Notes on 1 Corinthians 4:6-13

1 Corinthians 4:6‑13  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The apostle had thus established both the dependence of the servant on the Lord, and his independence of human scrutiny. Not, of course, that the church is denied its responsibility to judge conduct. Here it is a question of the counsels of the heart, which no man can scan duly, but the Lord will at His coming. “And then,” he adds solemnly, “shall the praise be to each from God.” He could thus speak freely and happily himself. It ought to have searched the conscience of many a Corinthian.
“And these things, brethren, I transferred to myself and Apollos on your account, that ye may in our case learn nothing above what is written,1 in order that ye be not puffed up one for one against another. For who distinguisheth thee? and what hast thou which thou didst not receive? But if thou didst even receive, why boastest thou as not having received? Already ye are filled; already ye have been enriched, apart from us ye reigned; and I would that ye did reign, that we also might reign with you” (ver. 6-8). The apostle explains here what he has also done elsewhere—his applying a principle to himself; and, in this case, to Apollos also, which he meant for others, in order that the saints might be profited. The misleaders at Corinth were really in his view, as the apostle here implies but he lays down a standard, by which he does not hesitate to measure himself and Apollos, which the saints could easily use for others whose pretensions were as high and unfounded as the services of Paul and Apollos were real and of God. Of Him some had lost sight entirely; and each, choosing his leader, was puffed up with party feeling, What is written makes God everything, man at best an instrument, as he is alone rightly a servant. God only makes the difference between one and another, and this especially in divine things. And as it is He who makes a difference, what has anyone that he has not received? and if received, why boast as if it were not so? The folly of Corinthian vanity was evident in being puffed up for those they exalted as their respective chiefs.
But he proceeds to deal a further blow, and this of the keenest irony, as Isaiah scrupled not to do in exposing the folly of idol-worship. Trashy, if not corrupting, doctrine always lowers practice; and the Corinthians had insensibly relinquished or lost the place of sufferers with Christ. This the apostle notices witheringly. When Christ reigns, we shall indeed be at ease, and in the fullest satisfaction; and He will drink the wine new with us in the kingdom of His Father—yea, He will gird Himself, and make us recline at table, and come and serve us as He in His grace deigned to assure us, when He will also set the faithful servant over all that He has. But now is the time to deny self, to take up one's cross, and follow Him, who suffered many, all, things here below. But all was confusion for the Corinthians; their eye was not single, and their body therefore anything but full of light. “Already [that is, before the time] ye are filled, already ye have become rich, apart from us ye reigned, and I would that ye did reign.” For they were deceiving themselves: the time was not yet come. False doctrine had made them false practically to the present object of God. Satan had succeeded in severing them, in walk at least and aims, from the Lord, who nevertheless waits for the time of glory, when He and they shall really reign together. The apostle proceeds to draw out the contrast seen in those to whom, if God had set them “first in the church,” He had given grace to become the greatest and most patient sufferers in the world.
“For, I think,2 God set us the apostles last as devoted to death, because we became a spectacle to the world, both to angels and men, we, fools for Christ, but ye wise in Christ; we weak, but ye strong; ye illustrious, but we disgraced. Until the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and buffeted and homeless wanderers, and we toil, working with our own hands; reviled, we bless; persecuted, we suffer; slandered,3 we beseech. We became as the world's scum, offscouring of all, until now (ver. 9-18). It is evident that those who misled the Corinthians, as well as the saints misled by them, had made the church their world, and that fleshly principles had supplanted the grace of Christ for their souls. They had schools and spectacles of their own, as well as the Greeks outside. In a burst of the finest feeling, not without sarcasm but with real love, which could use it for good, the apostle sets out the true path of Christ as one of suffering but, victory over the world. Faith working by love can alone secure such victory. This was apostolic ambition, if ambition there can be of a saintly kind; and this God had given the apostles in appointing them last, nearest to Christ, who had gone down into depths of suffering where none could follow. But there were sufferings of Christ which grace does share with the Christian, and these the apostles knew best, and of the apostles, we may perhaps add, none so much as Paul. Well could he then say, “God set us, the apostles, last, as devoted to death, a spectacle to the world, both to angels and men.” Did the Corinthians wish and claim to be prudent in Christ? The apostles at least were content to be fools for His sake. Were the Corinthians strong and glorious in their own desire and estimate? The apostles gloried in weakness and disgrace; even as Peter and John, on a well-known occasion, went their way rejoicing from before the Sanhedrin, because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of the name. Nor was it only the fervor of early zeal. “To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and buffeted and homeless wanderers, and labor working with our own hands.” Had not the Corinthians, or their misleaders, counted all this low and eccentric, ascetic and enthusiastic, in Paul? “Railed on, we bless; persecuted, we endure; slandered, we beseech: we became as the world's scum, offscouring of all, until now:” an utter impossibility, of course, not in this or that particular which superstition can readily imitate, but as a whole, save through the constraining and assimilating love of Christ, who cheers those who set out and go on in such a path as this with the bright comfort of reigning along with Him. For I reckon, as the apostle says in Rom. 8, that the sufferings of this present time are of no account in comparison of the glory that is to be revealed in regard to us. If there is a more energetic sketch of the suffering here, it is because apostles are in view rather than the saints at large; but the principle is the same, and the Corinthians had slipped out of it to present ease and dignity, which they thought due to the truth of Christianity—an error which soon culminated, as it still does, in Christendom. Where are those that can expose it, not only in word but in deed and in truth?