This morning we are going to take a look at 1 Corinthians 4:14-21. While I was studying these verses this past week I was struck by what Paul wrote in verse 16 when he said, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” Paul is saying to the people of Corinth: “Don’t just listen to what I have to say, but follow my way of life.” Pattern your life after mine. I’ve been thinking about this all week long.
I remember many years ago when Nike released a commercial with Charles Barkley called, “I am not a role model.” The commercial is only 30 seconds long, but it started a conversation, more like a debate about whether athletes have a responsibility to be role models. The commercial first aired in 1993. It was such a hit for Nike that they continued to use it for 26 years. The commercial showed Charles grabbing rebounds, dribbling, and dunking the basketball. Interspersed between the action clips you can hear Charles say,
I am not a role model. I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids. (Charles Barkley)
In 2002, Charles Barkley wrote a book called, “I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It.” In his book he talked about the heat he took from saying he wasn’t a role model. Charles writes,
Nobody in all this time has been able to convince me that it’s wrong to tell kids to listen to their parents and not a basketball player they’ve never met. (Barkley, Charles. I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It.)
Chuck has a point. You and I are able to make the greatest impact on those who are closest to us. The question is, “What kind of impact are we making?” There is a big difference between how the world defines “role model” and what you and I, as followers of Jesus, are to do in impacting the lives of those around us. Here in verse 16, Paul said, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” When Paul penned those words he wasn’t thinking of himself as some pillar of virtue and morality. He had something totally different in mind. Just seven chapters later, Paul would write,
1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV)
What the Corinthians were to see in Paul was Jesus living His life through Paul and not Paul living out some philosophy of life that he had picked up at a leadership conference in Jerusalem or created on his own. Paul was no Tony Robbins running around holding conferences to help people awaken the giant within themselves. No, Paul urged others to follow him as he followed Jesus. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning and then we’ll talk some more. Paul writes,
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? (1 Corinthians 4:14-21 NIV)
Paul’s letter must have been tough for the people of Corinth to hear, but they had strayed so far from the Lord in the time that Paul had been away. They had lost their way and become prideful and divided as a church. They had become so enamored with the Corinthian way of life that they had lost sight of what it meant to be a new creation in Christ. In the first half of 1 Corinthians 4, Paul put the brothers and sisters in Corinth on blast when he wrote,
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign– and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! (1 Corinthians 4:8; 10 NIV)
We learn in verse 14 that Paul didn’t write those words to “shame” the people of Corinth, but he wrote them to “warn” them. We will find, later in Paul’s letter, that he will point out a situation that they should be ashamed of, but that’s not what he is trying to do in chapter 4.
Let me give just one example of how Paul tells the members of the church in Corinth that they should be ashamed of their behavior. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 6:4-6. While you are turning there let me give you a little background before we read our Scripture. There were disputes among the brothers and sisters in the church. Instead of sitting down and working things out or taking the situation to the elders of the church, they were deciding to take the matter to court. What a missed opportunity to show the unbelievers of Corinth that the forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation of Jesus really does make a difference for God’s people in everyday life. Read the Scripture with me.
4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court– and this in front of unbelievers! (1 Corinthians 6:4-6 NIV)
So, even though the Corinthians should be ashamed of some of their behaviors, the purpose of Paul’s strong warning in chapter 4 is not to shame them, but to wake them up as to how far they have strayed from the way of Jesus and to get them back on track.
Paul had a special relationship with the brothers and sisters in Corinth. Remember, he was the one who started the church in their city. God sent Paul to Corinth and they first heard the gospel coming from Paul’s lips. For eighteen months, he poured himself into the first converts teaching them what it means to trust in Jesus alone. He taught them about the cross and how Jesus’ death upon the cross atoned for their sins. He taught them that anyone who confesses their sins and receives Jesus as their Lord and Savior is a new creation in Christ–the old life is gone and behold new life begins, new life begins in Jesus. Paul taught them all of these things and more. He was their spiritual father in the faith. Take a look at verses 14-15 with me where Paul says as much.
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. (1 Corinthians 4:14-15 NIV)
Paul calls the people in the church “my dear children.” He writes that even if they had ten thousand guardians they have only one father through the gospel, and Paul was their spiritual father. Let’s take a minute to understand what he meant by “ten thousand guardians in Christ.” Anthony Thiselton writes,
In the ancient Graeco-Roman world a ‘guardian’ had a definite social meaning and function. This person was usually a slave or paid attendant who accompanied the child for the purpose of protection, guidance, and general supervision of behavior to or from school or when a parent was absent. The main function was as guardian, teacher, and corrector, but the motivation of the ‘guardian’ would be either one of paid duty or one of obedience to the instructions of the slave’s master, not love for the child. (Thiselton, Anthony. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. pg. 370)
Paul was no hired hand who was given the church in Corinth as a job assignment, a task to be tolerated. Paul wasn’t looking to profit off of God’s people. He had no desire whatsoever to be a powerbroker in Corinth. Paul loved the brothers and sisters in Corinth. He paid dearly, in all kinds of ways, to share the gospel with them and then to nurture them in the faith.
Now, evidently there were many who behaved more like the “guardians” that Anthonly Thiselton writes about or Paul would not have mentioned them, but Paul wasn’t like them. Paul didn’t model his own life after the guardians of the day, but he did model his life after the Good Shepherd. Listen to what Jesus said in John 10:11-13.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (John 10:11-13 NIV)
The Good Shepherd, our Savior Jesus, laid down His life for us, and those who follow Him must be willing to lay down their lives for those the Lord has placed in our care. The guardians or hired hands will abandon ship at the drop of a hat, they are just doing a job, performing a task, but Paul would not abandon the people of Corinth. As messed up as they were, Paul would never abandon them. It was not just the church in Corinth that Paul loved. He had a deep affection for all of the churches. Paul had given up his life in service to the Lord and he determined to allow the Lord to use him in whatever way He desired. Listen to what Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, in 1 Thessalonians 2:11-13.
11 As you know, like a father with his own children, 12 we encouraged, comforted, and implored each one of you to walk worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. 13 This is why we constantly thank God, because when you received the message about God that you heard from us, you welcomed it not as a human message, but as it truly is, the message of God, which also works effectively in you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:11-13 CSB)
“Like a father with his own children…” What is a father to be for his children? You can find all kinds of answers to that question if you were to Google it, but you would be hard pressed to find a better model for fatherhood than what Paul said he set out to do for the people of Thessalonica. Paul said, in verse 12, “…we encouraged, comforted, and implored each one of you to walk worthy of God…” The word “implored” is translated “urged” or “charged” in other versions of the Bible. A father who seeks to encourage his kids when they are discouraged, comfort them when they are hurting, and urge his children to walk with the Lord, to use the gifts given by the Lord in a way that honors Him and blesses others, and to give of their best in whatever they do–now that’s a father who will be a blessing to His kids!
Paul is not the biological father of any of the people he is writing to in his letters to the churches, but he does see himself as their spiritual father. This may be a concept that is unfamiliar to some of you. What does it mean to be a spiritual father or mother to someone? Well, it can be a couple of things. First, it can mean that you, like Paul, shared the gospel with someone who gave their life to Christ and you’ve taken on the responsibility of discipling that person. You recognize that God has called you to teach him or her what it means to live their life for the Lord. You are determined to teach them the truths of God’s Word and how to apply those truths, biblical principles, to everyday life. If the statistics are true then the vast majority of us here this morning have never led anyone to Christ. That’s tragic and I would say it is not because the Lord has failed to send people our way who need to know Jesus, but it is because we have failed to make sharing the gospel with others a priority in our lives.
If we have never led anyone to Christ does that mean that we are not a spiritual father or mother to anyone? Not at all. The Lord leads people into your life for a reason. You may not have led that person to faith in Jesus, but the Lord wants to use you to help that person grow in their faith in Jesus. Let me explain. Those of us who are followers of Jesus are called to make disciples. That’s what Jesus taught His followers in Matthew 28:18-20. The Greek word that is translated, “disciples,” literally means “learner” or “pupil.” In biblical times the word was used to describe an apprentice to a trade. If you wanted to work with stone or metal, become a carpenter, or fisherman then you would find someone who had experience in those trades and you would become their apprentice. You would watch what they do, how they do it, and learn the “why” of what they were doing if you wanted to gain the skills. An apprentice was someone who shared in the life and work of their teacher and then patterned their own work after their teacher.
This is a beautiful pattern for how you and I are to make disciples and it is the pattern Jesus used with His own followers. Let me give you a couple of quick examples from what Jesus told His followers. In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said,
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24 NIV)
Like an apprentice to a tradesman learning a new trade, Jesus told His disciples don’t do things your way, come and follow me, and learn of My ways. In John 8:31, Jesus told His followers,
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. (John 8:31 NIV)
Like a skilled craftsman showing his young apprentice, teaching his young apprentice, Jesus taught His followers and then said, “If you follow my teaching, then you are truly my disciples.”
Another way to understand the discipleship process is to think about coaches. I experienced this while I was growing up and playing sports, but I still get to experience the process even today as I watch the coaches and kids of the BCC Tennis Academy. Our coaches just don’t tell the kids how to hit a tennis ball, they show them.
Last Saturday I took Parker and Aiden up to the gym to play tennis. We were working on our topspin forehands and backhands. Before I ever had them give it a try, I first took a racquet and showed them, in slow motion, how to move the racquet over the ball so that it creates topspin. Then I had them take their racquets and, while watching me, mimic what I was doing. We did it over and over again before I ever let them hit a ball. That’s discipleship, but in tennis. We, you and me, we are called to make disciples of Jesus and we follow the same principles that coaches use in their sport or electricians or plumbers use in their field.
There is a big difference between the example Jesus set for us in making disciples and being an apprentice of a coach or tradesman. Let me illustrate the difference by sharing a story I heard recently about Dr. C. Everett Koop. Dr. Koop was a highly regarded pediatric surgeon before he became the 13th Surgeon General of the United States under President Ronald Reagan. Pastor Mark Dever was at a dinner banquet and seated at the same table as Dr. Koop when someone asked the Surgeon General about nutrition. “If I want to be healthy what kind of diet should I be eating?” was the question. Dr. Koop knew much about the subject so he began to talk about what kinds of foods the person should be eating and which they should avoid. A friend of Dr. Koop, who was also seated at the table, said, “Doctor, if those are the foods we should all be eating, why are they not on your plate?” Dr. Koop looked at the man and said, “I’m not paid to set a good example. I’m paid to give good advice.” And this is the difference between the Apostle Paul and the experts of our day. Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” The experts of our day are able to give good advice about their field of expertise, but they certainly don’t want us to follow them around. Listen to what Paul told the people of Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8.
7 Although we could have been a burden as Christ’s apostles, instead we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother nurtures her own children. 8 We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 CSB)
Did you catch what he said in verse 8? “We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.” That, my friend, is discipleship! We are to share the gospel, the good news of Jesus with those the Lord has placed in our path as we share all of life with one another. Jayson Bradley writes,
The disciple is a believer who’s learning to obediently follow and serve Jesus as their master. Discipleship emphasizes more than simply accepting Jesus. It’s an enduring, long-term commitment to uncovering and discovering what it means to be devoted to Jesus. We do this through constant exposure to Scripture, commitment to communities of faith, and the direct involvement of mature believers in our lives. (Jayson Bradley)
One more question about discipleship. Let’s say you have been paying attention to what we’ve been talking about this morning, but you are thinking, “Instead of discipling someone else, I need to be discipled.” I’m thrilled that you have recognized your need and I want to urge you to act on what you have realized. There are people here at Britton Christian Church who would love to pull up next to you and teach you God’s Word as they share their lives together with you. You’ve recognized your need now it is important to act on it. I’d love to help so please come see me after the service this morning.
We are running out of time, but before we go we have to take a look at one more verse, verse 17. Turn there with me and let’s read together.
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. (1 Corinthians 4:17 NIV)
Paul was unable to go to Corinth at the time he received word of what was happening in the church so he sent Timothy. Why would he send Timothy? Would Timothy whip everyone into shape? Not at all. If you’ve read Paul’s letters to Timothy then you will know that Timothy could be timid, he was not at all a strong personality, but he was a disciple of Paul and he was “faithful in the Lord.” Paul sent Timothy to remind the people of Corinth of Paul’s way of life while he was among them. Paul’s way of living agreed with what he taught everywhere in every church. I love this and have spent much time thinking about what Paul said this past week.
Paul did not teach one thing in Corinth and another thing in Colosse or Ephesus. His teaching was consistent and authentic. Paul was not a politician who used polling data to shape his message. Paul taught the gospel. Whether he was around Jews or Gentiles, Paul taught the gospel. Whether he would be applauded or run out of town, Paul taught the gospel. He would not change his message or alter his presentation because of who might be in the audience. Whether he was in Jerusalem, Corinth, Galatia, or on the island of Crete–people needed to hear the gospel. He explained why he was unwavering in his proclamation of the gospel no matter where he went, in his letter to the Church in Rome. Listen to this.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 NIV)
Oh my friend, we would do well to take notes and get back to sharing the gospel in our own city today. I’m afraid that the modern-day church has taken what is foundational and primary and made it secondary. I’m afraid that we have taken lesser things and made them our main ambition. We need to make sharing the gospel in Word and deed the heartbeat of our own lives and of the life of our church. There’s nothing wrong with teaching people how to manage their money, how to improve their marriage, how to make an impact on their kids, but all of those things, as wonderful as they are, are not nearly as important as sharing the gospel with those who need Jesus. I will promise you this, if someone comes to know Jesus, to really understand Jesus’ love for them, they will want to be a better steward, not just of their money, but all of life. If someone comes to understand how loved they are by Jesus, they will want to love those around them with the same kind of love. This is the power of the gospel.
How about you this morning? Do you know Jesus’ love for you? Are you a disciple, a follower of Jesus, or have you still refused to surrender your life to Him? I want to invite you to become a disciple of Jesus this very morning.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 21, 2021
1 Corinthians 4:13-21