Lange Commentary - 1 Corinthians 4:18 - 4:21

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Lange Commentary - 1 Corinthians 4:18 - 4:21

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B. Anticipation of misconception as to his motives in sending Timothy and of consequent arrogance, on the part of some. Such to be tested in point of power. The kingdom of God a thing of power


18Now some are [have been] puffed up, as though I would not come [were not coming] to you. 19But 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. 20For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. 21What will ye? shall I come unto you with [ ἐí ] a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?


1Co_4:18. He here obviates an inference which might be drawn [and, it would seem from the Apostle’s language, had actually been drawn], from his sending Timothy to Corinth. It was, that he was not coming there himself. And some were elated, in consequence, with the idea, that it was because he dared not come.—Some have been puffed up.—By ἐöõóéþèçóáí , puffed up, we are not to understand that conceit of wisdom, spoken of before, which lifted certain of them high in their own esteem, above the simplicity of the Apostle. He alludes rather to that arrogant manner, that overweening insolence, which is a common feature of party spirit. Whether any declarations of theirs, respecting his not coming to Corinth, had been communicated to Paul; or whether he only inferred from their conduct that they must be indulging in such expectations; or whether he only intended to say that they were puffed up, as though he were not to be present among them again, may be left undecided. Bengel’s idea, ‘that a Divine inspiration discovered to him the thoughts which would arise in their minds on reading his letter,’ is ingenious, but hardly suitable.—as though I also were not coming. ὡò ìὴ ἐ ñ÷ïìÝíïõäÝ ìïõ —The äÝ relates to the sending of Timothy, and puts ìïõ in conjunction with him. [“ ὡò expresses the assumption in their minds: the present participle ἐñ÷ïìÝíïõ refers to their saying— ïὐê ἐñ÷åôáé : ‘he is not coming.’ And, inasmuch as ἔñ÷ forms one idea, the äÝ is placed after it all. See Hart. Partikellehre 1, p. 190.” Alf.].

1Co_4:19. Counter-statements.—But I will come to you shortly.—Paul’s courage here speaks out resolutely in an emphatic, ‘I will come’ ( ἐëåýóïìáé ), which is put first. The ‘shortly’ (comp. 1Co_16:6), [but why not also the entire fact of his coming also?], he makes dependent on the will of the Lord (1Co_16:7), whose servant he is, and who might appoint him tasks, the discharge of which would prevent him from executing his purpose,—if the Lord will.—Thus courage and assurance are coupled with a humble consciousness of dependence, and with submission to the control of a higher power. [“So constantly did Paul live in communion with Christ as his God, submitting to Him and trusting to Him at all times.” Hodge].—and I will know, ãíþóïìáé .—This denotes, not a judicial finding upon I a previous trial, nor yet a simple taking knowledge of by observation (Meyer), but a consciousness attained by experience, and by tests applied. It implies that Apostolic discernment, which penetrates through all outward shows into the very essence of things, which does not suffer itself to be deceived by lofty phrase, or high sounding threats (1Co_1:17; 1Co_3:4), but which accurately detects the presence or absence of a true capacity for energetic and successful labors in the kingdom of God (comp. 1Co_4:20).—not the speech of them that are puffed up, but the power.—There is the same contrast between ëüãïò and äõí ́ áìéò here, that we have 1Th_1:5; comp. 2Ti_3:5, where instead of “speech” we have “the form of godliness” contrasted with “power.” “ Äýíáìéò is the essential power, or true nature and efficacy of a thing in opposition to mere external show.” Neander. To explain it of the power to work miracles [Chrys., Grotius], or of moral virtue [Theod., Pelagius], or of the influences of doctrine upon life [Calvin], would not suit the context. [“It is power to work for the furtherance of God’s kingdom—a power conditioned on the possession of true inward spiritual energy (which de Wette makes it to mean). Examples of this are seen in Paul himself, in Luther and in others.” Meyer. It was such power as the Apostles were commanded to wait for at Jerusalem, ere they went forth to be witnesses for their Lord, and which was exhibited so wonderfully at the day of Pentecost; such power as Paul speaks of, when to the Thessalonians he said: ‘Our Gospel came not unto you, in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost’ (where we see that the antithesis in the text is not to be taken absolutely but relatively); such power as is mentioned in Rom_15:18, “the Gentiles being made obedient by word and deed, through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” It was an essential attribute of the Church, and especially of the ministry of the Church, as energized for the conquest of the world by the indwelling spirit of God, and so made mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. The lack of power, therefore, indicated an absence of the spirit,—the want of a Divine commission and of a heavenly unction].

1Co_4:20. Reason for the foregoing. The eye of an Apostle must be directed to the kingdom of God, and to whatever promotes its advancement. And this kingdom is not built up by beautiful and high-sounding speeches, but by that spiritual energy which awakens and develops the inward life of the spirit.—For the kingdom of God.—By this is meant the Divine kingdom of the Messiah as a life in communion with God, or as a social state pervaded and regulated by the Divine will. It must, therefore, bear upon itself the signature of righteousness, holiness and blessedness. Or, as the Old Testament describes it (e. g. Psalms 72), it is a ‘kingdom of righteousness and peace; in which character it is! spoken of again in Rom_14:17. This is also the ruling idea in historical Christianity, whose primitive form is the Church. Its full realization, however, where the living law penetrates and pervades all that is phenomenal, or, in other words, where the archetypal idea and the fact wholly correspond, belongs to the future age. To exclude the ethical element from the conception, is just as incorrect as to hold by it altogether. In the New Testament both are united, prominence being given, sometimes to one, and sometimes to the other, in different passages. But that only the truly pious and believing can properly be members of this kingdom (Col_3:3; Php_4:21; Eph_5:5), is seen in the fact, that it is a fellowship in holiness. [For a good exposition of this important term, see Fairbairn’s Herm. Man. p. 56. Olsh. Com. on Matt. 3:21].—is, ἐóôßí —is to be understood and associated with ἐí , in, and is to be taken as in 1Co_2:5, to mean, consists in, stands in.—not in word, but in power.—From this it is evident that the ethical element of God’s kingdom is mainly considered. But whether the Apostle is here speaking of the ground or condition upon which a person participates in this kingdom, or of its direct active advancement, may be questioned. In the former case the sense would be: that, whereon participation in God’s kingdom is conditioned, viz., faith and love, is not brought about through word, but through the power that is at work in its behalf, i. e. of the minister or teacher (Meyer); in the latter ease it would mean: he only is able truly to advance God’s kingdom, in whom this power exists. The latter interpretation, which includes also the idea, that such a person alone can be regarded as rightly belonging to God’s kingdom, is simpler and more suited to the context. “It must be said, however, that the distinction here made between word and power, is not for the purpose of separating the latter from the former, and attributing to it an operation that manifests itself apart form and independent of the word, as fanatics teach; but in order to contrast with the empty declamation of false teachers that true preaching which is filled with the spirit,—to oppose to their mere artificial rhetoric the power of God which resides in the simplicity of the Gospel.” Burger.

1Co_4:21. Having expressed his determination to go to Corinth, he here leaves it for them to decide in what form his authority shall be exercised (2Co_10:6; 2Co_13:2 ff.). This verse some commentators [Calvin, Beza, Lachmann, Stanley Words.,] connect with the following chapter as opening a new topic for rebuke. But, as no allusion is there made to his coming to Corinth, and there is no particle to connect it with what follows, it is better to take it as concluding this chapter. [So Meyer, Alf., Hodge],—What ôß = ðüôåñïí , but is more forcible, inasmuch as the alternative presented does not appear at once.—will ye?—[“As Chrys. strikingly says, ‘The whole thing lies with you.’ ” Meyer].—Shall I come.—The verb Ý ̓ ëèù is not dependent on èÝëåôåto you with a rod, ἐí ñÜâäῳ —[The use of ἐí to express the relation of accompaniment or instrumentality, is not a Hebraism, but a genuine Geek idiom. So Meyer. But Winer,§ 48. d. says, it is also used like the Hebrew ëְּ in cases where Greek authors employ the Dative alone. Its significance in the text is well given by Alf. “not only with a rod, but in such purpose as to use it. The preposition here gives the idea of the element in which, much as ἐíäüîç ̣”]. Here also he presents to view his paternal relation. The rod is the symbol of fatherly severity. [It means the rod of His mouth. For the word of God, spoken by such as Paul, was sharp and powerful. There is an intimation here of Paul’s consciousness of power]. In contrast with this, and as the alternative before them, love is mentioned—or in love.—This indeed is not excluded from severity; but it forms an antithesis to it, inasmuch as in severity the natural expression of love is kept in abeyance, and it is compelled to manifest itself in ways alien to itself. This idea is more fully brought out in the associated clause—and (in) the spirit of meekness.—Luther says: “with tenderness of spirit,” so that ðíåῦçá would then mean the subjective disposition. But Meyer, following the analogy of such passages as Joh_15:26; Rom_8:15; 2Co_4:13; Eph_1:17; Rom_1:4; [where, as here, ðíåῦìá is followed by the abstract genitive and evidently denotes the Holy Spirit, whose specific working is expressed by the noun in connection], interprets the word here in like manner. [But, as Alf. shows, Meyer is mistaken when he affirms, that this meaning attaches to ðíåῦìá in all kindred passages of the New Testament. There is plainly no fixed usage compelling this interpretation here. It were better, therefore, with Calvin, de Wette, Stanley and others, to understand by the phrase: a meek, gentle spirit. See Winer § 34:3 b]. ÉÉñáῦôçò denotes sparing, forgiving mildness. In this winning way he gives them to understand that he would much rather be spared the necessity of discipline. [“It is plain from this, as from numerous other passages, that the Apostles exercised the, right of discipline over all the churches. They could receive into the communion of the Church, or excommunicate from it at discretion. This prerogative was unseparable from their infallibility as the messengers of Christ, sent to establish and administer his kingdom.” Hodge. “For nerve and vigor, for dignity and composed confidence, this passage cannot be easily paralleled even in Demosthenes himself.” Bloomfield].


The kingdom of God, a thing of power. This kingdom, formerly typified in shadowy outlines ( óêéÜ ) through the promise and the law, and through a series of special providences, and prepared through miracles and signs, and through the gracious, wise and holy guidance and training of a chosen people, was first exhibited in its original principles, and perfectly realized as the kingdom of heaven upon earth, in the person of the Son of man, come from Heaven (comp. Luk_2:14; Mat_12:28). He was the first to fulfil all righteousness, always doing that which was well pleasing to the Father (Joh_8:29; Mat_3:15). In the plenitude of the Spirit’s might, which rested on Him, (Joh_1:32), He exercised a constraining and subduing power over the hearts of men, and in word and deed evinced a Divine puissance of love, that overcame the hostile spirits of darkness, proved invincible to Satanic assaults, loosed all manner of bonds, and removed evil of every kind. Though externally weak and depressed, we find Him emerging victorious out of that judgment and death, to which He had freely subjected Himself, and, as the one to whom all power in Heaven and upon earth had been given, rising far above all creaturely limitations into the right hand of the Majesty on High.

Having thus in His own person and history laid the foundations of the Kingdom of God, and illustrated its character and career and triumphs, we behold Him gathering a Church, through the dispensation of the Spirit, out of that apostate race, (whose nature He had assumed and had, essentially as well as morally, united to God), and exhibiting in it, as in a germ, the kingdom of righteousness and peace, in the exercise of a lofty power over the hearts of men and in the manifestation of ability to redeem and save. This Church, which, from its unseen beginnings, has, after a lapse of ages, spread out into a mighty tree, continues to exist now, precisely as it originated, only through the might of the Divine Spirit, who works in its members—especially in those who are active in its cause—for the continued illumination and sanctification of mankind. And only by the same Divine agency is the kingdom of God, which is enclosed in the Church, advanced, and that period hastened, when it shall be made manifest in all its glorious reality, and when the Lord shall reign King over all the nations. (Zec_14:9). The powers which rule in the Church are, in fact, the powers of ‘the world to come,’ the áἰùí ìÝëëùí (Heb_6:5); and while these powers display their Divine energy, in cleansing the heart more and more from the filthiness of the flesh and the spirit, in promoting knowledge and sanctification, and in strengthening the will to endure under all assaults of temptation and persecution, the Church is ripening towards that glorious epoch when, in the union of all the holy in Heaven and upon earth, it will appear supreme in Christ, over all things, as the true Kingdom of God, wherein God shall be all in all (1Co_15:28).


[1. The carnal-minded in the Church, 1, are apt to gather presumption, and take courage for self-display, during the absence of their Divinely appointed guides, 1Co_4:18; 1 Corinthians 2, need to be thoroughly tested as to their really spiritual qualities, and exposed, 1Co_4:19; 1 Corinthians 3, are deserving of rebuke and discipline, 1Co_4:21.

2. Since the Kingdom of God is not in word, but in power, its ministers must be, 1, full of courage and fearless of opposition, 1Co_4:19; 1 Corinthians 2, dependent on the Lord, from whom their power comes, for direction in all their movements, 1Co_4:19; 1 Corinthians 3, capable of testing human pretensions, 1Co_4:19; 1 Corinthians 4, prepared for severe or lenient dealing, as circumstances may require, yet disposed in spirit to the latter, rather than the former, 1Co_4:21.

3. In the truth, that the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power—the power of the Holy Ghost, we have, 1, A lesson of instruction. It shows us to what source ministers and all Christian laborers are indebted for the success of their words and efforts; 2, A criterion for judgment. We can ascertain whether the kingdom of God is present in any person, or church, which claims to possess it, by the ability shown to achieve those results for which the Divine power is given; 3, A ground of encouragement. Weak as believers are in themselves, and great as is the work to be accomplished, the kingdom of God in them can strengthen them to do all things; 4, A lesson of duty. If we would do great things for God, we must trust, a. not to our own skill in persuasion, but b. in the power which the Holy Ghost imparts; 5, A rebuke. Lack of achievement for the kingdom of God cannot be charged upon a lack of power in it, but upon a lack of faith in Christians to use the power given].

Luther: 1Co_4:20. Faith is a living, essential thing; it makes a man entirely new, changes his disposition, and turns him completely about. Wilt thou continue to remain in thy pride and immodesty, in avarice and anger, and wilt thou boast and prate much of faith ? then comes Paul to thee and says, ‘Listen, good friend; the kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power and in deeds.’

Starke:—The point to be looked at is not how a person talks about religion, but whether the essentials of Christianity—truth, experience, action—are in him (1Co_4:19). O, precious declaration! It is power—power—not prating and show that makes the Christian.—Hed. Where the kingdom of God is, there Christ is, and the Holy Spirit also, who regenerates men (1Co_4:20).—If soft words won’t serve, then the minister must rebuke sharply.—Love remains the same when it is severe, as when it is mild, provided it only leads to God. Its various arts of regulation must first be thoroughly learned and then practised when needful.—Righteousness, holiness and love exist in God combined; and as both Law and Gospel have alike issued therefrom, so should every evangelical minister rightly employ both. 2Ti_2:15 (1Co_4:21).

Berl. Bible:—The whole kingdom of our God is pervaded with Divine and heavenly powers. And although indeed He utters words from thence, yet these words are spirit and life, yea, the words of eternal life (Joh_6:63; Joh_6:68). Hence words, fraught with the spirit and quickening in their influence, are also a fruit of the kingdom of God, which consists in power. In short, every thing which God speaks, works and does, in and through his Son, carries in itself a kind of power, and manifests this power wherever it is not hindered (1Co_2:5; Rom_1:16), (1Co_4:20). People say sometimes: ‘Where is love? More is accomplished by love than by severity.’ True, provided we are not compelled to use severity. Then severity itself is also an effect of love (1Co_4:21).

Heubner:—The “puffed up” are mighty in words, but weak in deeds. Inward spiritual power lies in humility. The Church of Christ does not need braggarts, but true workers (1Co_4:19).—The unction of the true preacher is detected in the power he exerts upon the hearts of men (1Co_4:20).—Man determines for himself the treatment he shall receive, whether it shall be severity or mildness. Well for him, who is still enjoying the gracious period of discipline. He is better than one altogether. reprobate. God has a two fold staff, the staff of mildness and the staff of woe (Zec_11:7-14) (1Co_4:2).


1Co_4:21.—The Rec. has ðñáüôçôïò [with D. F. L. Cod. Sin.]; but Tisch. [according to A. B. C., or 2] reads ðñáí ̓ ôçôïò [so Words., Alf., Stanley].