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1 Corinthians 4b

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1 Corinthians 4:14-15… I am not writing these things to shame you, but to correct you as my dear children. 15 For though you may have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, because I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Commentary

            In verses 8-13 Paul spoke harshly and even sarcastically to the church in Corinth. They were acting like children, so Paul spoke to them as such. They were too immature to handle the deeper more meaningful matters related to following Jesus Christ faithfully, so Paul endeavored to grant them a dose of reality. He recognized that their lives were at the opposite end of the spectrum from where it should have been as people who called themselves Christians.

            Now Paul steps back from his tongue-lashing to tell them why he writes as he does. He says, “I am not writing these things to shame you.” Though some folks are content to pull rank on their subordinates for the sake of their own egos, Paul writes in the harsh tone he does out of love and concern. Remember that these people were like teenagers who thought they knew best but in reality were headed for adversity through their arrogant and immature behavior. Because of the divisions that existed within their church they were in danger of incurring the destroying wrath of God because they were destroying God’s temple – the church itself (cf. 3:16-17).

            If Paul didn’t love Christ’s church and the people who made up that church he wouldn’t have bothered writing as he did. But because Christ’s church was of such great importance to him he writes as a wise and loving father to his delinquent children. In doing so he doesn’t wish to shame them but to “correct” them as his children. Just as a father sets guidelines for his children because he loves them, so too does Paul for the church in Corinth. He viewed them as his spiritual children because he was the one who first brought the good news of Jesus Christ to them. When they came to know Christ under his tutelage they became his children. Now he “corrects” them as a good father does to the children he loves. Just as disciplining children is the mark of true love, so too is “correcting” behavior contrary to Christ’s commands.

            In verse 15 Paul mentions that the Corinthians had “ten thousand” guardians in Christ. This is far too literal, for it simply means that they had countless “guardians.” The “guardian” translates a Greek word that typically referred to a slave whose duty it was to escort his master’s child to and from school. When the child became old enough the “guardian” was no longer necessary. The point here is that the Corinthians had many “guardians” or teachers to lead them along, but Paul was their father. Now since no one loves his children more than a father does and no one has their best interests in mind in comparison to their father, Paul appeals to this fact. His unique relationship to them as a father gave him special authority over them in correcting their behavior. In no way is he elevating himself above their guardians (i.e., Apollos & Peter).

Food for Thought

            Who is your spiritual parent? It’s the one who led you to Jesus Christ. There are others who come along and help you grow, but you’ll always have one person whom you can call your spiritual father or mother. Sometimes we outrun these folks in our knowledge and pursuit of holiness, but these people must always hold a special place in our hearts. After all, they led us to Christ. God gave them the privilege of having a part in His overall plan for your life. Thank them today with a note, an Email, and/or a phone call. It would mean a lot to them, and it might even encourage their downtrodden souls. In addition, have you ever thought about becoming someone’s spiritual parent? All it takes is the willingness to share the message of the cross of Christ to a lost unbeliever. They might reject you, but then again, they might not!

1 Corinthians 4:16-17… I encourage you, then, be imitators of me. 17 For this reason, I have sent Timothy to you, who is my dear and faithful son in the Lord. He will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.

Commentary

            It’s interesting to note that in verse 16 Paul admonishes the Corinthians to act like him and makes no mention of Jesus Christ. However, his action lifestyle as an apostle was a reflection of Christ. His urgings to “imitate” him must have vv. 10-13 in mind. Instead of being pompous about their worldly knowledge and material wealth Paul wanted them to imitate his life as he sacrificed all that the world had to offer for his Savior. He was hungry, thirsty, treated poorly, homeless, reviled, persecuted, slandered, and hard-working. In all of this he and his fellow apostles were “fools for Christ’s sake.” The Corinthians weren’t any of these things, and Paul, in order to change their attitudes, strongly encourages them to “imitate” him, for his life as a follower of Christ was a microcosm of Christ’s life on the earth. Of course this flies in the face of the prosperity theology taught on television today which promises material wealth to those who truly follow Christ and have true faith in Him. Not so with Paul!

            What Paul unequivocally believes throughout his New Testament letters is that the Christian life simply cannot be lived apart from right theology. He, just like all writers of scripture, demanded that actions follow confessions of Christ. He went to great lengths to lay out orthodox teaching straight from the mouth of God, but he didn’t stop there. Equally, he didn’t expect proper Christian behavior without appropriate theology attached to it. Imitating Paul means knowing Christ through His Word and having appropriate behavior to support it.

            Verse 17 mentions “Timothy.” This young man was a convert to Christ that Paul met on his second missionary journey (Acts 16). He was one of Paul’s companions, and he later received pastoral instructions from him in the books of 1 & 2 Timothy. He, like the Corinthians, came to know Christ under Paul’s preaching, so Paul calls him “my dear and faithful son in the Lord” (cf. 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2). So, as Paul stays with the family analogy, he sent his trusted son in Christ, Timothy, to his immature children in Christ, the Corinthians. Timothy was likely well-known to the Corinthians for he was with Paul during his first visit to Corinth (cf. Acts 18). Timothy’s job was to remind them of Paul’s ways in Christ. In other words, Timothy was to go to Corinth and teach his wayward brothers and sisters in Christ how to behave accordingly. His model was the Apostle Paul whose model was Jesus Christ Himself. Since they knew Paul personally, he was their Jesus, as it were, and Timothy was to remind them of Paul’s ways.

Food for Thought

            The Apostle Paul wasn’t content to just “save people” and then leave them to their own devices. Some folks are content just to preach the message of Christ and move on, but the greatest missionary and evangelist who ever lived didn’t work that way. As we seek to be good evangelists we must “imitate” him. In bringing people to Christ he truly cared about their subsequent walk with Christ. His impassioned letter to the Corinthians attests to that.

Right theology promotes proper Christian behavior, so our churches must be biblically based so that Christian behavior is more than skin deep. Christianity today is a hollow shell of what the Bible teaches it must look like. Far too often those who evangelize (bless them!) have little to offer by way of right theology. If the message of Christ crucified was all Paul cared about, with no behavioral ramifications for those who adhered to it, then none of his letters would have been written. The message is Christ crucified, and we must promote right behavior.

1 Corinthians 4:18-21… Some have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord is willing, and I will find out not only the talk of these arrogant people, but also their power. 20 For the kingdom of God is demonstrated not in idle talk but with power. 21 What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline or with love and a spirit of gentleness?

Commentary

            There is no doubt that in first-century Corinth there was division, behavior unbecoming of Christians, and a growing disdain for their founding pastor – the Apostle Paul. There is also little doubt that the uprising against Paul was likely coming from a select few who were influencing the entire congregation. Their influence had obviously moved beyond Paul into bad theology, which in turn was affecting their Christian life. Those who were convinced of their own knowledge and wisdom above that of the apostle were “puffed up” in their arrogance and apparently had no fear of Paul’s coming as verse 18 indicates. This is what happens to many when they feel they’ve come into their own; their self-confidence blinds them to the truth.

            In verse 19 Paul reiterates his firm intention to return to Corinth “soon,” but he qualifies it with “if the Lord is willing.” Paul certainly intended to come, though his immediacy isn’t the issue here. Paul wanted to travel back to Corinth not to defend himself but the pure unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ – the very foundation he laid in Corinth. The purpose of his coming back to the church there was to test the words of these arrogant boasters and to put their ideas to shame. He was going to test their “power” (Greek dunamis from whence we get “dynamite”). As all arrogant people do, they were boasting, and their prideful boasts were an affront to him and the church of God. His return to them would determine whether their words were backed with the power (dunamis) of God or if they were simply worldly. They claimed to have the Spirit of God, but they would need evidence to back this claim – evidence that would show Christian growth and holy behavior. Paul apparently had no fear of the confrontation, for he himself was bringing the apostolic power, not only of the office he held, but the true power of the Holy Spirit.

            Verse 20 reveals Paul’s confidence, not in himself, but in the power of God. He speaks of the “kingdom of God” in the present tense proving that he himself believed God’s kingdom was not only present but also coming – it was now and not yet. The kingdom he speaks of is one of power based upon the doctrine of Christ crucified – a weak doctrine to the world at large but the power of God unto salvation for those who believe. Paul challenges his opponents not on their grounds but on his own. In other words, he’s not going to tear their worldly philosophies apart, rather, he’s going to give them the truth, and real truth is backed by power, not words.

            Verse 21 pictures the apostle just like a father. He says, “Look, I can either come home and crack skulls, as it were, or I can come with a spirit of gentleness. It’s up to you!”

Food for Thought

In Matt. 24:42-51 Jesus tells his servants to be ready at all times for his imminent return. They were instructed not to become slack in their service and obedience to him, namely, because he was coming back at a time unknown to them. That will be the time when the “kingdom of God is demonstrated not in idle talk but with power.” For those who have become arrogant and slack in their allegiance to God through Jesus Christ, Christ will come with a “rod of discipline.” Conversely, for those who eagerly await his coming (cf. 1:7), he will come “with love and a spirit of gentleness.” The words of Paul to the church are words for all churches to live by. We can either await the Lord’s coming with eager expectation or great fear. But he is coming!

Spiritual Fathers and their Distinguishing Characteristics…

  1. He admonishes (4:14a)
    • “to put in mind” with the purpose of warning or reproving
    • It presupposes that something is wrong, and it seeks to correct
    • Its purpose is to bring about change in belief, attitude, habit, etc.
    • Example of Eli who didn’t admonish his children
  2. He loves (4:14b)
    • Once called them brothers but now “children” (more intimate)
    • “beloved” comes from agapao which has the purpose of unconditional service
    • Spiritual children are not born mature any more so than physical children
    • Spiritual love is intense – it worries because it cares
  3. He begets (4:15)
    • Paul referred to the Galatians as his children (4:19)
    • Referred to Timothy as his child (1:2)
    • Referred to Titus as his child (1:4)
    • Referred to Onesimus as his child (Philemon 10)
    • He did not have the power of procreation but through Christ he became such
    • All of us should become spiritual parents at some point
    • God uses human agents to “beget” (Matt. 9:38; Acts 1:8)
  4. He sets an example (4:16-17a)
    • Having godly children is required of an elder
    • Discipling is more than teaching principles; it’s living them
    • Timothy was so much like Paul he was sent as Paul’s model
    • We must be able to send others in our place and do the job right
  5. He teaches (4:17b)
    • Sound true doctrine found in scripture is the food that feeds the soul
    • Timothy taught what Paul taught
  6. He disciplines (4:18-21)
    • Undisciplined children belong to parents who don’t care deeply about his welfare
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