The Corinthians and Their Apostles: Page 6 of 10 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
When the apostle declares “Now ye are full,” he is not being sincere, since he knew they were not full of God, and divine things; or of Christ, and His grace; or of the Holy Ghost, and of faith, as Stephen and Barnabas are said to be; or of joy and peace; or of goodness and spiritual knowledge; but they were full of themselves, and they were puffed up in their carnal minds with an overrated opinion of the abilities, learning, oratory, and eloquence, of their ministers, and of their own great progress in spiritual knowledge under their ministry. They fancied themselves as having arrived at a place of perfect knowledge and that they were brim full of it. These people loathed the apostle's ministry, and the pure preaching of the Gospel; imagining that they had arrived at something above it, and consequently thought they didn’t need it; but regrettably they were more like babies, children in their understanding, and they needed to be fed milk instead of strong meat; that is how far they were from being what they thought themselves to be. If only they wanted their inheritance more than what they had on earth, “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4; KJV).
“Now ye are full” is an indignant sarcasm voiced against the false and self-confident teachers in Corinth. The apostle does not talk like this very often, so he must have been very upset with them. He uses sarcasm for the purpose of contrasting them with the apostles; to show how self-confident and vain the false teachers were, and how hard working and selfless the apostles were; and impress upon them how trifling their claim to authority in the church was, and how real the apostles claim was, which they had as a result of their self-denials.and hard work. The whole passage is a case of cutting sarcasm, and it shows that there may be occasions when sarcasm may be acceptable, but it should be rare. The word translated "ye are full," occurs only here, and in Acts 27:38—"And when they had eaten enough." It is usually applied to a feast, and denotes those who are full or satisfied. So here it means, "You think you have enough. You are satisfied with your own knowledge, and do not feel you need anything more than that.”
Now ye are rich,
Paul has just rebuked their glorying over gifts bestowed upon them. Now he uses a burst of irony when he says, “Now ye are rich,” but not in faith; or in good works; or in spiritual gifts and knowledge, although some among them were; but that is not what is intended here: the meaning here is—they imagined or fancied they were rich and full of knowledge. Like the Laodiceans, they considered themselves to be rich and prosperous, when they were poor, and wretched, and miserable. Although they had received from God all the grace they had, they were still dependent and needy, and they boasted as if they had it in themselves all along. The apostles had spiritual gifts, but were poor and persecuted; the Corinthians had these gifts, imparted by God through the ministry of Paul. They were puffed up, and felt, in his absence, that they were full, and had all they needed; were rich in the world’s goods, and so they did not feel the need to have any more.
I am of the opinion that the apostle intends here to make a strong statement, full of irony; and one which, when taken in conjunction with what he had said before, must have stung them to the heart. It is not an unusual thing for many people to forget, if not despise, the men by whom they were brought to the knowledge of the truth; and take up with others to whom, in the things of God, they owe nothing. Friend, could this be your case?
Ye have reigned as kings without us:
“Ye have reigned as kings” is a proverbial expression, denoting the most wonderful and lavish circumstances. The apostle uses it simply to carry forward the idea he just stated; but here it is in the form of a climax. The first metaphor is taken from a person filled with food; the second from those who are so rich that they do not want any more; the third from those who are elevated to
a throne, which is at the highest elevation, and one where there was nothing further to be accomplished or desired. And the phrase means, that they had been totally satisfied with their condition and accomplishment, with their knowledge and power, that they lived like rich men and princes live—doing what they want to do, and carrying on as if they did not have a care in the world.
“Without us” means without our guidance and help. In other words, “You have taken it all on yourselves, without any regard for our advice and authority. You did not think you needed our help; and you had no regard for our authority. You supposed you could get along as well without us, as with us.”
This is like the first two clauses in that it is full of irony, and he uses it to push them to recognize that they have a Christian duty to remain humble; it was a very smart use of irony because it takes them to task for their pride and self-conceit: "You are full, you are rich, you have reigned as kings without us. You have an abundance of spiritual gifts at your disposal; but you have made them objects of pride and boasting, since we are no longer there with you. There is a very well-designed progression from adequacy to wealth, and then to royalty, to indicate how much the Corinthians were elated by the abundance of their wisdom and spiritual gifts, which was an absurdity that prevailed among them while the apostle was away from them, and made them forget what an interest and investment he had in all of them. From where we stand, 2100 years later, it is easy to see how apt pride is to overrate benefits and overlook the benefactor, and to become “puffed up” over possessions and forget from whom they come: "You have reigned as kings,’’ says the apostle, "that is, in your own conceit.”
But, remember this; the saints, in the best sense, are kings, made so by Christ; and they have not only the name, and the symbols of royalty, such as the crowns and thrones prepared for them, but kingdoms also—they have a kingdom of grace, which they enjoy now, and which will never be removed; where they reign as kings under the influence of the Spirit of God, over the corruptions of their own hearts, which are positioned under the restraints of mighty grace; and over the world, which they have under their feet; and over Satan, who is dethroned and cast out of them; and they will inherit the kingdom of glory in the future; but nothing of this kind is intended here. The sense of the words used here is, that these persons imagined that they had arrived to such a pinnacle of knowledge, that they were independent of the apostles. They no longer needed the apostles’ guidance and help, and they had the peace of mind that comes from outward prosperity, and so they lived as kings, and enjoyed a very happy life; upon which the apostle gave his best wishes.
“Ye have reigned as kings without us;” or “ye have seated yourselves upon your throne as kings, without us." The emphasis is on "already" and "without us"; you act as if you no longer needed to "hunger and thirst after righteousness," and as if you have already reached the "kingdom" for which Christians have to strive and suffer. You are so puffed up with your favorite teachers, and your own imagined spiritual accomplishments and knowledge through them, that you feel like those which have eaten until they are full at a feast, or you feel like a "rich" man who takes pride in himself and his riches: so you feel that you can do "without us," who are your first spiritual fathers—“For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you, (1 Cor 4:15; NLT). They forgot that before the "kingdom" and the "fullness of joy," at the marriage feast of the Lamb, must come the cross, and suffering, to every true believer—“Faithful is the saying: For if we died with him, we shall also live with him: if we endure, we shall also reign with him: if we shall deny him, he also will deny us,” (2 Tim 2:11-12; ASV).