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Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 4:17-21

17 That is why I sent[a] you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ,[b] as I teach them everywhere in every church. 18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 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. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s stern yet heartfelt plea to the Corinthians to follow his Christian example.

His reprimand continues throughout the chapter. Today’s verses are the conclusion.

Paul had sent Timothy to the Corinthians to help them improve their ways (verse 17). Timothy had not yet arrived, but he was en route.

Paul considered all the converts and helpers his spiritual children. Timothy was among their number.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

To render their regard to Timothy the greater, he gives them his character. He was his beloved son, a spiritual child of his, as well as themselves. Note, Spiritual brotherhood should engage affection as well as what is common and natural. The children of one father should have one heart. But he adds, “He is faithful in the Lord–trustworthy, as one that feared the Lord. He will be faithful in the particular office he has now received of the Lord, the particular errand on which he comes; not only from me, but from Christ. He knows what I have taught, and what my conversation has been in all places, and, you may depend upon it, he will make a faithful report.” Note, It is a great commendation of any minister that he is faithful in the Lord, faithful to his soul, to his light, to his trust from God; this must go a great way in procuring regard to his message with those that fear God.

The Corinthians were so full of pride that they thought they could get away with their various divisions within their church. So Paul warns them of their arrogance, saying that he could make a return visit to Corinth (verse 18).

Furthermore, he planned — if God willed it — a return visit to confront the ‘arrogant people’, the false teachers, in that congregation (verse 19).

The ‘power’ which Paul associates with the kingdom of God (verse 20) is the divine power of the Holy Spirit rather than human discourse. The Corinthians loved their discourse and their philosophy.

Henry explains:

He would bring the great pretenders among them to a trial, would know what they were, not by their rhetoric or philosophy, but by the authority and efficacy of what they taught, whether they could confirm it by miraculous operations, and whether it was accompanied with divine influences and saving effects on the minds of men. For, adds he, the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. It is not set up, nor propagated, nor established, in the hearts of men, by plausible reasonings nor florid discourses, but by the external power of the Holy Spirit in miraculous operations at first, and the powerful influence of divine truth on the minds and manners of men. Note, It is a good way in the general to judge of a preacher’s doctrine, to see whether the effects of it upon men’s hearts to be truly divine. That is most likely to come from God which in its own nature is most fit, and in event is found to produce most likeness to God, to spread piety and virtue, to change men’s hearts and mend their manners.

Paul ends by laying down the law: he can visit them as an angry father would or in a spirit of kindness; it was up to them (verse 21).

MacArthur tells us:

And so he says, “Some of you are puffed up, you don’t think I’m coming, but I will come shortly” – then he throws this in – “if the Lord will.” He knew to throw that in because a lot of times when he planned to go somewhere, he never got there. “And I’ll find out then not the speech of them who are puffed up but the power.” “I’ll find out who’s talk and who’s real when I get there. You people talk a great game but I’m going to find out who’s real, not who’s just talking.”

Discipline is important. Paul says, “When I come there, I’m going to check some things out” …

So he says, “I’m going to come and find out which of you are all talk and which of you really manifest the power of God because the Kingdom of God is not word but power.” “This isn’t an issue of words. I’m going to come and find out who is genuine.” The man’s true character is determined not by his words but the divine power exhibited in his life because if he’s a member of the Kingdom of God, if God rules in his life, then there’s going to be power in his life, not just verbiage

Now watch – verse 21 – “What are you going to do about it? What are you going to do?” “Shall I come unto you with a rod” – if you don’t change, that’s what’s going to be – “or in love and the spirit of gentleness?” “How do you want me to come? I’m coming and I’m coming shortly and how do you want me to come?” Did you notice there’s no answer there in verse 21? Why isn’t there any answer? Who had to make the answer? Corinthians. Choice is yours. “I’ll come, and if it needs to be a rod, it’s going to be a rod, and some heads are going to roll. That’s right. “But I could come in love and gentleness, it’s up to you.”

Paul’s words sound harsh. There are few godly preachers who would use such words today, but he really did love the errant Corinthians. He wanted to make sure they were on the right Christian path.

MacArthur concludes his sermon with this:

And so the spiritual father unbares his heart. “I care about you,” he says. “I begot you. I love you. I seek to see a change in your evil behavior. I want the pattern of my life to be the example for you.” Paul cared about them, so much so that he was willing not only to teach them but to discipline them, to bring them into conformity to that pattern. That is as it should be. My prayer for us – for me, for you, for all of us – is that we would become in the fullest sense spiritual fathers.

MacArthur says we should be begetting disciples for Christ:

Wouldn’t that be exciting? Why aren’t we busy reproducing? There may be 10,000 instructors, all kinds of people that are teaching and giving input, not many fathers. A Christian who isn’t spiritually fathering somebody is a contradiction. My prayer for us is that we would all become spiritual fathers.

Sometimes, that is through preaching or teaching Scripture. Sometimes, it is through setting a godly example in all things. The Lord gives us various gifts, according to our ability. Let us put those gifts to good use through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 5:1-5

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