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Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 4:14-16

14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless[a] guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.


Last week’s post featured Paul’s reproof of the errant Corinthians for their pride as their church leaders, principally Paul himself, were putting their lives at risk for Christ and His bride, the Church.

His correction of their behaviour continues throughout the rest of the chapter.

John MacArthur gives us a précis of Paul’s intentions for the Christians of Corinth (emphases mine):

He’s struggling against their weaknesses and their sins and trying to bring them into conformity to the truth of God. They’re Christian people for the most part but behaving as if they weren’t, and he’s very, very zealous and he’s very, very earnest as he writes this epistle to solve their problems. And while in the epistle he is dealing with their problems, such as the problem of division in the first section, the first four chapters, while he’s dealing with their problems, he is constantly explaining his relationship to them.

He’ll say, “I’m saying this because of this and this,” “I’m saying this because I am your servant,” or “I’m saying this because I am the slave of God and I want to carry out His orders,” or “I’m saying this because I’m a steward of God’s mysteries and I must tell you the truth.” And he uses many different metaphors in describing his own ministry so that 1 Corinthians not only becomes a letter dealing with problems in the church, but it becomes a letter that maps out the patterns of the ministry. For we see a church being attacked and we also see a minister attacking the problems in the church, so we get both sides of it.

And as we study the book, we’re going to see a lot about the church and we’re going to see a lot about the ministry in the church, the pastor, the teacher, the leader of the church, as well as things applicable to every Christian’s life. Now, already in 1 Corinthians we’ve been introduced to different metaphors to speak of the minister or the pastor or the apostle or the prophet, the one who leads the church. For example, in chapter 3, verse 5, he is called a servant. In chapter 4, verse 1, the minister is called a slave, a slave of Christ. In chapter 4, verse 1, again he is called a steward of the mysteries of God. And so already we’ve seen the pastor as a slave and a servant and a steward.

We found, too, that in chapter 3, verse 6, the metaphor of a farmer is used. He says, “I have planted and Apollos has watered.” So you not only have domestic metaphors like servant, slave, steward, but you have actually a farming metaphor in farmer and you have a building metaphor in verse 10 of chapter 3, he calls himself a wise master builder. So many metaphors in 1 Corinthians are used to describe the ministry, and all of them taken in a composite would give a tremendous study of what the pastor is, what the leader is, what the elder in the church is …

So you have domestic metaphors to speak of the ministry. You have agricultural metaphors, you have building metaphors, you have what you’d call political metaphors in the herald and the ambassador. There is also a legal metaphor used to describe the preacher. He is called a witness, somebody who gives testimony, somebody who witnesses to the truth, as it were, in a court.

Now, all of these metaphors describe the preacher, but there is one other metaphor that perhaps sums up in a very unique way the intimacy between the pastor and his people and that is in verse 15 of chapter 4. “Though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, you have not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” And this is the metaphor of a father. One way that God describes the relationship between a preacher and his converts, a pastor and his people, is the relationship between a father and his child, and therein lies the personal metaphor, the intimate metaphor. And that is the theme of our study for today.

Now remember, for the four chapters we’ve been studying, Paul has really been firing all barrels. He’s really unloaded on them against their carnality, against their pride, against their love of human wisdom, against their sectarian spirit, their splits and quarrels over whichever preacher they like the best. They were fractioned into division, and he’s really been wailing on them. And even at the end of the last passage we studied, he became very sarcastic. And when you get to the place of sarcasm, you’re really dealing in strong language.

Paul wants the Corinthians to know that he does not want to humiliate them but to correct their behaviour as a loving father would act towards his own children (verse 14).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

When the affections of a father mingle with the admonitions of a minister, it is to be hoped that they may at once melt and mend; but to lash like an enemy or executioner will provoke and render obstinate.

Paul then makes reference to their love of their many teachers — ‘countless guides in Christ’ — which has created the divisions among them (verse 15). He reminds them that he is their spiritual father, the one who brought them up in the faith.

Henry says:

They were made Christians by his ministry. He had laid the foundation of a church among them. Others could only build upon it. Whatever other teachers they had, he was their spiritual father. He first brought them off from pagan idolatry to the faith of the gospel and the worship of the true and living God. He was the instrument of their new birth, and therefore claimed the relation of a father to them, and felt the bowels of a father towards them. Note, There commonly is, and always ought to be, an endeared affection between faithful ministers and those they beget in Christ Jesus through the gospel. They should love like parents and children.

He urges them to imitate his example in the way he follows Christ (verse 16).

MacArthur says that Paul felt responsible for them in a loving way, in the manner that a father has for his own offspring:

And therein really lies the depth and the compassion of his heart. He was not indifferent to them. He was not just merely carrying out orders as a servant. He was sensitive to them as a father.

Paul did not have a wife and family of his own. However, his ministry produced countless spiritual children whom he fathered in the faith. He wanted them to imitate Christ’s example, and what better way then through imitating his own spiritual behaviours and taking on his scriptural beliefs.

MacArthur points out:

God does do the saving and God does have the Word of God as the instrument, but God does use the human agent.

For the Corinthians, Paul was that exemplary human agent.

Paul was not finished with his reproof of the Corinthians. There will be more to come next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 4:17-21


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