to be trusted. Favorable as may be my opinion, yet I am sensible that I may be biased. This is designed to soften what he had just said about their judging him, and to show further the little value which is to be put on the judgment which man may form “If I do not regard my own opinion of myself as of high value, I cannot be suspected of undervaluing you when I say that I do not much regard your opinion; and if I do not estimate highly my own opinion of myself, then it is not to be expected that I should set a high value on the opinions of others” – God only is the infallible judge; and as we and our fellow-men are liable to be biased in our opinions, from envy, ignorance, or self-love, we should regard the judgment of the world as of little value.
1 Cor 4:3.—But with me it is a very small thing . . . or of man’s judgment. The Latin version give “of man’s day.” The meaning is the same; for the “day of the Lord” is frequently put for the “judgment of the Lord,” and a day is commonly named for defendants to appear for judgment. Cf. S. Jerome (ad Algas. qu. x.). He adds that Paul, as a native of the Cilician Tarsus, used the Greek idiom common there, and called “human judgment” “man’s day.”
It would, however, be better to say that Paul, being a Hebrew, borrowed this from the idiom of the Hebrews. For he is alluding to Jer, xvii. 16, where Jeremiah, being mocked and persecuted because of his prophecies, says: “Neither have I desired man’s day; Thou knowest.” The day of man is that wherein man prospers, and is honoured and praised by all as powerful, happy, and enviable. Jeremiah’s meaning, then, is: “I have not desired longer life, prosperity, riches, honours, pleasures, or the applauses of men; for if I had looked for such things I should not have prophesied to them of sadness and disaster, but I should have praised their glory and their lusts; but this I did not do, nor desired man’s day or his applause. For I know that man is but frail and miserable, and quickly to vanish away in death with all his goods and glory. Knowing this and recollecting it, I have not desired to please man in my prophecies and teachings, but to please and obey Thee, alone, O God, and to win commendation from none but Thee, and I call upon Thee to be my witness to this by saying, ‘Thou knowest,’ just as Job did when he said (Job_16:19), ‘Behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high.’”
So, too, say S. Jerome, Rabanus, Hugo, S. Thomas, and others. In imitation of Jeremiah, therefore, the Apostle says: “With me it is a very small thing to be judged of you or of man’s day.” In other words, he cared little for the power and wisdom of this world, for man’s favour and applause. Happy he who could say, ” I have not desired man’s day,” and call God for a witness to his truth. This is the height of perfection which enables a man to count all things as dross if only he can gain Christ. This noble portion was that of Moss, who abjured his position as son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
S. Chrysostom well moralises here: “Let us not, therefore, seek the praises of men. For to do so is to offer an insult to God, as though we counted His praise insufficient, and so passed Him by, and strove for that of our fellow-servants. For as those who contend for the mastery in a small arena seek for themselves a larger, because they think that the other is not large enough to display their prowess, so do they who contend in the sight of God pass by the larger arena, when they seek for the applause of men, and heap up for themselves punishment through their lust for the lesser good. Everything has been perverted, the whole world overturned, by this desire of ours to do everything for the sake of men, by our want of diligence in good works, by our disdaining the praise of God, and seeking only that of our fellow-servants. In our crimes, again, we despise God, and fear man; for if man were present we should abstain from fornication, and even though our lust burnt more fiercely its violence would be held in check by very shame lest we be seen by man. But when none but God sees us, we not only are guilty of adultery and fornication, but we have dared and still dare to commit far more heinous wickedness. Would not this alone be enough to bring down upon us God’s avenging thunders? Hence it is that all our woes have sprung, because in our disgraceful actions we fear not God but man.”
S. Chrysostom again (Hom. 17 in Ep. ad Rom.) says: “Just as boys in play put on each other’s heads crowns of hay, and often laugh behind his back at the boy they have crowned, so too do those who speak you fair to your face jeer at you quietly among themselves. What else is this but placing crowns of hay on each other’s heads? Would or were nothing else but hay! But as it is, this crown of ours is full of warning to us, for it destroys all that we have rightly done. Consider, then, its value; flee from the loss it entails. For if there are a hundred, or a thousand, or a host without number to applaud you, yet all of them are nothing more than chattering jackdaws. Nay, if you but think of the cloud of angel-witnesses they will seem viler than worms, and their words more flimsy than cobwebs, more fleeting than smoke, or than a dream of the night. Say to thy soul what Paul said, ‘Knowest thou not that we shall judge angels?’ Then call it away from such a feast, and chide it, and say, ‘Dost thou that art to sit in judgment on angels wish to be judged by such unclean spirits?’”
S. Jerome too (ad Pammach.) wisely says: “The first monastic virtue is to despise the judgment of men, and always to bear in mind the words of the Apostle, ‘If yet I pleased men I should not be the servant of Christ.’ Some such saying, too, did God address to the Prophets when He told them that He would make their face as a city of brass, and an adamantine stone, and an iron pillar, that they might not tremble at the threats of the people, but with unmoved brow tread under foot the impudent jeers of their adversaries.”
Lastly, Anselm says here: “The righteous look not for man’s judgment but for the award of the Eternal Judge, and therefore with Paul they despise the words of detractors.”
This is what one of the Saints meant when he said, “If you wish to be happy learn to despise and to be despised.” Yea, I judge not mine own self. I cannot certainly judge myself, my works, my motives, my conscience.
4.I am not conscious to myself of anything faulty.Let us observe that Paul speaks here not of his whole life, but simply of the office of apostleship. For if he had been altogether unconscious to himself of anything wrong, that would have been a groundless complaint which he makes in Rom_7:15, where he laments that the evil which he would not,that he does, and that he is by sin kept back from giving himself up entirely to God. Paul, therefore, felt sin dwelling in him, and confessed it; but as to his apostleship, (which is the subject that is here treated of,) he had conducted himself with so much integrity and fidelity, that his conscience did not accuse him as to anything. This is a protestation of no common character, and of such a nature as clearly shows the piety and sanctity of his breast; and yet he says that he is not thereby justified, that is, pure, and altogether free from guilt in the sight of God. Why? Assuredly, because God sees much more distinctly than we; and hence, what appears to us cleanest, is filthy in his eyes. Here we have a beautiful and singularly profitable admonition, not to measure the strictness of God’s judgment by our own opinion; for we are dim-sighted, but God is preeminently discerning. We think of ourselves too indulgently, but God is a judge of the utmost strictness. Hence the truth of what Solomon says — “Every man’s ways appear right his own eyes, but the Lord pondereth the hearts.” (Pro_21:2.)
Papists abuse this passage for the purpose of shaking the assurance of faith, and truly, I confess, that if their doctrine were admitted, we could do nothing but tremble in wretchedness during our whole life. For what tranquillity could our minds enjoy if it were to be determined from our works whether we are well-pleasing to God? I confess, therefore, that from the main foundation of Papists there follows nothing but continual disquietude for consciences; and, accordingly, we teach that we must have recourse to the free promise of mercy, which is offered to us in Christ, that we may be fully assured that we are accounted righteous by God.
For I know nothing by myself – There is evidently here an ellipsis to be supplied, and it is well supplied by Grotius, Rosenmuller, Calvin, etc. “I am not conscious of evil, or unfaithfulness to myself; that is, in my ministerial life.” It is well remarked by Calvin, that Paul does not here refer to the whole of his life, but only to his apostleship. And the sense is, “I am conscious of integrity in this office. My own mind does not condemn me of ambition or unfaithfulness. Others may accuse me, but I am not conscious of that which should condemn me, or render me unworthy of this office.” This appeal Paul elsewhere makes to the integrity and faithfulness of his ministry. So his speech before the elders of Ephesus at Miletus; Act_20:18-19, Act_20:26-27; compare 2Co_7:2; 2Co_12:17. It was the appeal which a holy and faithful man could make to the integrity of his public life, and such as every minister of the gospel ought to be able to make.
Yet am I not hereby justified – I am not justified because I am not conscious of a failure in my duty. I know that God the judge may see imperfections where I see none. I know that I may be deceived; and therefore, I do not pronounce a judgment on myself as if it were infallible and final. It is not by the consciousness of integrity and faithfulness that I expect to be saved; and it does not follow that I claim to be free from all personal blame. I know that partiality to ourselves will often teach us to overlook many faults that others may discern in us.
He that judgeth me is the Lord – By his judgment I am to abide; and by his judgment I am to receive my eternal sentence, and not by my own view of myself. He searcheth the hearts. He may see evil where I see none. I would not, therefore, be self-confident; but would, with humility, refer the whole case to him. Perhaps there is here a gentle and tender reproof of the Corinthians, who were so confident in their own integrity; and a gentle admonition to them to be more cautious, as it was possible that the Lord would detect faults in them where they perceived none.
5.Therefore judge nothing before the time- From this conclusion it is manifest, that Paul did not mean to reprove every kind of judgment without exception, but only what is hasty and rash, without examination of the case. For the Corinthians did not mark with unjaundiced eye the character of each individual, but, blinded by ambition, groundlessly extolled one and depreciated another, and took upon themselves to mark out the dignity of each individual beyond what is lawful for men. Let us know, then, how much is allowed us, what is now within the sphere of our knowledge, and what is deferred until the day of Christ, and let us not attempt to go beyond these limits. For there are some things that are now seen openly, while there are others that lie buried in obscurity until the day of Christ.
Who will bring to light.-If this is affirmed truly and properly respecting the day of Christ, it follows that matters are never so well regulated in this world but that many things are involved in darkness, and that there is never so much light, but that many things remain in obscurity. I speak of the life of men, and their actions. He explains in the second clause, what is the cause of the obscurity and confusion, so that all things are not now manifest. It is because there are wonderful recesses and deepest lurking-places in the hearts of men. Hence, until the thoughts of the hearts are brought to light, there will always be darkness.
And then shall every one have praise-It is as though he had said, “You now, O Corinthians, as if you had the adjudging of the prizes, crown some, and send away others with disgrace, but this right and office belong exclusively to Christ. You do that before the time— before it has become manifest who is worthy to be crowned, but the Lord has appointed a day on which he will make it manifest.” This statement takes its rise from the assurance of a good conscience, which brings us also this advantage, that committing our praises into the hands of God, we disregard the empty breath of human applause.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Disproving the judicial power claimed by the Romish priesthood in the confessional.
Therefore — as the Lord is the sole Decider or Dijudicator.
judge — not the same Greek word as in 1Co_4:3, 1Co_4:4, where the meaning is to approve of or decide on, the merits of one’s case. Here all judgments in general are forbidden, which would, on our part, presumptuously forestall God’s prerogative of final judgment.
Lord — Jesus Christ, whose “ministers” we are (1Co_4:1), and who is to be the judge (Joh_5:22, Joh_5:27; Act_10:42; Act_17:31).
manifest … hearts — Our judgments now (as those of the Corinthians respecting their teachers) are necessarily defective; as we only see the outward act, we cannot see the motives of “hearts.”
“Faithfulness” (1Co_4:2) will hereby be estimated, and the “Lord” will “justify,” or the reverse (1Co_4:4), according to the state of the heart.
then shall every man have praise — (1Co_3:8; 1Sa_26:23; Mat_25:21, Mat_25:23, Mat_25:28). Rather, “his due praise,” not exaggerated praise, such as the Corinthians heaped on favorite teachers; “the praise” (so the Greek) due for acts estimated by the motives. “Then,” not before: therefore wait till then (Jam_5:7).
Therefore – In view of the danger of being deceived in your judgment, and the impossibility of certainly knowing the failings of the heart.
Judge nothing – Pass no decided opinion; see the note at Mat_7:1. The apostle here takes occasion to inculcate on them an important lesson – one of the leading lessons of Christianity – not to pass a harsh opinion on the conduct of any man, since there are so many things that go to make up his character which we cannot know; and so many secret failings and motives which are all concealed from us.
Until the Lord come – The Lord Jesus at the Day of Judgment, when all secrets shall be revealed, and a true judgment shall be passed on all men.
Who both will bring to light; – See Rom_2:10.
The hidden things of darkness – The secret things of the heart which have been hidden as it were in darkness. The subsequent clause shows that this is the sense. He does not refer to the deeds of night, or those things which were performed in the secret places of idolatry, but to the secret designs of the heart; and perhaps means gently to insinuate that there were many things about the character and feelings of his enemies which would not well bear the revelations of that Day.
The counsels of the hearts – The purposes, designs, and intentions of men. All their plans shall be made known on that Day. And it is a most fearful and alarming truth, that no man can conceal his purposes beyond the Day of Judgment.
And then shall every man have praise of God – The word here rendered “praise” επαινος epainos denotes in this place reward, or that which is due to him; the just sentence which ought to be pronounced on his character. It does not mean as our translation would imply, that every man will then receive the divine approbation which will not be true; but that every man shall receive what is due to his character, whether good or evil. So Bloomfield and Bretschneider explain it. Hesychius explains it by judgment (κρισις krisis). The word must be limited in its signification according to the subject or the connection. The passage teaches:
(1) That we should not be guilty of harsh judgment of others.
(2) the reason is, that we cannot know their feelings and motives.
(3) that all secret things will be brought forth in the great Day, and nothing be concealed beyond that time.
(4) that every man shall receive justice there. He shall be treated as he ought to be. The destiny of no one will be decided by the opinions of people; but the doom of all will be fixed by God. How important is it, therefore, that we be prepared for that Day; and how important to cherish such feelings, and form such plans, that they may be developed without involving us in shame and contempt!
9.For I think, etc. It is uncertain whether he speaks of himself exclusively, or takes in at the same time Apollos and Silvanus, for he sometimes calls such persons apostles. I prefer, however, to understand it of himself exclusively. Should any one be inclined to extend it farther, I shall have no particular objection, provided only he does not understand it as Chrysostom does, to mean that the apostles were as if for the sake of ignominy reserved to the last place. For there can be no doubt that by the term last, he means those who were admitted to the rank of apostles subsequently to the resurrection of Christ. Now, he admits that he is like those who are exhibited to the people when on the eve of being led forth to death. For such is the meaning of the word exhibited— as those who on occasion of a triumph were led round for the sake of show, and were afterwards hurried away to prison to be strangled.
This he expresses more distinctly by adding, that they were made a spectacle. “This,” says he, “is my condition, that I exhibit to the world a spectacle of my miseries, like those who having been condemned to fight with wild beasts, or to the games of the gladiators, or to some other mode of punishment, are brought forth to the view of the people, and that not before a few spectators, but before the whole world.” Observe here the admirable steadfastness of Paul, who, while he saw himself to be dealt with by God in this manner, was nevertheless not broken or dispirited. For he does not impute it to the wantonness of the wicked, that he was, as it were, led forth with ignominy to the sport of the arena, but ascribes it wholly to the providence of God.
The second clause to angels and to men, I take to be expository in this sense — “I am made a sport and spectacle, not merely to earth, but also to heaven.” This passage has been commonly explained as referring to devils, from its seeming to be absurd to refer it to good angels. Paul, however, does not mean, that all who are witnesses of this calamity are gratified with such a spectacle He simply means, that the Lord has so ordered his lot that he seems as though he had been appointed to furnish sport to the whole world.
God hath set forth us the apostles last – This whole passage is well explained by Dr. Whitby. “Here the apostle seems to allude to the Roman spectacles, της των θηριομαχων, και μονομαχιας ανδροφονου, that of the Bestiarii and the gladiators, where in the morning men were brought upon the theatres to fight with wild beasts, and to them was allowed armor to defend themselves and smite the beasts that assailed them; but in the meridian or noon-day spectacles the gladiators were brought forth naked, and without any thing to defend themselves from the sword of the assailant; and he that then escaped was only kept for slaughter to another day, so that these men might well be called επιθανατιοι, men appointed for death; and this being the last appearance on the theater for that day, they are said here to be set forth εσχατοι, the last.” Of these two spectacles Seneca speaks thus, Epist. vii.: “In the morning men are exposed to lions and bears; at mid-day to their spectators; those that kill are exposed to one another; the victor is detained for another slaughter; the conclusion of the fight is death. The former fighting compared to this was mercy; now it is mere butchery: they have nothing to cover them; their whole body is exposed to every blow, and every stroke produces a wound,” etc.
We are made a spectacle – Οτι θεατρον εγενηθημεν, We are exhibited on the theater to the world; we are lawful booty to all mankind, and particularly to the men of the world, who have their portion in this life. Angels are astonished at our treatment, and so are the more considerate part of men. Who at that time would have coveted the apostolate?
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
For — assigning the reason for desiring that the “reign” of himself and his fellow apostles with the Corinthians were come; namely, the present afflictions of the former.
I think — The Corinthians (1Co_3:18) “seemed” to (literally, as here, “thought”) themselves “wise in this world.” Paul, in contrast, “thinks” that God has sent forth him and his fellow ministers “last,” that is, the lowest in this world. The apostles fared worse than even the prophets, who, though sometimes afflicted, were often honored (2Ki_1:10; 2Ki_5:9; 2Ki_8:9, 2Ki_8:12).
set forth — as a spectacle or gazing-stock.
us the apostles — Paul includes Apollos with the apostles, in the broader sense of the word; so Rom_16:7; 2Co_8:23 (Greek for “messengers,” apostles).
as it were appointed to death — as criminals condemned to die.
made a spectacle — literally, “a theatrical spectacle.” So the Greek in Heb_10:33, “made a gazing-stock by reproaches and afflictions.” Criminals “condemned to die,” in Paul’s time, were exhibited as a gazing-stock to amuse the populace in the amphitheater. They were “set forth last” in the show, to fight with wild beasts. This explains the imagery of Paul here. (Compare Tertullian [On Modesty, 14]).
the world — to the whole world, including “both angels and men”; “the whole family in heaven and earth” (Eph_3:15). As Jesus was “seen of angels” (1Ti_3:16), so His followers are a spectacle to the holy angels who take a deep interest in all the progressive steps of redemption (Eph_3:10; 1Pe_1:12). Paul tacitly implies that though “last” and lowest in the world’s judgment, Christ’s servants are deemed by angels a spectacle worthy of their most intense regard [Chrysostom]. However, since “the world” is a comprehensive expression, and is applied in this Epistle to the evil especially (1Co_1:27, 1Co_1:28), and since the spectators (in the image drawn from the amphitheater) gaze at the show with savage delight, rather than with sympathy for the sufferers, I think bad angels are included, besides good angels. Estius makes the bad alone to be meant. But the generality of the term “angels,” and its frequent use in a good sense, as well as Eph_3:10; 1Pe_1:12, incline me to include good as well as bad angels, though, for the reasons stated above, the bad may be principally meant.
For I think – It seems to me. Grotius thinks that this is to be taken ironically, as if he had said, “It seems then that God has designed that we, the apostles, should be subject to contempt and suffering; and be made poor and persecuted, while you are admitted to high honors and privileges.” But probably this is to be taken as a serious declaration of Paul, designed to show their actual condition and trials, while others were permitted to live in enjoyment. Whatever might be their condition, Paul says that the condition of himself and his fellow-laborers was one of much contempt and suffering; and the inference seems to be, that they ought to doubt whether they were in a right state, or had any occasion for their self-congratulation, since they so little resembled those whom God had set forth.
Hath set forth – Has “showed” us; or placed us in public view.
The apostles last – Margin, or, “the last apostles” τους αποστολους εσχατους tous apostolous eschatous. Grotius supposes that this means in the lowest condition; the humblest state; a condition like that of beasts. So Tertullian renders it. And this interpretation is the correct one if the passage be ironical. But Paul may mean to refer to the custom of bringing forth those in the amphitheater at the conclusion of the spectacles who were to fight with other men, and who had no chance of escape. These inhuman games abounded everywhere; and an allusion to them would be well understood, and is indeed often made by Paul; compare 1Co_9:26; 1Ti_6:12; 2Ti_4:7; see Seneca Epis. chapter 7. This interpretation receives support from the words which are used here, “God hath exhibited,” “spectacle,” or “theater,” which are all applicable to such an exhibition. Calvin, Locke, and others, however, suppose that Paul refers to the fact that he was the last of the apostles; but this interpretation does not suit the connection of the passage.
As it were – (ως hos). Intimating the certainty of death.
Appointed unto death – επιθανατιους epithanatious. Devoted to death. The word occurs no where else in the New Testament. It denotes the certainty of death, or the fact of being destined to death; and implies that such were their continued conflicts, trials, persecutions, that it was morally certain that they would terminate in their death, and only when they died, as the last gladiators on the stage were destined to contend until they should die. This is a very strong expression; and denotes the continuance, the constancy, and the intensity of their sufferings in the cause of Christ.
We are made a spectacle – Margin, “theater” θεατρον theatron. The theater, or amphitheater of the ancients was composed of an arena, or level floor, on which the combatants fought, and which was surrounded by circular seats rising above one another to a great height, and capable of containing many thousands of spectators. Paul represents himself as on this arena or stage, contending with foes, and destined to death. Around him and above him are an immense host of human beings and angels, looking on at the conflict, and awaiting the issue. He is not alone or unobserved. He is made public; and the universe gazes on the struggle. Angels and human beings denote the universe, as gazing upon the conflicts and struggles of the apostles. It is a vain inquiry here, whether he means good or bad angels. The expression means that he was public in his trials, and that this was exhibited to the universe. The whole verse is designed to convey the idea that God had, for wise purposes, appointed them in the sight of the universe, to pains, and trials, and persecutions, and poverty, and want, which would terminate only in their death; see Heb_12:1, etc. What these trials were he specifies in the following verses.
10.We are fools for Christ’s sake- This contrast is throughout ironical, and exceedingly pointed, it being unseemly and absurd that the Corinthians should be in every respect happy and honorable, according to the flesh, while in the meantime they beheld their master and father afflicted with the lowest ignominy, and with miseries of every kind. For those who are of opinion that Paul abases himself in this manner, in order that he may in earnestness ascribe to the Corinthians those things which he acknowledges himself to be in want of, may without any difficulty be refuted from the little clause that he afterwards subjoins. In speaking, therefore, of the Corinthians as wise in Christ, and strong, and honorable, he makes a concession ironically, as though he had said — “You desire, along with the gospel, to retain commendation for wisdom, whereas I have not been able to preach Christ otherwise than by becoming a fool in this world. Now when I have willingly, on your account, submitted to be a fool, or to be reckoned such, consider whether it be reasonable that you should wish to be esteemed wise.How in these things consort — that I who have been your master, am a fool for Christ’s sake, and you, on the other hand, remain wise!” In this way, being wise in Christ is not taken here in a good sense, for he derides the Corinthians for wishing to mix up together Christ and the wisdom of the flesh, inasmuch as this were to endeavor to unite things directly contrary.
The case is the same as to the subsequent clauses — “You are strong says he, and honorable, that is, you glory in the riches and resources of the world, you cannot endure the ignominy of the cross. In the meantime, is it reasonable that I should be on your account mean and contemptible, and exposed to many infirmities? Now the complaint carries with it so much the more reproach on this account, that even among themselves he was weak and contemptible. (2Co_10:10.) In fine, he derides their vanity in this respect, that, reversing the order of things, those who were sons and followers were desirous to be esteemed honorable and noble, while their father was in obscurity, and was exposed also to all the reproaches of the world.
We are fools for Christ’s sake – Here he still carries on the allusion to the public spectacles among the Romans, where they were accustomed to hiss, hoot, mock, and variously insult the poor victims. To this Philo alludes, in his embassy to Caius, speaking of the treatment which the Jews received at Rome: “For, as if exhibited upon a theater, we are hissed, most outrageously hooted, and insulted beyond all bounds.” Thus, says the apostle, we are fools on Christ’s account; we walk in a conformity to his will, and we bear his cross: and did we walk according to the course of this world, or according to the man-pleasing conduct of some among you, we should have no such cross to bear.
Ye are wise in Christ – Surely all these expressions are meant ironically; the apostles were neither fools, nor weak, nor contemptible; nor were the Corinthians, morally speaking, wise, and strong, and honorable. Change the persons, and then the epithets will perfectly apply.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Irony. How much your lot (supposing it real) is to be envied, and ours to be pitied.
fools — (1Co_1:21; 1Co_3:18; compare Act_17:18; Act_26:24).
for Christ’s sake … in Christ — Our connection with Christ only entails on us the lowest ignominy, “ON ACCOUNT OF,” or, “FOR THE SAKE OF” Him, as “fools”; yours gives you full fellowship IN Him as “wise” (that is, supposing you really are all you seem, 1Co_3:18).
we … weak … ye … strong — (1Co_2:3; 2Co_13:9).
we … despised — (2Co_10:10) because of our “weakness,” and our not using worldly philosophy and rhetoric, on account of which ye Corinthians and your teachers are (seemingly) so “honorable.” Contrast with “despised” the “ye (Galatians) despised not my temptation … in my flesh” (Gal_4:14).
We are fools – This is evidently ironical. “We are doubtless foolish people, but ye are wise in Christ. We, Paul, Apollos, and Barnabas, have no claims to the character of wise men – we are to be regarded as fools, unworthy of confidence, and unfit to instruct; but you are full of wisdom.”
For Christ’s sake – διὰ Χριστὸν dia Christon. On account of Christ; or in reference to his cause, or in regard to the doctrines of the Christian religion.
But ye are wise in Christ – The phrase “in Christ,” does not differ in signification materially from the one above; “for Christ’s sake.” This is wholly ironical, and is exceedingly pungent. “You, Corinthians, boast of your wisdom and prudence. You are to be esteemed very wise. You are unwilling to submit to be esteemed fools. You are proud of your attainments. We, in the meantime, who are apostles, and who have founded your church, are to be regarded as fools, and as unworthy of public confidence and esteem.” The whole design of this irony is to show the folly of their boasted wisdom. That they only should be wise and prudent, and the apostles fools, was in the highest degree absurd; and this absurdity the apostle puts in a strong light by his irony.
We are weak – We are timid and feeble, but you are daring, bold and fearless. This is irony. The very reverse was probably true. Paul was bold, daring, fearless in declaring the truth, whatever opposition it might encounter; and probably many of them were timid and time-serving, and endeavoring to avoid persecution, and to accommodate themselves to the prejudices and opinions of those who were wise in their own sight; the prejudices and opinions of the world.
Ye are honourable – Deserving of honor and obtaining it. Still ironical. You are to be esteemed as worthy of praise.
We are despised – ατιμοι atimoi. Not only actually contemned, but worthy to be so. This was irony also. And the design was to show them how foolish was their self-confidence and self-flattery, and their attempt to exalt themselves.
11.For to this hour.-The Apostle here describes his condition, as if in a picture, that the Corinthians may learn, from his example, to lay aside that loftiness of spirit, and embrace, as he did, the cross of Christ with meekness of spirit. He discovers the utmost dexterity in this respect, that in making mention of those things which had rendered him contemptible, he affords clear proof of his singular fidelity and indefatigable zeal for the advancement of the gospel; and, on the other hand, he tacitly reproves his rivals, who, while they had furnished no such proof, were desirous, nevertheless, to be held in the highest esteem. In the words themselves there is no obscurity, except that we must take notice of the distinction between those two participles — λοιδορουμενοι και βλασφημουμενοι (reviled and defamed.) As λοιδορια means — that harsher sort of raillery, which does not merely give a person a slight touch, but a sharp bite, and blackens his character by open contumely, there can be no doubt that λοιδορειν means — wounding a person with reproach as with a sting. I have accordingly rendered it — harassed with revilings. Βλασφημια signifies a more open reproach, when any one is severely and atrociously slandered.
1Co 4:11 Even unto this present hour,…. What is about to be related was not what befell the apostles now and then, and a great while ago; but what for a considerable time, and unto the present time, was more or less the common constant series and course of life they were inured to:
we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked; wanted the common necessaries of life, food to eat, and raiment to put on, and gold and silver to purchase any with; which might be, when, as it was sometimes their case, they were in desert places, or on the seas; or when they fell among thieves; or had given all away, as they sometimes did, for the relief of others; or when they were not, as sometimes, taken notice of, and provided for, where they ministered, as they ought to have been.
And are buffeted; not only by Satan, as the apostle was, but by men; scourged, whipped, and beaten by them; scourged in the synagogues by the Jews with forty stripes save one; and beaten with rods by the Romans, and other Gentiles.
And have no certain dwelling place; were in an unsettled state, always moving from one place to another, and had no place they could call their own; like their Lord and master, who had not where to lay his head; and like some of the Old Testament saints, who wandered about in sheep skins and goat skins, in deserts, and in mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
naked — that is, insufficiently clad (Rom_8:35).
buffeted — as a slave (1Pe_2:20), the reverse of the state of the Corinthians, “reigning as kings” (Act_23:2). So Paul’s master before him was “buffeted” as a slave, when about to die a slave’s death (Mat_26:67).
Even unto this present hour – Paul here drops the irony, and begins a serious recapitulation of his actual sufferings and trials. The phrase used here “unto this present hour” denotes that these things had been incessant through all their ministry. They were not merely at the commencement of their work, but they had continued and attended them everywhere. And even then they were experiencing the same thing. These privations and trials were still continued, and were to be regarded as a part of the apostolic condition.
We both hunger and thirst – The apostles, like their master, were poor, and in traveling about from place to place, it often happened that they scarcely found entertainment of the plainest kind, or had money to purchase it. It is no dishonor to be poor, and especially if that poverty is produced by doing good to others. Paul might have been rich, but he chose to be poor for the sake of the gospel. To enjoy the luxury of doing good to others, we ought to be willing to be hungry and thirsty, and to be deprived of our ordinary enjoyments.
And are naked – In traveling; our clothes become old and worn out, and we have no friends to replace them, and no money to purchase new. It is no discredit to be clad in mean raiment, if that is produced by self-denying toils in behalf of others. There is no, honor in gorgeous apparel; but there is real honor in voluntary poverty and want, when produced in the cause of benevolence. Paul was not ashamed to travel, to preach, and to appear before princes and kings, in a soiled and worn-out garment, for it was worn out in the service of his Master, and Divine Providence had arranged the circumstances of his life. But how many a minister now would he ashamed to appear in such clothing! How many professed Christians are ashamed to go to the house of God because they cannot dress well, or be in the fashion, or outshine their neighbors! If an apostle was willing to be meanly clad in delivering the message of God, then assuredly we should be willing to preach, or to worship him in such clothing as he provides. We may add here, what a sublime spectacle was here; and what a glorious triumph of the truth. Here was Paul with an impediment in his speech; with a personage small and mean rather than graceful; and in a mean and tattered dress; and often in chains, yet delivering truth before which kings trembled, and which produced everywhere a deep impression on the human mind. Such was the power of the gospel then! And such triumph did the truth then have over men. See Doddridge.
And are buffeted – Struck with the hand; see the note at Mat_26:67. Probably it is used here to denote harsh and injurious treatment in general; compare 2Co_12:7.
And have no certain dwelling-place – No fixed or permanent home. They wandered to distant lands; threw themselves on the hospitality of strangers, and even of the enemies of the gospel; when driven from one place they went to another; and thus they led a wandering, uncertain life, amidst strangers and foes. They who know what are the comforts of home; who are surrounded by beloved families; who have a peaceful and happy fireside; and who enjoy the blessings of domestic tranquility, may be able to appreciate the trials to which the apostles were subjected. All this was for the sake of the gospel; all to purchase the blessings which we so richly enjoy.
1 Cor 4:11.—Even unto this present hour we . . . have no certain dwelling-place. This remarkable description of the Apostle’s life is very like that contained in the Second Epistle (xi. 23), which those that are called to the ministry ought to put before them as an example, as the Apostolic men of great zeal do in England, Holland, India, and Japan.
S. Chrysostom (Hom. 52 on Acts of the Apostles) says excellently on the words of xxvi. 29: “Such is the soul that is raised on high by celestial love that it thinks itself a prisoner for Christ because of the greatness of the promised glory. For as one in love has no eyes for any save her he loves, who is to him everything, so he who has been laid hold of by Christ’s fire becomes like one who should be living alone on the earth, caring nothing for glory and shame. For he so utterly despises temptations and scourgings and imprisonment that it is as though another body endured them, or as though he possessed a body made of granite. For he laughs at those things which are pleasant in this life; he does not feel their force as we do; his body is to him as the body of one dead. So far is he from being taken captive by any passion, as gold that has been purified in the fire is from showing any stain. All this is effected by the love of man for God, when it is great.”
But we do not attain this height because we are cold, and ignorant of this Divine philosophy. The philosopher Diogenes saw this, though but darkly and afar off, for then he was asked what men were the noblest, he replied, ” They that despise riches and glory and pleasure and life; they that draw their force from the opposite things to these, from poverty, obscurity, hunger, thirst, toil and death.” Diogenes saw this, but could not practise it, for he was himself a slave to vain-glory.
12.When he says that while persecuted he suffers it,and that he prays for his revilers, he intimates that he is not merely afflicted and abased by God, by means of the cross, but is also endowed with a disposition to abase himself willingly. In this, perhaps, he gives a stroke to the false apostles, who were so effeminate and tender, that they could not bear to be touched even with your little finger. In speaking of their laboring he adds — with our own hands, to express more fully the meanness of his employments — “I do not merely gain a livelihood for myself by my own labor, but by mean labor, working with my own hands.”
1Co 4:12 And labour, working with our own hands,…. As the apostle did at Corinth, Act_18:3 and elsewhere; partly to minister to his own necessities, and those of others; and partly that he might not be burdensome to the churches; and also to set an example of diligence and industry to others; though he had a right and power to claim a maintenance of those to whom he ministered.
Being reviled, we bless; as Christ commanded, Mat_5:44 and the apostle himself directed and exhorted to, Rom_12:14
being persecuted, we suffer it; that is, patiently; neither resisting our persecutors, nor murmuring and repining at our unhappy circumstances; but taking all in good part, as what is the will of God, and will make for his glory.
Working with our own hands – They were obliged to labor in order to supply themselves with the necessaries of life while preaching the Gospel to others. This, no doubt, was the case in every place were no Church had been as yet formed: afterwards, the people of God supplied their ministers, according to their power, with food and raiment.
Being reviled, we bless, etc. – What a most amiable picture does this exhibit of the power of the grace of Christ! Man is naturally a proud creature, and his pride prompts him always to avenge himself in whatever manner he can, and repay insult with insult. It is only the grace of Christ that can make a man patient in bearing injuries, and render blessing for cursing, beneficence for malevolence, etc. The apostles suffered an indignities for Christ’s sake; for it was on his account that they were exposed to persecutions, etc.
And labour … – This Paul often did. See the note at Act_18:3; compare Act_20:34; 1Th_2:9. 2Th_3:8.
Being reviled – That they were often reviled or reproached, their history everywhere shows. See the Acts of the Apostles. They were reviled or ridiculed as Jews by the Gentiles; and jeered by all as “Nazarenes,” and as deluded followers of Jesus; as the victims of a foolish superstition and enthusiasm.
We bless – We return good for evil. In this they followed the explicit direction of the Saviour; see the note at Mat_5:44. The main idea in these passages is, that they were reviled, were persecuted, etc. The other clauses, “we bless,” “we suffer it,” etc. seem to be thrown in “by the way” to show how they bore this ill treatment. As if he had said “we are reviled; and what is more, we bear it patiently, and return good for evil.” At the same time, that he was recounting his trials, he was, therefore, incidentally instructing them in the nature of the gospel, and showing how their sufferings were to be borne; and how to illustrate the excellency of the Christian doctrine.
Being persecuted – See the note at Mat_5:11.
We suffer it – We sustain it; we do not revenge it; we abstain from resenting or resisting it.
We toil (kopiomen). Common late verb for weariness in toil (Luk_5:5), working with our own hands (ergazomenoi tais idiais chersin) instrumental case chersin and not simply for himself but also for Aquila and Priscilla as he explains in Act_20:34. This personal touch gives colour to the outline. Paul alludes to this fact often (1Th_2:9; 2Th_3:8; 1Co_9:6; 2Co_11:7). “Greeks despised manual labour; St. Paul glories in it” (Robertson and Plummer). Cf. Deissmann, Light, etc., p. 317.
Being reviled we bless (loidoroumenoi eulogoumen). Almost the language of Peter about Jesus (1Pe_2:23) in harmony with the words of Jesus in Mat_5:44; Luk_6:27.
Being persecuted we endure (diokomenoi anechometha). We hold back and do not retaliate. Turn to Paul’s other picture of his experiences in the vivid contrasts in 2Co_4:7-10; 2Co_6:3-10 for an interpretation of his language here.
13.As the execrations of the world.He makes use of two terms, the former of which denotes a man who, by public execrations, is devoted, with the view to the cleansing of a city, for such persons, on the ground of their cleansing the rest of the people, by receiving in themselves whatever there is in the city of crimes, and heinous offense, are called by the Greeks sometimes καθαρμοι, but more frequently καθάρματα. Paul, in adding the preposition περὶ(around) seems to have had an eye to the expiatory rite itself, inasmuch as those unhappy men who were devoted to execrations were led round through the streets, that they might carry away with them whatever there was of evil in any corner, that the cleansing might be the more complete. The plural number might seem to imply that he speaks not of himself exclusively, but also of the others who were his associates, and who were not less held in contempt by the Corinthians. There is, however, no urgent reason for regarding what he says as extending to more than himself. The other term — περίψημα, (offscouring,) denotes filings or scrapings of any kind, and also the sweepings that are cleared away with a brush. As to both terms consult the annotations of Budaeus.
In so far as concerns the meaning of the passage before us, Paul, with the view of expressing his extreme degradation, says that he is held in abomination by the whole world, like a man set apart for expiation, and that, like offscourings, he is nauseous to all. At the same time he does not mean to say by the former comparison that he is all expiatory victim for sins, but simply means, that in respect of disgrace and reproaches he differs nothing from the man on whom the execrations of all are heaped up.
Being defamed – Βλασφημουμενοι, Being blasphemed. I have already remarked that βλασφημειν signifies to speak injuriously, and may have reference either to God or to man. God is blasphemed when his attributes, doctrines, providence, or grace, are treated contemptuously, or any thing said of him that is contrary to his holiness, justice, goodness, or truth. Man is blasphemed when any thing injurious is spoken of his person, character, conduct, etc. Blaspheming against men is any thing by which they are injured in their persons, characters, or property.
We are made as the filth of the earth – the offscouring of all things – The Greek word which we render filth, is περικαθαρματα, a purgation, or lustrative sacrifice; that which we translate offscouring is περιψημα, a redemption sacrifice. To understand the full force of these words, as applied by the apostle in this place, we must observe that he alludes to certain customs among the heathens, who, in the time of some public calamity, chose out some unhappy men of the most abject and despicable character to be a public expiation for them; these they maintained a whole year at the public expense; and then they led them out, crowned with flowers, as was customary in sacrifices; and, having heaped all the curses of the country upon their heads, and whipped them seven times, they burned them alive, and afterwards their ashes were thrown into the sea, while the people said these words: περιψημαημων γινου, be thou our propitiation. Sometimes the person thus chosen was thrown into the sea as a sacrifice to Neptune, the people saying the words as before. Hence Origen says that our Lord, in giving up himself as a propitiation for our sins, was much more than his apostles – περικαθαρματα του κοσμου, παντων περιψημα, the lustration of the world, and the peculiar sacrifice for all men. The apostle, therefore, means that he and his fellows were treated like those wretched beings who were judged to be fit for nothing but to be expiatory victims to the infernal gods, for the safety and redemption of others. Our words filth and offscouring, convey no legitimate sense of the original. See several useful remarks upon these terms in Pearce, Whitby, and Parkhurst.
Being defamed – Greek, Blasphemed, that is, spoken of and to, in a harsh, abusive, and reproachful manner. The original and proper meaning of the word is to speak in a reproachful manner of anyone, whether of God or man. It is usually applied to God, but it may also be used of people.
We entreat – Either God in their behalf, praying him to forgive them, or we entreat them to turn from their sins, and become converted to God. Probably the latter is the sense. They besought them to examine more candidly their claims instead of reviling them; and to save their souls by embracing the gospel instead of destroying them by rejecting it with contempt and scorn.
We are made – We became; we are so regarded or esteemed. The word here does not imply that there was any positive agency in making them such, but simply that they were in fact so regarded.
As the filth of the earth – It would not be possible to employ stronger expressions to denote the contempt and scorn with which they were everywhere regarded. The word “filth” περικαθαρματα perikatharmata occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly denotes filth, or that which is collected by sweeping a house, or that which is collected and cast away by purifying or cleansing anything; hence, any vile, worthless, and contemptible object. Among the Greeks the word was used to denote the victims which were offered to expiate crimes, and particularly men of ignoble rank, and of a worthless and wicked character, who were kept to be offered to the gods in a time of pestilence, to appease their anger, and to purify the nation. Bretschneider and Schleusner. Hence, it was applied by them to people of the most vile, abject, and worthless character. But it is not certain that Paul had any reference to that sense of the word. The whole force of the expression may be met by the supposition that he uses it in the sense of that filth or dirt which is collected by the process of cleansing or scouring anything, as being vile, contemptible, worthless. So the apostles were regarded. And by the use of the word “world” here, he meant to say that they were regarded as the most vile and worthless men which the whole world could furnish; not only the refuse of Judea, but of all the nations of the earth. As if he had said “more vile and worthless people could not be found on the face of the earth.”
And are the off-scouring of all things – This word (περiψημα peripsema) occurs no where else in the New Testament. It does not differ materially from the word rendered “filth.” It denotes that which is rubbed off by scouring or cleaning anything; and hence, anything vile or worthless; or a vile and worthless man. This term was also applied to vile and worthless people who were sacrificed or thrown into the sea as an expiatory offering, as it were to purify the people. Suidas remarks that; they said to such a man, “be then our περιψημα peripsema,” our redemption, and then flung him into the sea as a sacrifice to Neptune. See Whitby, Calvin, Doddridge.
Unto this day – Continually. We have been constantly so regarded. See 1Co_4:11.
Being defamed we intreat (dusphemoumenoi parakaloumen). The participle dusphemoumenoi is an old verb (in 1 Maccabees 7:41) to use ill, from dusphemos, but occurs here only in the N.T. Paul is opening his very heart now after the keen irony above.
As the filth of the world (hos perikatharmata tou kosmou). Literally, sweepings, rinsings, cleansings around, dust from the floor, from perikathairo, to cleanse all around (Plato and Aristotle) and so the refuse thrown off in cleansing. Here only in the N.T. and only twice elsewhere. Katharma was the refuse of a sacrifice. In Pro_21:18 perikatharma occurs for the scapegoat. The other example is Epictetus iii. 22, 78, in the same sense of an expiatory offering of a worthless fellow. It was the custom in Athens during a plague to throw to the sea some wretch in the hope of appeasing the gods. One hesitates to take it so here in Paul, though Findlay thinks that possibly in Ephesus Paul may have heard some such cry like that in the later martyrdoms Christiani ad leones. At any rate in 1Co_15:32 Paul says “I fought with wild beasts” and in 2Co_1:9 “I had the answer of death.” Some terrible experience may be alluded to here. The word shows the contempt of the Ephesian populace for Paul as is shown in Acts 19:23-41 under the influence of Demetrius and the craftsmen.
The offscouring of all things (panton peripsema). Late word, here only in N.T., though in Tob. 5:18. The word was used in a formula at Athens when victims were flung into the sea, peripsema hemon genou (Became a peripsema for us), in the sense of expiation. The word merely means scraping around from peripsao, offscrapings or refuse. That is probably the idea here as in Tob. 5:18. It came to have a complimentary sense for the Christians who in a plague gave their lives for the sick. But it is a bold figure here with Paul of a piece with perikatharmata.
14.I write not these things to shame you As the foregoing instances of irony were very pointed, so that they might exasperate the minds of the Corinthians, he now obviates that dissatisfaction by declaring, that he had not said these things with a view to cover them with shame, but rather to admonish them with paternal affection. It is indeed certain that this is the nature and tendency of a father’s chastisement, to make his son feel ashamed; for the first token of return to a right state of mind is the shame which the son begins to feel on being reproached for his fault. The object, then, which the father has in view when he chastises his son with reproofs, is that he may bring him to be displeased with himself. And we see that the tendency of what Paul has said hitherto, is to make the Corinthians ashamed of themselves. Nay more, we shall find him a little afterwards (1Co_6:5 ) declaring that he made mention of their faults in order that they may begin to be ashamed. Here, however, he simply means to intimate, that it was not his design to heap disgrace upon them, or to expose their sins publicly and openly with a view to their reproach. For he who admonishes in a friendly spirit, makes it his particular care that whatever there is of shame, may remain with the individual whom he admonishes, and may in this manner be buried. On the other hand, the man who reproaches with a malignant disposition, inflicts disgrace upon the man whom he reproves for his fault, in such a manner as to hold him up to the reproach of all. Paul then simply affirms that what he had said, had been said by him, with no disposition to upbraid, or with any view to hurt their reputation, but, on the contrary, with paternal affection he admonished them as to what he saw to be defective in them.
But what was the design of this admonition? It was that the Corinthians, who were puffed up with mere empty notions, might learn to glory, as he did, in the abasement of the cross, and might no longer despise him on those grounds on which he was deservedly honorable in the sight of God and angels — in fine, that, laying aside their accustomed haughtiness, they might set a higher value on those marks of Christ (Gal_6:17 ) that were upon him, than on the empty and counterfeit show of the false apostles. Let teachers infer from this, that in reproofs they must always use such moderation as not to wound men’s minds with excessive severity, and that, agreeably to the common proverb, they must mix honey or oil with vinegar — that they must above all things take care not to appear to triumph over those whom they reprove, or to take delight in their disgrace — nay more, that they must endeavor to make it understood that they seek nothing but that their welfare may be promoted. For what good will the teacher do by mere bawling, if he does not season the sharpness of his reproof by that moderation of which I have spoken? Hence if we are desirous to do any good by correcting men’s faults, we must distinctly give them to know, that our reproofs proceed from a friendly disposition.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown1Co 4:14
warn — rather, “admonish” as a father uses “admonition” to “beloved sons,” not provoking them to wrath (Eph_6:4). The Corinthians might well be “ashamed” at the disparity of state between the father, Paul, and his spiritual children themselves.
To shame you – It is not my design to put you to shame by showing you how little you suffer in comparison with us. This is not our design, though it may have this effect. I have no wish to make you ashamed, to appear to triumph over you or merely to taunt you. My design is higher and nobler than this.
But as my beloved sons – As my dear children. I speak as a father to his children, and I say these things for your good. No father would desire to make his children ashamed. In his counsels, entreaties, and admonitions, he would have a higher object than that.
I warn you – I do not say these things in a harsh manner, with a severe spirit of rebuke; but in order to admonish you, to suggest counsel, to instill wisdom into the mind. I say these things not to make, you blush, but with the hope that they may be the means of your reformation, and of a more holy life. No man, no minister, ought to reprove another merely to overwhelm him with shame, but the object should always be to make a brother better; and the admonition should be so administered as to have this end, not sourly or morosely, but in a kind, tender, and affectionate manner.
15.For though you had ten thousand.He had called himself father, and now he shows that this title belongs to him peculiarly and specially, inasmuch as he alone has begotten them in Christ.In this comparison, however, he has an eye to the false apostles to whom the Corinthians showed all deference, so that Paul was now almost as nothing among them. Accordingly he admonishes them to consider what honor ought to be rendered to a father, and what to a pedagogue “You entertain respect for those new teachers. To this I have no objection, provided you bear in mind that I am your father, while they are merely pedagogues.” Now by claiming for himself authority, he intimates that he is actuated by a different kind of affection from that of those whom they so highly esteemed. “They take pains in instructing you. Be it so. Very different is the love of a father, very different his anxiety, very different his attachment from those of a pedagogue. What if he should also make an allusion to that imperfection of faith which he had previously found fault with? For while the Corinthians were giants in pride, they were children in faith, and are, therefore, with propriety, sent to pedagogues. He also reproves the absurd and base system of those teachers in keeping their followers in the mere first rudiments, with the view of keeping them always in bonds under their authority.
For in Christ Here we have the reason why he alone ought to be esteemed as the father of the Corinthian Church — because he had begotten it. And truly it is in most appropriate terms that he here describes spiritual generation, when he says that he has begotten them in Christ, who alone is the life of the soul, and makes the gospel the formal cause. Let us observe, then, that we are then in the sight of God truly begotten, when we are engrafted into Christ, out of whom there will be found nothing but death, and that this is effected by means of the gospel, because, while we are by nature flesh and hay, the word of God, as Peter (1Pe_1:24 ) teaches from Isaiah, (Isa_40:6,) is the incorruptible seed by which we are renewed to eternal life. Take away the gospel, and we will all remain accursed and dead in the sight of God. That same word by which we are begotten is afterwards milk to us for nourishing us, and it is also solid food to sustain us for ever.
Should any one bring forward this objection, “As new sons are begotten to God in the Church every day, why does Paul say that those who succeeded him were not fathers?” the answer is easy — that he is here speaking of the commencement of the Church. For although many had been begottenby the ministry of others, this honor remained to Paul untouched — that he had founded the Corinthian Church.
Should any one, again, ask, “Ought not all pastors to be reckoned fathers, and if so, why does Paul deprive all others of this title, so as to claim it for himself exclusively?” I answer — “He speaks here comparatively.” Hence, however the title of fathers might be applicable to them in other respects, yet in respect of Paul, they were merely instructors. We must also keep in mind what I touched upon a little ago, that he is not speaking of all, (for as to those who were like himself, as, for example, Apollos, Silvanus, and Timotheus, who aimed at nothing but the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, he would have had no objection to their being so named, and having the highest honor assigned to them,) but is reproving those who, by a misdirected ambition, transferred to themselves the glory that belonged to another. Of this sort were those who robbed Paul of the honor that was due to him, that they might set themselves off in his spoils.
And, truly, the condition of the Church universal at this day is the same as that of the Corinthian Church was at that time. For how few are there that love the Churches with a fatherly, that is to say, a disinterested affection, and lay themselves out to promote their welfare! Meanwhile, there are very many pedagogues, who give out their services as hirelings, in such a manner as to discharge as it were a mere temporary office, and in the meantime hold the people in subjection and admiration. At the same time, even in that case it is well when there are many pedagogues, who do good, at least, to some extent by teaching, and do not destroy the Church by the corruptions of false doctrine. For my part, when I complain of the multitude of pedagogues, I do not refer to Popish priests, (for I would not do them the honor of reckoning them in that number,) but those who, while agreeing with us in doctrine, employ themselves in taking care of their own affairs, rather than those of Christ. We all, it is true, wish to be reckoned fathers, and require from others the obedience of sons, but where is the man to be found who acts in such a manner as to show that he is a father?
There remains another question of greater difficulty: As Christ forbids us to call any one father upon earth, because we have one Father in heaven, (Mat_23:9,) how does Paul dare to take to himself the name of father? I answer, that, properly speaking, God alone is the Father, not merely of our soul, but also of our flesh. As, however, in so far as concerns the body, he communicates the honor of his paternal name to those to whom he gives offspring, while, as to souls, he reserves to himself exclusively the right and title of Father, I confess that, on this account, he is called in a peculiar sense the Father of spirits, and is distinguished from earthly fathers, as the Apostle speaks in Heb_12:9. As, however, notwithstanding that it is he alone who, by his own influence, begets souls, and regenerates and quickens them, he makes use of the ministry of his servants for this purpose, there is no harm in their being called fathers, in respect of this ministry, as this does not in any degree detract from the honor of God. The word, as I have said, is the spiritual seed. God alone by means of it regenerates our souls by his influence, but, at the same time, he does not exclude the efforts of ministers. If, therefore, you attentively consider, what God accomplishes by himself, and what he designs to be accomplished by ministers, you will easily understand in what sense he alone is worthy of the name of Father, and how far this name is applicable to his ministers, without any infringement upon his rights.
For though ye have ten thousand instructers – Μυριους παιδαγωγους, Myriads of leaders, that is, an indefinite multitude; for so the word is often used. The παιδαγωγος, from which we have our word pedagogue, which we improperly apply to a school master, was among the Greeks, the person or servant who attended a child, had the general care of him, and who led him to school for the purpose of being instructed by the διδασκαλος, or teacher. It seems there were many at Corinth who offered their services to instruct this people, and who were not well affected towards the apostle.
Not many fathers – Many offer to instruct you who have no parental feeling for you; and how can they? you are not their spiritual children, yon stand in this relation to me alone; for in Christ Jesus – by the power and unction of his Spirit, I have begotten you – I was the means of bringing you into a state of salvation, so that you have been born again: ye are my children alone in the Gospel. Schoettgen produces a good illustration of this from Shemoth Rabba, sect. 46, fol. 140. “A girl who had lost her parents was educated by a guardian, who was a good and faithful man, and took great care of her; when she was grown up, he purposed to bestow her in marriage; the scribe came, and beginning to write the contract, said, What is thy name? The maid answered, N. The scribe proceeded, What is the name of thy father? The maid was silent. Her guardian said, Why art thou silent? The maid replied, Because I know no other father but thee; for he who educates a child well, is more properly the father than he who begot it.” This is the same kind of sentiment which I have already quoted from Terence,”Thou art his father by nature, I by instruction.”
For though ye have ten thousand instructors – Though you may have or though you should have. It matters not how many you have, yet it is still true that I only sustain the relation to you of spiritual father, and whatever respect it is proper for you to have toward them, yet there is a special right which I have to admonish you, and a special deference which is due to me, from my early labors among you, and from the fact that you are my spiritual children.
Instructors – Greek: pedagogues; or those who conducted children to school, and who superintended their conduct out of school hours. Hence, those who had the care of children, or teachers (in general). It is then applied to instructors of any kind.
In Christ – In the Christian system or doctrine. The authority which Paul claims here, is that which a father has in preference to such an instructor.
Not many fathers – Spiritual fathers. That is, you have but one. You are to remember that however many teachers you have, yet that I alone am your spiritual father.
In Christ Jesus – By the aid and authority of Christ. I have begotten you by preaching his gospel and by his assistance.
I have begotten you – I was the instrument of your conversion.
Through the gospel – By means of the gospel; by preaching it to you, that is, by the truth.
From παις boy and αγωγος leader. The Paedagogus was a slave to whom boys were entrusted on leaving the care of the females, which was somewhere about their sixteenth year. He was often a foreigner, sometimes educated and refined, but often otherwise; for Plutarch complains that seamen, traders, usurers, and farmers are engaged in this capacity. The office was one of general guardianship, not of instruction, though sometimes the paedagogus acted as teacher. He accompanied the boy to school, carrying his books, etc., and attended him to the gymnasium and elsewhere. See, further, on Gal_3:24.
To admonish (noutheton). Literally, admonishing (present active participle of noutheteo). See note on 1Th_5:12, note on. 1Th_5:14.
For though ye should have (ean gar echete). Third-class condition undetermined, but with prospect of being determined (ean and present subjunctive), “for if ye have.”
Tutors (paidagogous). This old word (pais, boy, agogos, leader) was used for the guide or attendant of the child who took him to school as in Gal_3:24 (Christ being the schoolmaster) and also as a sort of tutor who had a care for the child when not in school. The papyri examples (Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary) illustrate both aspects of the paedagogue. Here it is the “tutor in Christ” who is the Teacher. These are the only two N.T. examples of the common word.
I begot you (humas egennesa). Paul is their spiritual father in Christ, while Apollos and the rest are their tutors in Christ.
16.I exhort you. He now expresses also, in his own words, what he requires from them in his fatherly admonition — that, being his sons, they do not degenerate from their father. For what is more reasonable than that sons endeavor to be as like as possible to their father. At the same time he gives up something in respect of his own right, when he exhorts them to this, by way of entreaty rather than of command. But to what extent he wishes them to be imitators of him, he shows elsewhere, when he adds, as he was of Christ(1Co_11:1.) This limitation must always be observed, so as not to follow any man, except in so far as he leads us to Christ. We know what he is here treating of. The Corinthians did not merely shun the abasement of the cross, but they also regarded their father with contempt, on this account, that, forgetting earthly glory, he gloried rather in reproaches for Christ; and they reckoned themselves and others fortunate in having nothing contemptible according to the flesh. He accordingly admonishes them to devote themselves, after his example, to the service of Christ, so as to endure all things patiently.
Wherefore, I beseech you, be ye followers of me – It should rather be translated, Be ye imitators of me; μιμηται, from which we have our word mimic, which, though now used only in a bad or ludicrous sense, simply signifies an imitator of another person, whether in speech, manner, habit, or otherwise. As children should imitate their parents in preference to all others, he calls on them to imitate him, as he claims them for his children. He lived for God and eternity, seeking not his own glory, emolument, or ease: those sowers of sedition among them were actuated by different motives. Here then the apostle compares himself with them: follow and imitate me, as I follow and imitate Christ: do not imitate them who, from their worldly pursuits, show themselves to be actuated with a worldly spirit.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
be ye followers of me — literally, “imitators,” namely, in my ways, which be in Christ (1Co_4:17; 1Co_11:1), not in my crosses (1Co_4:8-13; Act_26:29; Gal_4:12).
17.For this cause.The meaning is: “That you may know what my manner of life is, and whether I am worthy to be imitated, listen to what Timothy has to say, who will be prepared to be a faithful witness of these things. Now as there are two things that secure credit to a man’s testimony — a knowledge of the things which he relates, and fidelity — he lets them know that Timothy possesses both of these things. For in calling him his dearly beloved son, he intimates that he knew him intimately, and was acquainted with all his affairs; and farther, he speaks of him as faithful in the Lord He gives also two things in charge to Timothy — first, to recall to the recollection of the Corinthians those things which they should of themselves have had in remembrance, and in this he tacitly reproves them; and secondly, to testify to them, how uniform and steady his manner of teaching was in every place. Now it is probable that he had been assailed by the calumnies of the false apostles, as though he assumed more authority over the Corinthians than he did over others, or as though he conducted himself in a very different way in other places; for it is not without good reason that he wishes this to be testified to them. It is then the part of a prudent minister so to regulate his procedure, and to observe such a method of instruction, that no such objection may be brought against him, but he shall be prepared to answer on the same ground as Paul does.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
For this came — that ye may the better “be followers of me” (1Co_4:16), through his admonitions.
sent … Timotheus — (1Co_16:10; Act_19:21, Act_19:22). “Paul purposed … when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem. So he sent into Macedonia Timotheus and Erastus.” Here it is not expressly said that he sent Timothy into Achaia (of which Corinth was the capital), but it is implied, for he sent him with Erastus before him. As he therefore purposed to go into Achaia himself, there is every probability they were to go thither also. They are said only to have been sent into Macedonia, because it was the country to which they went immediately from Ephesus. The undesignedness of the coincidence establishes the genuineness of both the Epistle and the history. In both, Timothy’s journey is closely connected with Paul’s own (compare 1Co_4:19). Erastus is not specified in the Epistle, probably because it was Timothy who was charged with Paul’s orders, and possibly Erastus was a Corinthian, who, in accompanying Timothy, was only returning home. The seeming discrepancy at least shows that the passages were not taken from one another [Paley, Horae Paulinae].
son — that is, converted by me (compare 1Co_4:14, 1Co_4:15; Act_14:6, Act_14:7; with Act_16:1, Act_16:2; 1Ti_1:2, 1Ti_1:18; 2Ti_1:2). Translate, “My son, beloved and faithful in the Lord.”
bring you into remembrance — Timothy, from his spiritual connection with Paul, as converted by him, was best suited to remind them of the apostle’s walk and teaching (2Ti_3:10), which they in some respects, though not altogether (1Co_11:2), had forgotten.
as I teach … in every church — an argument implying that what the Spirit directed Paul to teach “everywhere” else, must be necessary at Corinth also (1Co_7:17).
Fausset’s Bible Dictionary
First mentioned (Act_16:1) as dwelling in Lystra (not Derbe, Act_20:4; compare 2Ti_3:11). His mother was Eunice, a Jewess (2Ti_1:5); his father a Greek, i.e. a Gentile; he died probably in Timothy’s early years, as he is not mentioned later. Timothy is called “a disciple,” so that his conversion must have been before the time of Act_16:1, through Paul (1Ti_1:2, “my own son in the faith”) probably at the apostle’s former visit to Lystra (Act_14:6), when also we may conjecture his Scripture-loving mother Eunice and grandmother Lois were converted from Judaism to Christianity (2Ti_3:14-15; 2Ti_1:5): “faith made its “dwelling” (enookesen; Joh_14:23) first in Lois and Eunice,” then in Timothy also through their influence.
The elders ordained in Lystra and Iconium (Act_14:21-23; Act_16:2) thenceforth superintended him (1Ti_4:14); their good report and that of the brethren, as also his origin, partly Jewish partly Gentile, marked him out as especially suited to assist Paul in missionary work, labouring as the apostle did in each place, firstly among the Jews then among the Gentiles. The joint testimony to his character of the brethren of Lystra and Iconium implies that already he was employed as “messenger of the churches,” an office which constituted his subsequent life work (2Co_8:23). To obviate Jewish prejudices (1Co_9:20) in regard to one of half Israelite parentage, Paul first circumcised him, “for they knew all that his father was a Greek.” This was not inconsistent with the Jerusalem decree which was the Gentiles’ charter of liberty in Christ (Acts 15); contrast the case of Titus, a Gentile on both sides, and therefore not circumcised (Gal_2:3).
Timothy accompanied Paul in his Macedonian tour; but he and Silas stayed behind in Berea, when the apostle went forward to Athens. Afterward, he went on to Athens and was immediately sent back (Act_17:15; 1Th_3:1) by Paul to visit the Thessalonian church; he brought his report to Paul at Corinth (1Th_3:2; 1Th_3:6; Act_18:1; Act_18:5). Hence both the epistles to the Thessalonians written at Corinth contain his name with that of Paul in the address. During Paul’s long stay at Ephesus Timothy “ministered to him” (Act_19:22), and was sent before him to Macedonia and to Corinth “to bring the Corinthians into remembrance of the apostle’s ways in Christ” (1Co_4:17; 1Co_16:10).
His name accompanies Paul’s in the heading of 2Co_1:1, showing that he was with the apostle when he wrote it from Macedonia (compare 1Co_16:11); he was also with Paul the following winter at Corinth, when Paul wrote from thence his epistle to the Romans, and sends greetings with the apostle’s to them (1Co_16:21). On Paul’s return to Asia through Macedonia he went forward and waited for the apostle at Troas (Act_20:3-5). At Rome Timothy was with Paul during his imprisonment, when the apostle wrote his epistles to the Colossians (Col_1:1), Philemon (Phm_1:1), and Philippians (Phi_1:1). He was imprisoned with Paul (as was Aristarchus: Col_4:10) and set free, probably soon after Paul’s liberation (Heb_13:23). Paul was then still in Italy (Heb_13:24) waiting for Timothy to join him so as to start for Jerusalem. They were together at Ephesus, after his departing eastward from Italy (1Ti_1:3).
Paul left Timothy there to superintend the church temporarily as the apostle’s locum tenens or vicar apostolic (1Ti_1:3), while he himself went to Macedonia and Philippi, instead of sending Timothy as he had intended (Phi_2:19; Phi_2:23-24). The office at Ephesus and Crete (Tit_1:5) became permanent on the removal of the apostles by death; “angel” (Rev_1:20) was the transition stage between “apostle” and our “bishop.” The last notice of Timothy is Paul’s request (2Ti_4:13; 2Ti_4:21) that he should “do his diligence to come before winter” and should “bring the cloak” left with Carpus at Troas, which in the winter Paul would so much need in his dungeon: about A.D. 67 (Alford). Eusebius (Ecclesiastes Hist. iii. 43) makes him first bishop of Ephesus, if so John’s residence and death must have been later. Nicephorus (Ecclesiastes Hist. iii. 11) reports that he was clubbed to death at Diana’s feast, for having denounced its licentiousness.
Possibly (Calmet) Timothy was “the angel of the church at Ephesus” (Revelation 2). The praise and the censure agree with Timothy’s character, as it appears in Acts and the epistles. The temptation of such an ardent yet soft temperament would be to “leave his first love.” Christ’s promise of the tree of life to him that overcometh (Rev_2:5; Rev_2:7) accords with 2Ti_2:4-6. Paul, influenced by his own inclination (Act_16:3) and the prophets’ intimations respecting him (1Ti_1:18; 1Ti_4:14; 2Ti_1:6; compare Paul’s own ease, Act_13:1), with his own hands, accompanied with the presbytery’s laying on of hands, ordained him “evangelist” (2Ti_4:5). His self-denying character is shown by his leaving home at once to accompany Paul, and his submitting to circumcision for the gospel’s sake; also by his abstemiousness (1Ti_5:23) notwithstanding bodily “infirmities,” so that Paul had to urge him to “use a little wine for his stomach’s sake.”
Timothy betrayed undue diffidence and want of boldness in his delicate position as a “youth” having to deal with seniors (1Ti_4:12), with transgressors (1Ti_5:20-21) of whom some were persons to whom he might be tempted to show “partiality.” Therefore he needed Paul’s monition that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2Ti_1:7). His timidity is glanced at in Paul’s charge to the Corinthians (1Co_16:10-11), “if I come, see that he may be with you without fear, let no man, despise him.” His training under females, his constitutional infirmity, susceptible soft temperament, amativeness, and sensitiveness even to “tears” (2Ti_1:4, probably at parting from Paul at Ephesus, where Paul had to “beseech” him to stay: 1Ti_1:3), required such charges as “endure hardness (hardship) as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2Ti_2:3-18; 2Ti_2:22), “flee youthful lusts,” (1Ti_5:2) “the younger entreat as sisters, with all purity.”
Paul bears testimony to his disinterested and sympathizing affection for both his spiritual father, the apostle, and those to whom he was sent to minister; with him Christian love was become “natural,” not forced, nor “with dissimulation” (Phi_2:19-23): “I trust to send Timothy shortly … for I have no man like-minded who will naturally care for your state, for all seek their own not the things which are Jesus Christ’s; but ye know the proof of him, that as a son with the father he hath served with me in the gospel.” Among his friends who send greetings to him were the Roman noble, Pudens, the British princess Claudia, and the bishop of Rome, Linus. Timothy “professed a good profession before many witnesses” at his baptism and his ordination, whether generally or as overseer at Ephesus (1Ti_1:18; 1Ti_4:14; 1Ti_6:12; 2Ti_1:6).
Less probably, Smith’s Bible Dictionary states that it was at the time of his Roman imprisonment with Paul, just before Paul’s liberation (Heb_13:23), on the ground that Timothy’s “profession” is put into juxtaposition with Christ Jesus’ “good confession before Pilate.” But the argument is “fight the good fight of faith.” seeing that “thou art called” to it, “and hast professed a good profession” (the same Greek, “confession.” (homologia) at thy baptism and ordination; carry out thy profession, as in the sight of Christ who attested the truth at the cost of His life “before or under” (epi) Pilate. Christ’s part was with His vicarious sacrifice to attest the good confession, i.e. Christianity; Timothy’s to “confess” it and “fight the good fight of faith,” and “keep the (gospel) commandment” (Joh_13:34; 1Ti_1:5; Tit_2:12; 2Pe_2:21; 2Pe_3:2).
18.As though I would not come to you This is the custom of the false apostles — to take advantage of the absence of the good, that they may triumph and vaunt without any hindrance. Paul, accordingly, with the view of reproving their ill-regulated conscience, and repressing their insolence, tells them, that they cannot endure his presence. It happens sometimes, it is true, that wicked men, on finding opportunity of insulting, rise up openly with an iron front against the servants of Christ, but never do they come forward ingenuously to an equal combat, but on the contrary, by sinister artifices they discover their want of confidence.
Now some are puffed up – They are puffed up with a vain confidence; they say that I would not dare to come; that I would be afraid to appear among them, to administer discipline, to rebuke them, or to supersede their authority. Probably he had been detained by the demand on his services in other places, and by various providential hinderances from going there, until they supposed that he stayed away from fear. And possibly he might apprehend that they would think he had sent Timothy because he was afraid to come himself. Their conduct was an instance of the haughtiness and arrogance which people will assume when they suppose they are in no danger of reproof or punishment.
19.But I will come shortly.“They are in a mistake,” says he, “in raising their crests during my absence, as though this were to be of long duration, for they shall in a short time perceive how vain their confidence has been.” He has it not, however, so much in view to terrify them, as though he would on his arrival thunder forth against them, but rather presses and bears down upon their consciences, for, however they might disguise it, they were aware that he was furnished with divine influence.
The clause, if the Lord will, intimates, that we ought not to promise anything to others as to the future, or to determine with ourselves, without adding this limitation in so far as the Lord will permit. Hence James with good reason derides the rashness of mankind (Jas_4:15 ) in planning what they are to do ten years afterwards, while they have not security for living even a single hour. We are not, it is true, bound by a constant necessity to the use of such forms of expression, but it is the better way to accustom ourselves carefully to them, that we may exercise our minds from time to time in this consideration — that all our plans must be in subjection to the will of God.
And I will know not the speech By speech you must understand that prating in which the false apostles delighted themselves, for they excelled in a kind of dexterity and gracefulness of speech, while they were destitute of the zeal and efficacy of the Spirit. By the term power, he means that spiritual efficacy, with which those are endowed who dispense the word of the Lord with earnestness. The meaning, therefore, is: “I shall see whether they have so much occasion for being puffed up; and I shall not judge of them by their mere outward talkativeness, in which they place the sum-total of their glory, and on the ground of which they claim for themselves every honor. If they wish to have any honor from me, they must bring forward that power which distinguishes the true servants of Christ from the merely pretended: otherwise I shall despise them, with all their show. It is to no purpose, therefore, that they confide in their eloquence, for I shall reckon it nothing better than smoke.”
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Alford translates, “But come I will”; an emphatical negation of their supposition (1Co_4:18).
shortly — after Pentecost (1Co_16:8).
if the Lord will — a wise proviso (Jam_4:15). He does not seem to have been able to go as soon as he intended.
and will know — take cognizance of.
but the power — I care not for their high-sounding “speech,” “but” what I desire to know is “their power,” whether they be really powerful in the Spirit, or not. The predominant feature of Grecian character, a love for power of discourse, rather than that of godliness, showed itself at Corinth.
If the Lord will (ean ho kurios thelesei). Third-class condition. See Jam_4:15; Act_18:21; 1Co_16:7 for the use of this phrase. It should represent one’s constant attitude, though not always to be spoken aloud.
But the power (alla ten dunamin). The puffed up Judaizers did a deal of talking in Paul’s absence. He will come and will know their real strength. II Corinthians gives many evidences of Paul’s sensitiveness to their talk about his inconsistencies and cowardice (in particular chs. 2 Corinthians 1; 2; 10; 11; 12; 2Co_13:1-14). He changed his plans to spare them, not from timidity. It will become plain later that Timothy failed on this mission and that Titus succeeded.
20.For the kingdom of God is not in word As the Lord governs the Church by his word, as with a scepter, the administration of the gospel is often called the kingdom of God. Here, then, we are to understand by the kingdom of God whatever tends in this direction, and is appointed for this purpose — that God may reign among us. He says that this kingdom does not consist in word, for how small an affair is it for any one to have skill to prate eloquently, while he has nothing but empty tinkling. Let us know, then, a mere outward gracefulness and dexterity in teaching is like a body that is elegant and of a beautiful color, while the power of which Paul here speaks is like the soul. We have already seen that the preaching of the gospel is of such a nature, that it is inwardly replete with a kind of solid majesty. This majesty shows itself, when a minister strives by means of power rather than of speech— that is, when he does not place confidence in his own intellect, or eloquence, but, furnished with spiritual armor, consisting of zeal for maintaining the Lord’s honor — eagerness for the raising up of Christ’s kingdom — a desire to edify — the fear of the Lord — an invincible constancy — purity of conscience, and other necessary endowments, he applies himself diligently to the Lord’s work. Without this, preaching is dead, and has no strength, with whatever beauty it may be adorned. Hence in his second epistle, he says, that in Christ nothing avails but a new creature (2Co_5:17 ) — a statement which is to the same purpose. For he would have us not rest in outward masks, but depend solely on the internal power of the Holy Spirit.
But while in these words he represses the ambition of the false apostles, he at the same time reproves the Corinthians for their perverted judgment, in measuring the servants of Christ by what holds the lowest place among their excellences. Here we have a remarkable statement, and one that is not less applicable to us than to them. As to our gospel, of which we are proud, where is it in most persons except in the tongue? Where is newness of life? Where is spiritual efficacy? Nor is it so among the people merely. On the contrary, how many there are, who, while endeavoring to procure favor and applause from the gospel, as though it were some profane science, aim at nothing else than to speak with elegance and refinement! I do not approve of restricting the term power to miracles, for from the contrast we may readily gather that it has a more extensive import.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
kingdom of God is not in word — Translate, as in 1Co_4:19, to which the reference is “speech.” Not empty “speeches,” but the manifest “power” of the Spirit attests the presence of “the kingdom of God” (the reign of the Gospel spiritually), in a church or in an individual (compare 1Co_2:1, 1Co_2:4; 1Th_1:5).
For the kingdom of God – The reign of God in the church (see the note at Mat_3:2); meaning here, probably, the power or authority which was to be exercised in the government and discipline of the church. Or it may refer to the manner in which the church had been established. “It has not been set up by empty boasting; by pompous pretensions; by confident assertions. Such empty boasts would do little in the great work of founding, governing, and preserving the church and unless people have some higher powers than this they are not qualified to be religious teachers and guides.”
But in power -
(1) In the miraculous power by which the church was established – the power of the Saviour and of the apostles in working miracles.
(2) in the power of the Holy Spirit in the gift of tongues, and in his influence on the heart in converting people; see the note at 1Co_1:18.
(3) in the continual power which is needful to protect, defend, and govern the church. Unless teachers showed that they had such power, they were not qualified for their office.
Overview 1 Cor 4
1. In the preceding chapter we find the ministers of God compared to Stewards, of whom the strictest fidelity is required.
(1.) Fidelity to God, in publishing his truth with zeal, defending it with courage, and recommending it with prudence.
(2.) Fidelity to Christ, whose representatives they are, in honestly and fully recommending his grace and salvation on the ground of his passion and death, and preaching his maxims in all their force and purity.
(3.) Fidelity to the Church, in taking heed to keep up a godly discipline, admitting none into it but those who have abandoned their sins; and permitting none to continue in it that do not continue to adorn the doctrine of God their Savior.
(4.) Fidelity to their own Ministry, walking so as to bring no blame on the Gospel; avoiding the extremes of indolent tenderness on one hand, and austere severity on the other. Considering the flock, not as their flock, but the flock of Jesus Christ; watching, ruling, and feeding it according to the order of their Divine Master.
2. A minister of God should act with great caution: every man, properly speaking, is placed between the secret judgment of God and the public censure of men. He should do nothing rashly, that he may not justly incur the censure of men; and he should do nothing but in the loving fear of God, that he may not incur the censure of his Maker. The man who scarcely ever allows himself to be wrong, is one of whom it may be safely said, he is seldom right. It is possible for a man to mistake his own will for the will of God, and his own obstinacy for inflexible adherence to his duty. With such persons it is dangerous to have any commerce. Reader, pray to God to save thee from an inflated and self-sufficient mind.
3. Zeal for God’s truth is essentially necessary for every minister; and prudence is not less so. They should be wisely tempered together, but this is not always the case. Zeal without prudence is like a flambeau in the hands of a blind man; it may enlighten and warm, but it play also destroy the spiritual building. Human prudence should be avoided as well as intemperate zeal; this kind of prudence consists in a man’s being careful not to bring himself into trouble, and not to hazard his reputation, credit, interest, or fortune, in the performance of his duty. Evangelical wisdom consists in our suffering and losing all things, rather than be wanting in the discharge of our obligations.
4. From St. Paul’s account of himself we find him often suffering the severest hardships in the prosecution of his duty. He had for his patrimony, hunger, thirst, nakedness, stripes, etc.; and wandered about testifying the Gospel of the grace of God, without even a cottage that he could claim as his own. Let those who dwell in their elegant houses, who profess to be apostolic in their order, and evangelic in their doctrines, think of this. In their state of affluence they should have extraordinary degrees of zeal, humility, meekness, and charity, to recommend them to our notice as apostolical men. If God, in the course of his providence, has saved them from an apostle’s hardships, let them devote their lives to the service of that Church in which they have their emoluments; and labor incessantly to build it up on its most holy faith. Let them not be masters to govern with rigour and imperiousness; but tender fathers, who feel every member in the Church as their own child, and labor to feed the heavenly family with the mysteries of God, of which they are stewards.
5. And while the people require much of their spiritual pastors, these pastors have equal right to require much of their people. The obligation is not all on one side; those who watch for our souls have a right not only to their own support, but to our reverence and confidence. Those who despise their ecclesiastical rulers, will soon despise the Church of Christ itself, neglect its ordinances, lose sight of its doctrines, and at last neglect their own salvation.
Remarks On 1 Corinthians 4
1. We should endeavor to form a proper estimate of the Christian ministry; 1Co_4:1. We should regard ministers as the servants of Jesus Christ, and honor them for their Master’s sake; and esteem them also in proportion to their fidelity. They are entitled to respect as the ambassadors of the Son of God; but that respect also should be in proportion to their resemblance of him and their faithfulness in their work. They who love the ministers of Christ, who are like him, and who are faithful, love the Master that sent them; they who hate and despise them despise him; see Mat_10:40-42.
2. Ministers should be faithful; 1Co_4:2. They are the stewards of Christ. They are appointed by him. They are responsible to him. They have a most important trust – more important than any other stewards, and they should live in such a manner as to receive the approbation of their master.
3. It is of little consequence what the world thinks of us; 1Co_4:3. A good name is on many accounts desirable; but it should not be the leading consideration; nor should we do anything merely to obtain it. Desirable as is a fair reputation, yet the opinion of the world is not to be too highly valued; because -
(1) It often misjudges;
(2) It is prejudiced for or against us;
(3) It is not to decide our final destiny;
(4) To desire that simply, is a selfish and base passion.
4. The esteem even of friends is not to be the leading object of life; 1Co_4:2. This is valuable, but not so valuable as the approbation of God. Friends are partial, and even where they do not approve our course, if we are conscientious, we should be willing to bear with their disapprobation. A good conscience is everything. The approbation even of friends cannot help us on the Day of Judgment.
5. We should distrust ourselves; 1Co_4:3-4. We should not pronounce too confidently on our motives or our conduct. We may be deceived. There may be much even in our own motives that may elude our most careful inquiry. This should teach us humility, self-distrust, and charity. Knowing our own liableness to misjudge ourselves, we should look with kindness on the faults and failings of others.
6. We see here the nature of the future Judgment; 1Co_4:5;
(1) The hidden things of darkness will be brought out – all the secret crimes, and plans, and purposes of people will be developed. All that has been done in secret, in darkness, in the night, in palaces and in prisons, will be developed. What a development will take place in the great Day when the secret crimes of a world shall be revealed; and when all that has now escaped the notice of people, and the punishment of courts, shall be brought out!
(2) every person’s secret thoughts shall be revealed. There will be no concealment then. All that we have devised or desired; all the thoughts that we have forgotten, shall there be brought out to noon-day. How will the sinner tremble when all his thoughts are made known! Suppose, unknown to him, some person had been writing down all that a man has thought for a day, a week, or a year, and should begin to read it to him. Who is there that would not hang his head with shame, and tremble at such a record? Yet at the Day of Judgment the thoughts of “the whole life” will be revealed.
(3) every man shall be judged as he ought to be. God is impartial. The man that ought to be saved will be; the man that ought not will not be. How solemn will be the “impartial trial of the world!” Who can think of it but with alarm!
7. We have no occasion for pride or vain-boasting; 1Co_4:7. All that we have of beauty, health, wealth, honor, grace, has been given to us by God. For what he has given us we should be grateful; but it should not excite pride. It is, indeed, valuable because God gives it, and we should remember his mercies, but we should not boast. We have nothing to boast of. Had we our deserts, we should be driven away in his wrath, and made wretched. That any are out of hell is matter of thankfulness; that one possesses more than another proves that God is a sovereign, and not that we are more worthy than another, or that there is by nature any ground of preference which one has over another.
8. Irony and sarcasm are sometimes lawful and proper; 1Co_4:8-10. But it is not often as safe as it was in the hands of the apostle Paul. Few people can regulate the talent properly; few should allow themselves to indulge in it. It is rarely employed in the Bible; and it is rarely employed elsewhere where it does not do injury. The cause of truth can be usually sustained by sound argument; and that which cannot be thus defended is not worth defense. Deep wounds are often made by the severity of wit and irony; and an indulgence in this usually prevents a man from having a single friend.
9. We see from this chapter what religion has cost; 1Co_4:9-13. Paul states the sufferings that he and the other apostles endured in order to establish it. They were despised, and persecuted, and poor, and regarded as the refuse of the world. The Christian religion was founded on the blood of its author, and has been reared amidst the sighs and tears of its friends. All its early advocates were subjected to persecution and trial; and to engage in this work involved the certainty of being a martyr. We enjoy not a blessing which has not thus been purchased; and which has not come to us through the self-denials and toils of the best people that the earth has known. Persecution raged around all the early friends of the church; and it rose and spread while the fire of martyrdom spread, and while its friends were everywhere cast out as evil, and called to bleed in its defense.
10. We have here an illustrious instance of the manner in which reproach, and contempt, and scorn should be borne; 1Co_4:12-13. The apostles imitated the example of their Master and followed his precepts. They prayed for their enemies, persecutors, and slanderers. There is nothing but religion that can produce this spirit; and this can do it always. The Saviour evinced it; his apostles evinced it; and all should evince it, who profess to be its friends – We may remark:
(1) This is not produced by nature. It is the work ot grace alone.
(2) it is the very spirit and genius of Christianity to produce it.
(3) nothing but religion will enable a man to bear it, and will produce this temper and spirit.
(4) we have an instance here of what all Christians should evince. All should be in this like the apostles. All should be like the Saviour himself.
11. We have an argument here for the truth of the Christian religion. The argument is founded on the fact that the apostles were willing to suffer so much in order to establish it – They professed to have been eye-witnesses of what they affirmed. They had nothing to gain by spreading it if it was not true. They exposed themselves to persecution on this account, and became willing to die rather than deny its truth – Take, for example, the case of the apostle Paul:
(1) He had every prospect of honor and of wealth in his own country. He had been liberally educated, and had the confidence of his countrymen. He might have risen to the highest station of trust or influence. He had talents which would have raised him to distinction anywhere.
(2) he could not have been mistaken in regard to the events connected with his conversion; Acts 9. The scene, the voice, the light, the blindness, were all things which could not have been counterfeited. They were open and public. They did not occur “in a corner.”
(3) he had no earthly motive to change his course. Christianity was despised when he embraced it; its friends were few and poor; and it had no prospect of spreading through the world. It conferred no wealth; bestowed no diadem; imparted no honors; gave no ease; conducted to no friendship of the great and the mighty. It subjected its friends to persecution, and tears, and trials, and death. What should induce such a man to make such a change? Why should Paul have embraced this, but from a conviction of its truth? How could he be convinced of that truth except by some argument that should be so strong as to overcome his hatred to it, make him willing to renounce all his prospects for it; to encounter all that the world could heap upon him, and even death itself, rather than deny it? But such a religion had a higher than any earthly origin, and must have been from God.
12. We may expect to suffer reproach. It has been the common lot of all, from the time of the Master himself to the present. Jesus was reproached; the apostles were reproached; the martyrs were reproached, and we are not to be surprised that ministers and Christians are called to similar trials now. It is enough “for the disciple that he be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord.”