1 Corinthians 4:1-5
1. Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and
stewards of the mysteries of God.
1. Sic nos aestimet homo ut ministros Christi, et dispensatores
2. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
2. Caeterum in ministris hoc quaeritur, ut fidelis aliquis reperiatur.
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.
3. Mihi viro pro minimo est, a vobis diiudicari, aut ab humano die:
imo nec me ipsum diiudico.
4. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified:
but he that judgeth me is the Lord.
4. Nullius enim rei mihi sum conscius: sed non in hoc sum justificatus.
Porro qui me diiudicat, Dominus est.
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
5. Itaque ne ante tempus quicquam iudicetis, donec venerit Dominus,
qui et illustrabit abscondita tenebrarum, et manifestabit consilia cordium;
et tunc laus erit cuique a Deo.
1. Let a man so account of us. As it was a matter of no little
importance to see the Church in this manner torn by corrupt factions, from
the likings or dislikings that were entertained towards individuals, he
enters into a still more lengthened discussion as to the ministry of the
word. Here there are three things to be considered in their order. In the
first place, Paul describes the office of a pastor of the Church. Secondly,
he shows, that it is not enough for any one to produce a title, or even
to undertake the duty — a faithful administration of the office being requisite.
Thirdly, as the judgment formed of him by the Corinthians was preposterous,
he calls both himself and them to the judgment-seat of Christ. In the first
place, then, he teaches in what estimation every teacher in the Church
ought to be held. In this department he modifies his discourse in such
a manner as neither, on the one hand, to lower the credit of the ministry,
nor, on the other, to assign to man more than is expedient. For both of
these things are exceedingly dangerous, because, when ministers are lowered,
contempt of the word arises, while, on the other hand, if they are extolled
beyond measure, they abuse liberty, and become “wanton against the Lord.”
(1 Timothy 5:11.) Now the medium observed by Paul consists in this, that
he calls them ministers of Christ; by which he intimates, that they ought
to apply themselves not to their own work but to that of the Lord, who
has hired them as his servants, and that they are not appointed to bear
rule in an authoritative manner in the Church, but are subject to Christ’s
authority — in short, that they are servants, not masters.
As to what he adds — stewards of the mysteries of God, he expresses
hereby the kind of service. By this he intimates, that their office extends
no farther than this, that they are stewards of the mysteries of God. In
other words, what the Lord has committed to their charge they deliver over
to men from hand to hand — as the expression is — not what they themselves
might choose. “For this purpose has God chosen them as ministers of his
Son, that he might through them communicate to men his heavenly wisdom,
and hence they ought not to move a step beyond this.” He appears, at the
same time, to give a stroke indirectly to the Corinthians, who, leaving
in the background the heavenly mysteries, had begun to hunt with excessive
eagerness after strange inventions, and hence they valued their teachers
for nothing but profane learning. It is an honorable distinction that he
confers upon the gospel when he terms its contents the mysteries of God.
But as the sacraments are connected with these mysteries as appendages,
it follows, that those who have the charge of administering the word are
the authorized stewards of them also.
2. But it is required in ministers. It is as though he had said,
it is not enough to be a steward if there be not an upright stewardship.
Now the rule of an upright stewardship, is to conduct one’s self in it
with fidelity. It is a passage that ought to be carefully observed, for
we see how haughtily Papists require that everything that they do and teach
should have the authority of law, simply on the ground of their being called
pastors. On the other hand, Paul is so far from being satisfied with the
mere title, that, in his view, it is not even enough that there is a legitimate
call, unless the person who is called conducts himself in the office with
fidelity. On every occasion, therefore, on which Papists hold up before
us the mask of a name, for the purpose of maintaining the tyranny of their
idol, let our answer be, that Paul requires more than this from the ministers
of Christ, though, at the same time, the Pope and his attendant train are
wanting not merely in fidelity in the discharge of the office, but also
in the ministry itself, if everything is duly considered.
This passage, however, militates, not merely against wicked teachers,
but also against all that have any other object in view than the glory
of Christ and the edification of the Church. For every one that teaches
the truth is not necessarily faithful, but, only he who desires from the
heart to serve the Lord and advance Christ’s kingdom. Nor is it without
good reason that Augustine assigns to hirelings, (John 10:12,)a middle
place between the wolves and the good teachers. As to Christ’s requiring
wisdom also on the part of the good steward, (Luke 12:42,) he speaks, it
is true, in that passage with greater clearness than Paul, but the meaning
is the same. For the faithfulness of which Christ speaks is uprightness
of conscience, which must be accompanied with sound and prudent counsel.
By a faithful minister Paul means one who, with knowledge as well as uprightness,
discharges the office of a good and faithful minister.
3. But with me it is a very small thing. It remained that he
should bring before their view his faithfulness, that the Corinthians might
judge of him from this, but, as their judgment was corrupted, he throws
it aside and appeals to the judgment-seat of Christ. The Corinthians erred
in this, that they looked with amazement at foreign masks, and gave no
heed to the true and proper marks of distinction. He, accordingly, declares
with great confidence, that he despises a perverted and blind judgment
of this sort. In this way, too, he, on the one hand, admirably exposes
the vanity of the false Apostles who made the mere applause of men their
aim, and reckoned themselves happy if they were held in admiration; and,
on the other hand, he severely chastises the arrogance of the Corinthians,
which was the reason why they were so much blinded in their judgment.
But, it is asked, on what ground it was allowable for Paul, not merely
to set aside the censure of one Church, but to set himself above the judgment
of men? for this is a condition common to all pastors — to be judged of
by the Church. I answer, that it is the part of a good pastor to submit
both his doctrine and his life for examination to the judgment of the Church,
and that it is the sign of a good conscience not to shun the light of careful
inspection. In this respect Paul, without doubt, was prepared for submitting
himself to the judgment of the Corinthian Church, and for being called
to render an account both of his life and of his doctrine, had there been
among them a proper scrutiny,as he often assigns them this power, and of
his own accord entreats them to be prepared to judge aright. But when a
faithful pastor sees that he is borne down by unreasonable and perverse
affections, and that justice and truth have no place, he ought to appeal
to God, and betake himself to his judgment-seat, regardless of human opinion,
especially when he cannot secure that a true and proper knowledge of matters
shall be arrived at.
If, then, the Lord’s servants would bear in mind that they must act
in this manner, let them allow their doctrine and life to be brought to
the test, nay more, let them voluntarily present themselves for this purpose;
and if anything is objected against them, let them not decline to answer.
But if they see that they are condemned without being heard in their own
defense, and that judgment is passed upon them without their being allowed
a hearing, let them raise up their minds to such a pitch of magnanimity,
as that, despising the opinions of men, they will fearlessly wait for God
as their judge. In this manner the Prophets of old, having to do with refractory
persons, and such as had the audacity to despise the word of God in their
administration of it, required to raise themselves aloft, in order to tread
under foot that diabolical obstinacy, which manifestly tended to overthrow
at once the authority of God and the light of truth. Should any one, however,
when opportunity is given for defending himself, or at least when he has
need to clear himself, appeal to God by way of subterfuge, he will not
thereby make good his innocence, but will rather discover his consummate
Or of man’s day. While others explain it in another manner, the
simpler way, in nay opinion, is to understand the word day as used metaphorically
to mean judgment, because there are stated days for administering justice,
and the accused are summoned to appear on a certain day. He calls it man’s
day when judgment is pronounced, not according to truth, or in accordance
with the word of the Lord, but according to the humor or rashness of men,
and in short, when God does not preside. “Let men,” says he, “sit for judgment
as they please: it is enough for me that God will annul whatever they have
Nay, I judge not mine own self. The meaning is: “I do not venture
to judge myself, though I know myself best; how then will you judge me,
to whom I am less intimately known?” Now he proves that he does not venture
to judge himself by this, that though he is not conscious to himself of
anything wrong, he is not thereby acquitted in the sight of God. Hence
he concludes, that what the Corinthians assume to themselves, belongs exclusively
to God. “As for me,” says he, “when I have carefully examined myself, I
perceive that I am not so clear-sighted as to discern thoroughly my true
character; and hence I leave this to the judgment of God, who alone call
judge, and to whom this authority exclusively belongs. As for you, then,
on what ground will you make pretensions to something more?”
As, however, it were very absurd to reject all kinds of judgment, whether
of individuals respecting themselves, or of one individual respecting his
brother, or of all together respecting their pastor, let it be understood
that Paul speaks here not of the actions of men, which may be reckoned
good or bad according to the word of the Lord, but of the eminence of each
individual, which ought not to be estimated according to men’s humors.
It belongs to God alone to determine what distinction every one holds,
and what honor he deserves. The Corinthians, however, despising Paul, groundlessly
extolled others to the skies, as though they had at their command that
knowledge which belonged exclusively to God. This is what he previously
made mention of as man’s day — when men mount the throne of judgment, and,
as if they were gods, anticipate the day of Christ, who alone is appointed
by the Father as judge, allot to every one his station of honor, assign
to some a high place, and degrade others to the lowest seats. But what
rule of distinction do they observe? They look merely to what appears openly;
and thus what in their view is high and honorable, is in many instances
an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15.) If any one farther objects,
that the ministers of the word may in this world be distinguished by their
works, as trees by their fruits, (Matthew 7:16,) I admit that this is true,
but we must consider with whom Paul had to deal. It was with persons who,
in judging, looked to nothing but show and pomp, and arrogated to themselves
a power which Christ., while in this world, refrained from using — that
of assigning to every one his seat in the kingdom of God. (Matthew 20:23.)
He does not, therefore, prohibit us from esteeming those whom we have found
to be faithful workmen, and pronouncing them to be such; nor, on the other
hand, from judging persons to be bad workmen according to the word of God,
but he condemns that rashness which is practiced, when some are preferred
above others in a spirit of ambition — not according to their merits, but
without examination of the case.
4. I am not conscious to myself of anything faulty. Let us observe
that Paul speaks here not of his whole life, but simply of the office of
apostleship. For if he had been altogether unconscious to himself of anything
wrong, that would have been a groundless complaint which he makes in Romans
7:15, where he laments that the evil which he would not, that he does,
and that he is by sin kept back from giving himself up entirely to God.
Paul, therefore, felt sin dwelling in him, and confessed it; but as to
his apostleship, (which is the subject that is here treated of,) he had
conducted himself with so much integrity and fidelity, that his conscience
did not accuse him as to anything. This is a protestation of no common
character, and of such a nature as clearly shows the piety and sanctity
of his breast; and yet he says that he is not thereby justified. that is,
pure, and altogether free from guilt in the sight of God. Why? Assuredly,
because God sees much more distinctly than we; and hence, what appears
to us cleanest, is filthy in his eyes. Here we have a beautiful and singularly
profitable admonition, not to measure the strictness of God’s judgment
by our own opinion; for we are dim-sighted, but God is preeminently discerning.
We think of ourselves too indulgently, but God is a judge of the utmost
strictness. Hence the truth of what Solomon says —
“Every man’s ways appear right his own eyes, but the Lord pondereth
the hearts.” (Proverbs 21:2.)
Papists abuse this passage for the purpose of shaking the assurance
of faith, and truly, I confess, that if their doctrine were admitted, we
could do nothing but tremble in wretchedness during our whole life. For
what tranquillity could our minds enjoy if it were to be determined from
our works whether we are well-pleasing to God? I confess, therefore, that
from the main foundation of Papists there follows nothing but continual
disquietude for consciences; and, accordingly, we teach that we must have
recourse to the free promise of mercy, which is offered to us in Christ,
that we may be fully assured that we are accounted righteous by God.
5. Therefore judge nothing before the time. From this conclusion
it is manifest, that Paul did not mean to reprove every kind of judgment
without exception, but only what is hasty and rash, without examination
of the case. For the Corinthians did not mark with unjaundiced eye the
character of each individual, but, blinded by ambition, groundlessly extolled
one and depreciated another, and took upon themselves to mark out the dignity
of each individual beyond what is lawful for men. Let us know, then, how
much is allowed us, what is now within the sphere of our knowledge, and
what is deferred until the day of Christ, and let us not attempt to go
beyond these limits. For there are some things that are now seen openly,
while there are others that lie buried in obscurity until the day of Christ.
Who will bring to light. If this is affirmed truly and properly
respecting the day of Christ, it follows that matters are never so well
regulated in this world but that many things are involved in darkness,
and that there is never so much light, but that many things remain in obscurity.
I speak of the life of men, and their actions. He explains in the second
clause, what is the cause of the obscurity and confusion, so that all things
are not now manifest. It is because there are wonderful recesses and deepest
lurking-places in the hearts of men. Hence, until the thoughts of the hearts
are brought to light, there will always be darkness.
And then shall every one have praise. It is as though he had
said, “You now, O Corinthians, as if you had the adjudging of the prizes,
crown some, and send away others with disgrace, but this right and office
belong exclusively to Christ. You do that before the time — before it has
become manifest who is worthy to be crowned, but the Lord has appointed
a day on which he will make it manifest.” This statement takes its rise
from the assurance of a good conscience, which brings us also this advantage,
that committing our praises into the hands of God, we disregard the empty
breath of human applause.