Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentBeet on the NT

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Verse 1

1 Corinthians 4:1. In this way: as belonging to you, you to Christ, and Christ to God. This completes Paul’s answer to the question of 1 Corinthians 3:5, an answer to be obtained by deliberately reasoning out the foregoing teaching.

Us: Paul, Apollos, etc.

As helpers etc.; expounds in this way, and sums up Paul’s teaching about himself and Apollos.

Helpers: common Greek word for sailors, and for any kind of assistant in private or public business. It therefore recalls 1 Corinthians 3:8.

Stewards: Luke 16:1-8 : men, sometimes slaves, who managed a household or business.

Mysteries of God; recalls 1 Corinthians 2:7. Cp. Ephesians 3:2; Ephesians 3:9, “what is the stewardship of the mystery;” Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10. God had set these men in authority in His household on earth, and had committed to them the hidden truths of the Gospel to be distributed, as spiritual food, to His children. If we look at all Christian teachers in this light, we shall not render them such homage as will be a barrier between us and other Christians. Our desire will be to obtain from each the spiritual food committed to him for us. Notice that Paul, as a wise steward, gives milk (1 Corinthians 3:2) to babes and solid food (1 Corinthians 2:6) to full-grown men.

Some have thought that mysteries refers expressly to the sacraments: and in Ephesians 5:32 the same word is so translated in the Latin Vulgate. But Estius properly points to 1 Corinthians 1:17, which teaches that to administer these was not Paul’s chief work. This great commentator’s loyalty to the exact meaning of Scripture, and his refusal to draw from Scripture an unfair argument for the doctrines of his church, deserve the highest praise. And every Protestant will thank God that a work so full of evangelical truth is published under the express sanction of the Roman Catholic Church.

Verses 2-4

1 Corinthians 4:2-4. Another point involved in the teaching of 1 Corinthians 4:1 and bearing upon the church-parties. Like all stewards, Paul must (1 Corinthians 4:2) give an account of his stewardship: but as (1 Corinthians 4:3-4) God’s steward, he owes this account to God, and to Him only. The steward expects inquiry: and the master makes it, and the steward submits to it, in order that the latter may be found faithful. But, to Paul, the prospect of the Master’s inquiry has made it a very little thing whether or not his conduct be sifted, and its true worth discovered, by men. Like “the” great “Day” in 1 Corinthians 3:13, a human day of assize is personified; as though the day itself sifted conduct. So far from caring about the sentence of others, not even upon himself does Paul sit in judgment. This does not contradict 2 Corinthians 13:5 : for it refers only to examination with a view to sentence, i.e. of due reward or punishment. This, Paul does not attempt. He does not calculate the merit of his own conduct. For this, 1 Corinthians 4:4 gives a reason. In his conscience, that inner chamber (Romans 2:15) in which he contemplates his inner self, there is nothing which condemns him. Yet not in this fact does Paul find a sentence of approval from his great Judge.

(This he finds only in the Gospel of Christ.) And, because his consciousness of God’s favor does not depend on his own verdict about his own faithfulness, he does not sit in judgment upon himself. That Paul, who knew the secrets of his own heart, forbore to pronounce judgment about himself, was a warning to others not to do so. Notice Paul’s fully developed Christian character, 1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 1:12; and that even this was to him no ground for assurance of God’s favor.

He that examines etc.: who sifts my conduct in order to pronounce sentence upon it.

The Lord: Christ, soon to come, 1 Corinthians 4:5. As a steward, Paul’s conduct must be investigated; but he cares not for man’s examination; and does not even judicially examine himself. His judge is the Master.

Verse 5

1 Corinthians 4:5. Practical result of the foregoing. The metaphor of light, compared with “fire” in 1 Corinthians 3:13, suggests the ease and suddenness and completeness with which the great Day will make all things known; just as the daylight reveals things unknown in the night.

The hidden things; suggests how much that is needful for a correct estimate of men’s conduct now lies under an impenetrable veil.

The counsels etc.: the purposes, now hidden in men’s hearts, which move them to activity and which will determine their reward. A solemn warning to many at Corinth. All judgments on Christian workers before the Lord comes are before the right-time: (same word as season, see 1 Corinthians 7:5:) for not till then will all the facts be known.

From God: rising as usual from the Son, whose coming will bring to light all the facts of the case, to the Father, who is the original source of the praise which, through the lips of Christ, will be given to each faithful servant.

From 1 Corinthians 3:21 to 1 Corinthians 4:7 we infer that the church-parties at Corinth were occasioned and nourished by the various estimates of various persons about Paul and Apollos. But these teachers, and all others, were alike helpers of Christ, distributing the hidden wealth of God. Each of them was thus an enrichment to the whole church. Moreover, upon them and all His servants, the Master will Himself pronounce sentence; and will justify His sentence by bringing to light all the facts of the case. Since these facts are not yet fully known, the Corinthians cannot pronounce a correct sentence on the merits of their teachers; and therefore ought not to attach themselves to one or other of them as his special disciples.

SECTION 5 deals specifically with the church-parties at Corinth. It is in part a reply to the question of 1 Corinthians 3:5 a, a question suggested by the reference in 1 Corinthians 3:4 to the church-parties; and in part a warning against evils which were their real source. Our ignorance of details obscures Paul’s reference to these evils, and lessens the force, which his readers would feel at once, of the sudden transitions of 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 3:18. But is evident that the Christians at Corinth overestimated mere human knowledge, and that some prided themselves on their superior learning. We can well conceive that some of these taught human learning rather than the “word of the cross;” and that some, by claiming undue recognition of their own learning, were actually injuring the church. Also, that the same spirit moved the church-members generally or universally to pronounce sentence on the comparative learning or eloquence of Paul and his colleagues; and that their differing estimates caused the divisions in the church.

To correct this complication of evils and errors, Paul says that both Apollos and himself were but garden laborers, doing the same kind of work and paid for their work, 1 Corinthians 3:5-9; that the work of all their teachers, which is but a continuation of work already begun, will be tested in the great day, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; that they who injure the work already done will receive tremendous punishment, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; that the truly wise man is he who has learned that all human wisdom is of itself utterly worthless, 1 Corinthians 3:18-20; that for this reason, and because all things belong to God’s people, no one ought to boast about men, 1 Corinthians 3:21-23; and that Paul and Apollos are but helpers and stewards, who will be judged by Christ, and whom no man is capable of judging aright, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.

Verse 6


These things, brothers, I have transferred to myself and Apollos because of you, that in us you may learn not to go beyond the things which are written, that you may not be puffed up and one on behalf of the one against the other. For who makes thee to differ? And what hast thou which thou didst not receive? But if thou didst receive it, why dost thou exult as though not having received it?

Already made full you are: already you have become rich: apart from us you have become kings. And, at any rate, would that you had become kings, that also we may become kings with you. For I think God has exhibited us, the apostles, in the last place, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, and to angels and to men. We are foolish because of Christ; but you are prudent in Christ: we are weak; but you are strong you are well-thought-of; but we are dishonoured. Until the present hour we both are hungry and are thirsty, and are without sufficient clothing, and are smitten, and are homeless, and labour, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we bear it; when evil spoken of, we entreat. As offscourings of the world we have become, a refuse of all men, until now.

Not putting you to shame do I write these things; but as admonishing beloved children of mine. For if you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, by means of the Gospel, it was I that begot you. I exhort you then, become imitators of me. Because of this I have sent to you Timothy, who is a child of mine, beloved and faithful, in the Lord, who will recall to your memory my ways in Christ, according as everywhere, in every church, I teach. Supposing that I am not coming to you, some have been puffed up.

But I shall come quickly to you, if the Lord will. And I shall know, not the word of those that are puffed up, but the power. For not in word is the kingdom of God, but in power. What do you wish? With a rod am I to come to you? or in love, and the Spirit of meekness?

1 Corinthians 4:6. These things: from 1 Corinthians 3:5 onwards, where, as here, Paul speaks only of the parties of Apollos and himself.

Brothers: an appeal to the whole church.

Transferred: put into another shape. Same word in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Philippians 3:21. The teaching of § 5, about Christian teachers, Paul applied specially to himself and Apollos. He now says that in doing so he put his teaching into a shape different from that which it would naturally have assumed; and that he did this for his reader’s good, that they might learn etc.

Things which are written: in the Old Testament, according to Paul’s constant and frequent use of this phrase. These words remind the readers that a careful study of the Scriptures would have corrected these errors. An interesting coincidence with Paul’s habit of referring to the Old Testament.

Not to go beyond etc.: not to exceed, in their estimate of themselves and others, the descriptions of human nature given in the Old Testament. Of these descriptions we have specimens in 1 Corinthians 3:19 f.

That in us you may learn etc.: i.e. by considering Paul’s description of the position of himself and Apollos, as garden laborers, paid for their work, house stewards, etc.

That you be not etc.: further purpose, a result of that foregoing.

On behalf of the one against the other: graphic description of party-spirit.

Puffed up: become large in your own esteem. This word is a marked feature of Paul’s description of the Corinthian Christians: 1 Corinthians 4:18-19; 1 Corinthians 5:2; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 13:4; Colossians 2:18. Its use here implies that their self-conceit was the source of their party-spirit. They set themselves on the side of one man and against another because of something in the one which seemed to flatter, and something in the other which did not flatter, their vanity.

The word transferred casts light upon the factions at Corinth. It tells us that, while speaking of himself and Apollos, Paul was really referring to others. These must have been those who were the real leaders or abettors of the parties. For Paul and Apollos were not such: though we are told plainly in 1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 3:4 that the factions actually bore their names. We infer, therefore, that there were men who, under cover of professed devotion to Paul or to Apollos, fomented the factions, in order thus to exalt themselves and increase their influence. These were the real party leaders. And they found a following through the extravagant estimate of their own powers and acquirements cherished by the Corinthian Christians. We can easily conceive that some man of learning began to be looked up to by some who prided themselves in their love of learning; and that he strengthened his influence over them by pointing to the learning and mental power of Paul. Another man, of fluent speech, was perhaps looked up to by some who had formerly listened with delight to Apollos. Now it is evident that Paul’s whole teaching in § 5 about Apollos and himself applies, with far greater force, and with solemn warning, to these men. They needed to beware with what materials they were building; and lest, while seeming to build, they were really pulling down, the temple of God. They needed, to save them from self-deception, to be reminded that the Scriptures taught that mere human wisdom is but folly in disguise; and that the light of the great day will reveal even the secret purposes of the heart.

Verse 7

1 Corinthians 4:7. A direct appeal against this inflated self-estimate, which Paul has just shown to be the real source of the factions.

For who etc? reason for not being “puffed up.”

Thee: any one of the church-members whose self-conceit had drawn him after a party leader.

Who makes thee to differ? No one, except thy own imagination.

And what hast thou etc.: solemn and wide question, suggesting an answer to the foregoing question.

Exult: see under 1 Corinthians 1:29. Superior mental or material possessions led some to think that themselves were superior. This question reminds us that whatever we have was received, and is therefore no part of ourselves, or ground for self-gratification.

Verse 8

1 Corinthians 4:8. Having uncovered and rebuked the real root of the factions, Paul reveals its utter unseemliness by a bitter contrast of the conceit of his readers with the actual circumstances of himself and his colleagues.

You are: to the church collectively, in contrast to the individual (cp. “one on behalf of the other,” 1 Corinthians 4:6) singled out in 1 Corinthians 4:7.

Already, conspicuously placed and repeated, shows that the point of Paul’s irony is that their enrichment had come so early. And this suggests that he refers here to the fullness, wealth, and royalty, of God’s people in the world to come. Cp. Philippians 4:19; Romans 8:17 f; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:10; Matthew 5:6; 2 Corinthians 8:9. They thought, spoke, and acted, as though they had already obtained the glory for which others were waiting, as though even now, before they have gone down into the grave or Christ has appeared, all their needs and yearnings had been satisfied, as though they had already received their share of the wealth of the City of God and had sat down upon the throne beside Christ.

Apart from us: without our aid or participation. Although Paul had been the means of their spiritual life, he did not possess and therefore could not convey, such things as they boasted of.

And would that etc.: sudden waking up from his dream of self-conceit. “Would that your dreams were true, that also we might share the royalty you seem to fancy you have already obtained!” In other words, if their self-estimate be true, they are much more fortunate than their teachers.

Verse 9

1 Corinthians 4:9. An abundant reason for the wish just expressed, viz. Paul’s present position.

I think: Paul’s view of himself in contrast to his readers’ self-estimate.

Us the apostles; (see Romans 1:1, and 2 Corinthians 8:23;) seems to imply that the other apostles endured hardships similar, though probably not equal, to those of Paul. But it does not imply that Apollos was an apostle. For Paul is now dealing, not with the factions, but with self-conceit generally. And this he puts to shame by the hardships of those who hold the first rank in the church. He conceives God as exhibiting to the universe a public spectacle, in which the apostles were brought out last, the astonishing climax of all, just as men condemned to death were thrown to wild beasts in the amphitheatre.

Because etc.: proof of this, from matters of fact.

The world: or, universe, consisting of both angels and men. Since the word angels is used in the New Testament, as with us, without further explanation, for good angels, it is best so to understand it here. The holy angels watch, with wonder and sympathy, the endurance of the apostles. And men watch them, with various feelings.

Verse 10

1 Corinthians 4:10. Interrupts the description of the spectacle to remind us of its purpose, viz. to show the contrast between the apostles and Paul’s readers.

Foolish: exact opposite of “wise,” in all senses: “one who knows less than others.”

We are foolish: in a double sense. The better to serve Christ, Paul refrained from making acquirement of knowledge his chief aim. And many others have renounced a path which might have led to literary eminence in order to devote their entire energies to evangelical work. Again, by abstaining from teaching mere human learning and by preaching a Gospel which in the eyes of men was folly, Paul became, and felt himself to be, in their view, a foolish man. In other words, because of his loyalty to Christ he passed among men as one destitute of wisdom. Cp. 1 Corinthians 2:2.

Prudent in Christ: also in a double sense, either (cp. 1 Corinthians 1:5) as actually having, by union with Christ, practical spiritual intelligence, or as having it in their vain self-estimate. Both senses probably were present to Paul’s mind. If his readers had spiritual wisdom, it was because for their sakes he had laid aside human wisdom: if they prided themselves in fancied Christian wisdom, their pride was an utter contrast to his self-humiliation.

Weak: powerless and helpless amid trials, hardships, and perils.

Strong: with real or supposed spiritual strength.

Well-thought-of: by others, by each other, or by themselves.

Dishonoured: a technical term for deprival of the rights of a free citizen. See 1 Corinthians 15:43. The order of the last pair is changed, that the word dishonoured may be the keynote of 1 Corinthians 4:11-13. The contrast in this verse is between the position which, in loyalty to Christ, Paul accepted and felt that he occupied, and the position, real or feigned, which the Corinthians occupied.

Verses 11-13

1 Corinthians 4:11-13. Development of “dishonoured,” 1 Corinthians 4:10; and justification of the metaphor of 1 Corinthians 4:9. Until the present hour and until now lay emphasis on the ceaselessness of these hardships, and remind the readers of Paul’s position at the moment of writing.

Hungry, thirsty, etc.: 2 Corinthians 11:23-27.

Without-sufficient-clothing: “we shiver in the cold,” Stanley: literally, naked, denoting in Greek without clothing, or lightly or insufficiently clad; Matthew 25:36; John 21:7; James 2:15. Cp. Seneca, On Benefits 1 Corinthians 4:13 : “He that has seen a man badly clothed and ragged says that he saw him naked.”

Smitten: see 2 Corinthians 12:7.

Homeless: Or, “driven about from place to place.”

Working with our own hands: so 1 Corinthians 9:6 ff; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8 ff; and, an important coincidence, Acts 18:3; Acts 20:34. That Barnabas also did this, we learn from 1 Corinthians 9:6. In the eyes of men around, this was a further mark of degradation. For Paul seemed to be so little valued by his disciples that they refused to maintain him.

We bless: speak smoothly, as in Romans 16:18. See Romans 1:25.

We endure it; not repelling the attack of our enemies.

We entreat, or exhort, as in 1 Corinthians 1:10 : stronger than we bless. “We beg a favor from those who speak hurtfully of us, as though utterly at their mercy.” To return smooth words for rough ones, to submit to, instead of resisting, the attacks of enemies, to ask favors from, instead of spurning, those who revile us, arises usually from the absolute helplessness of men who dare not defend themselves. And Paul’s forbearance would be thus interpreted. It was, therefore, a mark of the humiliation of his position.

Offscourings, refuse: that which, for the sake of cleanliness, must be removed. Cp. Acts 22:22. Paul was treated as one who must be cast out, as defiling, not merely from his nation, but from the world, from all contact with men. Such was the position cheerfully accepted by those who held the first rank in the church. They were incessantly exposed to hunger, thirst, cold, and personal violence: they wandered about like men without a home: they had to depend for maintenance upon the labor of their hands: they had no angry words, or resistance, for those who reproached and attacked them: nay, they actually sought favor from those who defamed their character. In a word, they were looked upon as the world’s refuse, unworthy to be even trampled under foot, which must be removed from the presence of men.

Notice the modesty with which, by using the words we and us, Paul implies that his own hardships were not a solitary case among the apostles. What a vista this opens of early Christian endurance unknown to us!

Notice also how severely this description rebukes the self-conceit of the Christians. In the presence of such tremendous earnestness and such forgetfulness of self, they could not but feel how utterly contemptible was all thought of their own learning or skill. And in these days, amid much that tends to foster an extravagant self-estimate, we need ever to feel the purifying influence of the example of the martyrs.

Verses 14-16

1 Corinthians 4:14-16. Paul has now completed his discussion of the church-parties, by uncovering their source, viz. an inflated self-estimate; and this he has sought to annihilate by the example of his own self-forgetfulness. So severe is the contrast thus presented that Paul’s courteous tact and tender heart move him to soften it. “To put you to shame, is not my purpose; and therefore not the real meaning of my words.”

Admonish: Romans 15:14; Colossians 1:28 : reproof with a view to improvement. Paul looks upon them as children, even his own children, and exercises towards them the discipline of intelligent paternal love. This assumption of paternal authority, 1 Corinthians 4:15 justifies.

Ten thousand etc.: hyperbolic supposition, indicating the readiness of the Corinthian Christians to assume the office of teacher.

Guardians: Galatians 3:24 f: men, nearly always slaves, who in wealthy Greek families took care of the sons under seven years old, but did not teach them. The would-be teachers at Corinth were but guardian slaves as compared with the father of the family, i.e. in a position quite different from that of the human author of the spiritual life of the whole church.

I begat you: cp. Galatians 4:19; Philemon 1:10 : an approach to the doctrine of the new birth; John 3:3; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:1, etc., 1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18. To this doctrine, Paul’s only direct reference is Titus 3:5.

Through the Gospel: instrument by which Paul, in virtue of his life-giving union with Christ Jesus, gave them a new life and brought them into a new world. So James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23. Notice that, though Apollos and others had led (1 Corinthians 3:5) individuals to faith and thus given to them spiritual life, yet Paul, by preaching the Gospel first and making the first converts at Corinth, had been directly or indirectly the instrument of the spiritual life of the whole church; and that therefore his relation to the church was quite different from that of any one else. Cp. 1 Corinthians 3:10 ff; 1 Corinthians 9:1-2. He has therefore a right to treat them as his children.

Imitators of me: 1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6 : not necessarily in his sufferings, (1 Corinthians 4:9-13,) but in the spirit Paul manifested therein. Happy are the teachers who can say this to their hearers.

Verse 17

1 Corinthians 4:17. Because of this: that you may become imitators of me. From 1 Corinthians 16:10 we learn that Paul did not expect TIMOTHY (see 2 Corinthians 1:1) to arrive at Corinth till after this letter, and that his coming was uncertain. Consequently, he was not the bearer of the letter, but left Ephesus earlier than it, or at the same time. This agrees exactly with Acts 19:22, which says that some time before Paul left Asia he sent Timothy from Ephesus to Macedonia, which lay (cp. 1 Corinthians 16:5) on the road to Corinth. We may suppose that, when sending Timothy to Macedonia, Paul instructed him to go on to Corinth; but had some doubt whether he would be able to do so. The change from who will recall etc., to the uncertainty revealed in “if he come” in 1 Corinthians 16:10, is easily accounted for by the fluctuation of the human expectation, or possibly by some change of circumstances while writing this long letter.

My child; 1 Timothy 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 2:1; seems to imply that Timothy was converted by Paul. (Cp. Philemon 1:10.) And, if so, during the time of Acts 14:6-23 : for, in 1 Corinthians 16:1, he was already a believer.

Faithful: either believing, as in Galatians 3:9; 1 Timothy 4:10; 1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Timothy 5:16; 1 Timothy 6:2; or trustworthy, as 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Corinthians 7:25; 1 Corinthians 10:13. Timothy’s mission suggests the latter sense. The father sends to his children at Corinth another child, an object of his love and worthy of their confidence.

In the Lord: parallel to “in faith,” 1 Timothy 1:2. The relationship between Paul and Timothy existed in virtue of their spiritual contact with the Master, Christ.

Who also; expounds because of this.

In Christ: added in consciousness that his conduct as a teacher was an outflow of spiritual life in union with Christ. How deeply a remembrance of this was woven into the entire thought of Paul, we learn from the frequency of these words.

My ways: cp. 2 Corinthians 12:18, “we walked by the same steps;” 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 10:2 f; 2 Corinthians 5:7. These ways are further described, in addition to 1 Corinthians 4:11-13, in 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12. Paul wishes his readers to join the Thessalonican Christians (1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:14) in imitating his self-sacrificing spirit.

Everywhere in every church: very emphatic.

As I teach: as I conduct myself as a teacher. Timothy’s description of Paul’s conduct will correspond with Paul’s actual behavior as a teacher, which he declares emphatically to be the same everywhere. Notice the consciousness of the Christian uprightness of his whole conduct (cp. 2 Corinthians 1:12) which breathes throughout Paul’s letters and emboldens him to point to himself as a pattern.

Verses 18-21

1 Corinthians 4:18-21. Not only has he sent Timothy to remind them of his conduct but he will himself come shortly.

Supposing etc.: perhaps because Paul did not fulfill his purpose (2 Corinthians 1:15) to go first to Corinth and then to Macedonia. Some of the Corinthians interpreted this to mean that Paul dared not face them: and thus his change of purpose gave them an inflated notion of their own importance. The real reason of the change, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:23.

If the Lord will: James 4:15. That Paul speaks always and frequently of the will of God, never unless here of the will of Christ, suggests that here as in the LXX. the Lord denotes the Father. But Paul’s constant use of this word as the distinctive title of the Son outweighs this, and warrants us in accepting this passage as a solitary reference to the will of Christ as the Master whose work Paul was doing.

Power: ability, given by God, to produce spiritual results in the hearts of men by means of the Gospel. Cp. 1 Corinthians 1:18; Romans 1:16. When Paul comes, he will know, not what they say, but what they can do to advance the kingdom of God among men.

Kingdom of God: Romans 14:17 : the eternal kingdom to be set up in full splendor at the coming of Christ, of which believers are already citizens, and which is therefore already spreading on earth as day by day men are enrolled as citizens. Its progress depends, not on man’s talk, but on the putting forth, through men, of God’s power. Therefore not word but power is the element in which it is being set up. And Paul cares, not what the inflated ones say, but for the degree of power which attends them. We have here the only true standard for self-measurement.

1 Corinthians 4:21. With a rod: which belongs to a father. With what terrible power Paul could use it, we learn from 1 Corinthians 5:5. Cp. 2 Corinthians 13:2-10. We are not told to what kind of discipline he here refers.

Or with love: i.e. giving vent to his love for them. In either case, love to them will be the animating principle of Paul’s conduct. But whether he comes to them armed with a rod, or manifesting his love, depends on themselves.

Meekness: see under 2 Corinthians 10:1; Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:12; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:25; Titus 3:2; James 1:21; James 3:13; 1 Peter 3:4-5 : absence of self-assertion, a disposition moving us to forego our supposed rights and to refrain from putting forth our powers in defence of them. By inflicting punishment, Paul would assert his authority and manifest his power. His usual conduct (1 Thessalonians 2:7) was the opposite of this.

Spirit of meekness: the Holy Spirit, of whose activity meekness (cp. Galatians 5:23) is a characteristic. Cp. Isaiah 11:2; Romans 8:15; 2 Corinthians 4:13; Ephesians 1:17; 2 Timothy 1:7. For to Him much more frequently than to the human spirit does the word refer. It points here to the divine source of that Christian meekness which Paul wishes to display at Corinth.

From 1 Corinthians 4:18 we learn that, though the factious spirit was universal (1 Corinthians 1:12) at Corinth, certain men were especially guilty of self-inflated opposition to Paul. This suggests that he has here in view the two classes of special offenders mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11:13 ff and in 2 Corinthians 12:21 ff. Of these, the former would certainly foster the partisanship just condemned; and the latter would tolerate the crime mentioned in the next chapter.

After expounding in § 5 the principles which ought to regulate his readers’ view of himself and Apollos, Paul begins § 6 by reminding them that there are others besides himself to whom these principles apply, and points to inflated self-esteem as the root of the church-parties: 1 Corinthians 4:6. Against this, he appeals directly in 1 Corinthians 4:7-8; and supports his appeal by the contrasted career of himself and his colleagues, 1 Corinthians 4:9-13. This contrast he depicts, not to put them to shame, but to correct them, as their father in Christ: 1 Corinthians 4:14-16. That they may imitate him, he has sent to them his trustworthy son Timothy, who will remind them of his example: 1 Corinthians 4:17. And, in spite of the self-flattering predictions of some, he will himself come soon, and test the real worth of those who think so much of themselves: 1 Corinthians 4:18-20. Upon themselves it depends whether his visit be marked by severity or kindness.

The CHURCH PARTIES at Corinth are known to us only from the foregoing chapters and from uncertain allusions in the Second Epistle.

The whole church (1 Corinthians 1:12) was divided into four parties calling themselves by the names of Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ. That Paul passes at once from the church-parties to discuss in §§ 3, 4 the practical worth of human wisdom and then returns to the parties called by the names of himself and Apollos, his sudden reference in 1 Corinthians 3:18 to wisdom, and his warning in 1 Corinthians 3:21 not to boast in such men as himself and Apollos, suggest that these parties had their real source in an overestimate of human knowledge or skill. And, that they arose from an inflated self-estimate in the church-members generally, we are in 1 Corinthians 4:6 told expressly. The same verse implies that behind the names inscribed on the banners were other men who were the real leaders of the parties. And this was so, probably, in all the parties.

The Aramaic name Cephas suggests that the party which bore it was of Jewish nationality. And, if so, the parties of Paul and of Apollos were probably in the main Greek. This agrees with 1 Corinthians 1:22, which tells us that a search for wisdom was a mark of Greek, as distinguished from Jewish, nationality. From 2 Corinthians 11:22 we learn that there were at Corinth bad men, apparently (2 Corinthians 11:4) foreigners, and openly hostile (2 Corinthians 10:10) to Paul, who boasted that they were Jews, and whom, like their fellow-countrymen in Galatia, Paul distinguishes (cp. 2 Corinthians 10:2-6; 2 Corinthians 11:4; 2 Corinthians 11:12-15; 2 Corinthians 11:20; 2 Corinthians 11:22) from the native Christians. Of these men and their followers the Cephas party probably consisted.

That the Christ party is classed with the others, places it under the common condemnation. Indeed the mention of it moves Paul to say that Christ Himself has been divided. The words of 2 Corinthians 10:7 are in any case so easily accounted for that we cannot be sure that they refer expressly to this party. But they unveil a spirit which would easily assume form in a party using as its special or exclusive right, and therefore for party purposes, the Great Name which all Christians confess.

That only the parties of Paul and Apollos are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:4-5; 1 Corinthians 4:6, suggests that the other parties were comparatively small in numbers or influence. And this agrees with the indications that the Cephas party was of Jewish nationality. The order of names in 1 Corinthians 1:12 is retained in 1 Corinthians 3:4; 1 Corinthians 4:6, the only other clear references to the parties. This suggests that the order in 1 Corinthians 1:12 may be throughout the order of the origin of the parties. All else is mere conjecture.

We can well conceive that the fervent eloquence (Acts 18:24 f) of Apollos, contrasted with the simplicity of speech which prompted the taunt of 2 Corinthians 10:10 against Paul, would evoke the special enthusiasm of some hearers; and would call forth from others special expressions of loyalty to the great Apostle who seemed to be for the moment forgotten amid the popularity of Apollos. The pride of culture would lead many to set up themselves as judges of the relative merits of their great teachers. And unscrupulous men might make use of the various estimates thus formed to increase their own influence by avowing themselves followers of Paul or of Apollos that thus they might, by flattering the vanity of others, gain a following for themselves. The party spirit, so accordant with Greek character, evoked in some such way as this, soon infected the whole church.

Amid all this, Jewish enemies of Paul and of Christ crept into the Corinthian church, as into others, (cp. Galatians 2:4,) under the guise of a false Christian profession. Such men would fan the flame of dissension; and in opposition to both existing parties would proclaim themselves disciples of the great Apostle to whom had been given by Christ the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The solemn warnings of 2 Corinthians 10:12., confirm 1 Corinthians 1:12 by proving that these foreign intruders found a following at Corinth.

In view of these three parties calling themselves by the names of men, we wonder not that other men claimed independence of men and avowed themselves disciples of Christ, and claimed to be such specially and exclusively, thus separating themselves from their fellow-Christians and forming practically a fourth party. Like some in our own day they used as their own special name the One Name which belongs equally to the whole family of God. But, equally with the others at Corinth, they are condemned by the Apostle as partisans.

The foregoing suggestions accounts for all the known facts of the case. And, till better informed, we accept it as a probable explanation of the rise of the church-parties at Corinth.

The mention of the factions in ch. 47 of Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians (see Appendix) is only a reference to this Epistle, and gives no further facts. It is, however, very interesting as proof of the genuineness of the Epistle before us, and as showing how deeply seated in the Corinthians was the spirit of faction.

REVIEW OF DIVISION 1. The Corinthian church had written to Paul for instruction on various matters. But other matters had come to his ears, of which they had said nothing, but which demanded prior attention. Of these, the church-parties occupied the first and largest place. For this evil was universal at Corinth; and is utterly inconsistent (cp. John 17:21) with the aim of Christianity. Paul reminds his readers that he had, in their midst, purposely avoided everything tending to make himself the head of a party. Since the real source of their divisions was an overestimate of human wisdom, he shows that the Gospel reveals the powerlessness of such wisdom, and that, both in itself and as preached by him, it did not claim acceptance on the ground of the wisdom it displayed. Yet none the less Paul teaches wisdom, a wisdom quite different from that esteemed by men, revealed by the Spirit of God and incomprehensible to all but those in whom the Spirit dwells. How little fit the Corinthians are for such teaching, their divisions prove. Having thus struck at the root of the evil, Paul shows how unsuitable are men like Apollos and himself to be made heads of parties. He warns his readers to build with those materials only which will abide the test of the great Day; and bids them beware lest, instead of building up, they pull down, the temple of God. Once more he appeals against their overestimate of human wisdom. He bids them, instead of boasting about the merits of their teachers, to remember that whatever good there is in any of them belongs to the whole church. Although, as stewards, the apostles must give account, yet the Corinthians are unable to pass sentence upon them; and ought to wait till in the light of the Great Day all things are known. Paul then reminds his readers that he has in view others besides those whose names are inscribed on the banners of the church-parties. He has spoken of himself and Apollos as a rebuke of their overestimate of themselves. He wishes indeed that their estimate were true. For the lot of the apostles is very different from the fancied exaltation of the Corinthians. Yet he wishes, not to put them to shame, but to correct them. For he alone can speak to them as a father. To remind them of his own example, he has sent Timothy. And, though some self-confident men think otherwise, he will himself come soon. It is for them to decide whether his visit be marked by kindness or severity.

Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". Beet's Commentary. 1877-90.