1 Corinthians 4:14-16
14 I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children. 15 For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you. 16 So I urge you to imitate me.
This passage, taken from a letter that Paul penned to the church in Corinth, appears to be written by a pompous and proud leader.
Paul, who was the church founder, was writing to his beloved children to warn them of the evil that was operating in their midst. These “infant” Christians were still very susceptible to living by the flesh, instead of living in the Spirit. As a result, they were indulging in all kinds of sin; greed, cheating, sexual sin and worshipping idols, just to name a few. In order to continue training them in the way that they should go, Paul, who was their spiritual father- their mentor, urged these new believers to imitate him- as he imitated Christ. He was, as any loving parent would do, imploring his children to obey God so that they could enjoy a long life!
Train up a child [a]in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
This parent-child relationship that was established in the early church doesn’t just apply to the Corinthians. It applies to today’s church in England, Africa, China, America….the world. It is critical that every part of the Body of Christ (whether we are “infants,” “teenagers” or “adults”) has a spiritual father or mother to disciple us. Without a mentor to teach, encourage, and yes, lovingly rebuke us at times, we, like foolish children are prone to disobey our Father in Heaven. Left to ourselves, we can easily become consumed by the evil in our midst, and succumb to the desires of our flesh. As a result, we (sometimes unknowingly), choose for ourselves a rod of punishment.
1 Corinthians 4:18-21
18 Some of you have become arrogant, thinking I will not visit you again. 19 But I will come—and soon—if the Lord lets me, and then I’ll find out whether these arrogant people just give pretentious speeches or whether they really have God’s power. 20 For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. 21 Which do you choose? Should I come with a rod to punish you, or should I come with love and a gentle spirit?
“Some people talk a lot about faith, but that’s all it is- talk. They may know all the right words to say, but their lives don’t reflect God’s power. Paul says that the Kingdom of God is to be lived, not discussed.”
-Life Application Study Bible
With love and a gentle spirit, I want to urge to find a spiritual father or mother. The mentor you choose should imitate Christ and live a life that produces good fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). They should be a man or woman whose heart is submitted to obeying the Lord. They should be a person who is willing to humble him/herself, confess and repent for their sins not only to God, but also to others.
16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
And, they should be a person who is willing to invest their time, talent and treasure into training you to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus (NOTE: this person may or may not be your Pastor, Sunday School Teacher or Small Group Leader. In the past, I naively expected leaders in the church to provide the training I needed, but I quickly realized that their role was that of an apostle, prophet or teacher- not a mentor).
“Paul told the Corinthians to imitate him- to follow his example. He was able to make this statement because he walked close to God, spent time in God’s Word and in prayer, and was aware of God’s presence at all times. God was Paul’s example; therefore, Paul’s life could be an example to other Christians. Paul wasn’t expecting others to imitate everything he did, but they should imitate those aspects of his beliefs and conduct that were modeling Christ’s way of living.”
-Life Application Study Bible