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True Spiritual Fatherhood

1/7/07 CC/AM

1 Corinthians 4:14-21

Introduction: A question for all those who are parents this morning: What is your favorite thing about being a parent?  What is your least favorite thing about being a parent?  Parenting has both its own sets of pros and cons.  Now I could have asked those that are grandparents what their favorite things is but we already know that. It is being able to send the grandchildren home to their parents when it is time!

This morning our text speaks of the spiritual fatherhood of Paul.  He addresses these believers as his children and takes on perhaps the role that is one of our least favorite things about parenting, the disciplining of disobedient children.

My desire is that as we study this passage that we will be better equipped as spiritual parents in the lives of others.


1.   He warns because he loves v.14

a. Look both ways before you cross the road, chose your friends wisely, don’t stay out to late!  When you leave the house you could probably recite all the warning you are going to hear!

b. A loving parent warns their child when there is impending danger. We would not think much of a parent who not warn their own child in a potentially dangerous situation.

c. Sometimes parents embarrass their children by scolding them in front of others. Paul’s motivation in giving this warning was that he loved these (children).  He states that he did not desire to shame or scold them making them feel rotten.  He in fact wanted them to experience God’s best for them so as a good father he tried to straighten them out.

d. One of the challenges of parenting is to know when to make your children toe the line, and when to give them some room, even when they are making mistakes and we know it.  Paul warns them because in this case the consequences that they will face are too severe to allow them to continue in the errors of their way.

e. Sometimes spiritual parents must give warnings.  There are a lot of harmful people and things in this world.  A true spiritual parent will warn those that they have a responsibility for to beware and to adjust their behavior when needed.

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 (NASB95) just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

f. There is a story in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 2-4) of a high priest, Eli, who had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. His sons were also priests, but they were wicked. Eli either did not want to know or turned a blind eye to their behavior. He did not warn them or restrain them, something he could have done as their father and as the high priest of God. As a result of his inaction, all their lives ended tragically. He is an example of how a spiritual father should not act. True love does not ignore sin, it confronts it with a desire to bring the sinner back to God.

2.   He reproduces spiritual life v.15


a.    What makes a person a spiritual parent is that he or she introduces others to the Lord Jesus Christ through the message of the gospel and they receive Him as their savior.

b.   Paul led these people to Christ, which is his claim to their spiritual fatherhood.

c.     There is a special relationship between a spiritual father and his children.  Paul states that they might have ten thousand other people that have spiritual impact in their lives but they only have one person that they can identify as their spiritual father, him.

d.   With that position comes responsibility.

e.    When we become parents we instantly acquire a new level of responsibility.  It is our task to nurture and care for those that are our children.  Some adults don’t do too well with that responsibility.  It is just too much work and they are too self-centered.

f.     Paul was claiming his special interest in the Corinthians because of the role he played in bringing them to the Lord.  There might be many others that played a part in their spiritual development, but he saw the responsibility as falling squarely on his shoulders.  He recognized both his right and responsibility to carry out the role of a loving father.

g.    Perhaps it would have been much easier to just write them off as a failure and move on with his other projects but Paul was determined to help them even if it hurt, as often parenting does.

h.   Do you have any spiritual children?  Do you know how they are doing?  Are they mature enough to be out there on their own? Is there some care that you are responsible to give?

3.   He is to be emulated v. 16


a.    Because of the special position that Paul possesses as their spiritual father he makes an all important plea to them.  He pleads, invites, and encourages them to be just like him.

b.   Understand that he is not simply stuck on himself as being something special. He makes it clear in other places that he was nothing and that Christ was everything.  He is simply saying to do what he was attempting to do , to be like Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:1 (NASB95) Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

Ephesians 5:1 (NASB95) Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children;

1 Thessalonians 1:6 (NASB95) You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit,

1 Thessalonians 2:14 (NASB95) For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews,

c.    Children naturally mimic their parents.  That is one of the scary things about being a parent.

d.   Paul calls the Corinthians to do the same thing, follow their spiritual parents.

e.    Would it be a good thing if the people that looked up to us imitated us?

4.   He walks like he talks v. 17


a.    Sometimes parents say to their children, “do what I say, not what I do”.  For obvious reasons that doesn’t work very well.  Whenever there is a double standard people are quick to pick up on it.

b.   Paul states that he is sending Timothy because he is unable to come himself, and that he was going to remind them of Paul’s way of living.

1 Corinthians 4:17 (NIV) For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

c.    The way that this spiritual father lived was the same way that he preached.  Sometimes we might say “practice what you preach”, Paul did!

d.   Now, none of us are perfect.  We have all made mistakes and will continue to make some from time to time, but spiritual parents should be consistent in the way they live and the way that the Bible says that they should live.

e.    How consistent are you?  Are you a different person on Sunday when you get all dressed up and come to church?  We need to understand that worship is a 24/7 ordeal.  God is pleased when we respond as His children out in the real world as much or more than when we sing praises to Him in a church service.

f.     We need some help in this area because to one degree or another, at some times more than others, we all struggle with inconsistencies.

g.    The answer, be real and be an imitator of Jesus Christ.

5.   He deals with the disobedient vv. 18-21


a.    Sometimes fathers have to get tough with their disobedient children.  Dads don’t like to come home to deal with the hassles that his children are experiencing but in real life it happens.

b.   Disobedient children need the attention of a father who cares enough to discipline them. Every once in a while children need an attitude adjustment.  A father who walks the talk is just the one to take care of such a task.

c.    Do you remember the first time that you got arrogant with your father?  You might have thought that it was time to flex your muscles a bit and find out who was in charge?  In most cases, our earthly fathers were more than up to the task to knock us down a peg or two.  Some of the smarter boys were never foolish enough to “push it”.

d.   Paul says that some of them were acting in arrogance and paid no attention to what Paul was saying.  He made it clear that He would check it out and that it would be their choice.  Did they want him to come back and find them living in obedience so he could embrace them in love, or did they want him to come and have him beat it out of them?

e.    As a human father and even a spiritual father it is sometimes necessary to take a tough love position with our children.  That is really a difficult call to make, but sometimes there is no other way.  A spiritual father is willing to get tough when the situation demands it for the good of the child.

Conclusion: Are you a spiritual father or mother to anyone?  Are you someone who is to be imitated? Is your walk and your talk the same?  Is it time to check up on your children or should someone be checking up on you?  Paul is about to get right to the heart of a very bad problem in the church at Corinth.  He is giving them every opportunity to straighten things out.  How do we respond when we find out the way that we are living is not in concert with the way God desires?  Hopefully we do not become arrogant.  It is a good thing if we are receptive to God’s instructions.  He wants to deal with us lovingly too!

1 Corinthians 4:14-21 (NASB95)
14 I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.
15 For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.
16 Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.
17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.
18 Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you.
19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power.
20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.
21 What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?

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