Word for the day by Christian Education Forum
Theological Education For the Confirmation of FaithBeing and making the Imitators of Christ
1 Cor 4:14-21
Philip was an active member of a church who is also a single parent. On Sunday, when he came to receive Holy communion, his only child Yohan saw his dad walking and he took his steps to be with him. He watched and did exactly what his dad did. With observation and effort, Yohan climbed and knelt along with his dad. To his disappointment, the celebrant blessed the child with a smile instead of giving him wine and bread like his dad received. He cried and Philip took him and solaced him while walking back to his seat. This scene captured everyone’s attention that filled them with love for the father and son.
Most of us may have seen or experienced a similar experience. The relationship of the parent and the child gives us a lesson that a child learns from the parent not only through words but also through actions. The passage we received for our meditation similarly converses about a relationship between a spiritual father (Paul) and his child (Corinthian church). Paul Embraces and Warns His Beloved Children.
Paul calls them “brothers and sisters” and thereby stresses his common ground with his readers, Paul now explicitly discloses the rhetorical strategy that he has been pursuing in the opening section of his letter. As we noted earlier, Paul used indirect speech, a common mode in his time, to make points to his readers–about themselves and their conduct.
Though absent, Paul knows of the considerable socioeconomic differences among the Corinthians (1:26); he hears of the serious schisms and divisiveness among the Corinthians. Nevertheless, Paul is not the only person who has worked with the Corinthians; Paul laid the foundation of the Church at Corinth, Paul planted, but Apollos watered (3:6); and Apollos is still in a relationship with the Corinthians, though he, too, is currently absent (16:12). Others were guardians (4:15; cf. 9:5). Sylvanus and Timothy seem to have been involved in establishing the church at Corinth (2 Cor 1:19), At the time of the writing of 1 Corinthians, none of the Pauline leadership was present.
In v1, we can see the fatherly admonition which rules the whole pericope. In v2, Paul states that a child might have many tutors but he had only one father; in the days to come the Corinthians might have many tutors but none of them could do what Paul had done; none of them could beget them to life in Christ Jesus. Then the passage comes before his call for imitation of himself. Paul sets himself up as one who does not get repaid just what he receives but is enabled to represent the gospel even when he is not treated as he should be. So also, the Corinthians ought to learn from this that they need to be moved by what will later in this letter be called love as they respond to one another. Even though the church is not considering his merit as a father, Paul continues to be their father irrespective of their approach to him which reveals the true love as an imitator of Christ's love.
Paul moves on to a challenge. Some “have become arrogant” v19 questioning whether Paul is coming–Paul’s travel plans do not always seem predictable (cf. 2 Cor 1:15-18) but he promises not only that he will come but that they can arrange matters so that when he comes he will come as they wish him: either as the father ready to discipline them or the apostle who apparently would rather come “with love in a spirit of gentleness” (4:21). As the opening chapters have made clear, the gospel and the kingdom of God depend not on talk but power; Paul signals himself ready to come in the full power of the gospel (4:19), at which time he will check out these puffed-up, arrogant people who he suggests are long on talk and short on real power (4:19).
In 4:20 God’s reign is positively related to power, negatively related to talking, and functions as a way of cautioning those “arrogant, puffy” people at Corinth not to put themselves in the place of having a confrontation with Paul. This reference to God’s reign is formally quite like Rom 14:17, where the kingdom is indifferently related to food and drink but positively and essentially related to “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” They need not say that because he is sending Timothy he is not coming himself. He will come if the way opens up; and then will come their test. These Corinthians can talk enough, but it is not their high-sounding words that matter; it is their deeds. Jesus never said, "By their words, you shall know them," He said, "By their fruits, you shall know them." The world is full of talk about Christianity, but one deed is worth a thousand words.
In the end, Paul demands whether he is to come to mete out discipline or to company with them in love. The love of Paul for his children in Christ throbs through every letter he wrote; but that love was no blind, sentimental love; it was a love that knew that sometimes discipline was necessary and was prepared to exercise it. There is a love that can ruin a man by shutting its eyes to his faults, and there is a love that can mend a man because it sees him with the clarity of the eyes of Christ. Paul's love was the love that knows that sometimes it has to hurt to amend.
As Christians, our ministry can have moments like Paul intervened. Some may turn arrogant toward us, trivializing our work maybe. At the moments like that as ministers, we should find our stronghold in Christ and unwavering in Christ. Hence, we can be the model for them to follow amidst conflicts and encourage them in fatherly admonition in love to walk in the act than walk in talk. May our God continue to empower us to be staunch imitators of Christ and shape many to become imitators of Christ.
O Lord our God, help us to imitate your life and ministry. In this world of division, make us become the medium to fuse Kingdom values in and around our daily life. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Dan Thomas George
Mar Thoma Theological Seminary,