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1 Corinthians 4:14-21; The Relation of Fathers to Children

09/01 1 Corinthians 4:14-21 The Relation of Fathers to Children; Audio available at:

1Cor 4 [SBLGNT]

14 Οὐκ ἐντρέπων ὑμᾶς γράφω ταῦτα, ἀλλ’ ὡς τέκνα μου ἀγαπητὰ νουθετῶν· 15 ἐὰν γὰρ μυρίους παιδαγωγοὺς ἔχητε ἐν Χριστῷ, ἀλλ’ οὐ πολλοὺς πατέρας, ἐν γὰρ Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐγὼ ὑμᾶς ἐγέννησα. 16 παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς, μιμηταί μου γίνεσθε. 17 διὰ τοῦτο ἔπεμψα ὑμῖν Τιμόθεον, ὅς ἐστίν μου τέκνον ἀγαπητὸν καὶ πιστὸν ἐν κυρίῳ, ὃς ὑμᾶς ἀναμνήσει τὰς ὁδούς μου τὰς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, καθὼς πανταχοῦ ἐν πάσῃ ἐκκλησίᾳ διδάσκω. 18 ὡς μὴ ἐρχομένου δέ μου πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἐφυσιώθησάν τινες· 19 ἐλεύσομαι δὲ ταχέως πρὸς ὑμᾶς, ἐὰν ὁ κύριος θελήσῃ, καὶ γνώσομαι οὐ τὸν λόγον τῶν πεφυσιωμένων ἀλλὰ τὴν δύναμιν, 20 οὐ γὰρ ἐν λόγῳ ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλ’ ἐν δυνάμει. 21 τί θέλετε; ἐν ῥάβδῳ ἔλθω πρὸς ὑμᾶς, ἢ ἐν ἀγάπῃ πνεύματί τε πραΰτητος;

1Cor 4 [ESV2011]

6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. 18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

The Corinthian believers are proud, puffed up, arrogant. They really think they are something. They are full of themselves. They are boasting. Their pride has manifested itself in divisions, quarreling, jealousy, and strife. Paul will not tolerate this in the church. So he uses harsh words, biting sarcasm, to take them down a few notches. Then he softens his tone and makes a fatherly appeal. And here we find yet another metaphor describing and defining the relationship between Christian leaders and those they are called to lead. So far, he has used the metaphor of a field-hand, planting and watering seed; of an architect, building on a firm foundation; of an under-rower, rowing alongside other servants below deck; of a custodian, entrusted with the care and proper distribution of a great treasure. Here, in verse 14-21, he adds the powerful metaphor of a father to his beloved children.

1 Corinthians 4:14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Not to Shame

Paul is clarifying why he is writing the way he is writing. His sharp sarcasm was not meant to shame. He was admonishing, gently reproving, correcting. His goal was not to berate, shame or humiliate. We might take this passage and think that it would never be appropriate to shame someone, but if we think that, we need to read more widely. When Paul is dealing with the issue of believers taking other believers to court in chapter 6, he says:

1 Corinthians 6:5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers,

When addressing their questions about the resurrection in chapter 15, he says:

1 Corinthians 15:34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

So there are times when the apostle does intend to shame his readers on serious issues. But here, although what he has said could be perceived as shaming, he is intending to correct without shame.

My Beloved Children

He addresses them as ‘my beloved children’. So far in this letter, he has addressed his readers as the church, as saints, those set apart, and six times as brothers. We might perceive it as an insult to be called children, but that is not the idea here. ‘Brothers’ is a strong family relationship term. My beloved children is even stronger and more intimate. This is the closest of biological relationships, it involves dependence and responsibility, as well as tender affection.

I Begat You

Paul claims a unique relationship to the Corinthians, and he contrasts it to their relationship with other teachers and leaders. The term he uses is ‘pedagogue’ a servant hired to make sure that the child made it to school and behaved properly. You might have a million babysitters, but you only have one dad.

‘I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.’ Paul says that he begat or sired them, he was responsible for their conception and new life. But Paul is careful to give credit where credit is due. He conditions his statement with two qualifiers, in and through. It was ‘in Christ Jesus’ that he fathered them, and ‘through the gospel’. Paul himself was in Christ Jesus, and Jesus was in him, living through him when he became their father, so the real credit goes not to the one who plants the seed, but to God who gives the growth. He fathered them in Christ Jesus, and through the gospel. This was no original message that Paul came up with. This is the message he was entrusted with and commanded to proclaim. This is the good news that he defines early in this letter as ‘the word of the cross’ and ‘Christ crucified’. Paul became their father through the gospel, because as he sowed gospel seed in their hearts, it took root and began to grow. Any other seed would lack this transformational power. Charles Hodge sees three causes or agencies in this spiritual generation. Think of a defibrillator. There is the electric current that is the effective cause, the paddles are the instrument, and the administrative agent is the person who applies the paddles to the patient. Hodge says:

There are three agencies in the conversion of men. The efficiency is in Christ by his Spirit; the administrative agency is in preachers; the instrumental in the word. What God has joined together, let not man put asunder. We cannot do without the first and the third, and ought not to attempt to do without the second. For though multitudes are converted by the Spirit through the word, without any ministerial intervention, just as grain springs up here and there without a husbandman, yet it is the ordinance of God that the harvest of souls should be gathered by workmen appointed for that purpose.” (C.Hodge, on 4:15)

Paul was the one who brought the gospel to the city of Corinth. In Christ, through the gospel, he begat them to spiritual life.

So Imitate Me

He says in verse 16 ‘therefore’ or ‘then’, because of this, as a result of this. Because it is true that in Christ, through the gospel I begat you, I now urge you to imitate me. Because you are my spiritual children and not another’s, you should look like your father and act like your father. You have shared DNA, character traits have been passed on. There should be a resemblance between father and son. In the ancient world there was even more of a connection between father and son. If your father was a watchmaker or a carpenter or a fisherman, you would imitate him and apprentice under him, learning his skills and methods, his style and character. You would follow him, becoming like him, and eventually replacing him. Paul says that because I am your father in Christ, you should be imitating me.

What does he mean by imitating him? What should that look like? I think he has done a good job of spelling that out in his sarcastic tirade. He has described himself as slandered, persecuted, reviled, exhausted, homeless, beaten, naked, hungry, thirsty, dishonored, weak, on exhibit as scum and refuse, condemned to die, fools for Christ. This is what it looked like to imitate Paul, not always to suffer in the same ways he suffered, but to place an absolute priority on the gospel, no matter what it cost. It was the polar opposite of pride and selfish ambition. It was his aim that Christ be magnified in his body, that he would please him, whether by life or by death (Phil.1:20; 2Cor.5:9)). Paul was a man under authority, a servant of the Master, a subject of the King. He was a follower of Jesus, and Jesus was “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is.53:3).

The Example of a Faithful Follower

1 Corinthians 4:17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.

Paul tells the Corinthians (and us) to imitate him, and then he explains ‘that is why I sent you Timothy’. At first glance, this doesn’t seem to make sense. I want you to imitate me; that is why I sent Timothy to you. He can say this because Paul had discipled Timothy. Paul encourages Timothy in disciple making in 2 Timothy:

2 Timothy 2:1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Paul was so accurately reproduced in the life of Timothy that to be in the presence of Timothy was to be reminded of Paul’s ways in Christ. Paul was sending a letter. But he was also sending a person. It is not enough just to have correct doctrine. That is essential. But it is equally essential to know what to do with that doctrine. It is essential to be able to live out the implications of the gospel. And that is where the Corinthians went wrong. They were living below what they knew. They had the gospel, they understood the gospel, they believed the gospel, but they weren’t living in light of the gospel. They needed to be reminded of Paul’s ways. How he lived was radically altered because of what he believed. What he was willing to risk and sacrifice and suffer was profoundly impacted by the surpassing worth of the gospel. As we read our bibles, we may be amazed to see how much is biographical and not doctrinal. The bible is filled with stories of people. We learn what the gospel looks like when we see it in the lives of people. We see what it should not look like when we see failures and shortcomings and negative examples. Paul tells the Philippians:

Philippians 4:9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Paul sends Timothy because he knows the Corinthians need to see it.

Paul calls Timothy his beloved and faithful child in the Lord. He had just referred to the Corinthians as his beloved children. But apparently faithfulness was missing. He just said a the beginning of this chapter:

1 Corinthians 4:2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

In the introduction of the letter he thanks God for many things about the Corinthians, but not for their faithfulness. But he highlights the fact that God is faithful. Timothy is faithful. So he sends faithful Timothy to remind them of his ways in Christ.

The Corinthians prided themselves on their uniqueness and individuality. Paul brings them back to consistency and sameness. In the introduction to this letter, he highlighted their unity with every other believer.

1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Here he holds up his ways in Christ, which are what he teaches everywhere in every church. In other words, if you refuse to follow the ways of Paul, then you would cease to qualify as a legitimate church. There is consistency among the followers of Jesus. Not uniformity, but consistency. You don’t have to be a tent-maker to follow Paul. You may be a policeman or a garbage man or a stay at home mom, but your lifestyle, how you spend your time and your money and what you love should demonstrate that you are a follower of Jesus and that the cross is central to your way of thinking. Our ways should be in Christ, and they should make us distinguishable from the rest of the world.

Puffed Up

Now he speaks directly to his opponents in Corinth.

1 Corinthians 4:18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.

Pride was a problem in Corinth, as it is in us today. We tend to be puffed up, inflated, thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. We think our ways are best and our opinions are right. Apparently there were some of these people in Corinth. They understood Paul’s ways, and despised them. They thought they had figured out better ways. They thought Paul had abandoned this church, and they could talk as if he were out of the picture. This comes back to Paul’s avoidance of words of eloquent wisdom, which could empty the cross of power. These people were puffed up and they talked a big talk. Anybody can talk. Paul says, I am coming, and don’t want to hear talk, I want to see power. I want to see the power of the gospel at work transforming rebels into worshipers, opening blind eyes, setting captives free, conquering sin in the lives of believers, destroying wicked desires and creating new godly desires. I want to see a demonstration of the Spirit at work. The kingdom of God, the rule of God, God ruling and reigning over his people is God’s awesome power unleashed in the lives of his followers. Jesus said ‘I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ (Mt.16:18).

Of course, as a servant under God’s reign, Paul subjects his own plans and desires to the omnipotent will of God. His plan is to come soon, but he will come only if the Lord wills. Paul himself was not free to make his own plans and go where he wanted to go when he wanted to go there. He did make plans, and he did go where he thought was best, but he was always aware that God was able at any moment to sovereignly override his plans.

Fatherly Discipline

Paul concludes this section with a fatherly question.

1 Corinthians 4:21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

The Corinthians are Paul’s beloved children in the Lord. He cares deeply for them. His heart is not to shame but to correct. He has brought them back to the simple truth of the gospel. He has reasoned with them, he has used persuasive rhetoric, even sharp sarcasm. But as a good father, he was not afraid to exercise his authority in a painful way. The author of Hebrews asks:

Hebrews 12:5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

‘What son is there whom his father does not discipline?’ This is a rhetorical question, and the answer is supposed to be ‘there is none!’. Unfortunately this is not true in our day. Proverbs says:

Proverbs 13:24 Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

As a good parent, Paul is offering them a choice. They can submit to his authority and enjoy his presence in love and a spirit of gentleness, (which is what every good parent would prefer) or they can continue to be puffed up and go their own way, and they will get a spanking and it will be painful. If the character and conduct of the child is not in line with the character and conduct of the father, then discipline should be used to train up the child in the way that they should go. Paul demonstrates that this is also the case in good Christian leadership. It is the responsibility of the leadership of the church to oversee that conduct and character of the church is shaped by the cross. Hebrews says:

Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

When conduct and character is out of step with the gospel, it is their responsibility to gently admonish, and when necessary, to firmly discipline.

We are all to become faithful children, imitating Jesus, walking in the gospel, shaping our lives around the cross. And we all are to become spiritual fathers, making disciples, inviting them to imitate us as we imitate our Lord Jesus.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

September 1, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment