Series on I Corinthians, II The Message of the Gospel, G Father, Text: 4:14-21, Title: A Final Plea for Unity


This is the conclusion of Paul's teaching about the divisions in the church at Corinth. All of the first four chapters have been devoted to this deep concern. Paul places it first and deals with it at length because whether then or now, if there is a spirit of pride and suspicion, and if there are factions and divisions, there can be no real advances in life, or knowledge or service. Paul has contrasted the truth of the gospel with human wisdom. The gospel produces humility and sacrifice, but human wisdom following the vagaries of teachers leads to pride and insensitivity. He has reminded us not to get off on tangents that make us think that we're better than other Christians. Such tangents destroy the work of God by leading us away from the preaching of the cross. Paul emphasizes sticking close to the Bible and not being carried away constantly by fads and new notions. All of these things ultimately arise from our sinful unwllingness to rest in the truth of God, because we don't like the answers we get and we think we have found the secret of true Christianity elsewhere. I Corinthians 2:14 says, The man without the spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. A.W. Tozer wrote, “Not only does God address His words of truth to those who are able to receive them; He actually conceals their meaning from those who are not. The preacher uses stories to make truth clear; our Lord often used them to obscure it. The parables of Christ were the exact opposite of the modern "illustration," which is meant to give light; the parables were "dark sayings" and Christ asserted that He sometimes used them so that His disciples could understand and His enemies could not.” Jesus says this in  Matthew 13:10-17. As the pillar of fire gave light to Israel but was cloud and darkness to the Egyptians, so our Lord's words shine in the hearts of His people but leave the self-confident unbeliever in the obscurity of moral night. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him. Paul harshly reminds the Corinthian Christians of how foolish and selfish they are in contrast to the brutal  suffering that he and the other Apostles were enduring, but now he softens his tone. His final appeal is a lesson to all of us on how to deal with problems, and differences and divisions in the Church. He stresses three things: relationship, reasoning and rule. Here we see Paul’s methodology for changing behavior.

I Relationship

In verses 14 and 15 the Apostle appeals to his relationship with the believers, I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. will He is their father meaning that he gave birth to them through the gospel. When they were born again and believed through his preaching, he became their spiritual father. He contrasts himself with guardians. A father in Paul's culture would hire pedagogues or guardians to supervise his children and keep them in line, but none of them could ever take the place of the father. They were hired but the father was related. Paul's appeal here depends on relationships. He loves them as a father loves his children. Have you ever heard church members compared to potatoes? Remember that old story about the dic-tators, and the agi-tators, the hesi-tators, the common-tators and the spec-tators. and then there’s the old sweet tater. That's what Paul is here as he emphasizes relationship. This is what God does. We are not saved simply out of pity or simply to make us happy. God made man in a state of sinless bliss in order to have a relationship. God did not need that relationship, but he desired it. In Exodus 6:7 we find the fundamental truth of the covenant of grace which is oft repeated, I will take you as my own people and I will be your God. This relationship is so intimate that, although we are heirs of God, in Deuteronomy 4:20 God refers to His people as His inheritance. God is a father and Paul was a father and fathers are supposed to know that relationships have a lot to do with governing. But, while Paul appeals to the relationship he takes his role very seriously as manifested in his reasoning.

II Reasoning

The reasoning is found in verses 16-18, Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. Paul has talked about warning the Corinthian Christians as dear children. The word translated warn is “noutheteo.” We use it in English to describe a certain kind of counseling, “nouthetic counseling.” Literally it means to put or place the mind. In the context of the Bible it means to use the Word of God to change the mind so that the behavior changes. According to Ephesians 6:4 fathers are to rear their children in the discipline and correction of the Lord, The word correction is translated from nouthesis. They want to change their children's behavior! i Thessalonians 5:12 says we as believers are to respect those who are over us in the lord and listen to their warnings. It uses the same word. In Colossians 3:16, a really key verse to understand this concept, Paul says, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish (noutheteo) one another with all wisdom. Real counseling, real discipleship, real admonishing is more than intellectual knowledge.  It is a persuasion from the Bible that changes our mind so that we change our lives. I think all teaching should aim at this. The tangents we go off on, the treasured opinions and viewpoints we hold, need to be tested and retested by the Scripture and seen in balance. A zealous reformed pastor once told me he hated the old gospel hymn “Whosoever Will May Come.” He said it was a heretical emphasis on free will, but it is a direct quotation from Jesus. That is not the balance we need or for which Paul aims. and truthfully if we were willing to do this a lot of the disagreements and divisions in the church would be ended. However, Paul has one more point to make. it is a simple rule.

III Rule

That rule is stated in verses 19-21, But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit? The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. have you ever had a disagreement with someone and not only were you not able to convince them, but all your efforts seemed to be counterproductive. All you succeeded in doing is making them harden in their position. The people to whom Paul was trying to minister were arrogant. They were just like this. You know in such a situation you have to depend on the Holy Spirit and you have to pray. Paul believed in the power of the Word through the power of the Holy Spirit. That's where the real power is. This Paul is a man who was himself miraculously healed, who saw the risen Christ, who healed others, who prophesied, who spoke in unknown tongues more than all of the Corinthians but said he would rather speak 5 words with his understanding. This is the man whose songs of praise bring earthquakes. This is an Apostle. This man has the authority to discipline and even to excommunicate from the fellowship of Christ on his own. But, dear friends, the power he speaks of here is the power he spoke of in Chapter 1. There he said, But we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. This is the same power of which he wrote to the Christians at Rome in 1:16 saying, I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. If the first four chapters of i Corinthians teach us anything, they teach us that Paul could face dissension, disagreement and division in the simple power of the gospel. This is what I want us to do, build relationships, test everything by the Word, and trust God to continue to work.