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1 Corinthians 4:18–19

“Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power.”

Noted eighteenth-century philosopher Edmund Burke uttered one of the most frequently quoted phrases in the English-speaking world. He said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Human experience bears out the truth of this saying. So many evil people have come to power and so many evil things have been done in history when those who knew what was right and had the power to thwart wickedness have refused to act.

Something like this seemed to have happened in the period of time that Paul was away from Corinth. The Apostle in today’s passage says that “some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you” (1 Cor. 4:18). Plainly, he refers to his opponents in the Corinthian church, who were questioning or even denying his Apostolic authority, as we have seen in our study of 1 Corinthians 4. By the time Paul wrote the letter, they had been able to convince some of the Christians there to look askance on Paul’s ministry even though many of them had been converted through his efforts (see Acts 18:1–11). There were at least some believers in Corinth, however, who knew better, who understood that Paul was their father in the faith (see 1 Cor. 4:14–17) and that they had no cause to doubt him. But they did nothing, and so wrong evaluations of Paul had become common.

John Calvin comments on today’s passage and the ability of Paul’s opponents to turn many against the Apostle: “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.” While Paul’s opponents may not have been full-fledged false teachers, the broader point still stands. Those who would promote error in the church or try to tear down good elders, teachers, and ministers do not frequently attack the good head-on. When attentive church leaders and laity are present, they prefer to go elsewhere, where they may find easier targets. But when faithful, orthodox leaders and laity are not paying attention and lack the courage to do what is right, many problems can ensue.

Paul warns his opponents that he will be coming soon to see if they really had the power they claimed (1 Cor. 4:19). They had been speaking ill of Paul because of his apparently weak ministry, presuming that they had spiritual power. Paul’s visit would prove that claim false.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

When we are in a position to stop evil, we must do so, even if it is costly. The church and others often suffer much because people who know better refuse to do anything to stop gossip and worse sins. Let us not take part in such evil, and let us ask the Lord to give us the courage to stop wrongdoing when we have the ability to do so.

For Further Study
  • 2 Samuel 13
  • Galatians 2:4–5
  • James 4:17
  • 2 Peter 2:21

Imitators of Paul

What God’s Kingdom Consists of

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From the February 2021 Issue
Feb 2021 Issue