Several weeks ago I preached through 1 Corinthians 4:14-21 on “Exemplifying Spiritual Parenting.” In weeks past as I preached through 1 Corinthians there were some very “heavy” words delivered by Paul to the “church of God that is in Corinth” (1 Cor 1:2) and subsequently words I shared with my church family (Oak Park Baptist), so it was refreshing to take a step back and explain why he writes what he writes. In 1 Corinthians 4:14-21 Paul writes,
I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach they everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
Paul has been very passionate and forthright in dealing with their sin and he will continue to do so in chapters 5-16 but in this passage he takes a break (it’s almost like a parenthesis here) and explains why he is doing what he’s doing. In short, he’s doing what he’s doing because he is a spiritual father to the Corinthians. He planted the church; he stayed for a year and a half preaching and teaching and consequently, he had a particular concern for them. 3 John 4 tells us there is no greater joy than to know that your children are walking in the truth. This is true for everyone who has ever led someone to faith in Christ—that they would continue to walk in the faith. The opposite is true as well—it grieves the heart of a spiritual parent when their children are not walking in the truth (the whole purpose of the Corinthian letter). What follows is five points I gleaned from 1 Corinthians 4:14-21 on spiritual parenting.
- Spiritual parenting admonishes (v. 14). The purpose of Paul’s word were not to shame them but to admonish or warn them. The word admonish/warn means to criticize in love with a view towards being change (i.e. being obedient to God). There are times when we have to come alongside people and say “this is not right” or “you’re believing or doing what we’re called to believe and do.”
- Spiritual parenting takes place in the truth of the gospel (v.15). How did Paul become their father? Through the gospel of Christ Jesus. He became their father through the preaching of the gospel; it was in the gospel that the power of God was realized. Question: Who’s your spiritual father? Who took the time to invest in you, teach you about Jesus? Who confronted you in your sin and pointed you to Christ? Who spoke the words of life to you?
- Spiritual parenting calls for imitation (v. 16). Paul is their father and he calls them to imitate him. Specifically, what is he calling them to follow? His passion to know nothing except Christ crucified (1 Cor 2:2) and to grow up in Christ (1 Cor 3:1-4). To simplify it even more Paul essentially conveyed a two-fold aspect of imitation. He called them to know the gospel and then he expected them to live that truth out. Thus, imitation involves information (gospel message and subsequent truths) and then imitation of someone is living this out (in this case the apostle Paul).
- Spiritual parenting reproduces itself (v. 17).To help facilitate the Corinthians imitating Paul he sent them Timothy (another child in the Lord). Paul had done such a wonderful job in reproducing himself in other men that he sent Timothy JUST as if it he was going himself!
- Spiritual Parenting involves discipline (v. 18-21). Remember what h just said in verse 14?…he’s resubmitting it to them. He’s not trying to shame them but admonish them and he says in verse 17 that you need to be reminded and in verse 21 he’s doing that very thing again but explaining it a little differently. Should I come with a rod or with a love in a spirit of gentleness? Not speaking about a literal rod but the manner/spirit in which he comes. He’s leaving it up to them in the sense that how they respond to his letter will dictate how he responds back to them.