Sometimes it is difficult to be a father. There are occasions when you look at your children and you are disappointed in their behavior and attitudes. Though it may be easiest to overlook the issues and hope that they somehow resolve, more often it takes an intervention, as difficult as that will be. Hard things may be verbalized. Punitive actions may be necessary. It is going to hurt.
The Apostle Paul saw the Corinthians as his children – the children of faith. Though many others may have come along to be instructors or presumed leaders over them, he was their father in terms of bringing the gospel of life to them in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Paul felt comfortable in encouraging them to imitate him and his disposition on truth and relationships. Though he could not be with them in the near term, he was going to send Timothy to them. Here was another “brother” in the faith who had grasped from Paul what it meant to believe and to live the Christian life. He had imitated Paul in terms of this new teaching and revelation, and they could imitate him.
And the Apostle hoped that by God’s grace he himself would be able to visit them at some point. But what would that be like? What would he find? Would there still be a contingent of arrogant leaders whom he would have to rebuke? It was Paul’s hope that he could come in love and with a gentle spirit, not with a rod of discipline. That would be up to the Corinthians and their reaction and actions upon the receiving of this letter of communication.
Again, we recall that the messy situations in Corinth were much the result of this being a very new group of Christians who were uninformed about how to live the Christian life together. Yes, they should have been more advanced than they were at this point. Yet it remains true that there were few models of mature Christians communities to follow as an example. Bold personalities in the group surely reverted easily to domineering patterns of life from their former way of life.
Yes, bold and arrogant personalities are not the hallmark only of the first century world. They can be as prevalent in the modern age, even in the church – as such can also revert to the power-mongering of a former way of life in the outside world. Life in the family of faith is not to be controlled by such patterns; rather, the model of Christ’s life of humility in serving others is to prevail. And there are times when leadership in a church needs to confront arrogant personalities who bring to the faith family the modalities of the system of this passing world. And Paul will soon be speaking about that as well.
I Cor. 4:14 – I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. 15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent 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.
4:18 – Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 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. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?