Exposition of 1 Corinthians 4:14-21, A father’s concern for his spiritual children

1 Corinthians 4:14-21

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.

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?

Paul once again changes metaphors, moving this time to depict himself as the spiritual father of the Corinthian believers. This metaphor allows him certain advantages.

In spite of the criticism Paul has received from some of the Corinthians, he seeks to communicate that he is on their team — or, better yet, with them on Christ’s team — rather than tearing them down (1 Cor. 4:14). The Corinthian church was growing within a society that assigned status on the basis of honor and shame. Anthony Thiselton says, “Paul does not wish simply to remove all status, but to redefine what counts as status in terms of glorying in the cross, glorying in the Lord and perceiving . . . the honor of being accounted worthy to suffer hardships in the service of their Lord.”[1]

By calling the Corinthian believers my dear children (1 Cor. 4:14), Paul prepares the way to take the role of your father through the gospel (verse 15) while casting the faction leaders in the role of guardians. The guardian was usually a trusted slave that Greek plays portrayed with a rod in hand for correction of the children in his care. David Garland says: “The humorous picture of ten thousand custodians brandishing rods at their stubborn charges may soften the affront. . . . Who these caretakers are, Paul does not say. . . . They are likely to be the local leaders of the competitive factions.”[2]

Paul is well aware that these first Christian converts had no precedents to teach them how to live for Christ. So, Paul says to them, “Take your cue from me” (Thiselton’s translation of 1 Cor. 4:16). By looking at Paul’s way of life, the Corinthians should know how to conduct their own lives in Christ. In his absence from them — Paul writes from Ephesus — he sends Timothy to remind them by example of the way of life Paul teaches in all the churches (1 Cor. 4:17).

By mentioning all the churches, it is likely that Paul wants to put the Corinthians in a different competition for status. By taking their cue from his pattern of life, the Corinthian believers will take their rightful place among all the churches striving to live for Christ crucified and turn away from the pointless rivalries of Roman Corinth.

Thiselton says, “Being blown up with air was a more familiar metaphor for arrogant self-importance in the first century than today,”[3] and that is a colorful image for the faction leaders. They are behaving as if Paul will never return, but they get a rude shock by his announcement that he will come to Corinth soon, assuming the Lord wants him to (1 Cor. 4:19a). He makes it clear that he will not be testing the talk of the faction leaders but rather their power. When Paul came the first time, his preaching was accompanied by a demonstration of the Spirit’s power (1 Cor. 2:3).

Paul knows that the kingdom of God can once again show its power over mere talk (1 Cor. 4:20). As he writes to the Corinthian church, Paul knows that others are also making decisions. The Greek verb theloties together verse 19 (Is God willing to allow Paul’s journey to Corinth?) and verse 21 (What type of visit do the Corinthians want?).

Thiselton relates a fascinating aspect of Roman culture affecting Roman Corinth: “The figures of the emperor and the father of the family were expected to admonish the communities for which they were responsible. The Corinthians would well understand the question: In which of these two ways am I to come as a father?”[4] That was the worldly viewpoint. As Christians we know that the spiritual oversight of Corinth lay with God the Father and his apostle, Paul, the spiritual father of the Corinthian church.

The moral issues which Paul addresses in chapter 5 made the rod more likely than the love and gentleness.

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Material originally prepared for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000)369.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003)146.

[3] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 376.

[4] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 378.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Misunderstanding life in the Spirit

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? 5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul seriously disagrees with his Corinthian audience about their identity. Certainly they are Christ-followers as shown when he addresses them as brothers and sisters (1 Cor. 3:1). They think of themselves as people who live by the Spirit while he says that they are worldly — mere infants in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1). That is a big difference indeed!

The statement I gave you milk, not solid food (1 Cor. 3:2) has generally been misunderstood to mean that Paul was talking about an elementary grasp of the gospel (milk) and a deeper grasp of doctrine (solid food). To the contrary, Gordon Fee says: For Paul the gospel of the crucified one is both milk and solid food. As milk it is the good news of salvation; as solid food it is understanding that the entire Christian life is predicated on the same reality [i.e., Christ crucified].[1]

While the Corinthians thought themselves ready for more than milk, Paul says they were not ready when he was with them and still have not become ready (1 Cor. 3:2). The proof is that there is jealousy and quarreling among you. What Paul means by worldly is explained by the phrase acting like mere humans (1 Cor. 3:3), which means people who lack the Holy Spirit.

The factions are wearing masks of spirituality in that one claims to follow Paul and another to follow Apollos (1 Cor. 3:4). The evident folly of that behavior is that neither Paul nor Apollos are leaders; they are servants given their respective roles by Christ (1 Cor. 3:5). Some in Corinth have believed, but Paul only claims to have planted the seed and Apollos merely watered it (1 Cor. 3:6). It is, however, God who has been making it grow — a Greek imperfect verb indicating continuous action in past time.

Rather than placing their attention on two supposed leaders, the Corinthian believers should focus on God who sent the two servants (1 Cor. 3:5-7). Note that while the one planting and the one watering had a common purpose, they will be individually rewarded according to their own labor (1 Cor. 2:8) by the master.

Pauls metaphors overturn the Corinthians viewpoint. In Roman culture it was fashionable to be a client of a powerful leader who could pull you up to a higher place. But Paul says that he and Apollos are only servants, and field hands at that! Paul calls them co-workers in Gods service (1 Cor. 3:9).

The Corinthian believers thought themselves in a position to choose among powerful leaders, but Paul says, You are Gods field, Gods building (1 Cor. 3:9). David Garland says, The images convey that the Corinthians are still a work in progress.[2] After all, its hard for a turnip to boast.

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987)125.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003)113.

Exposition of Romans 1:13-15, Win Christ’s disciples; equip Christ’s disciples!

When Paul speaks of reaping some harvest (Rom. 1:13) among the Roman Christians, perhaps he is looking back to the parable told by Jesus about the four soils (Luke 8:4-15). The only seed that grew and actually yielded a harvest of grain was that which fell on good soil. Perhaps we should regard this parable as a strong hint that it takes some time to know whether our evangelism results in a disciple of Jesus or not.

Either way, our job is to tell the good news about Jesus and build those who become his disciples (Matthew 28:18-19).

(ESV) Romans 1:13-15

I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Paul continues his efforts to defuse any criticisms of his ministry that might hinder his recipients from listening to his theological arguments about the gospel of Jesus Christ. In view of his extensive ministry among Gentiles in far-flung places, the Roman Christians might have felt slighted by the fact Paul had not visited the capital of the empire.

Once again, John Chrysostom (a fourth-century father) offers a helpful set of insights about Paul’s inability to visit Rome sooner (1:13):

Paul does not concern himself with such things [as to why he was impeded], yielding instead to the incomprehensible nature of providence. By doing this he shows the right tone of his soul and also teaches us never to call God to account for what happens, even though what is done seems to trouble the minds of many. For it is the masters place to command and the servants to obey.[1]

When Paul mentions “the Greeks” in 1:14, this term includes all those who considered themselves partakers of Greek culture; for example, the standard Greek lexicon says, “Cultured Romans affected interest in things Greek and would therefore recognize themselves under this term.”[2] We must also recall that due to the conquest of most of the known world by Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), Greek language and culture had spread throughout much of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions.

So, when Paul speaks of “Greeks and . . . barbarians” (1:14), he is effectively saying everyone. The terms “the wise and. . . the foolish” also mean everyone. In saying, “I am under obligation” (1:14), Paul uses the present tense and indicative mood to convey the ongoing nature of his moral obligation before God to preach the gospel.

If the idea that Paul is going to preach the gospel (1:15) to Roman Christians seems a bit jarring, the problem is in our limited contemporary understanding of this phrase. Moo observes, “In this case, ‘preach the gospel’ will refer to the ongoing work of teaching and discipleship that builds on initial evangelization.”[3] Similarly, Osborne says, “Once more, it is important to realize that gospel in the New Testament included discipleship as well as evangelism.”[4] Paul had a big gospel.

Never shrink the gospel!

Perhaps some of you will remember the Walt Disney film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989); before you scorn the title, consider that the film grossed a quarter of a billion dollars. While shrinking might be comical in a Disney movie, it is serious when it comes to the gospel.

One popular tool for sharing the gospel is The Four Spiritual Laws, a brief booklet written by Bill Bright in 1952. While such tools are very useful in explaining the essentials of salvation — as in my own conversion to Christian faith — they often have the unfortunate side-effect of shrinking the gospel to a degree that Paul would find really tiny.

1. Read Matthew 28:19-20. You will easily see both evangelism and discipleship in these verses. How would you relate these verses to the broader understanding of the gospel?

2. How might we get better educated on various aspects of salvation? Here are some references to consider: Substitution (Matt. 20:28; 2 Cor. 5:14); Justification (Rom. 3:21-26); Reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19); Redemption (Eph. 1:7); Expiation (Col. 2:14); Regeneration (Titus 3:5). How do these verses help you to see various aspects of salvation?

Perhaps it will help to think of the gospel as a treasure. You would not want people taking away pieces while you were not looking! Another way the gospel is like a treasure is that we should get busy giving it away to those who need it so desperately!

Copyright 2012 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 26.

[2] BDAG-3, Hellen, Greek, q.v.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 63.

[4] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 39.