Verse 21. "Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love" - Here he alludes to the case of the teacher and father, mentioned in 1 Cor. iv. 15. Shall I come to you with the authority of a teacher, and use the rod of discipline? or shall I come in the tenderness of a father, and entreat you to do what I have authority to enforce? Among the Jews, those who did not amend, after being faithfully admonished, were whipped, either publicly or privately, in the synagogue. If on this they did not amend, they were liable to be stoned. We see, from the cases of Ananias and Sapphira, Elymas the sorcerer, Hymenaeus and Alexander, &c., that the apostles had sometimes the power to inflict the most awful punishments on transgressors. The Corinthians must have known this, and consequently have dreaded a visit from him in his apostolical authority. That there were many irregularities in this Church, which required both the presence and authority of the apostle, we shall see in the subsequent chapters.
1. IN the preceding chapter we find the ministers of God compared to STEWARDS, of whom the strictest fidelity is required. (1.) Fidelity to GOD, in publishing his truth with zeal, defending it with courage, and recommending it with prudence. (2.) Fidelity to CHRIST, whose representatives they are, in honestly and fully recommending his grace and salvation on the ground of his passion and death, and preaching his maxims in all their force and purity. (3.) Fidelity to the CHURCH, in taking heed to keep up a godly discipline, admitting none into it but those who have abandoned their sins; and permitting none to continue in it that do not continue to adorn the doctrine of God their saviour. (4.) Fidelity to their own MINISTRY, walking so as to bring no blame on the Gospel; avoiding the extremes of indolent tenderness on one hand, and austere severity on the other. Considering the flock, not as their flock, but the flock of Jesus Christ; watching, ruling, and feeding it according to the order of their Divine Master.
2. A minister of God should act with great caution: every man, properly speaking, is placed between the secret judgment of God and the public censure of men. He should do nothing rashly, that he may not justly incur the censure of men; and he should do nothing but in the loving fear of God, that he may not incur the censure of his Maker. The man who scarcely ever allows himself to be wrong, is one of whom it may be safely said, he is seldom right. It is possible for a man to mistake his own will for the will of God, and his own obstinacy for inflexible adherence to his duty. With such persons it is dangerous to have any commerce. Reader, pray to God to save thee from an inflated and self-sufficient mind.
3. Zeal for God's truth is essentially necessary for every minister; and prudence is not less so. They should be wisely tempered together, but this is not always the case. Zeal without prudence is like a flambeau in the hands of a blind man; it may enlighten and warm, but it play also destroy the spiritual building. Human prudence should be avoided as well as intemperate zeal; this kind of prudence consists in a man's being careful not to bring himself into trouble, and not to hazard his reputation, credit, interest, or fortune, in the performance of his duty. Evangelical wisdom consists in our suffering and losing all things, rather than be wanting in the discharge of our obligations.
4. From St. Paul's account of himself we find him often suffering the severest hardships in the prosecution of his duty. He had for his patrimony, hunger, thirst, nakedness, stripes, &c.; and wandered about testifying the Gospel of the grace of God, without even a cottage that he could claim as his own. Let those who dwell in their elegant houses, who profess to be apostolic in their order, and evangelic in their doctrines, think of this. In their state of affluence they should have extraordinary degrees of zeal, humility, meekness, and charity, to recommend them to our notice as apostolical men. If God, in the course of his providence, has saved them from an apostle's hardships, let them devote their lives to the service of that Church in which they have their emoluments; and labour incessantly to build it up on its most holy faith. Let them not be masters to govern with rigour and imperiousness; but tender fathers, who feel every member in the Church as their own child, and labour to feed the heavenly family with the mysteries of God, of which they are stewards.
5. And while the people require much of their spiritual pastors, these pastors have equal right to require much of their people. The obligation is not all on one side; those who watch for our souls have a right not only to their own support, but to our reverence and confidence. Those who despise their ecclesiastical rulers, will soon despise the Church of Christ itself, neglect its ordinances, lose sight of its doctrines, and at last neglect their own salvation.