Father Bernardin de Piconio’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians Chapter 4

1. Thus let man esteem us, as ministers of Christ, and dispensers of the mysteries of God.
2. Now here it is required among dispensers, that one be found faithful.
3. But to me it is of very little moment to be judged
by you, or by a human day: but neither do I judge myself.
4. For I am conscious of nothing to myself: but not in this am I justified: but he who judges me, is the Lord.
5. Therefore do not judge before the time, until the Lord come: who both will illuminate what is hidden in darkness, and manifest the counsels of hearts: and then shall be praise to everyone from God.

Chapter 4. In this chapter the Apostle severely censures the conceited and presumptuous teachers who had undertaken the instruction of the Christians of Corinth, and threatens them with the Divine displeasure.

1. Do not glory in men (3:21), but when you pay us honour, honour us only as the ministers of Christ, not for any eloquence or attainments of our own. Let man esteem us, is a Hebraism: Let everyone so esteem us. As ministers serving: and representing Christ : as dispensers, in the Greek stewards, of his mysteries, the doctrine of the Gospel, and the sacraments of the Church. The admonition is addressed to both sides. Prelates to remember that they are Christ’s servants; the faithful, not to glorify them for their personal merits, but not despise them, for the honour of him whose ministry they bear.

2. Now here. The Greek has, for the rest. The Syriac version reads as the Vulgate. What is required of a steward is not eloquent language, rhetoric, or philosophy; but fidelity. This is certainly his principal recommendation. How do your teachers stand this test? Are they faithful to the ministry they exercise?

3. It is of very little moment to be judged by you. For the Corinthians were always discussing their teachers, and comparing them. They ridiculed men who were good and holy, for their simplicity; but they thought a great deal of others, who were evil and full of faults, on account of their power of speaking. Saint Chrysostom. To me, your judgment is a matter I cannot seriously regard; compared with God’s, it is nothing, a very little thing. Or by a human day. A trial before an earthly tribunal, from the day fixed for the hearing.

Jer 17:6. The day of man I have not desired. I have had no solicitude about earthly judgment and human opinion. I do not even judge myself, for I am often ignorant from what end I act, with what motive, with what degree of knowledge. I am not indeed conscious of having neglected the ministry entrusted to me. I am conscious of nothing to myself; but it does not follow from this that I am free from fault in the sight of God. Who understands his faults? Ps 18:13. He finds error in his angels, Job 4:18. Of the greater part of our offences against God we are absolutely ignorant. St. Basil, in const, monach. 1. It is God who will judge me; and he knows not only what I do, but all my thoughts, intentions, objects, and motives, of which I am very imperfectly cognizant myself, and of which others know nothing.

5. Therefore do not judge before the time. Suspend your judgment upon your teachers, until you learn what the judgfment of God will be at the last day. Until the Lord comes. Wait for the arrival of Christ, the Judge of all. He will throw the full light of day upon all the actions of men, whether good or evil; and bring into that light not actions only, but the counsels of hearts, the will, latent in the heart, the design and intention with which all was done. Then shall it appear what degree of praise is really due to each of us, whose merits you so eagerly and busily compare. That praise will be real and true, as coming from him who searches the hearts of all men. That which comes from man is vain and worthless.

6. And these things, brethren, I have transfigured to myself and Apollo, on your account: that you may learn in us not to be inflated against one another for another above what is written.
7. For who distinguishes thee? and what hast thou which thou hast not received? But if thou didst receive it, why dost thou boast as if thou hadst not received it?

6. I have transfigured. The Greek, I have changed the appearance or figure of. In all these remarks, which I have made ostensibly and nominally in reference to myself and Apollo, I have not in reality intended to allude so much to myself and Apollo, who are thoroughly in harmony, the only difference between us being in our mode of instruction, according to individual difference of mental habit, or variety of circumstances. I intended in reality to designate under our names, several other teachers whom I do not name, who have established themselves as heads of rival parties, and the contentions among whose followers divide and trouble the Church of Corinth. And this on your account.

That you may learn in us, the Greek has, not to be wise above what is written. The Syriac, not to think of yourselves above what is written, and this is followed by the Arabic version, Saint Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Theophylact. This would mean that the teachers are not to arrogate to themselves more than I have accorded them in the words I have written above: nor you, their hearers, engage in party rivalry. The Vulgate omits to be wise, and reads as in the text; the meaning of which is that their followers were not to exalt their several leaders in opposition to one another in rivalry or contrast: championing against one another the cause of some favoured teacher. This, in the Greek, follows as an additional reason.

7. Who distinguishes thee? If thou thinkest thou art superior to others in eloquence and wisdom, from whom didst thou receive these gifts? Either they are gifts of nature, or of grace: in either case they come from God. Why dost thou boast of them as if they proceeded from thyself, and could be used for thine own glory? Saint Augustine, and the second Council of Orange, Can. 6., apply these words to the distinction of Divine grace and election, and assert, against the Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians, that no individual can distinguish himself from the multitudes of the lost human race, and originate his own salvation, by the powers of nature alone; but for this there is indispensably required the grace of God, moving them, and co-operating with them, so as to aid and support the freedom of the will. This, though in accordance with the doctrine of Saint Paul, is not the primary and literal meaning of his words in this passage.

8. Already are you satiated, already are you become rich; you reign without us: and I would you did reign, that we also may reign with you.
9. For I think that God exhibits us the Apostles last, as destined to death; because we are become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and men.
10. We are fools on account of Christ, but you are prudent in Christ: we infirm, but you strong: you noble, but we ignoble.
11. To this hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are cuffed, and homeless.
12. And we labour, working with our hands: we are cursed, and bless: we are persecuted, and patient under it.
13. We are blasphemed, and we entreat: we are become as the excrements of this world, the off-scouring of all things to this day.

8. Already you are satiated, saturati estis. A forcible comparison between these arrogant Corinthian party leaders and the true Apostles of Christ. Already, though only a few months have elapsed since I left Corinth, you are filled to satiety with spiritual knowledge, and enriched with every gift of God: you reign over the Corinthian Church, and want nothing of us. I am quite willing you should reign: I only wish we did. God seems to have made us like the last and lowest of the criminals condemned to be torn to pieces by wild beasts in the arena: the whole universe seated and looking on at our conflict, angels and men. We are laughed as fools, because we teach the Gospel of Christ; you are proclaimed as wise in Christ. We are feeble and insignificant, you are powerful and influential. You are honoured, we are despised. From the time we first entered on our mission to this day we suffer hunger, thirst, poverty, opprobrium, driven from place to place as homeless wanderers. We work for our living, and get curses with it, but we bless those who curse us. We are prosecuted before the courts, and accept their judgment. We are reviled, and we entreat forbear ance. We are of all things in this world the vilest and most abject. Among the pagans great criminals were sometimes sacrificed to the gods, or thrown into the sea, as an atonement for the sins of the rest of the community, with the words, be for us a peripsema, or expiatory offering. This is the word the Apostle here uses. The scape-goat, Lev 16:21, was a sacrifice of a similar kind.

14. I do not write these things to shame you, but, as my dearest sons, I admonish you,
15. For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel.
16. I entreat you, therefore, be imitators of me, as I also of Christ.
17. On this account I have sent Timothy to you, who is my dear son, and faithful in the Lord: who will remind you of my ways, which are in Christ Jesus, as I teach everywhere in every Church.

14. I do not write these things to shame you. Saint Paul proceeds to explain why he has adopted the extraordinary language of the last few verses, in which, while he does not use terms of exaggeration, he has painted in the darkest colours the sufferings of the Apostles of Christ, in a tone which sounds more like repining than rejoicing. I write this for you, the faithful Christians of Corinth, not to put you to shame. He has put them to shame. Saint Chrysostom observes, but he now says he has not, or rather that he has not done so with any unkind intention. My object is to warn you, for your improvement. You may have thousands of advisers, exhorting you to perfection. The word instructors means literally those who have the care of children. But I am your spiritual father, and it was through me that you first believed; and what you require is not wordy exhortation, of which no doubt you get enough and to spare, but simply to imitate the example I set you. You need not be afraid of Timotheus, one of the bearers of this letter, and who is a young man. His mission is not to teach you anything new, but to remind you of what you already know, namely, my rule of life, which you would do well to follow. For the doctrine I have taught you is in every respect the same as I teach everywhere and always. You are safe in following my example, because that which I myself follow is that of Christ.

18. As if I were not coming to you, some are inflated.
19. But I will come to you quickly, if the Lord will: and I shall know, not the word of those who are inflated, but the power.
20. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.
21. What will you? shall I come to you with a rod, or in charity and in the spirit of gentleness?

18. Some are inflated. The busy and talkative teachers of the Corinthians, against whom the whole of this chapter is directed, were evidently trembling on the verge of heresy and apostasy, and we shall find that the Apostle addresses them in severer language in the second Epistle, written a few months later: when they had developed into open opponents of the authority of the Apostles. His intention of coming quickly to Corinth, expressed in verse 19, is not a prediction but a conditional promise, and in effect he did not actually return thither until after a considerable interval, and after the second Epistle was written and despatched. But he warns these men that if he does come he may not improbably be compelled to put his miraculous powers to the test, and measure his strength with theirs. God’s kingdom is in power: for their confusion and punishment. It was for them to choose whether he was to come with a rod, or in gentleness and meekness; said in figure, for he was not under any circumstances otherwise than gentle and meek, m a personal sense, but might be compelled to act with severity. Other writers think he refers to the censures of the Church, unaccompanied by any visible manifestation of God’s anger. In either case it seems probable that he writes these words in particular reference to the incident upon which he gives judgment in the next chapter, and to which these words serve as an introduction.

Corollary of Piety.
Prelates, preachers, doctors, are ministers and stewards of Christ; and to Christ, they will one day render an account of their stewardship. They are, therefore, to be honoured: and they are not to be judged. All judgment upon their work should be left to him, to whom they will give account. But this very reason is, on their side, the strongest possible inducement to fidelity and diligence. They need care absolutely nothing for the judgment of man, because it is to the judgment of Christ, who will bring to light all that is now hidden, that they look forward. They know well that they possess nothing that they have not received from the hands of God: their orders, their mission, their powers and faculties, talents and attainments, all come from God, and to God must the account be rendered of their exercise. If it is disrespectful to God to criticize them, it is also useless: for what do they care for human judgment, who see them selves, with the eye of faith, standing before the judgment seat of Christ?

The kingdom of God is in power. Its life and reality were shown as much in the lives of the Apostles as in the words they spoke. The absolute scorn and contempt of almost all mankind, exclusion almost from human society, destitution, hunger, thirst, imprisonment, oaths, and execrations, blows and foul language, toil, poorly paid, and paid with insult—all these things were endured, patiently and joyfully, by men of whom the world was not worthy, for the cause of Christ. Who, comparing his own life with theirs, would not find it soft and indulgent, vain and useless? Yet this was the power of God’s kingdom; and the power of God’s kingdom now is shown as much in following, in however distant a degree, the example of the Apostles, as in adhering to the holy faith they taught. Be imitators of me, said Saint Paul, as I also am of
Christ.

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