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1 Corinthians 4:16-21

16. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.

16. Adhortor ergo vos, imitatores mei estote.

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.

17. Hac de causa misi ad vos Timotheum, qui est filius meus dilectus et fidelis in Domino: qui vobis in memoriam reducat vias meas, quae sunt in Christo, quemadmodum ubique in omnibus Ecclesiis doceam.

18. Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.

18. Perinde quasi non sum ad vos venturus, inflati sunt quidam:

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.

19. Veniam autem brevi ad vos, si Dominus voluerit, et cognoscam non sermonem eorum qui sunt inflati, sed virtutem.

20. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.

20. Neque enim in sermone regnum Dei est, sed in virtute.

21. What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?

21. Quid vultis? in virga veniam ad vos, an in dilectione spirituque mansuetudinis?


16. I exhort you. He now expresses also, in his own words, what he requires from them in his fatherly admonition — that, being his sons, they do not degenerate from their father. For what is more reasonable than that sons endeavor to be as like as possible to their father. 262262     “Taschent a suyure les bonnes moeurs de lears peres;” — “Endeavor to follow the good manners of their fathers.” At the same time he gives up something in respect of his own right, when he exhorts them to this, by way of entreaty rather than of command. But to what extent he wishes them to be imitators of him, he shows elsewhere, when he adds, as he was of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1.) This limitation must always be observed, so as not to follow any man, except in so far as he leads us to Christ. We know what he is here treating of. The Corinthians did not merely shun the abasement of the cross, but they also regarded their father with contempt, on this account, that, forgetting earthly glory, he gloried rather in reproaches for Christ; and they reckoned themselves and others fortunate in having nothing contemptible according to the flesh. He accordingly admonishes them to devote themselves, after his example, to the service of Christ, so as to endure all things patiently.

17. For this cause. The meaning is: “That you may know what my manner of life is, and whether I am worthy to be imitated, listen to what Timothy has to say, who will be prepared to be a faithful witness of these things. Now as there are two things that secure credit to a man’s testimony — a knowledge of the things which he relates, and fidelity — he lets them know that Timothy possesses both of these things. For in calling him his dearly beloved son, he intimates that he knew him intimately, and was acquainted with all his affairs; and farther, he speaks of him as faithful in the Lord He gives also two things in charge to Timothy — first, to recall to the recollection of the Corinthians those things which they should of themselves have had in remembrance, and in this he tacitly reproves them; and secondly, to testify to them, how uniform and steady his manner of teaching was in every place. Now it is probable that he had been assailed by the calumnies of the false apostles, as though he assumed more authority over the Corinthians than he did over others, or as though he conducted himself in a very different way in other places; for it is not without good reason that he wishes this to be testified to them. It is then the part of a prudent minister so to regulate his procedure, and to observe such a method of instruction, that no such objection may be brought against him, but he shall be prepared to answer on the same ground as Paul does.

18. As though I would not come to you This is the custom of the false apostles — to take advantage of the absence of the good, that they may triumph and vaunt without any hindrance. Paul, accordingly, with the view of reproving their ill-regulated conscience, and repressing their insolence, tells them, that they cannot endure his presence. It happens sometimes, it is true, that wicked men, on finding opportunity of insulting, rise up openly with an iron front against the servants of Christ, but never do they come forward ingenuously to an equal combat, 263263     “Si est-ce que jamais ils ne vienent a combatre franchement, et s’ ils ne voyent leur auantage: mats plustot en vsant de ruses et circuits obliques, ils monstrent leur deffiance, et comment ils sont mal asseurez;” — “So it is, that they never come forward frankly to a combat, and unless they have a view to their own advantage; but on the contrary, by making use of tricks and indirect windings, they show their want of confidence, and how distrustful they are.” but on the contrary, by sinister artifices they discover their want of confidence.

19. But I will come shortly. “They are in a mistake,” says he, “in raising their crests during my absence, as though this were to be of long duration, for they shall in a short time perceive how vain their confidence has been.” He has it not, however, so much in view to terrify them, as though he would on his arrival thunder forth against them, but rather presses and bears down upon their consciences, for, however they might disguise it, they were aware that he was furnished with divine influence.

The clause, if the Lord will, intimates, that we ought not to promise anything to others as to the future, or to determine with ourselves, without adding this limitation in so far as the Lord will permit Hence James with good reason derides the rashness of mankind (James 4:15) in planning what they are to do ten years afterwards, while they have not security for living even a single hour. We are not, it is true, bound by a constant necessity to the use of such forms of expression, but it is the better way to accustom ourselves carefully to them, that we may exercise our minds from time to time in this consideration — that all our plans must be in subjection to the will of God.

And I will know not the speech By speech you must understand that prating in which the false apostles delighted themselves, for they excelled in a kind of dexterity and gracefulness of speech, while they were destitute of the zeal and efficacy of the Spirit. By the term power, he means that spiritual efficacy, with which those are endowed who dispense the word of the Lord with earnestness. 264264     “D’vn bon zele, et pure affection;” — “With a right zeal and a pure affection.” The meaning, therefore, is: “I shall see whether they have so much occasion for being puffed up; and I shall not judge of them by their mere outward talkativeness, in which they place the sum-total 265265     “Proram et puppim;” — “Prow and stern.” of their glory, and on the ground of which they claim for themselves every honor. If they wish to have any honor from me, they must bring forward that power which distinguishes the true servants of Christ from the merely pretended: otherwise I shall despise them, with all their show. It is to no purpose, therefore, that they confide in their eloquence, for I shall reckon it nothing better than smoke.”

20. For the kingdom of God is not in word As the Lord governs the Church by his word, as with a scepter, the administration of the gospel is often called the kingdom of God Here, then, we are to understand by the kingdom of God whatever tends in this direction, and is appointed for this purpose — that God may reign among us. He says that this kingdom does not consist in word, for how small an affair is it for any one to have skill to prate eloquently, while he has nothing but empty tinkling. 266266     “Sqaura bien babiller et parler eloquemment, et cependant il n’aura rien qu’vn son retentissant en l’air;” — “Has skill to prate well, and speak eloquently, and in the meantime has nothing but a sound tinkling in the air.” Let us know, then, a mere outward gracefulness and dexterity in teaching is like a body that is elegant and of a beautiful color, while the power of which Paul here speaks is like the soul. We have already seen that the preaching of the gospel is of such a nature, that it is inwardly replete with a kind of solid majesty. This majesty shows itself, when a minister strives by means of power rather than of speech — that is, when he does not place confidence in his own intellect, or eloquence, but, furnished with spiritual armor, consisting of zeal for maintaining the Lord’s honor — eagerness for the raising up of Christ’s kingdom — a desire to edify — the fear of the Lord — an invincible constancy — purity of conscience, and other necessary endowments, he applies himself diligently to the Lord’s work. Without this, preaching is dead, and has no strength, with whatever beauty it may be adorned. Hence in his second epistle, he says, that in Christ nothing avails but a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17) — a statement which is to the same purpose. For he would have us not rest in outward masks, but depend solely on the internal power of the Holy Spirit.

But while in these words he represses the ambition of the false apostles, he at the same time reproves the Corinthians for their perverted judgment, in measuring the servants of Christ by what holds the lowest place among their excellences. Here we have a remarkable statement, and one that is not less applicable to us than to them. As to our gospel, of which we are proud, 267267     “Duquel nous nous vantons et glorifions tant;” — “Of which we boast and glory so much.” where is it in most persons except in the tongue? Where is newness of life? Where is spiritual efficacy? Nor is it so among the people merely. 268268     “Et ce n’est point au peuple seulement qu’est ce defaut;” — “And it is not among the people merely that this defect exists.” On the contrary, how many there are, who, while endeavoring to procure favor and applause from the gospel, as though it were some profane science, aim at nothing else than to speak with elegance and refinement! I do not approve of restricting the term power to miracles, for from the contrast we may readily gather that it has a more extensive import.

21. What will ye? The person who divided the Epistles into chapters ought to have made this the beginning of the fifth chapter. For having hitherto reproved the foolish pride of the Corinthians, their vain confidence, and their judgment as perverted and corrupted by ambition, he now makes mention of the vices with which they were infected, and on account of which they ought to be ashamed — “You are puffed up, as though everything were on the best possible footing among you, but it were better if you did with shame and sighing acknowledge the unhappiness of your condition, for if you persist, I shall be under the necessity of laying aside mildness, and exercising towards you a paternal severity.” There is, however, still more of emphasis in this threatening in which he gives them liberty to choose, for he declares that it does not depend upon himself whether he shall show himself agreeable and mild, but that it is their own fault that he is necessitated to use severity. “It is for you,” says he, “to choose in what temper you would have me. As for me, I am prepared to be mild, but if you go on as you have done hitherto, I shall be under the necessity of taking up the rod.” He thus takes higher ground, after having laid claim to fatherly authority over them, for it would have been absurd to set out with this threatening, without first opening up the way by what he said, and preparing them for entertaining fears.

By the term rod, he means that severity with which a pastor ought to correct his people’s faults. He places in contrast with this, love, and the spirit of meekness — not, as though the father hated the sons whom he chastises, for on the contrary the chastisement proceeds from love, but because by sadness of countenance and harshness of words, he appears as though he were angry with his son. To express myself more plainly — in one word, a father always, whatever kind of look he may put on, regards his son with affection, but that affection he manifests when he teaches him pleasantly and lovingly; but when, on the other hand, being displeased with his faults, he chastises him in rather sharp terms, or even with the rod, he puts on the appearance of a person in a passion. As then love does not appear when severity of discipline is exercised, it is not without good reason, that Paul here conjoins love with a spirit of meekness There are some that understand the term rod to mean excommunication — but, for my part, though I grant them that excommunication is a part of that severity with which Paul threatens the Corinthians, I at the same time extend it farther, so as to include all reproofs that are of a harsher kind.

Observe here what system a good pastor ought to observe; for he ought of his own accord to be inclined to mildness, with the view of drawing to Christ, rather than driving. This mildness, so far as in him lies, he ought to maintain, and never have recourse to bitterness, unless he be compelled to do so. On the other hand, he must not spare the rod, (Proverbs 13:24,) when there is need for it, for while those that are teachable and agreeable should be dealt with mildly, sharpness requires to be used in dealing with the refractory and contumacious. We see, too, that the Word of God does not contain mere doctrine, but contains an intermixture of bitter reproofs, so as to supply pastors with a rod For it often happens, through the obstinacy of the people, that those pastors who are naturally the mildest 269269     “Qu’on pourra trouuer;” — “That one could find.” are constrained to put on, as it were, the countenance of another, and act with rigor and severity.

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