The Corinthians and Their Apostles: Page 7 of 10 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
and I would to God ye did reign;
Paul is not saying that he wished they already enjoyed carnal security, and lived in the privileged circumstances of worldly riches, since the apostle did not want these things for himself, and his fellow ministers; and he does not mean it in a spiritual sense, merely as believers in the faith they had in common; but he wished they lived with Christ in his kingdom state here on earth.
Many interpreters (such as: Grotius, Whitby, Locke, Rosenmuller, and Doddridge) have understood this clause to include Paul’s expressed desire that they were literal princes, so they could protect him from persecution and troubles which he must constantly face. But the most likely interpretation is that here Paul drops the sarcasm, and addresses them in a serious manner. It is the expression of a wish that they were as truly happy and blessed as they thought themselves to be. "I wish that you were blessed with all spiritual gifts and were as full and as rich as princes, needing nothing, and that when I come to you, I might be able to partake of your joy,” is how it is interpreted by Calvin, Lightfoot, and Bloomfield. It implies:
1. a wish that they were truly happy and blessed.
2. a doubt; whether they were then so happy and blessed.
3. a desire on the part of Paul to partake of their real and true joy, instead of being compelled to come to them with the language of reprimand—“But 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 … What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” (1 Cor 4:19, 21; KJV).
that we also might reign with you.
The first time Christ came it was as a humble child, and the purpose of His coming was “to seek and to save that which was lost.” The next time He comes it will be with great power and glory, and He will put down all rebellion, and He will rule and rein over the entire world. All of the saints will be together when Christ takes to himself his great power, and reigns; they will all reign with him on earth for a thousand years. There is nothing that can be said, that is truer and more certain than this: those that suffer with him will also reign with him; and not just a part of his people only, but the whole body of born-again believers. That will be such a wonderful and exciting time that the apostle wishes, that this reigning period for the church of Christ was already here, then he and the rest of the apostles would also reign: but, regrettably! That long anticipated event is still in the future. We are still waiting along with the apostles, but we are more certain than ever that Jesus will return. Paul may have had the Second Coming in mind when he said; “And I do all things for the gospel's sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof” (1 Cor 9:23; ASV). Do you see how patient the apostle was with these Corinthian believers; He loved them, since he was the spiritual father of many of them. He wanted to see them, and he gives the reason for this earnest desire; “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (1 Thess 2:19; KJV). When Jesus comes they will be the apostle’s hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing. The "hope" here is Paul’s hope that his converts will be found to be in Christ at His advent; “to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thess 3:13; ASV). Paul's chief "hope" was JESUS CHRIST—“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Saviour, and Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Tim 1:1; ASV).
The Corinthians might have reigned, and the apostle with them, if they had not been puffed up with an imaginary self-righteousness that put them on par with royalty. Note, Pride is a great obstacle to our improvement. Anyone who thinks they have risen to the top echelon; full, rich, a king; is stopped from growing wiser or better. In the next verse, Paul describes his own circumstances and those of the other apostles: “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.” Paul and his fellow apostles were exposed to great hardships. Never were any men in this world so hunted and harassed. I believe there is still some sarcasm in his words, and I wish I could hear how he said it. You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us: "My, you Corinthians seem to have it all! Isn't it funny that we apostles have
nothing!" Although Paul is using strong sarcasm, his purpose isn't to make fun of the Corinthians. His purpose is to shake them out of their proud self-willed thinking. "He was laughing at them with holy laughter, and yet with utter contempt for what they had been doing." (Morgan) The Corinthians had already arrived while the apostle was still waiting (v. 5)!
9 For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
Beginning here and continuing through verse 17 Paul’s subject is the humility, patience, and suffering of the apostles.
For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last,
Here the apostle begins the process of setting forth himself and his fellow missionaries in contrast with the conceited, self-satisfied members of the assembly at Corinth. He turns on the Corinthians with a scathing irony. He compares their pride, their self-satisfaction, their feeling of superiority with the life that an apostle lives. He provides us with a vivid picture in the three clauses that make up this verse. The picture here is of a Roman general who has won a great victory. He was allowed to parade his victorious army through the streets of the city with all the trophies that he had won; he was allowed to demonstrate his triumph and achievement; the whole procession was called a Triumph. But at the end there came a little group of captives who were reserved for the last; they were laughed at, ridiculed and pelted with stones. How ridiculous it was for those Corinthians to assume that they can be at ease in Heaven while the apostle is fighting for his life in the arena. You see the apostles were like the captives and the Corinthians were like the triumphant general at the head of his army. The apostles were not called to live a comfortable life and boast of a lordly kingdom, but his lot in life was to offer himself in service to the King, whose disciples are regarded as fools, weak, and disgraceful—“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise” (1 Cor 3:18; KJV)—'Let no one doubt the truth of what I have said about the worthlessness of human wisdom, and of the danger of substituting it for God's wisdom. If he does, he will find himself mistaken.’
as it were appointed to death:
We said that the little group of captives represented the apostles. Here it says they were appointed to death or “doomed to death.” The Holy Spirit uses this phrase because they were men doomed to death. The picture we have envisioned shows that the captives are brought into the arena to fight with the beasts, and of course to die. The Corinthians in their blatant pride were like the conquering general displaying the trophies of his victory; the apostles were like the little group of captives doomed to die. To the Corinthians the Christian life meant flaunting their privileges and crowing about their achievements; to Paul it meant humble service and a readiness to die for Christ. Men, who understand the meaning of the service of discipleship, see it not so much in terms of what they have gained for themselves but of what are theirs to give to others.
For we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
The word rendered “spectacle” is literally “theatre.” While the word is frequently used for a place (a building or an arena), here it is used for the persons exhibited—God’s apostles. They were a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. The picture set forth here corresponds to the multitudes of spectators gathered around the amphitheatres in Rome. They cheered for the beasts as they tore men and women into pieces. I read that sometimes Christians were forced to wear animal skins when they were thrown into the arena to be torn apart by wild animals.
The apostles’ life is marked by privation, rejection and toil, and is molded by the Spirit of Jesus, who is despised and rejected by men. The Christian becomes a spectacle because he is out of place in the world; he is a citizen of heaven and a sojourner or temporary resident of this world. Men may think he is odd, since he does not curse or spread rumors or cheat on his taxes; and he speaks well of every man, reads the Bible and prays. He is a sinner, saved by grace and expecting Jesus to return. Jesus is a Christian’s perfect example and He was hated, ridiculed, and crucified by men; can we expect to be treated better than our Lord?
All young men who feel God’s call to the ministry and all young women who feel God’s call to the mission field should study these verses carefully, ponder them prayerfully, and search deeply into their meaning. Salvation is free—the gift of God; but apostleship is costly and many times calls for much suffering—sometimes to the sealing of a testimony with one’s lifeblood.