King James Bible
with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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1 Corinthians 4

The true character of gospel ministers. (1-6) Cautions against despising the apostle. (7-13) He claims their regard as their spiritual father in Christ, and shows his concern for them. (14-21)

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The true character of gospel ministers

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 faithful.

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.

Cautions against despising the apostle

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 dwellingplace;

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.

He claims their regard as their spiritual father in Christ, and shows his concern for them

14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.

15 For though ye have ten thousand instructers 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.

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?

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. Mysteries of God. That is, the dogmas of faith, revealed by the Almighty. Estius.

Ver. 3. Or by human judgment. Lit. by human day. The sense, says S. Jerom, is, by any human judgment, or by men, whose judgment is in the day, or time of this life: but God judges in his day, after this life, and chiefly at the last day of judgment. — Neither do I judge myself, so as to look upon myself absolutely certain of the state of my soul, or that I am for certain justified, though I am not conscious to myself of any thing, because I am to be judged by an omniscient God, the great searcher of hearts, who perhaps may discover faults, which I, partial to myself, overlook. Now if S. Paul durst not say, he was justified, what presumption is it for others to pretend to an absolute certainty, that they are just in the sight of God! Wi.

Ver. 4. For I am not conscious. This great apostle of the Gentiles, though conscious to himself of no breach of duty, still does not dare to call himself just. How different is the conduct of this apostle, from those wicked impostors, who teach, that a man is justified by believing himself so. Est. — If this privileged apostle was afraid to from any judgment of his own heart and thoughts, whether they were pure or not, but left the trial thereof to the day of judgment, the day of his death, how presumptuous are they, who dare to pronounce on their election and predestination!

Ver. 5. Judge not, &c. He gives them an admonition against rash and false judgments, and hints at those among them, who said, this man is better, this man is greater than such a one, &c. See S. Chrys. Wi.

Ver. 6. These things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself, and to Apollo. Lit. these things have I transfigured in me and Apollo, that is, I have represented the divisions and disputes among you, as if it were by your contending, whether I, or Apollo, or Cephas were the best preachers, without naming those, as I might do, who are the true causes of these divisions, by striving who should be thought men of the greatest and brightest parts. — That in us, and by our example, who have no such proud disputes, you might learn that one be not puffed up against the other, and above that which is written, against the admonitions given in the holy Scriptures of being humble: or against what I have now written to you, that we must strive for nothing, but to be the faithful ministers of God, and not seek the esteem of men. Wi. — It is the opinion of S. Tho. Aqu. and likewise of Estius, that S. Paul, Apollo, and Cephas were not the real causes of the divisions that existed amongst the new converts at Corinth, but that in making use of these names, he wished to teach them, that if it was unlawful to keep up these divisions even for the sake of the apostles, how far should they be from doing any thing of this kind for those whose authority was much less in the Church. But Calmet is of opinion, that the divisions amongst the Corinthians were certainly on account of Paul, Apollo, Cephas, and perhaps some others, whose names are not mentioned.

Ver. 7. For who distinguisheth, or hath distinguished thee from another? He speaks particularly to those proud, vain preachers: if thou hast greater talents than another man, who hath given them to thee, or to any one, but God, who is the giver, and the author of every gift and perfection? This is not only true of the gift of preaching, but of all gifts and graces; so that S. Aug. makes use of it in several places against the Pelagians, to shew that it is by grace only, that one man is preferred before another, and not by, or for his own merits. Wi.

Ver. 8. Now you are satiated, &c. You great, vain preachers, you are rich in every kind, blessed with all gifts, &c. You reign over the minds of the people, without us, you stand not in need of our assistance. And I would to God you did reign, that we also might reign with you. I wish your reigning and governing the people were well grounded on virtue and truth, that we might be sharers of the like happiness. S. Chrys. takes notice, that S. Paul speaks thus, meaning the contrary, by the figure called irony: and so also S. Chrys. understands the two following verses, as if S. Paul only represented what those vain preachers said with contempt of him, as if he were only an apostle of an inferior rank, not one of the chief, nor of the twelve. And when he says, we are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise: it is certain the apostles were not fools, nor these preachers whom he blames, wise, especially in Christ. But though the apostle partly use this figure of irony, intermixing it in his discourse, yet he also represents the condition of all true apostles, and preachers of Christ crucified, whose persons and doctrine were slighted, ridiculed, and laughed at by men that were wise only with worldly wisdom, especially by profane libertines, and atheistical men, that make a jest of all revealed religion. To go about preaching in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, in want, under afflictions and persecutions, is what they think is to be miserable: they despise such men as the out-cast, the dross,[1] and the dregs of mankind. (See the Greek text.) Wi. — He speaks to the Corinthians, who forgetting their first fervour, and the Christian modesty which S. Paul had taught them, both by word and example, were endeavouring to distinguish themselves by the reputation and honour of the apostle, who had converted them, by their antiquity of faith, and by other things more frivolous. Calm.

Ver. 9. Made a spectacle. It is evident from the writings of S. Paul, and from innumerable other records, that the apostles were made a spectacle to the world and to men; but how, some one may perhaps ask, were they made a spectacle to angels? S. Chrys. Theod. and many others think, that the apostle is here speaking of the good angels, who behold with pleasure the labours and afflictions of the saints, knowing that it will prove a source of glory; but Estius, Vat. and some others, are of opinion, that the wicked angels are here spoken of, who rejoice at the persecutions of God’s servants, and wish to revenge themselves for the destruction of their empire.

Ver. 14-17. I write not. S. Paul here insinuates to the Corinthians, that they ought to blush with shame for neglecting the apostles, who had suffered so many hardships for them, to follow after teachers void of honour, and to glory in being called the disciples of such men. Estius. — I admonish you as my dearest children, of what is for your good, and I may take this liberty, as being your spiritual father in Christ, by whom you were first made Christians. Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ: follow the doctrine of Christ, which I follow, and taught you. Timothy, my beloved son in the Lord, whom I send to you, will put you in mind of what I teach, and of what I practise. Wi.

Ver. 18. &c. Some of those new doctors and preachers are so puffed up, that they pretend I dare not come to you any more, nor defend myself: he may also mean the man that lived in incest, his companions and his flatterers. — But I will come to you shortly, and then I shall use my authority in taking notice of their vain talk, they shall find and experience that power, which God hath given me by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and of working miracles. Wi. — But I will come. The good effect which this letter produced amongst the Corinthians retarded his intended journey, so that he did not go to Corinth till one or two years after this letter was written. He wrote his second epistle to the same before he paid them a visit, to apply a soothing remedy to their minds and hearts, sorely afflicted with his charitably severe corrections contained in this his first epistle. A. — What will you; or what disposition shall I find in you? let it not be necessary for me to use the chastising rod by excommunications, and other spiritual arms, but be so reformed before I come, that I may come to you in the spirit of mildness, as I wish to do. Wi.

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[1] V. 8. Tanquam purgamenta, omnium peripsema, os perikatharmata, Sordes, quisquiliæ, panton peripsema, Scobes, ramentum. See Mr. Legh, Crit. Sacra.