Paul has been instructing the congregation about how it should view him and its pastors and how the pastors (elders) of the local church should view the congregation. The pericope in view, here, is transitional. Paul is transitioning from the place of the pastor to the immorality of the local church. Before he begins addressing the specific immorality of the congregation, Paul makes a clarification about the kingdom of God and his own intentions for his admonition in 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 4:14-21
I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 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. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. 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.
Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 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. For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.
What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?
On tutors and fathers (v. 14-17)
I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.
We gain deeper insight into the way Paul considers the Corinthian church. He sees the congregants as his beloved children. Because he sees them as beloved children, he does not desire to shame them. Simply applied, if anyone loves his children, students, or congregants, he does not desire to shame them. Instead, he speaks to them like a good father speaks to his children, in order to build them up—and never to shame them publicly.
If we speak to others or shame them in front of others, we show that our treatment of them is more about our pride than their good—which is why Paul treats the Corinthian church with such care and does not shame them despite their slander toward him. When we care about the good of our children and grandchildren, we speak to them in order to build them up and not shame them. Correcting them generally, figuratively making application to ourselves, and rebuking more specifically in private so they may be built up rather than torn down. Such is the way Paul treats the Corinthian church. Such is the way any sincere pastor treats those under his charge—as his children rather than his students.
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.
Paul sees the believers in Corinth as his children rather than his students. He does not see himself as a mere tutor. Why? If the congregation merely has countless tutors, they would not have many fathers. Today, it seems the church, overall, suffers from having many tutors and few fathers. Such is the one effect of the popularity of streaming worship services, multi-site streaming churches, devotional guides, study bibles, radio programs, etc… There is little personal investment. Pastors see themselves as tutors. Congregants see their pastors as their tutors. So, people hear a message, or many if they make a habit of watching many tutors online, and have no real connections in any way that is accountable to the body of Christ. They hear a message and are forced to fend for themselves in a world full of wolves and false teachers. To return to a question we asked previously, the reason pastors are necessary is because we need more of an investment than tutors can give. It is important for pastors to see themselves as fathers rather than tutors. It is important for congregants to see themselves as children rather than students. It is a matter of being sincerely built up rather than merely soaking in information but not being part of the building Christ is building together or Himself. We are insufficient, like we saw previously, and therefore need to be sincerely invested in the church body and sincerely investment in by the church body. There is one man in my community who refers to me as “Padre.” While I don’t agree with position of the Roman Catholic priest, I appreciate the sentiment. I would rather be like a father than a tutor, which is why I am a pastor-teacher and not merely a teacher. I think we provide more problems than provisions when we consider ourselves to be mere tutors and students rather than fathers and children in the faith.
Paul claims that, in Christ, he became the father of the Corinthian believers through the gospel. Paul became their father. He was not always in such a position. Paul became their father (1) in Christ. Those who invest in us are a different type of father than our biological fathers. Some men are made our fathers in Christ. Christ has made them an example for us in the faith. Some people have biological fathers who are also fathers in Christ. My biological father was not. God provided me fathers in the church who became my fathers in Christ. I, likewise, hope to be a father in Christ to some. Better to have many fathers in Christ than many tutors. Paul became their father (2) through the gospel. Since Paul is mature in the gospel, not according to the ways of the world, and is able to exemplify the gospel in his life and proclamation (consider his graceful treatment of the Corinthian church), the gospel is the means through which Christ made him a father to the Corinthian believers. He was not a father through his age, experience, political views, charisma, church growth plans, or anything other than the gospel. When Christ gives us spiritual fathers, correctly invested pastor-teachers, He does so through the gospel—not their age, experience, political views, charisma, church growth plans, or anything other than the gospel. He does not do so merely by their knowledge of the gospel, as if Christ was interested in providing mere tutors on this earth, but by their exemplification of the gospel they correctly preach. The gospel is a message, words. The gospel is not merely a message; it is efficacious.
Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. 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.
Therefore, because he is a father and not merely a tutor, Paul exhorts the Corinthian believers to imitate him. I hope I live the type of life that others can imitate in order to honor God. I hope I am a good manager of my time and money. I hope I am prudent. I hope I exemplify the grace of the Gospel. I hope I serve others well. I hope that, when slandered, I respond with blessing. I hope that I love my enemies. I hope that I live at peace with everyone as far as it depends on me. I hope that I do not hold others wrongs against them. I hope I show my faith by not complaining. I hope I exemplify what it means to not idolize my work or money. I hope people can imitate me as I try to imitate my fathers in the faith and Christ.
Paul sends Timothy with this letter in order to remind them of Paul’s ways—which are in Christ. Paul teaches his own ways, which are in Christ, everywhere and in every local church. I often hear people use the lordship of Jesus Christ as an excuse to idolatrize their individualism. Christ is Lord, the Pastor is not. Therefore, the pastor is nothing more than a tutor. We listen and glean the information from him, but beyond that, Christ alone! The reformation doctrine Solus Christus, does not mean that we don’t need any people. It does mean that salvation is in Christ alone. If Christ provides us fathers in the faith so we might imitate them in order to be more Christlike, then we dishonor Him if we do not recognize the fathers He provides for such a purpose. Our fathers are not our lords. They are given for our good, and we are sanctified as we imitate them in Christ. When our fathers fail, we continue to follow Christ understanding that God is good and calls imperfect people to be spiritual fathers to others.
For those without good biological fathers, you have fathers in the church. You are blessed if your biological father is also one of your spiritual fathers. Our spiritual fathers are better fathers for us in this world than our mere biological fathers. Such is what Christ has called pastors to be. One does not have to be our pastor to be our spiritual father, as exemplified by both Paul and Timothy according to this pericope.
On the manifestation of the kingdom (v. 18-21)
Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 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.
Paul reveals that some in the congregation have become arrogant, thinking of him as a tutor rather than a father as though he would never come to them. So, it is arrogant to refuse any spiritual example on this earth. It is arrogant to refuse to imitate anyone as a spiritual father. Pastors who have no mentors and, yet, consider themselves the arbiters of knowledge and wisdom are arrogant. Congregants who consider their pastors to be mere tutors rather than fathers and refuse to imitate anyone who is mature in the faith are arrogant according to Paul.
Paul plans on visiting Corinth soon if the Lord wills. He will find out how much influence those who are arrogant actually have. He knows what they are teaching. He knows about the division of the body. He desires to know how much influence belongs to the arrogant, which is causing the division in the body.
For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.
He desires to know the influence of the arrogant because the kingdom of God does not consist in words but power. What does Paul mean by such a statement? First, we ask what kinds of words Paul is referring to. In context, here, he is referring to the words spoken by the teachers. If those teaching are seen as mere tutors, their words have little influence because their hearers are ultimately left to their own devices. The kingdom of God does not consist in mere words. Second, we ask what power Paul is referring to. In context, the type of power to which Paul refers is influence—particularly the influence of a father. If the teachers are influential, Paul wants to know.
We learn something about the nature of God’s kingdom. There are some who treat the kingdom of God as if it is an ethereal kingdom, consisting of words alone. Everything is hypothetical and divorced from reality. Their religion is distinct from their lives, politics, relationships, hobbies, work, and home. Religion is something you do as part of your life. To be the church is to have Christ rule our entire lives and every component thereof. Religion is compartmentalized. Relationship is enveloping. Religion says, “Be good with God.” But, that has little or nothing to do with the rest of life. We go to church in order to learn more about God, to gain information. If this is your church, you can get what you need online, from the radio, and by simply reading books. It is a very shallow, very western, view of the local church. The kingdom of God does not consist of words. The words, the gospel (sound teaching), are efficacious. They cannot be divorced from our lives, politics, relationships, hobbies, work, or home. The gospel is words—good news. The kingdom of God is not the gospel; it results from the gospel. So, the separation of church and state is biblical if we claim that the state has no authority to order the affairs of the church. It is not, however, biblical if we claim that the gospel has no power to shape our political affairs—or any other affairs in our lives. If the gospel is preached, and if we are changed by it, the kingdom of God comes in power and in every arena of our lives. Why? Because the gospel actually and effectively changes people and conforms them to the image of Jesus Christ. What we do as part of the church is the most powerful and effective movement the world has seen and will ever see. 1 Corinthians is a basic ecclesiology. The church, the people of God that comprises both Jew and Gentile believers, is the manifestation of Christ on the earth—the result of continuing incarnation. The power of God is manifest in and through His church. In 1 Corinthians, Paul will reveal the various ways in which the power of God is manifest in and through His church.
What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?
Paul has made his desire known. He desires to admonish and not shame. He desires to come with gentleness. The proverbial ball is in the Corinthians’ court. They can be obstinate children or receive the admonition humbly for their good. We have two options when we hear the admonition of God through the proclamation of Scripture by our spiritual fathers. Will we be obstinate children or receive Scripture’s admonition’s humbly for our good?
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