Lange Commentary - 1 Corinthians 4:14 - 4:17

Online Resource Library

Return to | Commentary Index | Bible Index | Search | Prayer Request | Download

Lange Commentary - 1 Corinthians 4:14 - 4:17

(Show All Books | Show All Chapters)

This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


A. The grounds, spirit and intent of his severity. As their spiritual father, he would have them imitate him


14     I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn [admonish] you. 15For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten [begot] you through the gospel. 16Wherefore I beseech you, be [become] ye followers [imitators] of me. 17For 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.


1Co_4:14. Sinking now into a milder tone, ‘not from motives of prudence, but in accordance with his own natural disposition,’ (Neander), and in order to observe his own precept, ‘not to provoke children to wrath,’ (Besser), he here goes on to explain the ground and intent of the severity he had used. He had rebuked them, as a father would his children, out of paternal love, and as he had a right to do.—Not shaming you, ἐíôñÝðùí . The participle here does not necessarily involve the idea of intention or design, as if it meant: ‘not for the purpose of shaming you;’ although the present part. may denote a purpose which one is already on the point of realizing. Meyer: ‘I do not shame you by that which I now write,’ (i. e., from 1Co_4:8-13). Ruckert’s idea, that Paul alludes here to his charges for not being properly supported (1Co_4:11-12) is too restricted, and unsustained by the context. Alike needless, also, is his explanation of ἐíôñÝðåéí , to cast down, to shatter, as it occurs in Aelian. And at all events, the word cannot mean, as elsewhere in Greek, to restore to a right mind, to cause a person to come to himself. The Apostle commonly uses it in the sense in which it usually occurs in the LXX. for çֵôִø , to shame, in connection with áἰó÷ýíåóèáé (see Frommii Concord.) (comp. 2Th_3:14; Tit_2:8; also the subst. ἐòôñïðÞ 1Co_6:5; 1Co_15:34).—do I write these things ôáῦôá , i. e., the things written from the eighth to the thirteenth verse,—but as my beloved children.—A tender and winning word, designed to remind them that, with all his severity toward their pride and false security, he yet regarded them with paternal affection, and was only seeking their restoration to a right mind.—I admonish you. Íïõèåôåῖí , to bring to mind, to warn.—It may imply severe rebuke or friendly admonition. Here it is evidently the latter. [See more fully on this word Trench Syn. N. T. sub voce, and Wm. Webster, Syntax and Synonymns of the Gr. T.].

1Co_4:15. He justifies his right to admonish on the ground of the paternal relation he sustains to them. This he exhibits in contrast with the mere preceptorship held by their other teachers. To the latter they were indebted only for discipline, but to him they owed their spiritual existence.—For even though.—By virtue of the relation of the two clauses indicated by ἀëë ̓ ἐÜí , carries the significance of êᾄí , even thoughye have ten thousand. Ìõñßïõò implies only an indefinitely large number, as in 1Co_14:19. Bisp.: ‘never so many,’—a hint, perhaps, that there were too many teachers there,—instructors ðáéäáãùãïýò . This word among the Greeks designated those who were employed to look after, and train little children; and these were commonly slaves. Paul here applies it to the teachers who succeeded him (1Co_3:10 ff.), but without any bad implication [such as Calvin, Beza and de Wette suppose], since this would not befit Apollos and others like him. Nor can we well conceive the term to imply that those whom it designated were holding the Corinthians back in rudimental knowledge [Calvin] (Gal_4:2), or were acting upon a stand-point that sought to unite legal and evangelical elements. All he means is that his right over them was higher, his relation to them more intimate than that of any other could be; and that these allowed him the privilege of supervising their education in their new Christian life.—in Christ.—This adjunct shows the sphere in which these instructors were supposed to labor, that of the Christian life. [Hodge says, that “the words in the original show that they belong to the verb, ‘Though ye may have in Christ, i. e. in reference to Christ, or as Christians, many instructors yet have ye not many fathers.” ̓]—yet not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus.—Here again, as before, the words “in Christ Jesus,” denote the element in which Paul labored.—I begot you.i. e. as Christians. On ãåííᾷí comp. Phil. 10; Gal_4:19. Others connect the words ‘in Christ Jesus’ with ‘I,’ and make it mean: ‘I in Christ,’ i. e. as ‘an Apostle in Christ.’ But as this designation in the foregoing clause does not belong to ‘instructors’ in any such way as to mean, that they instructed by virtue of their fellowship with Christ, so here it is not to be similarly connected with Paul, although it was in itself true, that those labors of his, which begot in them the new life, and developed it afterwards, could have proved successful only so far as they had been wrought in Christ—through the Gospel.—Here we have the instrumentality employed. It was the proclamation of those good tidings which are briefly summed up in Joh_3:16; 1Ti_1:15, and elsewhere. The Gospel is ‘the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth’ (Rom_1:16); ‘the word of the cross;’ ‘the word of truth,’ by which God begets us (Jam_1:18); ‘the living,’ the undestructible seed of the new birth (1Pe_1:23). And the essential substance of this Gospel, that which gives it its quickening and nourishing power, is Christ Himself [the Word in the word.] The claim to paternity here put forth, is in no way prejudicial to the fatherhood of God, or the Lordship of Christ, since Paul is here speaking of the relation which the Church sustained to the different teachers in respect to the origin and growth of their spiritual life. The higher absolute relation to God is here presupposed, and even intimated by the phrases “in Christ” and “through the Gospel.” The simple instrumentality, alluded to in the whole case, is evident of itself; just as in 1Ti_4:16.

1Co_4:17. Therefore:i. e. because I am to you as a father, and it accords with the analogy of nature, that children should resemble their parents.—I beseech you.—An affectionate entreaty to heed one brief request.—be ye imitators of me.—But how far? Not in general; but in those particulars which he has just been enumerating, wherein he stood in such striking contrast with them, viz., in humility and self-resignation; “in the renouncement of all ambition and conceit” Meyer; we might also add with Osiander, ‘in that self-devoted heroism with which he sealed his faith.’ [“Nor these only,” says Alf., “but also, as in 1Co_4:17, in his manner of life and teaching”].

1Co_4:18. For this cause.—This is to be referred back either to 1Co_4:15, as expressing the motive of his sending Timothy: ‘because I am your father, and feel towards you like one’ [as Chrys., Theoph. and others]; or to 1Co_4:16, as indicating the purpose of his sending him: to promote your imitation of me. The latter reference is to be preferred, otherwise 1Co_4:16 must be taken parenthetically. Osiander combines both, and justly, in so far as what is said in 1Co_4:16, rests upon the paternal relationship asserted in 1Co_4:15. The meaning is: ‘since I, as a father, must insist on your imitating my example, I have sent unto you my dear Timothy, who will aid you in this respect.’—I have sent to you Timothy—not as though Timothy was to be the bearer of the Epistle (comp. Act_16:10), since he came later, being obliged to go through Macedonia on his way to Corinth (Act_19:22).—who is my son.—Timothy is here represented as one who, equally with the Corinthians, was converted by Paul, and had derived through him his spiritual life, and so held the same relations to Paul that they did. And the Apostle testifies to his tender care over them in the fact, that he sends to them this their brother, who was especially dear to him, and enjoyed his fullest confidence; one, therefore, whom they had peculiar reason to welcome cordially, as a person able to exhibit to them the mind of their common father in a most reliable manner. [It must be remembered also that Timothy was with Paul during his first visit to Corinth, and must therefore have been personally known to a large portion of the Church]. To explain the epithet ‘my son,’ on the ground that Timothy had been educated to his office by Paul, after the manner that the Rabbis called their scholars ‘sons,’ is not sufficiently sustained by the consideration that we have no further information of his conversion by Paul. Rather the intimacy of the relation between the two expressions in Tim. 1Co_1:2; 1Co_1:18; 2Ti_1:2, and also the application to him of the same title, ‘beloved son,’ which had just been applied to the Corinthians, would seem to confirm the opinion that Paul had also ‘begotten him through the Gospel.’—beloved and faithful in the Lord.—The phrase ‘in the Lord’ belongs not merely to ‘faithful,’ (i. e. devoted to me, true to his calling, and therefore reliable) but also to all that is said of Timothy. The praise bestowed on Timothy appears also to have the incidental purpose of impressing upon the Corinthians, in a tender. manner, the kind of conduct which they owed to their spiritual fathers.

Timothy’s errand is expressed in the words:—who shall remind you of my ways in the Lord.—The ἀíáìéìíÞóêåéí : to remind, presupposes the existence of a knowledge which has been repressed by adverse influences, so that it needs to be called up again and refreshed. “There is a slight implication here “(Osiander), and Chrysostom remarks that ‘the word is finely chosen to quiet the pride of the Corinthians which might be aroused at the idea of being taught by a youth.’ What he means by ‘his ways in Christ’ he goes on to explain.—as I teach every where in every church.—It was his mode of conduct as a Christian teacher; and this, as it regarded, not so much the subject of his teaching, or its manner, as his demeanor while doing it,—the humility and self-denial with which he discharged his calling. This is implied by the connection. The use of êáèþò here, as employed to introduce a defining clause, in the sense of: how, is somewhat remarkable. See Act_15:14; 3Jn_1:3 [where the word is clearly used in this sense, and where Alford somewhat arbitrarily asserts that it is alone thus used]. Hence Billr. joins it to the verb ‘remind,’ as if Paul meant: ‘he will remind you, etc., just as I myself, teach.’ But from this 1, no good sense can be obtained, and 2, ‘myself is arbitrary. Osiander’s explanation, though suitable in sense, is yet somewhat forced: ‘who will remind you of my walk (my course of life), agreeably to which I teach everywhere.’ The first explanation has the most in its favor, in spite of its grammatical difficulties. The ‘reminding’ could however refer to his activity in other churches also, since they undoubtedly had knowledge of this, from information which had been given by brethren on their travels. The reference to this uniformity of his conduct generally, strengthened the motive for their imitating him.


1. Spiritual paternity.—The awakening of the spiritual life in man is a Divine act. It originates in God’s purpose of salvation, formed in reference to the individual (Jam_1:18; Eph_1:4; 2Th_2:13). Its ground is Christ, in His complex divine-human life as carried out in the work of redemption, which was effected through His death and resurrection and final glorification (Joh_7:39). Its immediate cause is the Holy Spirit, who imparts to the redeemed the new life of Christ, proceeding from his death; or, in other words, reproduces in us individually the new man of righteousness, born in Christ through a judicial process of death passed upon the old man or the flesh. The organ of this Spirit is the Word, viz., the testimony of Christ, and concerning Christ, which proceeds from Him; and the object and substantial contents of which He Himself is. By bringing this living Word forcibly to bear upon the heart, the Spirit opens the heart. Testifying to sinners of the love of God cherished towards them individually in Christ, he regains their lost confidence; and starts the fountains of all godly life, of all holy conduct towards God,—in obedience and patience; and puts an end to the old distrust, that was the source of all rebellion and sin. And he does this in a way to magnify God and belittle man, and to convert the sinner’s pride to humility.

But inasmuch as in this process of renewal God employs human instrumentalities, he confers on these also the dignity of a spiritual fatherhood, and so takes them into a sort of fellowship with Himself. This holds good, however, not of those who have become, so to speak, the accidental instruments in this work, i. e., who have in some way brought about the conversion of souls either by speaking or writing saving truths, the force of which they have not practically felt, but only of those who have the life of Christ in them as an energizing power, and who can, out of their own personal experiences, testify of Him, and of His enlightening and regenerating grace, and who are therefore in a condition to beget a kindred life in others. Standing in Christ as the ground of their life, and moving ever in Him, such persons are enabled to introduce others into the same communion, by presenting to them, in quickening power through the Gospel, Jesus Christ in the fulness of His holy love and in His redeeming work, and by thus inducing them to come out from themselves and give themselves up to Him who has given and will yet give Himself for them. In this way they become spiritual fathers; for it is by virtue of the living power of Christ dwelling in them that they are capable of engendering life in others, just as in the sphere of the physical life, the natural creative power, resident in the individual as a personal property, involves in its generative exercise the character and dignity of the paternal relation.

But the more clearly and simply this spiritual paternity is recognized and maintained upon its Divine ground, the more decisively will all further educational efforts on the part of the earthly parent result in bringing these spiritual children out from their first dependence on him (a dependence which often involves an unworthy attachment to his personal idiosyncracies), and fastening them more exclusively upon Him, who is the eternal and absolute ground of this relation, even God in Christ. The children are thus liberated from all that is limited and imperfect in the human parent, to enter upon a freer and more independent development in Christ, and thus to make purer advances in knowledge and holiness.

But this spiritual paternity carries with it a high authority, a holy right to discipline, to rebuke, to exhort, to purify, with severity or mildness, or both commingled, as circumstances may demand. And this right is exercised as one of love, and under love’s strong impulses, and with that ingenuous wisdom which is peculiar to lore, and with which it devises all sorts of methods for alluring, urging, restraining, arousing, and softening children, restoring their disturbed confidence and reëstablishing over them a weakened authority.

[“A father never is afraid

Of speaking angrily to any child

Since love he knows is justified of love.”]

All this is illustrated for us in the Apostle Paul.

2. [Apostolic piety is the standard for the whole Church, even to the end of time. The Romish theory, which distinguishes between the clergy and laity, and imposes on the former a degree of sanctity and a mode of life not exacted of the latter, is here plainly condemned in advance. Paul puts all believers on the same footing with himself. He lays claim to no special grace, and recognizes no obligation to self-denial and sacrifice which does not equally rest on the whole Church. In his office as an Apostle, he became indeed a spiritual father; but in point of that Christian character, which underlay his Apostleship, he would have his children resemble him. Here we learn that the Spirit of Christ aims to pervade His entire body, and seeks to mould all, pastors and people alike, to a common type. And this spirit is a cross-bearing spirit. It is a spirit; which it devolves on every minister to exemplify and enforce, and on every Church to imbibe and cultivate. There will be no abatement of this requisition until Christ shall come].

3. [Christian example is an important means for instructing and edifying the Church. Its uses are: 1. For illustration. It is the living Epistle, accompanying the written Epistle, in the way of comment and explanation. The truth stated in doctrine, example embodies in solid substantial forms, that are more fraught with meaning, and more vivid in expression than words can be. The duty enforced in the precept, it exhibits in the operations of a holy life, that teach the true method of its performance. Thus the understanding is helped to right conceptions of the Word; and the life of God in the Church proves the light of the world. 2. For persuasion. “Words teach, but examples draw.” So says the proverb, and the reason is, that that inward conviction and force of will, which are the secret of personal influence, express themselves most significantly in the conduct. It is through this, therefore, that man acts most powerfully on man. 3. For encouragement. The lives of eminent believers show the possibility of high attainment, and a certainty of the divine promises; and by the shout of “victory at last” animate the spirits of observers to enter the fight of faith, and to do and endure in like manner, with the full assurance of like results. 4. For rebuke. The zeal, energy, courage, patience, self-denial and sufferings of every devoted believer, presents a disparaging and mortifying contrast with the conduct of those who, while professing a like devotion, evince only an easy idle, self-indulgent, self-satisfied spirit, or aspire only after honors and applause.

To set a worthy example is the duty not only of Apostles and ministers, but of all Christians alike. As Paul called upon the early converts to ‘imitate him,’ so were they instructed to live so as to extend the same call to others coming after them. The guiding word which ought to be continually heard passing down the ever lengthening ranks of the Church, as it moves onward through darkness and through light, treading in the footsteps of its great leader, should be: ‘Follow me, even as I also follow Christ’].


1. [Church founders and all who have been instrumental in converting souls should: 1. love the subjects of their labors with a paternal affection, even as they stand towards them in the peculiar relation of spiritual fathers (1Co_4:15 ); 2. aim in their reproof, however sharp, á . not to mortify and disgrace their spiritual offspring, but, b. to admonish and so restore them to duty ( 1Co_4:14); 3. see an example of the Christian life which they shall be able to call on their children to imitate (1Co_4:16); 4. take pains to show them how they live in all their ways, so that there shall be no excuse for ignorance or mistake, (1Co_4:17)].

Starke: Nothing is sharper and more penetrating than the rebukes of love, (1Co_4:14).

Hedinger: 1Co_4:15.—It is the duty and the characteristic of a true minister to beget children through the Gospel, or to lead those, who have been thus begotten, to a further knowledge of Christ. No less is it the token of a right-minded hearer to suffer himself to be thus begotten through the Word, and be trained to maturity in Christ. (1Th_4:1; 1Th_4:10; 1Pe_2:2). A preacher must build not only with words but also with his life, and so as it were with both hands, that he may be an example to believers both in word and conversation. It is a shame for children to run in strange paths and thus degenerate, (1Co_4:16). The visitation of churches by suitable persons is a useful and highly necessary practice (1Co_4:17).

Berl. Bib.:—It is no small thing to be a spiritual father and teacher. Only those who are mature in Christ are suited for such an office; for only according to the measure of our attainments in the divine life shall we be able to beget and fashion other souls. It is, therefore, a presumption in those, who are as yet but children, to wish to become fathers and teachers, before they themselves have rightly learned (1Co_4:15). Who would wish to exhibit himself as a pattern for others, before he has himself patterned after Christ? (1Co_4:16).

Heubner:—Fathers, who carry their children, on their hearts, mourn over the transgressions of their children, long for their reformation, and strive to make them blessed. Yea, they would be willing to pluck out their own hearts for their sake, if so be they might in this way do them any good (1Co_4:15). What joyousness of spirit is required to warrant a person in holding himself up as a pattern for others (1Co_4:16).

[Calvin:—The first token of return to a right state of mind is the shame which the son begins to feel on being reproached for his fault. Yet he who admonishes in a friendly spirit will make it his particular care that whatever there is of shame, may remain with the individual admonished, and may in this manner be buried. In reproofs use moderation, mixing honey and oil with the vinegar. Let it be understood that nothing is sought but the welfare of those reproved (1Co_4:14).—How few there are that love the Churches with a fatherly affection and lay themselves out to promote their welfare. Mean while there are many pedagogues who hire out their services as it were to discharge a mere temporary office, and hold the people in subjection, and admiration. When I say pedagogues, I do not refer to Popish priests, for I would not do them the honor of reckoning them in that number (1Co_4:15).—Uniformity and steadfastness of conduct “in every place,” most important for a minister, so that no objection can be brought against him, as though he conducted himself differently in different places. (Ad sensum) (1Co_4:17)].


This section has been divided on account of the manifest difference between the two parts].

1Co_4:14.—The variation íïõèåôὥí [found in A. Cod. Sin.] is a supposed improvement, made for the purpose of uniformity with ἐíôñἑðùí .

1Co_4:17.—Instead of the Rec. ôÝêíïí ìïõ . Tischendorf [Alf., Stanley] read ìïõ ôÝêíïí according to A. B. C. [Cod. Sin.] and others. [“The Rec. is a correction to the more usual order.” Alf.].

1Co_4:17.—Lach. reads ×ñéóôῷ Ἰçóïῦ [after C. D2. Cod. Sin. Vulg. etc.]. Others, êíñßῳ ̓ Éçóïí ͂ [after D1. F.]. But the Rec. ×ñéóôῷ is best supported [being found in A. B. D3. L. and in most citations of the Fathers].