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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

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Verses 1-21

Christian Teachers only the Instruments of God

The folly and sin of quarrelling about different teachers who are but servants of Christ and responsible to Him.

1-5. Paraphrase. ’You have been engaged in strife about the merits and position of your teachers. Consider for a moment what they are. They have no authority of their own; they only bear Christ’s messages. (2-4) Servants are responsible to their master; and so I am responsible not to you or to any man, but to Christ. (5) Have patience until Christ comes, when every man will be rewarded as he has deserved.’

1. Ministers] rather, subordinates.

Stewards] dispensing the truths entrusted to them, not giving of their own. Mysteries of God] the spiritual truths revealed by Christ, and by His Spirit in Christian experience (John 16:12-13).

2. Required in stewards] cp. Matthew 24:45-51; Luke 16:1, Luke 16:2.

4. I know nothing by myself] RV ’against myself.’ The idea is the same as in Acts 24:16.

5. Before the time] i.e. of Christ’s return. St. Paul evidently expected the advent of Christ within the lifetime of himself and his converts, though the exact time was uncertain: cp. 1 Corinthians 15:51.

The hidden things of darkness] the things that are at present unknown. There is no suggestion of evil in the phrase. Along with the counsels of the hearts it denotes all the materials for forming a just judgment.

6-13. Paraphrase. ’In speaking of the folly of these divisions I have used only the names of Apollos and myself; but the same principles apply to your attitude to all your teachers. (7) Why do some of you pride yourselves on being better than others? None of you has anything that he did not receive. (8) You boast as if you had all possible wisdom. Would that it were so, that we might share it. (9) It looks as if we who are Apostles were the least worthy of all God’s servants, a spectacle for men and angels. (10) You are wise and honourable; we are foolish and contemptible. (11-13) We suffer and toil, returning blessing for cursing; and are looked upon as outcasts to this day.’

6. Not to think of men above that which is written] RV ’not to go beyond the things which are written.’ The expression is ambiguous to us: it may refer either to what St. Paul has already written or to the general teaching of the OT. Perhaps it was a familiar quotation, ’Do nothing beyond the injunctions of Holy Writ.’ Be puffed up for one against another] lit. ’Be puffed up the one in favour of one (say, Paul) against the other (say, Apollos).’

7. Who maketh thee to differ] better, ’who maketh thee (who art puffed up) superior?’ That thou didst not receive] i.e. from us (whom ye now despise), as is shown by 1 Corinthians 4:8.

8. Now ye are full] The Apostle now returns to the use of sarcasm, the weapon he has already wielded with effect. The several sentences are either interrogative or exclamatory, and should have marks of interrogation or exclamation. He expresses with bitter irony their own estimate of themselves as having reached perfection, ’come into their kingdom,’ so to speak, and needing to learn nothing more. Would to God you did reign] How little they knew their true spiritual position: cp. Revelation 3:17.

9. The Corinthians’ fancied position is contrasted with the Apostle’s actual position. Last, as it were appointed to death] RV ’last of all, as men doomed to death.’ He likens the Apostles to criminals condemned to fight to the death in the arena. For the metaphor cp. 1 Corinthians 15:32. A few years later Christians were often so put to death. Spectacle] Gk. ’theatre.’

10. The sarcasm is continued. We are fools] in preaching the foolishness of the Cross. Ye are wise] i.e. shrewd, clever.

12. Working with our own hands] St. Paul’s constant practice: cp. Acts 18:3; Acts 20:34; 1 Corinthians 9:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8.

14-21. Paraphrase. ’Iwrite not to shame you, but to admonish you; and I have the right to do so, for I am your spiritual father. (16, 17) Follow my example, therefore; and attend to the instructions of Timothy whom I sent to remind you of my teaching and practice. (18) Some of you have been pluming yourselves on your attainments, and posing as authorities, as if I were never to return to you. (19, 20) Do not deceive yourselves. I shall soon be with you to test not the words of these authorities, but their power: for the kingdom of God is advanced not by empty words, but by spiritual power. (21) The spirit in which I shall come depends upon yourselves. If you continue in your evil courses I shall act with severity: if you repent I shall be gentle and encouraging.’

15. Instructers] RV ’tutors’: those who succeeded St. Paul at Corinth. Begotten you through the gospel] St. Paul had been the means of their conversion. He had given them the new life.

17. Timothy. See Intro. My ways which be in Christ] i.e. my manner and conduct as a teacher in Christ’s service. In every church] He constantly appeals to the practice of other Churches as a check to the spirit of individualism and separation so prevalent at Corinth: cp. 1 Corinthians 7:17; 1 Corinthians 11:16; 1 Corinthians 14:33, 1 Corinthians 14:36.

18. Puffed up] Some of the Corinthian converts conceived themselves so ’wise’ as to be able to despise St. Paul’s authority. Their opposition developed later on, and drew from St. Paul the ’severe’ letter which we have in 2 Corinthians 10-13. See Intro. 2 Cor. As though I would not come] RV ’as though I were not coming.’ They seem to have thought that as he had remained so long in Ephesus he would not return to Corinth.

19. Shortly] cp 1 Corinthians 16:5. For his plans and their ultimate fulfilment see Intro. 2Cor.

20. Not in word, but in power] The extension of God’s kingdom is promoted not by eloquence of speech but by spiritual influence proceeding from Christ’s followers, and becoming a power in men’s lives: cp. Romans 14:17.

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/1-corinthians-4.html. 1909.
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