WARNINGS FROM A SPIRITUAL FATHER
1 CORINTHIANS 4:14-21
Many years ago when our daughter was still a child, our family went out to a restaurant with my parents. The waiter came to our table and we began to order our food. When he came to our 11-year-old daughter, I suggested that she order a hamburger or some equally Americanized dish. I was immediately overruled by her grandmother who insisted, "Let her order whatever she wants." I warned her that my daughter was very selective as to the kinds of foods that she ate and that she might not find Mexican food to her taste. Finally, I gave in and Sky, my daughter, ordered something with a Spanish name affixed to it. To this day, I donít really know what it was.
When the meal was served, Sky bravely took a single bite of her dinner. Thatís all it took. Her face froze in an instant of embarrassed agony, but she bravely swallowed and then said in a small voice, "I donít think Iím all that hungry." To make a short story even shorter, we ended up ordering a hamburger for Sky.
As we come to this section of the epistle to the Corinthians, we see another father who is warning his children. The father is Paul and his children are those whom he has brought to know the Lord.
Up to this point, he has been very hard on them. He is about to get even harder. But this does not mean that he does not love them. To the contrary, this warning is a mark of his love. He says to them, "You Corinthians are about to bite into something and you arenít going to like the taste of it."
A FATHERíS ADMONITION
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 I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me. (1 Corinthians 4:14-16).
Over the last four chapters, Paul has spanking the Corinthians. If you had a father that was anything like my father, then you know what it means to be spanked. When I was a boy, my father seemed to have a theory that intelligence could be magnified by an increased flow of blood to the brain through the stimulation of the gluteus maximus. He used this theory as a working hypothesis and applied its mechanics on a regular basis.
I donít know that my father enjoyed applying his theory. He certainly seemed to give it his all and, in my young mind, I imagined that he took a fiendish delight in meting out my punishment. The Corinthians may have begun to feel the same way. Because of this, Paul pauses from their verbal whipping to let them know that this is taking place for their best.
Paul derives no pleasure in saying these things about the Corinthians. He did not rub his hands and murmur to himself, "Wait till I get my hands upon them." Neither was he seeking to shame them. Certainly, the things that he said to them were bound to bring shame, but this was not his purpose. Instead, his purpose is to admonish them as his beloved children. His purpose is to warn them that they are getting themselves into trouble.
There is a lesson here for us. There are a lot of commandments and exhortations given to us by God. It is important to realize that they are given to us for our own good. God is not some Cosmic Killjoy who is out to stop His people from having fun. He simply wants to protect His people from hurt. He wants our best and He tells us exactly how to achieve it.
Sometimes we donít understand this. We are like the child who cannot understand why he shouldnít play with matches or ride his bicycle in the street. We think that it is merely to stop us from having a good time. Sometimes we have to be spanked. This is what Paul is doing to the Corinthians. He is spanking them.
The reason Paul has the right to spank the Corinthians is because he is their spiritual father.
I donít spank the kid who lives down the street. Goodness knows, he often deserves it. There are times when he needs a good spanking. But I have never done it. I donít have any right to spank that child because he is not my child. Only his own parents have the right to spank him.
The same is true on the spiritual level. There are churches within my community where terrible things are going on. There are pastors who are wrapped up in false teachings. There are members who have fallen into sin. There are Christians who are stabbing one another in the back. But I have not done anything about this. I do not have the right to go into those churches and to pass judgment upon them because I am not their spiritual father.
Do you see what Paul is saying? He says that he can talk to the Corinthians in this manner because he is their spiritual father. He brought them to know the Lord and he changed their spiritual diapers. He has earned the right to talk to them this way.
Because Paul was their spiritual father, he can say, "You ought to take on the family resemblance of your spiritual father."
I have heard preachers say, "Live as I say, not as I do. Donít follow me, follow Jesus." But that is not the Biblical pattern of leadership. That is what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing.
Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples,
The scribes and the Pharisees had all of their doctrines in order. They believed in the supernatural and they knew their Biblical prophecy and they could quote the law and they could cross their tauís and dot their iotaís when it came to doctrine. There was only one problem. They did not have a lifestyle to match.
Paul says that if you are going to imitate him, then you will not go wrong. How can he say this? Isnít this a case of open conceit? Not at all. Paul could say this because he was an imitator of Jesus Christ. To follow Paul was to follow one who was following Christ.
That doesnít mean that Paul wanted people to put him up on a pedestal and worship him. What it does mean is that Paulís life was an example of how a Christian ought to live.
Can you say that? Can you tell people, "If you live the way I live, then you will be living a victorious Christian life"? If you canít say that, then something is wrong in your life that needs to be fixed.
At this point, you might be tempted to retort, "But we cannot all be like Paul. Nobody could live up to that kind of standard!" You would be wrong. Paul decides to send to the Corinthians a man who has done exactly that. He is a disciple of Paulís. He is a man who has imitated Paul. His name is Timothy.
A FATHERíS EXAMPLE
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. (1 Corinthians 4:17).
Paul sends Timothy to Corinth to be a living example of what the Corinthian believer ought to be. Notice that Paul does not say that Timothy will become the pastor of the Corinthian church. He is not appointed to the status of overseer or elder. We are not even told that Timothy will hold a series of Bible studies.
Timothy is to do one thing. He is to be a reminder. He is to be an example in his life of how the Corinthians ought to live. When they look at Timothy and the way he lives, they will be reminded of Paul and the way he lived when he was among them. Neither are Paulís ways an end to themselves, for they in turn are "in Christ."
The example of Timothy reflects...
Paul whose example reflects
A FATHERíS REPROOF
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? (1 Corinthians 4:14-21).
There are times when a father has to resort to discipline. It is written in his job description that he must exercise discipline over his household. Sometimes this means spanking. It sometimes means the inflicting of pain upon the posterior of a child.
Do you know what happens if a child goes a long time without being spanked? He becomes arrogant. He comes to think that he is above any such discipline. That is what had happened at Corinth.
There was an arrogance of absence. Paul says, "Some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you" (4:18). The Corinthians had begun to think that they were safe from any reproof. They thought that they had grown up and they assumed that Paul would be intimidated by their new status. They could study the Scriptures for themselves. They could pick out their favorite spiritual leader and ignore those for whom they did not care. They didnít need Paul or anyone else telling them how to live.
Paul says, "Watch out! You donít think that Iím going to come, but I will show up one of these days and then the fur will fly and heads will roll."
There is an application here for us. Jesus is coming back one of these days. You might think that He has more important things to do, but you havenít been overlooked. He knows what you have been up to and He is going to come back both in judgment and in gentleness.
For those who have been faithful, this will be a time of rejoicing as they are rewarded. And for those who have not prepared themselves, it will be a time of judgment. The message is the same for all -- get ready.
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