Online Bible Commentary
The Spiritual Father
1 Corinthians 4:14 I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. 15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. 18 Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. 20 For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power. 21 What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness? (NKJV)
The writer of 1 Corinthians is the apostle Paul. He wrote this letter to the church at Corinth, Greece during his third missionary journey. The church was established by Paul during his second missionary journey when he ministered in Corinth for a year and a half during A. D. 51-52. Paul wrote this letter during his two year and three-month ministry in Ephesus, Asia (present day Turkey) in A. D. 54-56.
Paul had started the church in Corinth and had stayed on for one and a half years before turning it over to Apollos to run. It has come to Paul’s attention that there is dissension in the church because some of the new converts are following Paul while others are following Apollos.
In this passage, Paul brings to a close his comments on this dissension within the church. He states that his comments are not meant to “shame” the new believers (v. 14a). Instead, he considers them his “children” and is warning them as a good father would his own children (v. 14b).
Paul then separates himself from Apollos and the others who may have taught the Corinthian believers. He refers to himself as their “father”, for he was the one who first introduced them to Christ, which made him their spiritual father. He was the one who planted the church (v. 15).
Since Paul was their spiritual father, he expected them, and “urged” them, to “imitate” him, as a son would imitate his father (v. 16). To imitate him would mean that they should act as “fools for Christ’s sake” (v. 10), making them “filth” in the eyes of the world (v. 13).
Paul was sending them his “beloved and faithful son in the Lord”, Timothy, who was probably with him now in Ephesus (v. 17a). Timothy was his “son”, not because he was much younger, but because Paul was his spiritual father too. Timothy lived in Iconium, Galatia with his Jewish mother when Paul visited during his first missionary journey. Timothy became a Christian through Paul’s ministry there.
Timothy’s mission was to remind the new believers how to imitate Paul (v. 17b). It was the same message that Paul taught “in every church” in which he planted (v. 17c).
Paul knew that some in the church were “puffed up”, boasting, that, since he was sending Timothy, he would probably not return to the church himself (v. 18). Paul was extremely busy in Ephesus training ministers and sending them out to plant churches in Asia.
Paul attempted to calm these doubts by stating that he would come to them “shortly”, Lord willing (v. 19a). After leaving Ephesus, Paul did visit the church in Corinth on this, his third, missionary journey. He stated that when he would come he would not preach words of dissension, like the “puffed up” (v. 19b).
Instead he would place the focus where it belonged, on the “power” of God (v. 19c). For “the kingdom of God” is built by the power of God, not by the words of men (v. 20). God is the only one who can change hearts. Our focus should be on God and not on our teachers.
Paul, the spiritual father of the Corinthian believers, completes his warning to those “sons” who were causing dissension in the church. If they had not repented of their divisive ways, he would not spare the “rod” of discipline (v. 21a). On the other hand, if they had cleaned up their act and repented, he would come “in love and a spirit of gentleness” (v. 21b).
Paul, the spiritual father of the Corinthian believers, was interacting with his “sons” in Christ in the same way that our Spiritual Father in Heaven interacts with us. If we need to repent of our sinful ways, He loves us enough to discipline us. If, on the other hand, we are walking in the ways of the Lord He only needs to show us His love and a spirit of gentleness. The choice is ours. .