In this section of Corinthians, Paul is actually writing to 2 groups of individuals. First of all, in verses 14-17, he is writing to the church in Corinth at large. This is the church that he planted by the grace of God on his second missionary journey. It was in Corinth that Paul planted the seed, Apollo’s watered it, and God gave the increase. The second group is the false brethren who had crept in and were planting seeds of division and dissension amongst them. They are addressed in verses 18-21. They were challenging Paul’s apostleship and spiritual authority.
Though there were individuals who formed cliques in Corinth around their favorite teacher, we are completely missing the point if we think that the rivalry at Corinth is between the followers of certain apostles like Paul or Apollos or Peter. Apollos, Peter, or Paul, all aimed at nothing but the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. It is implied in our texts this morning that Paul is addressing the real cliques and division that were established around personal allegiance to certain unnamed men, who are not apostles.
4.14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.
Paul’s pastoral heart is revealed in these words. The harsh language of the previous section that we covered last week was not intended to make them feel inferior, but to raise their sensitivity and understanding to the truth of what was going on around them. Paul soothes the soreness and discomfort of his rebuke by reminding them that he loves them like a father. The very word which he uses in 1 Cor.4:14 for warn is the word regularly used to express the admonition and advice which a father gives his children. (Eph.6:4).
He may be speaking with the accents of severity; but it is not the severity that seeks to bring an unruly slave to heel, but the severity that seeks to put back on the right rails a foolish son who has gone astray. Wm. Barclay
Having established Paul’s fatherly heart in dealing with this matter, let’s not ignore the fact that Paul is without question issuing a warning with apostolic authority. A warning that if gone unheeded will result in severe consequences.
Such consequences as will be found in the next chapter when Paul “deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5.5) and “Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim.1.20).
Beloved, if you are convicted of sinful behavior by a warning in Scripture, do not make the mistake of ignoring it because you have “trusted Jesus to be your Savior.” 2 Corinthians tells us that the man in Corinth who was delivered over to Satan repented of his sin was a brother that was forgiven and restored to fellowship. He stopped living in sexual sin. He didn’t explain it away or make excuses for his sinful behaviour.
There are people who proclaim Christ as Lord that have completely disconnected their unbiblical, sinful behavior or lifestyles from the consequences or warning of Scripture as having anything to do with them under the wrong interpretation of the meaning of grace. That is a very dangerous. Shall we sin (practice sin; live in sin; love sin) that grace may abound? God forbid.
4.15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
The Greek word for the English word instructors refers to the guardians who were responsible to oversee the children. The instructor was a guardian or “slave-guide,” who escorted the children to and from school, and who supervised their general conduct. No matter how many instructors the Corinthians had, (good or bad), Paul reminds them that that they were like his children in Christ through the preaching of the gospel.
Paul could make this claim of father because God used him to lead many of the Corinthians to faith in Christ. The apostle reminds them that his fatherly relationship to them is unique and that they were in grave danger of suffering sever consequences if they continued to disregard his biblical instruction and insisted on listening the unbiblical instruction of his detractors and the lies they were telling them about him and their false claims of spiritual authority.
4.16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
He would later write to them “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11.1)
Here there are two things to be observed in the words of Paul here:
- First, Paul proposes nothing to others that he had not first practiced himself;
- Second, Paul points both himself and others to Christ as the only pattern of right acting.
Follow Christ and be an example. What a timeless pattern for every Christian leader, teacher, parent or grandparent.
Paul’s answer and solution to their divisive, carnal, and unbiblical behavior was to point them to Christ and the path he himself has chosen. The path of the cross. Their carnality, divisiveness and disorder was not because they were denying self and following Christ, but because they were doing that which was right in their own eyes.
Each one of us here this morning can only choose to walk on one of two paths. The wide path that leads to destruction, or the narrow path that leads unto life. The path of self-life or the path of the cross.
Matt 16.24-26 If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
4.17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.
According to 1 Cor 16.16, Timothy was traveling throughout Macedonia at this time and Paul expected that he would ultimately be reaching Corinth. Timothy had been discipled so faithfully by Paul that he could be sent in his place with confidence that he would perfectly represent him. No doubt he sent Timothy in the hopes of diffusing a potentially ugly situation and confrontation with these false teachers and loose canons within the church who were maligning Paul, out of order, out of control and thus, out of line. The work which Timothy was to do was to remind the Corinthians of what they seem to have forgotten, viz., of Paul’s ways which were in Christ, and what he taught.
The Christian life is spoken of as a “way” or “ways.” It is a manner of life or pattern of life. It is not a merely the knowledge of doctrines to which we nod our heads, disconnected from any personal application. It is a life that has been radically transformed by the power of The Holy Spirit that impacts others for the cause of Christ and the glory of His Name.
4.18 Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.
Paul writes these words in 2 Cor 10.1,2,: Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you: But I beseech you, that I may not be bold when I am present with that confidence, wherewith I think to be bold against some, which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh.
These unnamed individuals who were challenging Paul’s apostleship and authority were puffed up with pride, thinking they would never have to face Paul again.
4.19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power.
We can be sure that whoever these individuals are, they most certainly knew that Paul was talking about them and to them. The reality of how much real spiritual power they had would become clear in that confrontation. Paul warns that if The Lord allows him to go to Corinth, he will back up his legitimate claim as spiritual overseer of the people not with endless words, but with the manifestation of God given spiritual authority and power.
There are always going to be individuals who seek to undermine and challenge God ordained leadership. They did it is the days of Paul and the other apostles, and they do it today. Wolves or loose canons prey on sheep. They isolate them in order to plant seeds of doubt, distrust and uncertainty about their spiritual leaders teachings in the minds of God’s people.
That is not to say that those in leadership are beyond correction or reproof. Paul confronted Peter for his unbiblical behavior. That is not to say that incorrect teaching must be corrected. The clause “if the Lord will” reminds us that we should not promise anything to others as to the future, or to determine with ourselves, without adding this limitation in so far as the Lord will permit. This is what James writes about in (James 4:15).
4.20 For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.
The “kingdom of God” reveals itself in power, which means that following Jesus Christ in Spirit and in truth is more than talk. Genuine conversion will give birth to a living witness of The Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit as well. Faith apart from corresponding actions, good works or fruit for the glory of God is not saving faith.
Saving faith is a living faith. Where the Spirit of Christ is there will be the power of a transformed life. There will be fruit and good works for the glory of God.
4.21 What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?
Rod- A thin stick used for discipline. Paul speaks metaphorically of the consequence of church discipline as he describes it and implements it in 1 Cor 5:3–5.
What do you want? Paul leaves the ball in their court. Which Paul did they want to come? The Paul with the rod of correction (used by shepherds to smack disobedient sheep and wolves), or the Paul with the spirit of gentleness? There is no doubt Paul would prefer to come in gentleness, but he’ll leave that decision up to the Corinthians.
We talked about some pretty intense things today, didn’t we? Spiritual authority. Church discipline. Wolves and loose canons in sheep’s clothing in the church. Carnal living as opposed to daily cross bearing.
A word about church leadership
The local church is not a dictatorship, but neither is it social club without any rules that is void of biblical spiritual authority and oversight. Spiritual authority is not a power trip or a control trip. Yes, spiritual authority has been abused and misused, but it cannot be ignored or treated as if it doesn’t exist.
But it is crystal clear in the Scriptures that spiritual leadership is not only the sacred trust of feeding, caring and nourishing of God’s people. Spiritual leadership is only the mandate of God given to men for the purpose of establishing God ordained order, accountability, and when necessary, discipline, for which they will be held accountable.
Hebrews 13.17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
A word to our church family
Follow me, as I follow Christ. Can I say that? Can we say that? Can you say that? Heads up all parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, older brothers and sisters.
A young boy looked up at his grandfather and wondered aloud, “Grandpa, how do you live for Jesus?” The respected grandfather stooped down and quietly told the boy, “Just watch.” As the years went by the grandfather was an example to the boy of how to follow Jesus. He stayed rock-steady in living for Him. Yet the grandson often lived in a way that was not pleasing to God. One day the young man visited his grandfather for what both knew would be the last time. As the older man lay dying, his grandson leaned over the bed and heard his grandpa whisper, “Did you watch?” That was the turning point in the boy’s life. He understood that when his grandpa had said, “Just watch,” he meant, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” He vowed that from then on he would live as his grandfather did—striving to please Jesus. He had watched, and now he knew how to live. Keith Krell
1 Corinthains 10.31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
Matthew 5.13-16 Ye are the salt of the earth:but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
A word to those who are not sure about their salvation
Jesus asked the disciples the great question of all time; “But whom say ye that I am?” The world has its opinion of Christ. Religions of the world have their opinion of who Christ is. But did it ever occur to you and me beloved that our lives, and this church family are issuing a constant verdict of who Christ is?
Do your actions and lifestyle say that Jesus Christ is a person that you only run to in time of need, but when the crisis is over or the need has been met, for all intents and purposes, Jesus is a tag along with your life’s vocation, hobbies or interests?
Do you have an orthodox opinion about Christ in your head and theology, but your life is disconnected from His commands, warnings or Lordship?
What does the message of your life declare to those who read it day in and day about who Jesus Christ is?