1 Corinthians 4


Ministers should be esteemed by their flocks as the stewards of

God, whose duty and interest it is to be faithful, 1, 2.

Precipitate and premature judgments condemned, 3-5.

The apostle's caution to give the Corinthians no offence, 6.

We have no good but what we receive from God, 7.

The worldly mindedness of the Corinthians, 8.

The enumeration of the hardships, trials, and sufferings of the

apostles, 9-13.

For what purpose St. Paul mentions these things, 14-16.

He promises to send Timothy to them, 17.

And to come himself shortly, to examine and correct the abuses

that had crept in among them, 18-21.


Verse 1. 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] ωςυπηρεταςχριστου. 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.] καιοικονομουςμυστηριων

θεου, Economists of the Divine mysteries. See the explanation of

the word steward in Clarke's note on "Mt 24:45";

Lu 8:3; 12:42.

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.

Verse 3. 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] ηυποανθρωπινηςημερας, literally, or of

man's day: but ανθρωπινηημερα signifies any day set apart by a

judge or magistrate to try a man on. This is the meaning of

ημερα, Ps 37:13:

The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his DAY, ηημερα

αυτου, his judgment is coming. Mal 3:17:

And they shall be mine in the DAY, ειςημεραν, 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, yom enosh, the day of man; but

very properly translated in our version, the woful 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; 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.

Verse 4. For I know nothing by myself] ουδενγαρεμαυτω

συνοιδα. I am not conscious that I am guilty of any evil, or

have neglected to fulfil faithfully the duty of a steward of Jesus

Christ. The import of the verb συνειδειν is to be conscious of

guilt; and conscire has the same meaning: so, in Horace, Nil

CONSCIRE sibi, to know nothing to one's self, is the same as nulla

pellescere culpa, not to grow pale at being charged with a crime,

through a consciousness of guilt.

Yet am I not hereby justified] I do not pretend to say that

though I am not conscious of any offence towards God I must

therefore be pronounced innocent; no: I leave those things to God;

he shall pronounce in my favour, not I myself. By these words the

apostle, in a very gentle yet effectual manner, censures those

rash and precipitate judgments which the Corinthians were in the

habit of pronouncing on both men and things-a conduct than which

nothing is more reprehensible and dangerous.

Verse 5. Judge nothing before the time] God, the righteous

Judge, will determine every thing shortly: it is his province

alone to search the heart, and bring to light the hidden things of

darkness. If you be so pure and upright in your conduct, if what

you have been doing in these divisions, &c., be right in his

sight, then shall you have praise for the same; if otherwise,

yourselves are most concerned. Some refer the praise to St. Paul

and his companions: Then shall every one of us apostles have

praise of God.

Verse 6. These things] Which I have written, 1Co 3:5, &c.

I have in a figure transferred to myself and: to Apollos] I have

written as if myself and Apollos were the authors of the sects

which now prevail among you; although others, without either our

consent or knowledge, have proclaimed us heads of parties. Bishop

Pearce paraphrases the verse thus: "I have made use of my own and

Apollos' name in my arguments against your divisions, because I

would spare to name those teachers among you who are guilty of

making and heading parties; and because I would have you, by our

example, not to value them above what I have said of teachers in

general in this epistle; so that none of you ought to be puffed up

for one against another." Doubtless there were persons at Corinth

who, taking advantage of this spirit of innovation among that

people, set themselves up also for teachers, and endeavoured to

draw disciples after them. And perhaps some even of these were

more valued by the fickle multitude than the very apostles by whom

they had been brought out of heathenish darkness into the

marvellous light of the Gospel. I have already supposed it

possible that Diotrephes was one of the ringleaders in these

schisms at Corinth. See Clarke on 1Co 1:14.

Verse 7. For who maketh thee to differ] It is likely that the

apostle is here addressing himself to some one of those puffed up

teachers, who was glorying in his gifts, and in the knowledge he

had of the Gospel, &c. As if he had said: If thou hast all that

knowledge which thou professest to have, didst thou not receive it

from myself or some other of my fellow helpers who first preached

the Gospel at Corinth? God never spoke to thee to make thee an

apostle. Hast thou a particle of light that thou hast not received

from our preaching? Why then dost thou glory, boast, and exult,

as if God had first spoken by thee, and not by us?

This is the most likely meaning of this verse; and a meaning

that is suitable to the whole of the context. It has been applied

in a more general sense by religious people, and the doctrine they

build on it is true in itself, though it does not appear to me to

be any part of the apostle's meaning in this place. The doctrine I

refer to is this: God is the foundation of all good; no man

possesses any good but what he has derived from God. If any man

possess that grace which saves him from scandalous enormities, let

him consider that he has received it as a mere free gift from

God's mercy. Let him not despise his neighbour who has it not;

there was a time when he himself did not possess it; and a time

may come when the man whom he now affects to despise, and on whose

conduct he is unmerciful and severe, may receive it, and probably

may make a more evangelical use of it than he is now doing. This

caution is necessary to many religious people, who imagine that

they have been eternal objects of God's favour, and that others

have been eternal objects of his hate, for no reason that they can

show for either the one, or the other. He can have little

acquaintance with his own heart, who is not aware of the

possibility of pride lurking under the exclamation, Why me! when

comparing his own gracious state with the unregenerate state of


Verse 8. Now ye] Corinthians are full of secular wisdom; now

ye are rich, both in wealth and spiritual gifts; (1Co 14:26:)

ye have reigned as kings, flourishing in the enjoyment of these

things, in all tranquillity and honour; without any want of us:

and I would to God ye did reign, in deed, and not in conceit only,

that we also, poor, persecuted, and despised apostles, might reign

with you.-Whitby.

Though this paraphrase appears natural, yet I am of opinion

that the apostle here intends a strong irony; and one which, when

taken in conjunction with what he had said before, must have stung

them to the heart. It is not an unusual thing for many people to

forget, if not despise, the men by whom they were brought to the

knowledge of the truth; and take up with others to whom, in the

things of God, they owe nothing. Reader, is this thy case?

Verse 9. 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, τηςτωνθηριομαχωνκαι

μονομαχιαςανδροφονου, 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 armour 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 theatre 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," &c.

We are made a spectacle] οτιθεατρονεγενηθημεν, We are

exhibited on the theatre 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?

Verse 10. 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: ωσπερ


"For, as if exhibited upon a theatre, 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 honourable. Change the persons, and then the

epithets will perfectly apply.

Verse 11. We both hunger and thirst, &c.] Who would then have

been an apostle of Christ, even with all its spiritual honours and

glories, who had not a soul filled with love both to God and man,

and the fullest conviction of the reality of the doctrine he

preached, and of that spiritual world in which alone he could

expect rest? See the Introduction, sect. vi.

Have no certain dwelling place] We are mere itinerant

preachers, and when we set out in the morning know not where,

or whether we shall or not, get a night's lodging.

Verse 12. Working with our own hands] They were obliged to

labour 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, &c.] 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, &c. The apostles suffered an indignities for

Christ's sake; for it was on his account that they were exposed to

persecutions, &c.

Verse 13. 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, &c. 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:

περιψημαημωνγινου, 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-περικαθαρματατουκοσμου

παντωνπεριψημα, 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


Verse 14. I write not these things to shame you] It is not by

way of finding fault with you for not providing me with the

necessaries of life that I write thus; but I do it to warn you to

act differently for the time to come; and be not so ready to be

drawn aside by every pretender to apostleship, to the neglect of

those to whom, under God, you owe your salvation.

Verse 15. For though ye have ten thousand instructers]

μυριουςπαιδαγωγους, 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, you 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, Ro 16:13.

Natura tu illi pater es, consiliis ego.

Adelphi, Act i., scene 2, ver. 47.

Thou art his father by nature, I by instruction.

Verse 16. 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.

Verse 17. For this cause] That you imitate me, and know in what

this consists.

I sent unto you Timotheus] The same person to whom he wrote the

two epistles that are still extant under his name, and whom he

calls here his beloved son, one of his most intimate disciples;

and whom he had been the means of bringing to God through Christ.

My ways which be in Christ] This person will also inform you of

the manner in which I regulate all the Churches; and show to you,

that what I require of you is no other than what I require of all

the Churches of Christ which I have formed, as I follow the same

plan of discipline in every place. See the Introduction, sect.


Verse 18. Some are puffed up] Some of your teachers act with

great haughtiness, imagining themselves to be safe, because they

suppose that I shall not revisit Corinth.

Verse 19. But I will come to you shortly] God being my helper,

I fully purpose to visit you; and then I shall put those proud men

to the proof, not of their speech-eloquence, or pretensions to

great knowledge and influence, but of their power-the authority

they profess to have from God, and the evidences of that authority

in the works they have performed. See the Introduction, sect. xi.

Verse 20. For the kingdom of God] The religion of the Lord

Jesus is not in word-in human eloquence, excellence of speech, or

even in doctrines; but in power, ενδυναμει, in the mighty energy

of the Holy Spirit; enlightening, quickening, converting, and

sanctifying believers; and all his genuine apostles are enabled,

on all necessary occasions, to demonstrate the truth of their

calling by miracles; for this the original word often means.

Verse 21. Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love] Here he

alludes to the case of the teacher and father, mentioned in

1Co 4:15.

Shall I come to you with the authority of a teacher, and use the

rod of discipline? or shall I come in the tenderness of a

father, and entreat you to do what I have authority to enforce?

Among the Jews, those who did not amend, after being faithfully

admonished, were whipped, either publicly or privately, in the

synagogue. If on this they did not amend, they were liable to be

stoned. We see, from the cases of Ananias and Sapphira, Elymas

the sorcerer, Hymenaeus and Alexander, &c., that the apostles had

sometimes the power to inflict the most awful punishments on

transgressors. The Corinthians must have known this, and

consequently have dreaded a visit from him in his apostolical

authority. That there were many irregularities in this Church,

which required both the presence and authority of the apostle, we

shall see in the subsequent chapters.

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 Saviour.

(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


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, &c.;

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 labour 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 labour 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.

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