THE FAITHFUL SHOULD NOT JUDGE THEIR TEACHERS
A Summary of 1 Corinthians 4:1-6
A Summary of 1 Corinthians 4:1-6
Thinking themselves capable of judging their spiritual teachers the Corinthians had made distinctions between them, preferring one to another and glorying in their choice. after having shown that their glorying was human and vain, the Apostle points out the true norm by which the preachers of the Gospel are to be judged, but at the same time he warns that only the Omniscient God is able to make use of that norm. The faithful, therefore, must refrain from judging their teachers, not putting one above another, but leaving all things for the final manifestation at the Last Judgment.
1 Cor 4:1 Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and dispensers of the mysteries of God.
The preachers of the Gospel are not independent workers, each doing what he pleases. They have been chosen by Christ to do His work, and hence they are dependent upon and accountable to Christ for the discharge of their ministry. Let everyone, therefore, consider them as ministers, i.e., as servants (ὑπηρέτης=hupēretēs= hoop-ay-ret’-ace) of Christ, doing the will of their Master; and as dispensers, i.e., as stewards (οἰκονόμος=oikonomos=oy-kon-om’-os) of the mysteries of God, i.e., of the doctrines of faith which the Apostles preached, including, of course, the Sacraments, of which the Apostles were the ministers (cf. 2:7 ff.; 3:5 ff.; Rom 11:25; Eph 1:9; Matt 13:11; Conc. Trid., Sess. XXI., De Commun., cap. 2). The doctrines and Sacraments preached and administered by the Apostles are called “mysteries” because they are beyond human understanding.
1 Cor 4:2 Here now it is required among the dispensers, that a man be found faithful
Since the Apostles are the servants and stewards of Christ, their Master, they must be judged by the norm which governs all servants and stewards, that is, by their faithfulness in the discharge of their duties. If the Apostles are faithful in serving Christ and in dispensing the mysteries of God, it makes little difference what otherwise they may possess or lack, whether their natural gifts may be many and great or few and unimportant.
In the Vulgate inter dispensatores should be in dispensatoribus.
1 Cor 4:3 But to me it is a very small thing to be judged by you, or by man’s day; but neither do I judge my own self.
But as God is the Master whom the Apostles must serve, He alone can judge them. Hence St Paul says it is of small importance to him how he is considered by men, whether he is preferred to another or not, because men ae not able to judge of his fidelity to God.
Man’s day means the judgment of men, as opposed to the judgment of God. That the Apostle is not rejecting the judgment of men out of pride or other unworthy motive is evident from the fact that he says he does not dare to judge himself, so uncertain is he of his precise standing in His Master’s eyes.
1 Cor 4:4 For I am not conscious to myself of anything, yet I am not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me, is the Lord.
Although the testimony of his conscience bears witness to his faithfulness, or at least does not reproach him with fault or neglect, yet so great is human frailty that he would not dare to pronounce himself entirely faithful in the exercise of his ministry. He that judgeth me is the Lord, because only the Lord can read the secrets of man’s heart with infallible certainty and correctness. If, presently, the Apostle proceeds to judge the incestuous man, he does so by divine authority and illumination, which was not enjoyed by those to whom he was writing.
What St Paul says about himself is true of every Christian, because noen aside from a special revelation can be absolutely certain that he is in the grace and friendship of God (f. Conc. Trid., Sess. VI., De Justificatione, cap 16). Of this we can have only moral certainty.
The present text is a refutation of the Protestant doctrine that faith is fiducia, or absolute confidence that one is in the friendship of God (Cornely).
1 Cor 4:5 Therefore judge not 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 from God.
From what has just been said the conclusion follows that the Corinthians ought no more to judge their preachers before the time, i.e., until all things are made known to them, which will be when the Lord comes for the General Judgment, to reveal to the light and knowledge of all the secret deeds, thoughts and desires of every man, good and bad.
Then shall every man have praise, etc. This shows that the Apostle is speaking directly only of the Corinthian teachers, all of whom are good, and each of whom, consequently, will receive from Christ on the day of the General Judgment the praise that is due him. Of course all men on that day will receive from God what they deserve, but all will not be praised.
1 Cor 4:6 But these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollo, for your sakes; that in us you may learn, that one be not puffed up against the other for another, above that which is written.
The Apostle now observes that what he has been saying about Apollo and himself applies equally to all preachers.
These things, i.e., what he has just been telling them regarding the preachers of the Gospel. I have in a figure transferred, etc., i.e., I have by a change of form (μετασχηματίζω = metaschēmatizō = met-askh-ay-mat-id’-zo), i.e., figuratively, applied only to Apollo and myself, for your sakes, i.e., for your benefit, that through us you may learn how to regard all preachers of the Gospel.
That no one be puffed up, etc. The meaning is that no one, or class, of the faithful should be considered better than another on account of any particular leader or teacher. All should learn to practice humility according to “that which is written” in many passages of Holy Scripture. The allusion is doubtless to such passages as 1 Cor 1:19, 31; 3:19-20; or perhaps to what is said in verses 1-2 of the present chapter; or, as some authors think, to a rabbinical proverb. Cornely thinks the reference is to the Old Testament as a whole, where throughout man’s proper relation to God and genuine humility are taught.