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1 Corinthians 4

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

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Verse 1

1 Corinthians 4:1. Let a man so account of us, &c.— The Apostle intimates, that he was so far from arrogating the title assumed by the founders of the different sects of philosophy, and fromwishing to have scholars denominated from him, that he would have no man think higher of him than that he was a servant of Christ; and that the mysteries he revealed were no more his, than the money which a steward is employed to distribute in alms could be called his property. He was no master, no proprietor; but a servant, and a steward. See Locke and Doddridge.

Verse 3

1 Corinthians 4:3. I judge not mine own self That is, "not so as if my case were to be finally determined by my own apprehensions concerning it."

Verse 4

1 Corinthians 4:4. For I know nothing by myself "For, though I bless God that I am not conscious to myself of any designed neglect of my office, or unfaithfulness in my trust, yet am I not hereby justified." This seems a gentle, but a very affecting insinuation, that his opponents, confident as they might seem in their own integrity and safety, would do well to take greater heed that they were not imposed upon by the deceitfulness of their own hearts. See Locke and Doddridge.

Verse 5

1 Corinthians 4:5. Will bring to light, &c.— This is a lively and just insinuation, that under specious forms his enemies concealed very dark designs, which would not bear the discoveries of that awful day. The next passage also suggests a very solid argument against magnifying one minister above another; namely, that the secret principles of men's actions are unknown; and it is enlargeth upon to very good practical purposes: while the Apostle, at the same time, takes an opportunity of making a very solemn profession of his own faithfulness, and shewing the boldness which he had towards God, and his modesty and candour to men; all which were extremely suitable to the general purposes that he had in view. See Doddridge and Calmet.

Verse 6

1 Corinthians 4:6. I have in a figure transferred, &c.— Mr. Locke and some others [see on ch. 1 Corinthians 3:4.] have hence inferred, that not Paul and Apollos, but some other persons were set up among the Corinthians for heads of parties, for whose names the Apostle substituted his own, and that of his most intimate friend. But Witsius observes, that it is probable their names were used, among some others omitted, and the figure was only this, that the names of St. Paul and Apollos were used to signify themselves, or anyothers so extolled; and when the Apostle would say, how little ministers were in themselves, he chose, out of humility and prudence, rather to take such freedom with himself, and his most particular friend, than with any others. See Witsius's Meletem. p. 104 and Elsner.

Verse 8

1 Corinthians 4:8. Now—ye have reigned, &c.— This is a proverbial expression, used to signifythe most splendid and affluent circumstances; and some think, that when the Apostle adds I would to God ye did reign, he means, "I wish you had the authority of princes, that you might shelter and accommodate us, amidst all our distresses and afflictions." But we can hardly conceive that he did wish each of them a prince, or that the civil power were in their hands. It seems much more probable, that as spiritual objects were familiar to his mind, he changes the idea, and alludes to the terms in the Jewish oeconomy; in reference to which Christians are called priests and kings, and a royal priesthood. See 1 Peter 2:9. Rev 1:6 and Doddridge.

Verse 9

1 Corinthians 4:9. That God hath set forth us the Apostles last, &c.— The Apostle seems here to refer to the Roman custom of bringing forth on the theatre, in the latter part of the day, either to fight with each other, or with wild beasts, those persons who were appointed unto certain death, and who had not that chance of escaping, which those brought forth in the morning had. Such kind of spectacles were so common in all the provinces, that it is no wonder we should find an allusion to them here. The word απεδειξεν, set forth, or exhibited, and θεατρον, a spectacle on the theatre, have in this connection a beautiful propriety. The whole representation is indeed wonderfully pathetic and sublime: while they considered evil angels and men, as beholding them with all the malignant,—and good angels and men, with all the benevolent passions, it might have a great tendency to inspire their minds with the most heroic sentiments. See Seneca's Epistles, ch. 7. Reeves's Apology, vol. 1: p. 237. Locke and Elsner.

Verse 10

1 Corinthians 4:10. We are weak "In an infirm and suffering state." See 2 Corinthians 12:10. Surely we cannot imagine any more glorious triumph of the truth, than what was gained in these circumstances; when St. Paul, with an impediment in his speech, and a person rather contemptible than graceful, appeared in a mean dress, before persons of the highest rank, and yet commanded such attention, and made such impressions. See Doddridge and Poole.

Verse 13

1 Corinthians 4:13. As the filth of the world The word περικαθαρματα, rendered filth, has a force and meaning, which no one word in our language can express. It was applied to those poor wretches, who were offered up as expiatory sacrifices, in times of any plague or public calamity, to the infernal deities. They were brought to the place of execution with cheese, dried figs, and a cake in their hands; and after being beaten with rods, they were burned, and their ashes were cast into the sea with the following sentence: "Be thou an expiation; be thou a refuse or off-scouring." It should be observed, that the word rendered expiation in that sentence, is the same which is here rendered filth by our translators. See on Leviticus 16:24. Henry More's Theolog. Works, p. 63. Ridley's Christian Passover, p. 22. Servius in AEneid, 3: lin. 75. Hammond, Whitby, and Bos.

Verse 14

1 Corinthians 4:14. I write not these things to shame you See 2 Corinthians 11:20. St. Paul here (from 1 Corinthians 4:8-17.), by giving an account of his own conduct, gently rebukes them for following men of a different character, and exhorts them to be followers of himself.

Verse 16

1 Corinthians 4:16. Be ye followers of me. This he presses again, ch. 1Co 11:1 and it is not likely that he would have proposed himself over and again to them to be followed by them, had the question and contest among them been only whose name they should have borne, his,or their new teacher's. His proposing himself therefore thus to be followed, must be understood in direct opposition to the false Apostle who misled them, and who was not to be suffered to have any credit or followers among them. See Locke.

Verse 17

1 Corinthians 4:17. For this cause have I sent—Timotheus This he does to shew that what he taught and pressed them to, was not in a pique against his opposer; but to convince them that all he did at Corinthwas the very same, and no other than what he did every where, as a faithful steward and minister of the Gospel. See Locke and Witsiu

Verse 21

1 Corinthians 4:21. Shall I come unto you with a rod? "Using my apostolic power for your chastisement?"ThattheApostleshadoftenamiraculouspower of inflicting death and other temporal judgments, in case of aggravated offence, appears from other passages of Scripture, and is more than once referred to in these Epistles to the Corinthians. See ch. 1Co 5:5. 2 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 10:6; 2Co 10:8; 2 Corinthians 13:2-3; 2 Corinthians 13:10. We cannot but admire the wisdom of Providence in permitting such opposition to rise against St. Paul, particularly at Corinth. It gave him an opportunity of making the strongest appeals to what they are supposed to know of his miraculous power; and had not these appeals been founded on the most certain and evident truth, instead of restoring him to their regard, as we find in fact they did, they must have been sufficient of themselves utterly to have ruined all his reputation and interest among them, had it before been ever so great. See Doddridge, Hammond, Locke, and the note on 1Co 4:1 of the next chapter.

Inferences.—Nothing can be more conducive to the advantage of Christianity,—and by consequence, of the world, whose happiness is so much concerned in its support and success, than that its preachers should consider, and their hearers remember, the nature of their office. They are not lords over God's household and heritage, but ministers of Christ, whose business it is to promote their Master's honour; (1 Corinthians 4:1-2.) stewards of his mysteries, who are to endeavour both to keep and to dispense them with all good fidelity. From their Master therefore may they take all their instructions, and to him let them refer all their administrations. Various judgments will be passed upon them; and they who will oppose the attempts of some of their brethren to introduce corruption and confusion into his family, will have many an unkind reflection thrown upon them, and experience the severity of censure, for a conduct which merits the justest approbation. Let them, however, learn by this excellent Apostle, (1 Corinthians 4:3.) to be above the judgment of men, and to keep the judgment of the Lord in view; that they may not only be supported under that petulance of their fellow-servants, but may learn to guard against, what is much more dangerous,—the treachery of their own hearts, and the flattery of self-love; lest they fondly mistake the voice of prejudice, for that of conscience; or, in other words, the voice of an erroneous conscience, for that of a conscience well informed, 1 Corinthians 4:4.

May we often recollect the narrow limits of our own knowledge, that so we may learn modesty in our censures of each other, 1 Corinthians 4:5. &c. He only can judge who knoweth the heart;—and there is a day approaching which will manifest all its secrets. While others therefore, with a pitiable mixture of arrogance and ignorance, judge one another, and judge us; let us rather be concerned to seek that praise of God, which will be held and felt by the soul with the highest rapture, and will silence every echo of human censure, or human applause.

If it has pleased God in any respect to distinguish us from others, by the gifts and graces which he has bestowed upon us, let us humbly trace these distinctions to their true source; and instead of indulging the least degree of pride on their account, let us rather be the more humble: for surely the more we receive from God, the more we are indebted and obliged; and the more we are obliged to the divine goodness, the greater ought our shame and confusion to be, that we have not answered those obligations by more faithful care, and more constant gratitude.

How adorable is the efficacy of divine grace, which bore the zealous and faithful servants of Christ through all their labours and fatigues, when they were made a spectacle to the world, to angels and men! 1 Corinthians 4:9. How glorious a spectacle! worthy surely, as any thing since that wonderful scene on Calvary, of the eye of God himself.

How little are we to judge of the divine favour by external circumstances, when those best of men were of all others the most miserable, farther than as their heavenly hope supported and animated them!—But when that is taken into the account, who would not almost envy their lot, though hungry and thirsty, though naked and destitute, without habitation, without protection, without friends? 1 Corinthians 4:11-13.—When we consider their share in the divine friendship; when we contemplate the blessed effects of their labours, and the glorious crown which awaits them after all their sufferings, surely they must appear happy in proportion to the degree in which they seemed miserable, and glorious in proportion to the degree in which the world held them infamous!

That illustrious person, whose Epistles are now before us, knew not the pleasures of domestic life in many of its most endearing relations: but God made him a spiritual father to multitudes; and no doubt, as he urges the consideration upon his children in Christ, he felt the joy arising from it strong in his own soul, when he said, (1 Corinthians 4:15.) I have begotten you in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. Surely it ought never to have been forgotten by them; and if, through the artifice of ill-designing men, and the remaining infirmities of their own character, it was sometimes or in some degree forgotten; yet, undoubtedly, it will be remembered by those of them who are saved, in the heavenly world for ever. And if there be any remembrance there that they once grieved him, it will be an engagement to all those offices of eternal friendship, which the exaltation of the heavenly state shall allow.

In the mean time, his paternal affection for them, wrought not in a foolish fondness of indulgence, which, in the language of divine wisdom, is hating a son; but, in the character of a prudent and faithful parent, who, desirous that his children may be as wise and good as possible, will rather use the rod than suffer them to be undone, 1 Corinthians 4:21. Yet when he speaks of using it, he speaks with regret, as one who would rather choose to act in the spirit of gentleness, and without any mixture of severity. The whole of his subsequent conduct to the Corinthians, as far as it may be learned from this or the following Epistle, bears a perfect consistency with these expressions, and illustrates the sincerity of them.

May God give to his ministers more of this truly apostolical spirit, more of those overflowings of holy love, attempering and attempered by that ardent zeal against sin, that firm resolution in the discharge of duty, which shone so brightly in the Apostle, and in which he so freely and justly recommends himself to the imitation of his children and brethren!

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The Apostle,

1. States the true character of Gospel ministers, and the esteem in which they should be held. Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, (υπηρεται, ) servants, under-rowers of the vessel where Christ is the pilot, and labouring with all their might to bring it to the haven of eternal rest; and stewards of the mysteries of God, dispensing to the household of faith the rich provision made in the Gospel-word for their nourishment and growth in grace. Moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful, true to the trust committed to them, and zealous for their Master's interest and honour.

2. Whatever they might think of him, he could appeal to God for his own simplicity and godly sincerity. But, though some among you in the spirit of party are crying up one minister and censuring another, with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment; though I am desirous, for the honour of Christ and the success of my ministry, to vindicate my integrity before men, yet their censures are comparatively insignificant: the approbation of the Lord, in the great day, is my important concern. Yea, I judge not mine own self; for though I know nothing by myself, nor am at all conscious of allowed guile or unfaithfulness, yet am I not hereby justified, I would not on any consideration rest my justification before God on the footing of my own sincere obedience: but, living upon his grace, and enabled to appeal to him for my simplicity, I wait the great decisive day, knowing that he that judgeth me is the Lord, to whose Blood I have fled for acceptance, and by whose grace I am what I am. Note; (1.) It is a comfort to us, that men, even the best of men, are not our judges. (2.) Though we maintain a becoming care about our character before men, our great concern must be to approve ourselves to God; and where we are conscious that this is our desire and labour, then we may sit loose to every malevolent censure. (3.) The fidelity of a steward, and the diligent labours of a servant, characterize the real minister of the Gospel.

3. He warns them against hasty judgment. Therefore judge nothing before the time, suspend every rash censure until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts, when every man's principles, as well as practices, will be laid naked and open: and then shall every man, who shall be found faithful, have praise of God, and be acknowledged and commended by the greats Judge of all. Note; (1.) The prospect of a judgment-day should make us careful how we dare judge others. They shall then have judgment without mercy, who shewed no mercy. (2.) However sin be now concealed, and false principles put on the most specious appearances, the cheat cannot be long undiscovered: the day is near, when the secrets of all hearts shall be made known. (3.) They who can now approve themselves to their Lord, however reviled or maligned, shall shortly, if faithful, be owned by the eternal Judge.

4. To avoid every offence, he tells them, These things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes, choosing to make use of his own name, and that of Apollos, rather than to apply the matter to any of those who headed parties among them, which might but exasperate. And I do this that ye might learn in us, who, though chief in labours among you, disclaim all authority over your consciences, not to think of men above that which is written, setting them up as the lords of your faith, and implicitly following their opinions; and that no one of you be puffed up for one against another, exalting the character of one minister upon the ruins of another; but giving God the glory of the various gifts which he has bestowed on different men, and thankful for the benefit of their ministry.

2nd, As they were puffed up with a high conceit of themselves; and their unreasonable partiality for one minister above another arose from an opinion of their own superior taste and judgment, the Apostle rebukes this unchristian spirit.
1. He reminds them that all they possessed was of God's mere grace. For who maketh thee to differ from another, admitting your attainments may be singular? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive from above as a matter of favour? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it? and as if it was not owing to his grace, but to your own desert? a claim how insolent, ungrateful, nay, impious! Note; All good cometh from above, and God must have the glory of his own work: it is the worst of sacrilege to plume ourselves on, and be proud of, the gifts or graces which he bestows.

2. He ironically reproves their vain imaginations of their own excellence. Now ye are full, now ye are rich, abounding in worldly wealth, high in spiritual gifts, and flattering yourselves with the apprehension of your exalted attainments in grace; ye have reigned as kings without us, priding yourselves as if you had attained the summit of prosperity, without any obligations to us, or any assistance of ours who first preached the Gospel unto you: and I would to God ye did reign; far from envying you, I should be happy in your advancement, and wish for nothing more earnestly than that you really were as great and excellent as the glass of self-deceit represents you to be; that we also might reign with you, rejoicing in your attainments, and partaking of your glory as the instruments who contributed so greatly to your conversion and edification; whom you would then honour and respect, instead of adding to our troubles by your unbecoming conduct and ingratitude. For I think that God hath set forth us the Apostles, who were last called to the ministry of the word, (see the Annotations) as it were appointed to death, ordained to suffer peculiar afflictions, and every day exposed to danger and death: for we are, as public criminals who are exposed to beasts in the theatres, and devoted to destruction, made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men, exposed to every ignominy, reproach, and suffering from the world which lieth in wickedness; whilst angels and good men admire our constancy, and pity our sufferings, and devils and wicked men insult, revile, and persecute us. But while we are counted fools for Christ's sake, thus to expose ourselves for the sake of our crucified Master, and for our preaching the doctrines of the Cross, which the world counts foolishness; ye are wise in Christ, and, varnishing over the offensive truths of the Gospel, value yourselves on your wisdom and prudence in escaping that cross under which we groan: we are weak, oppressed with sorrows and sufferings till our strength is ready to fail; but ye are strong, and know none of our tribulations to harass you: ye are honourable, and maintain a respectable character in the world, and with lukewarm professors of Christianity; but we are despised for our fidelity, which draws upon us the reproaches and persecutions under which we appear so contemptible. While you enjoy ease and affluence, even unto this present hour, we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place, like our Master, without a settled abode to lay our head; and labour, working with our own hands, for that maintenance, which, for the Gospel's sake, we rather choose to earn with the sweat of our brow, than demand of you: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it patiently; being defamed, we intreat, return no opprobrious language, but mildly remonstrate, and humbly beg a hearing: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the off-scouring of all things unto this day, treated as the vilest miscreants, and as wretches chosen from the dregs of the people, who, being regarded by the heathen as the authors of all their public calamities, are offered in sacrifice to appease the wrath of their supposed offended deities. Note; (1.) Many dangerously mistake, who judge of themselves by their gifts. It is not great knowledge, but great grace, which constitutes the eminent Christian. (2.) They who will be faithful in the ministry, should count the cost, and go forth with a readiness to suffer, if need be, the loss of all things. (3.) Nothing can serve to shew the character of the blessed Paul in a more distinguished light, than the account which he here gives of himself. May we learn to copy his disinterested zeal, and bear our sufferings with the like meekness and unshaken fidelity!

3rdly, The Apostle, with singular address,
1. Insinuates the kind intentions that he had in this discourse. I write not these things to shame or upbraid you, but as a father, tenderly concerned for my beloved sons, I warn you to beware of a conduct that is so unbecoming you, which must in the issue prove so much to your dishonour, and which it is highly incumbent on you to observe, lament, and amend. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, who help to build you up in the faith, yet have ye not many fathers, to whose ministry ye were indebted for being called to the knowledge of the truth: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel; he using my instrumentality, and sending me first among you to preach his great salvation; and the most of you, through his grace, by my ministry, have been called to the knowledge of the truth, and faith in him; and therefore I have a peculiar title to your esteem and regard. Wherefore, I beseech you, be ye followers of me as dear children, not led away by those who would pervert you from the simplicity of the Gospel, and steal your affections from me that you might idolize them. Remember my example, and, as far as I appeared to imitate my divine Master, copy after the pattern. Note; (1.) Those rebukes will be most effectual, where kindness gives weight to the admonition. (2.) They who have been our spiritual fathers, have a title to our peculiar affection. (3.) Every minister, by his example, should adorn the doctrine which he preaches, that he may with some humble confidence be able to say, "Be ye followers of me."

2. He tells them what were his kind intentions in sending the bearer of this Epistle. For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, to second this letter by his exhortations and ministry, who is my beloved son, begotten in the Gospel, and dear to me as a child; and faithful in the Lord, proved to be so by long experience; who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church, preaching the same doctrine, and walking in the same steps. Note; (1.) The great doctrines of the Gospel can admit of no change: like their Author, they are the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. (2.) All faithful ministers of Christ bring the same message, walk after the same rule, and mind the same things. Novelty is a proof of error.

3. He assures them of his intention to visit them himself, notwithstanding the insinuations of some of their false teachers. Now some are puffed up as though I would not come to you, as if I was ashamed or afraid personally to meet them; and perhaps may make the sending of Timothy an argument to support their suggestions: but I will come to you shortly, it is my firm determination so to do, if the Lord will, in whose hands are all our ways; and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power, examining into their credentials, and not to be deluded by the glare of their eloquence or learning; but inquiring what power accompanies their ministrations, and what efficacy their discourses have on the hearts of the hearers. For the kingdom of God is not in word; the church of the Redeemer is neither erected nor supported by human wisdom, nor does mere profession constitute the Christian character; but it stands in the power of God: not by man's eloquence, but through the preaching of the Cross, made effectual through the Spirit's energy, is this kingdom set up and maintained in the hearts of believers.

4. He concludes with an authoritative question: What will ye? How would you choose I should visit you? Shall I come unto you with a rod, according to my apostolic power, severely to chastise those offenders and disturbers of your peace! This would be my grief as well as yours; or shall I come to you, as I desire to do, in love, and in the spirit of meekness? Rejoicing to find a thorough reformation of whatever has been amiss, forgetting what is past, and affectionately embracing you as my dear children. Note; (1.) Obstinate offenders call for the rod; and though it be painful, parents, masters, ministers, must not spare. (2.) Love and meekness are the ornaments of the Christian character, and in these the preachers of the Gospel should excel.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.