In this chapter the apostle,
I. Directs them how to account of him and his fellow-ministers, and
therein, tacitly at least, reproves them for their unworthy carriage
1 Corinthians 4:1-6.
II. He cautions them against pride and self-elation, and hints at the
many temptations they had to conceive too highly of themselves, and
despise him and other apostles, because of the great diversity in their
circumstances and condition,
1 Corinthians 4:7-13.
III. He challenges their regard to him as their father in Christ,
1 Corinthians 4:14-16.
IV. He tells them of his having sent Timothy to them, and of his own
purpose to come to them shortly, however some among them had pleased
themselves, and grown vain, upon the quite contrary expectation,
1 Corinthians 4:17-21.
The Stewardship of the Apostles.
A. D. 57.
1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ,
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found
3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged
of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.
4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified:
but he that judgeth me is the Lord.
5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come,
who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and
will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall
every man have praise of God.
6 And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to
myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us
not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of
you be puffed up for one against another.
I. The apostle challenges the respect due to him on account of his
character and office, in which many among them had at least very much
failed: Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ,
and stewards of the mysteries of God
(1 Corinthians 4:1),
though possibly others might have valued them too highly, by setting
him up as the head of a party, and professing to be his disciples. In
our opinion of ministers, as well as all other things, we should be
careful to avoid extremes. Apostles themselves were,
1. Not to be overvalued, for they were ministers, not masters;
stewards, not lords. They were servants of Christ, and no more, though
they were servants of the highest rank, that had the care of his
household, that were to provide food for the rest, and appoint and
direct their work. Note, It is a very great abuse of their power, and
highly criminal in common ministers, to lord it over their
fellow-servants, and challenge authority over their faith or practice.
For even apostles were but servants of Christ, employed in his work,
and sent on his errand, and dispensers of the mysteries of God, or
those truths which had been hidden from the world in ages and
generations past. They had no authority to propagate their own fancies,
but to spread Christian faith.
2. Apostles were not to be undervalued; for, though they were
ministers, they were ministers of Christ. The character and dignity of
their master put an honour on them. Though they are but stewards, they
are not stewards of the common things of the world, but of divine
mysteries. They had a great trust, and for that reason had an
honourable office. They were stewards of God's household, high-stewards
in his kingdom of grace. They did not set up for masters, but they
deserved respect and esteem in this honourable service.
II. When they did their duty in it, and approved themselves faithful:
It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful
(1 Corinthians 4:2),
trustworthy. The stewards in Christ's family must appoint what he hath
appointed. They must not set their fellow-servants to work for
themselves. They must not require any thing from them without their
Master's warrant. They must not feed them with the chaff of their own
inventions, instead of the wholesome food of Christian doctrine and
truth. They must teach what he hath commanded, and not the doctrines
and commandments of men. They must be true to the interest of their
Lord, and consult his honour. Note, The ministers of Christ should make
it their hearty and continual endeavour to approve themselves
trustworthy; and when they have the testimony of a good conscience, and
the approbation of their Master, they must slight the opinions and
censures of their fellow-servants: But with me, saith the
apostle, it is a small thing that I should be judged of you, or of
1 Corinthians 4:3.
Indeed, reputation and esteem among men are a good step towards
usefulness in the ministry; and Paul's whole argument upon this head
shows he had a just concern for his own reputation. But he that would
make it his chief endeavour to please men would hardly approve himself
a faithful servant of Christ,
He that would be faithful to Christ must despise the censures of men
for his sake. He must look upon it as a very little thing (if his Lord
approves him) what judgment men form of him. They may think very meanly
or very hardly of him, while he is doing his duty; but it is not by
their judgment that he must stand or fall. And happy is it for faithful
ministers that they have a more just and candid judge than their
fellow-servants; one who knows and pities their imperfections, though
he has none of his own. It is better to fall into the hands of God
than into the hands of men,
2 Samuel 24:14.
The best of men are too apt to judge rashly, and harshly, and unjustly;
but his judgment is always according to truth. It is a comfort that men
are not to be our final judges. Nay, we are not thus to judge
ourselves: "Yea, I judge not myself. For though I know nothing by
myself, cannot charge myself with unfaithfulness, yet I am not
thereby justified, this will not clear me of the charge; but he
that judgeth me is the Lord. It is his judgment that must determine
me. By his sentence I must abide. Such I am as he shall find and judge
me to be." Note, It is not judging well of ourselves, justifying
ourselves, that will prove us safe and happy. Nothing will do this but
the acceptance and approbation of our sovereign Judge. Not he that
commendeth himself is approved, but he whom the Lord commendeth,
2 Corinthians 10:18.
III. The apostle takes occasion hence to caution the Corinthians
against censoriousness--the forward and severe judging of others:
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come,
1 Corinthians 4:5.
It is judging out of season, and judging at an adventure. He is not to
be understood of judging by persons in authority, within the verge of
their office, nor of private judging concerning facts that are
notorious; but of judging persons' future state, or the secret springs
and principles of their actions, or about facts doubtful in themselves.
To judge in these cases, and give decisive sentence, is to assume the
seat of God and challenge his prerogative. Note, How bold a sinner is
the forward and severe censurer! How ill-timed and arrogant are his
censures! But there is one who will judge the censurer, and those he
censures, without prejudice, passion, or partiality. And there is a
time coming when men cannot fail judging aright concerning themselves
and others, by following his judgment. This should make them now
cautious of judging others, and careful in judging themselves. There is
a time coming when the Lord will bring to light the hidden things of
darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts--deeds of
darkness that are now done in secret, and all the secret inclinations,
purposes, and intentions, of the hidden man of the heart. Note, There
is a day coming that will dispel the darkness and lay open the face of
the deep, will fetch men's secret sins into open day and discover the
secrets of their hearts: The day shall declare it. The judge
will bring these things to light. The Lord Jesus Christ will manifest
the counsels of the heart, of all hearts. Note, The Lord Jesus Christ
must have the knowledge of the counsels of the heart, else he could not
make them manifest. This is a divine prerogative
and yet it is what our Saviour challenges to himself in a very peculiar
All the churches shall know that I am HE who searcheth the reins and
hearts, and I will give to every one of you according to your
works. Note, We should be very careful how we censure others, when
we have to do with a Judge from whom we cannot conceal ourselves.
Others do not lie open to our notice, but we lie all open to his: and,
when he shall come to judge, every man shall have praise of God.
Every man, that is, every one qualified for it, every one who has
done well. Though none of God's servants can deserve any thing from
him, though there be much that is blamable even in their best services,
yet shall their fidelity be commended and crowned by him; and should
they be condemned, reproached, or vilified, by their fellow-servants,
he will roll away all such unjust censures and reproaches, and show
them in their own amiable light. Note, Christians may well be patient
under unjust censures, when they know such a day as this is coming,
especially when they have their consciences testifying to their
integrity. But how fearful should they be of loading any with
reproaches now whom their common Judge shall hereafter commend.
IV. The apostle here lets us into the reason why he had used his own
name and that of Apollos in this discourse of his. He had done it in
a figure, and he had done it for their sakes. He chose
rather to mention his own name, and the name of a faithful
fellow-labourer, than the names of any heads of factions among them,
that hereby he might avoid what would provoke, and so procure for his
advice the greater regard. Note, Ministers should use prudence in their
advices and admonitions, but especially in their reproofs, lest they
lose their end. The advice the apostle would by this means inculcate
was that they might learn not to think of men above what is
written (above what he had been writing), nor be puffed up for
one against another
(1 Corinthians 4:6).
Apostles were not to be esteemed other than planters or waterers in
God's husbandry, master-builders in his building, stewards of his
mysteries, and servants of Christ. And common ministers cannot bear
these characters in the same sense that apostles did. Note, We must be
very careful not to transfer the honour and authority of the Master to
his servant. We must call no man Master on earth; one is our Master,
We must not think of them above what is written. Note, The word of God
is the best rule by which to judge concerning men. And again, judging
rightly concerning men, and not judging more highly of them than is
fit, is one way to prevent quarrels and contentions in the churches.
Pride commonly lies at the bottom of these quarrels. Self-conceit
contributes very much to our immoderate esteem of our teachers, as well
as ourselves. Our commendation of our own taste and judgment commonly
goes along with our unreasonable applause, and always with a factious
adherence to one teacher, in opposition to others that may be equally
faithful and well qualified. But to think modestly of ourselves, and
not above what is written of our teachers, is the most effectual means
to prevent quarrels and contests, sidings and parties, in the church.
We shall not be puffed up for one against another if we remember that
they are all instruments employed by God in his husbandry and building,
and endowed by him with their various talents and qualifications.
Caution against Censoriousness; Distressed Condition of the Apostles.
A. D. 57.
7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast
thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it,
why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?
8 Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings
without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might
reign with you.
9 For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as
it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the
world, and to angels, and to men.
10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in
Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable,
but we are despised.
11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and
are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place;
12 And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we
bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:
13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the
world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.
Here the apostle improves the foregoing hint to a caution against pride
and self-conceit, and sets forth the temptations the Corinthians had to
despise him, from the difference of their circumstances.
I. He cautions them against pride and self-conceit by this
consideration, that all the distinction made among them was owing to
God: Who maketh thee to differ? And what hast thou that thou didst
1 Corinthians 4:7.
Here the apostle turns his discourse to the ministers who set
themselves at the head of these factions, and did but too much
encourage and abet the people in those feuds. What had they to glory
in, when all their peculiar gifts were from God? They had received
them, and could not glory in them as their own, without wronging God.
At the time when they reflected on them to feed their vanity, they
should have considered them as so many debts and obligations to divine
bounty and grace. But it may be taken as a general maxim: We have no
reason to be proud of our attainments, enjoyments, or performances; all
that we have, or are, or do, that is good, is owing to the free and
rich grace of God. Boasting is for ever excluded. There is nothing we
have that we can properly call our own: all is received from God. It is
foolish in us therefore, and injurious to him, to boast of it; those
who receive all should be proud of nothing,
Beggars and dependents may glory in their supports; but to glory in
themselves is to be proud at once of meanness, impotence, and want.
Note, Due attention to our obligations to divine grace would cure us of
arrogance and self-conceit.
II. He presses the duty of humility upon them by a very smart irony, or
at least reproves them for their pride and self-conceit: "You are
full, you are rich, you have reigned as kings without us. You have
not only a sufficiency, but an affluence, of spiritual gifts; nay, you
can make them the matter of your glory without us, that is, in
my absence, and without having any need of me." There is a very elegant
gradation from sufficiency to wealth, and thence to royalty, to
intimate how much the Corinthians were elated by the abundance of their
wisdom and spiritual gifts, which was a humour that prevailed among
them while the apostle was away from them, and made them forget what an
interest he had in all. See how apt pride is to overrate benefits and
overlook the benefactor, to swell upon its possessions and forget from
whom they come; nay, it is apt to behold them in a magnifying-glass:
"You have reigned as kings," says the apostle, "that is, in your
own conceit; and I would to God you did reign, that we also might
reign with you. I wish you had as much of the true glory of a
Christian church upon you as you arrogate to yourselves. I should come
in then for a share of the honour: I should reign with you: I
should not be overlooked by you as now I am, but valued and regarded as
a minister of Christ, and a very useful instrument among you." Note,
Those do not commonly know themselves best who think best of
themselves, who have the highest opinion of themselves. The Corinthians
might have reigned, and the apostle with them, if they had not been
blown up with an imaginary royalty. Note, Pride is a great prejudice to
our improvement. He is stopped from growing wiser or better who thinks
himself at the height; not only full, but rich, nay, a king.
III. He comes to set forth his own circumstances and those of the other
apostles, and compares them with theirs.
1. To set forth the case of the apostles: For I think it hath
pleased God to set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to
death. For we are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to
men. Paul and his fellow-apostles were exposed to great hardships.
Never were any men in this world so hunted and worried. They carried
their lives in their hands: God hath set forth us the apostles
last, as it were appointed to death,
1 Corinthians 4:9.
An allusion is made to some of the bloody spectacles in the Roman
amphitheatres, where men were exposed to fight with wild beasts, or to
cut one another to pieces, to make diversion for the populace, where
the victor did not escape with his life, though he should destroy his
adversary, but was only reserved for another combat, and must be
devoured or cut in pieces at last; so that such wretched criminals (for
they were ordinarily condemned persons that were thus exposed) might
very properly be called epithanatioi--persons devoted
or appointed to death. They are said to be set forth last, because
the meridian gladiators, those who combated one another in the
after-part of the day, were most exposed, being obliged to fight naked;
so that (as Seneca says, epist. 7) this was perfect butchery,
and those exposed to beasts in the morning were treated mercifully in
comparison with these. The general meaning is that the apostles were
exposed to continual danger of death, and that of the worst kinds, in
the faithful discharge of their office. God had set them forth, brought
them into view, as the Roman emperors brought their combatants into the
arena, the place of show, though not for the same purposes. They did it
to please the populace, and humour their own vanity, and sometimes a
much worse principle. The apostles were shown to manifest the power of
divine grace, to confirm the truth of their mission and doctrine, and
to propagate religion in the world. These were ends worthy of
God--noble views, fit to animate them to the combat. But they had like
difficulties to encounter, and were in a manner as much exposed as
these miserable Roman criminals. Note, The office of an apostle was,
as an honourable, so a hard and hazardous one: "For we are made a
spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men,
1 Corinthians 4:9.
A show. We are brought into the theatre, brought out to the
public view of the world. Angels and men are witnesses to our
persecutions, sufferings, patience, and magnanimity. They all see that
we suffer for our fidelity to Christ, and how we suffer; how great and
imminent are our dangers, and how bravely we encounter them; how sharp
our sufferings, and how patiently we endure them, by the power of
divine grace and our Christian principles. Ours is hard work, but
honourable; it is hazardous, but glorious. God will have honour from
us, religion will be credited by us. The world cannot but see and
wonder at our undaunted resolution, our invincible patience and
constancy." And how contentedly could they be exposed, both to
sufferings and scorn, for the honour of their Master! Note, The
faithful ministers and disciples of Christ should contentedly undergo
any thing for his sake and honour.
2. He compares his own case with that of the Corinthians: "We are
fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but
you are strong; you are honourable, but we are despised,
1 Corinthians 4:10.
We are fools for Christ's sake; such in common account, and we
are well content to be so accounted. We can pass for fools in the
world, and be despised as such, so that the wisdom of God and the
honour of the gospel may by this means be secured and displayed." Note,
Faithful ministers can bear being despised, so that the wisdom of God
and the power of his grace be thereby displayed. "But you are wise
in Christ. You have the fame of being wise and learned Christians,
and you do not a little value yourselves upon it. We are under disgrace
for delivering the plain truths of the gospel, and in as plain a
manner: you are in reputation for your eloquence and human wisdom,
which among many make you pass for wise men in Christ. We are weak,
but you are strong. We are suffering for Christ's sake" (so being
weak plainly signifies,
2 Corinthians 12:10),
"when you are in easy and flourishing circumstances." Note, All
Christians are not alike exposed. Some suffer greater hardships than
others who are yet engaged in the same warfare. The standard-bearers in
an army are most struck at. So ministers in a time of persecution are
commonly the first and greatest sufferers. Or else, "We pass upon the
world for persons of but mean endowments, mere striplings in
Christianity; but you look upon yourselves, and are looked upon by
others, as men, as those of a much more advanced growth and confirmed
strength." Note, Those are not always the greatest proficients in
Christianity who think thus of themselves, or pass for such upon
others. It is but too easy and common for self-love to commit such a
mistake. The Corinthians may think themselves, and be esteemed by
others, as wiser and stronger men in Christ than the apostles
themselves. But O! how gross is the mistake!
IV. He enters into some particularities of their sufferings: Even to
this present hour; that is, after all the service we have been
doing among you and other churches, we hunger and thirst, and are
naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place, and
labour, working with our own hands,
1 Corinthians 4:11,12.
Nay, they were made as the filth of the world, and the off-scouring
of all things,
1 Corinthians 4:13.
They were forced to labour with their own hands to get subsistence, and
had so much, and so much greater, business to mind, that they could not
attend enough to this, to get a comfortable livelihood, but were
exposed to hunger, thirst, and nakedness--many times wanted meat, and
drink, and clothes. They were driven about the world, without having
any fixed abode, any stated habitation. Poor circumstances indeed, for
the prime ministers of our Saviour's kingdom to have no house nor home,
and to be destitute of food and raiment! But yet no poorer than his who
had not where to lay his head,
But O glorious charity and devotion, that would carry them through all
these hardships! How ardently did they love God, how vehemently did
they thirst for the salvation of souls! Theirs was voluntary, it was
pleasing poverty. They thought they had a rich amends for all the
outward good things they wanted, if they might but serve Christ and
save souls. Nay, though they were made the filth of the world, and
the off-scouring of all things. They were treated as men not fit to
live, perikatharmata. It is reasonably thought by the
critics that an allusion is here made to a common custom of many
heathen nations, to offer men in sacrifice in a time of pestilence, or
other like grievous calamity. These were ordinarily the vilest of men,
persons of the lowest rank and worst character. Thus, in the first
ages, Christians were counted the source of all public calamities, and
were sacrificed to the people's rage, if not to appease their angry
deities. And apostles could not meet with better usage. They suffered
in their persons and characters as the very worst and vilest men, as
the most proper to make such a sacrifice: or else as the very dirt of
the world, that was to be swept away: nay, as the off-scouring of
all things, the dross, the filings of all things. They were the
common-sewer into which all the reproaches of the world were to be
poured. To be the off-scouring of any thing is bad, but what is it to
be the off-scouring of all things! How much did the apostles resemble
their Master, and fill up that which was behind of his afflictions,
for his body's sake, which is the church!
They suffered for him, and they suffered after his example. Thus poor
and despised was he in his life and ministry. And every one who would
be faithful in Christ Jesus must prepare for the same poverty and
contempt. Note, Those may be very dear to God, and honourable in his
esteem, whom men may think unworthy to live, and use and scorn as the
very dirt and refuse of the world. God seeth not as man seeth,
1 Samuel 16:7.
V. We have here the apostles' behaviour under all; and the return they
made for this mal-treatment: Being reviled, we bless; being
persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat,
1 Corinthians 4:12,13.
They returned blessings for reproaches, and entreaties and kind
exhortations for the rudest slanders and defamation, and were patient
under the sharpest persecutions. Note, The disciples of Christ, and
especially his ministers, should hold fast their integrity, and keep a
good conscience, whatever opposition of hardships they meet with from
the world. Whatever they suffer from men, they must follow the example,
and fulfil the will and precepts, of their Lord. They must be content,
with him and for him, to be despised and abused.
Paul's Tenderness and Affection.
A. D. 57.
14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved
sons I warn you.
15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet
have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten
you through the gospel.
16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
Here Paul challenges their regard to him as their father. He tells
1. That what he had written was not for their reproach, but admonition;
not with the gall of an enemy, but the bowels of a father
(1 Corinthians 4:14):
I write not to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you.
Note, In reproving for sin, we should have a tender regard to the
reputation, as well as the reformation, of the sinner. We should aim to
distinguish between them and their sins, and take care not to discover
any spite against them ourselves, nor expose them to contempt and
reproach in the world. Reproofs that expose commonly do but exasperate,
when those that kindly and affectionately warn are likely to reform.
When the affections of a father mingle with the admonitions of a
minister, it is to be hoped that they may at once melt and mend; but to
lash like an enemy or executioner will provoke and render obstinate. To
expose to open shame is but the way to render shameless.
2. He shows them upon what foundation he claimed paternal relation to
them, and called them his sons. They might have other pedagogues or
instructors, but he was their father; for in Christ Jesus he had
begotten them by the gospel,
1 Corinthians 4:15.
They were made Christians by his ministry. He had laid the foundation
of a church among them. Others could only build upon it. Whatever other
teachers they had, he was their spiritual father. He first brought them
off from pagan idolatry to the faith of the gospel and the worship of
the true and living God. He was the instrument of their new birth, and
therefore claimed the relation of a father to them, and felt the bowels
of a father towards them. Note, There commonly is, and always ought to
be, an endeared affection between faithful ministers and those they
beget in Christ Jesus through the gospel. They should love like parents
3. We have here the special advice he urges on them: Wherefore I
beseech you be you followers of me,
1 Corinthians 4:16.
This he elsewhere explains and limits
(1 Corinthians 11:1):
"Be you followers of me, as I also am of Christ. Follow me as
far as I follow Christ. Come up as close as you can to my example in
those instances wherein I endeavour to copy after his pattern. Be my
disciples, as far as I manifest myself to be a faithful minister and
disciple of Christ, and no further. I would not have you be my
disciples, but his. But I hope I have approved myself a faithful
steward of the mysteries of Christ, and a faithful servant of my master
Christ; so far follow me, and tread in my steps." Note, Ministers
should so live that their people may take pattern from them, and live
after their copy. They should guide them by their lives as well as
their lips, go before them in the way to heaven, and not content
themselves with pointing it out. Note, As ministers are to set a
pattern, others must take it. They should follow them as far as they
are satisfied that they follow Christ in faith and practice.
Paul's Affection and Authority.
A. D. 57.
17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my
beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into
remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where
in every church.
18 Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.
19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will
know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power.
20 For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.
21 What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love,
and in the spirit of meekness?
I. He tells them of his having sent Timothy to them, to bring them
into remembrance of his ways in Christ, as he taught every where in
(1 Corinthians 4:17)--
to remind them of his ways in Christ, to refresh their memory as to his
preaching and practice, what he taught, and how he lived among them.
Note, Those who have had ever so good teaching are apt to forget, and
need to have their memories refreshed. The same truth, taught over
again, if it give no new light, may make new and quicker impression. He
also lets them know that his teaching was the same every where, and
in every church. He had not one doctrine for one place and people,
and another for another. He kept close to his instructions. What he
received of the Lord, that he delivered,
1 Corinthians 11:23.
This was the gospel revelation, which was the equal concern of all men,
and did not very from itself. He therefore taught the same things in
every church, and lived after the same manner in all times and places.
Note, The truth of Christ is one and invariable. What one apostle
taught every one taught. What one apostle taught at one time and in one
place, he taught at all times and in all places. Christians may mistake
and differ in their apprehensions, but Christ and Christian truth
are the same yesterday, today, and for ever,
To render their regard to Timothy the greater, he gives them his
character. He was his beloved son, a spiritual child of his, as
well as themselves. Note, Spiritual brotherhood should engage affection
as well as what is common and natural. The children of one father
should have one heart. But he adds, "He is faithful in the
Lord--trustworthy, as one that feared the Lord. He will be faithful
in the particular office he has now received of the Lord, the
particular errand on which he comes; not only from me, but from Christ.
He knows what I have taught, and what my conversation has been in all
places, and, you may depend upon it, he will make a faithful report."
Note, It is a great commendation of any minister that he is faithful in
the Lord, faithful to his soul, to his light, to his trust from God;
this must go a great way in procuring regard to his message with those
that fear God.
II. He rebukes the vanity of those who imagined he would not come to
them, by letting them know this was his purpose, though he had sent
Timothy: "I will come to you shortly, though some of you are so
vain as to think I will not." But he adds, if the Lord will. It
seems, as to the common events of life, apostles knew no more than
other men, nor were they in these points under inspiration. For, had
the apostle certainly known the mind of God in this matter, he would
not have expressed himself with this certainty. But he sets a good
example to us in it. Note, All our purposes must be formed with a
dependence on Providence, and a reserve for the overruling purposes of
God. If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this and that,
III. He lets them know what would follow upon his coming to them: I
will know, not the speech of those that are puffed up, but the
1 Corinthians 4:19.
He would bring the great pretenders among them to a trial, would know
what they were, not by their rhetoric or philosophy, but by the
authority and efficacy of what they taught, whether they could confirm
it by miraculous operations, and whether it was accompanied with divine
influences and saving effects on the minds of men. For, adds he, the
kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. It is not set up, nor
propagated, nor established, in the hearts of men, by plausible
reasonings nor florid discourses, but by the external power of the Holy
Spirit in miraculous operations at first, and the powerful influence of
divine truth on the minds and manners of men. Note, It is a good way in
the general to judge of a preacher's doctrine, to see whether the
effects of it upon men's hearts to be truly divine. That is most likely
to come from God which in its own nature is most fit, and in event is
found to produce most likeness to God, to spread piety and virtue, to
change men's hearts and mend their manners.
IV. He puts it to their choice how he should come among them,
whether with a rod or in love and the spirit of meekness
(1 Corinthians 4:21);
that is, according as they were they would find him. If they continued
perverse among themselves and with him, it would be necessary to come
with a rod; that is, to exert his apostolical power in chastising them,
by making some examples, and inflicting some diseases and corporal
punishments, or by other censures for their faults. Note, Stubborn
offenders must be used with severity. In families, in Christian
communities, paternal pity and tenderness, Christian love and
compassion, will sometimes force the use of the rod. But this is far
from being desirable, if it may be prevented. And therefore the apostle
adds that it was in their own option whether he should come with a rod
or in a quite different disposition and manner: Or in love and the
spirit of meekness. As much as if he had said, "Take warning, cease
your unchristian feuds, rectify the abuses among you, and return to
your duty, and you shall find me as gentle and benign as you can with.
It will be a force upon my inclination to proceed with severity. I had
rather come and display the tenderness of a father among you than
assert his authority. Do but your duty, and you have no reason to avoid
my presence." Note, It is a happy temper in a minister to have the
spirit of love and meekness predominant, and yet to maintain his just
Matthew Henry "Verse by Verse Commentary for '1 Corinthians' Matthew Henry Bible Commentary".