1 Corinthians 4:14-21
I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.…
The apostle has used sharp words, but they have been dictated by love. He has written as a father who desires the correction and not the shame of his children.
I. SPIRITUAL FATHERHOOD.
1. How constituted. "For in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel." Conversion is the beginning of a new life, the birth by which we enter on spiritual being. This change is wrought by the agency of the Holy Spirit, on the basis of Christ's redemptive work; the Spirit's instrument is the Word, the incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23); and this Word is administered by servants of the gospel. In a subordinate sense, Paul could speak of himself as the father of the Corinthian Church, inasmuch as he was the means of introducing them to the Christian life. The relationship is a peculiarly tender one, carrying with it much honour and much responsibility.
2. How distinguished. "For though ye should have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers." The teachers who succeeded Paul at Corinth, and of whom they made so much, were like pedagogues who superintended the education of children. Theirs was an important work, but it did not alter the fact that the apostle was their spiritual father. They built on the foundation which he had laid. There is no disparagement of those who minister to the culture of the Christian life, as compared with those who are instrumental in commencing it. The evangelist and the teacher have each his own place in the Divine economy. Yet the relation of spiritual fatherhood is one by itself, different from that subsisting between teacher and scholar. Often the two go together, the pastor being also the father.
3. Implies the duty of admonition. It is the part of a father to "reprove, rebuke, exhort," in all fidelity. Spiritual fathers must not be blind to the faults of their children. Love must patiently instruct, affectionately entreat, sharply chastise. Witness the paternal severity of the apostle in this Epistle as he "admonishes his beloved children."
4. Implies the setting of a worthy example. "Be ye imitators of me." The eyes of the children are towards the lather, and they cannot help copying him. Example is powerful in all spheres, and most of all in a sphere so conspicuous as the Christian ministry. It confirms the truth taught, encourages believers, rebukes the ungodly, draws inquirers to the Saviour. Every servant of Christ should be able to say, "Follow me." Yet our imitation of other Christians, even the most eminent, has its limits. Men are imperfect, reflecting but brokenly the image of Christ; and no wise teacher will desire to see his own peculiar mannerisms reflected in his people. Human example is useful only in so far as it helps us to imitate Jesus.
II. SOLICITUDE FOR THE CHURCH'S SPIRITUAL INSTRUCTION. Like a true father, the absent apostle desires to further the spiritual growth of his converts, and with this view sends to them a personal deputy.
1. The mission. In order to promote their imitation of his humble, self denying life, he sends a messenger to recall to them "his ways in Christ." The remembrance of a good man's life is a help to piety. The memory of some departed saint has often proved a guiding star. And so is the recollection of truth already learned. It is part of the preacher's work to press home old truths and deepen their hold of the heart and conscience.
2. The missionary. There was wisdom in sending a deputy, and in the choice of Timothy for the mission. As the apostle's "beloved and faithful child," he stood in the same spiritual relation to him as did the converts at Corinth. He could speak to them as a brother of their common father's doctrine and life. The visits of wise and faithful servants of Christ are often instrumental in reviving the Church's life.
III. APOSTOLIC VISITATION.
1. Carried out in the face of detraction. Those who sought to undermine Paul's authority asserted that he would not again venture to visit Corinth; but in spite of this he declares his intention of doing so. The servant of Christ needs courage.
2. Subject to Divine direction. "if the Lord will" (comp. James 4:15). Man proposes, but God disposes. All our plans for the future must be subject to his control.
3. To test spiritual profession. The proud boasters at Corinth were great in talk, and Paul wished to show whether there was reality behind it. For power is the chief thing, not mere speech. The kingdom of God, i.e. genuine Christianity, is not an affair of words, but of living power. "Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost" (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Profession must be tested by practice. A religion of the lip is vain without the religion of the life.
4. Proceeds according to circumstances. Whether Paul was to come with a rod or in love depended on themselves, The discipline of the Church takes its complexion from the character of the persons with whom it deals, being severe or tender, as the case requires. A combination of fatherly love and wisdom is required in those who are called to deal with the erring. - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.