1 Corinthians 4:14-21
I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.…
I. A VERY TENDER RELATIONSHIP. Paul notices:
1. The way in which the relationship is formed. (Ver. 15.) The spiritual father
(1) "begets" his children
(2) in Christ Jesus
(3) through the gospel.
He finds them "strangers to the covenant of promise," strangers to Christ, strangers to the Church; but under the preaching of the truth they are led by the Spirit to lay hold of salvation: they become in Christ "new creatures," are "born again;" and he who has been the instrument employed in their conversion becomes their spiritual father. This relationship is a limited one, but nevertheless deeply interesting and important.
2. That it differs from the relationship existing between a mere teacher and learner. None can be to us what those are who have brought us to Christ. They have a peculiar claim upon our love and gratitude. "Ten thousand instructors make not one father." We may love our teachers, but they are not our parents.
II. THE DUTIES OF THE FATHER TO HIS SPIRITUAL CHILDREN.
1. He should be watchful over them. As Paul was. They need much care; they should not be left to shift for themselves. A pernicious opinion is rife, that when people are "converted" no further trouble need be taken about them. As though when a child is "born" it is to be cast adrift and left to take care of itself! No wonder that there are so many spiritual cripples, so many diseased, so many weaklings, and not a few religious imbeciles. Fathers should look after their spiritual children; as far as possible we should see that our converts, if not under ours, are under good influences.
2. He should manifest a loving spirit towards them. They should be peculiarly dear to him. In many ways they may try his patience, but it should bear the trial. He should cherish them. Paul fed the Corinthian babes with milk; he did not discard them because they were not what he would have had them to be. He did not indulge in undue severity; fathers are not "to provoke their children to wrath" (Ephesians 6:4).
3. He should be faithful, ever inclining towards tenderness, but not sparing the rod when it is called for. (Ver. 21.) Willing to rebuke when rebuke is necessary, but not fond of rebuking. Paul was gentle but decisive. He sought to nip evil in the bud. Foolish fondness lets the evil grow till it is too great to cope with. Correction must be wise, or it will be pernicious. Sometimes the placing of a faithful child amongst the unfaithful may be very efficacious for the latter. Paul sent Timothy (ver. 17).
4. Acting and living so as to be a fit example. We have no right to expect our spiritual children to follow us closely unless we are following Christ closely. Paul could say, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1). He does not exhort them to follow him as a party leader, but to imitate him as he sought to imitate Christ. He set a good example. It is what we are rather than what we say that has influence. Spiritual children have quick eyes. - H.
Parallel VersesKJV: I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.