1 Corinthians 4:14-21
I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.…
From mood to mood, yet in all, St. Paul had the same dominant zeal and affection in behalf of his converts. Rebuke was not with him a pleasure to which the natural man ministered, but a very painful duty that proceeded from conscience and kept sensibility unalloyed by animal passion. Herein he is distinguished from men who love authority because it is a signal of personal eminence and a means to make others feel their inferiority. A really superior round never likes to dwell on the infirmities of ignorance and littleness in those below him. The mountain points upward, and the higher the summit the more is it lost in the heavens. "Who maketh thee to differ?" is always present as the interrogatory of consciousness in such a nature, and the answer thereunto, whenever a true man has to vindicate his authority and especially in rebuke, is as Divine as the question. The delicacy of the apostle and his depth of insight have not forsaken him in this trying hour, nor would he expose the vanity of such as made themselves leaders and assumed transcendent powers, save in a manifest spirit of self abnegation. Manner is not a mere mode; it is a spirit; it is the very spirit of a man taking on a visible embodiment, and hence the rebuke administered by St. Paul is impregnated with the humility of his soul. There are men who commit
"Mischievous foul sin in chiding sin;"
but it would be a poor compliment to the apostle to say that he was not one of this class. What is most truly to his honour is his purpose to make the Corinthians sensible of the wrong to their better nature, and quicken from that side of their character the feeling of repentance. This brings out the sentiment of his soul in the words, "I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you;" and again the master thought of all his thinking recurs - Christ Jesus - in whom he had begotten them through the gospel, urging them to be imitators of Christ in him. To be genuinely serviceable, imitation must not be mechanical and servile, not be the literal copying of a pattern or model, but an education in the art of discriminating, and particularly a sense of the ideal in those whom we follow. For this reason, that they may be reminded of his "ways which be in Christ," he has sent Timotheus unto them. Prudence dictated this course. Circumstances were such as that absence would be his most effective presence - one of those occasions when a man's thoughts had better do their work unattended by the emphasis of eye and voice. But would they misinterpret this and attribute it to cowardice? "I will come to you shortly," leaving the time to the will of the Lord, for in executing a grave purpose it is not enough that we have the Spirit in our motive and aim, but we must wait patiently on the providence of the Spirit, which is often our best discipline. St. Paul's expectations were rarely fulfilled promptly, instance his visit to Rome; hope grew more reverent by delay; and in no aspect is his career more interesting than in that which shows how postponed gratification of desire ennobled the desire itself and secured a larger good to others. Fruit must grow, ripen, mellow, especially inward fruits, and St. Paul prized the mellowing touch of time. Many a lesson he gives us unawares in psychology, many an insight into the philosophy of true feeling, many a revelation of the soul, which but for him would have been a "hidden mystery." But, while waiting for "time and place to cohere," he utters his opinions strongly as to those who are "puffed up." What an ever recurring sense of cardinal principles! Great truths are never long out of sight, and hence the declaration, "The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." Did he underrate language? Nay; who ever spoke of language in a higher strain than he who did not hesitate to allude to his own preaching as not in the "words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth"? But the idle and impotent word, the word of swelling vanity, the word that dishonoured the Word, - for this he had only rebuke and condemnation. Such use was stolen use, the gift turned against the Giver, a redeemed gift wrested from the Redeemer, a recognized organ of the Holy Ghost taken from its only Sanctifier. For this must be said of language, that it is not merely or chiefly a medium of acting on others, but that it reacts on the man himself. Apart from its conventional functions, it is an instrument of communion with self, of stating self to self, of inspiring, while defining faculty to faculty in the mind's solitary cognizance of its own powers. Language is far mightier for introverted conception, for images that never escape the picturesque world in which they have their birth and life and death, for emotions and affections to which silence is the most precious of blessings - far mightier, we say, is language in this respect than in its economic uses. From the lexicon we learn the language that gives us inter. course with men. From our own souls and by conversing with them we learn the language by menus of which we compare "spiritual things with spiritual." Even on the plane of common life, the former is confined to communication. Expression is a very different thing from bald communication. Expression is due to the ability of the Spirit to vitalize words by imparting its own life to them. Something individual, something distinctly personal, imparts itself in expression. Hyperboles are matters of fact to the inmost consciousness, and all eloquence and poetry are but symbols of what the soul sees and can only intimate in this half articulate way. "I will know when I come" - so St. Paul reasons - "whether your speech is empty words, the wisdom which man's wisdom teacheth and is foolishness to God, or the power of the Spirit." This is the test - God's power. Only through that power can these Corinthians advance the kingdom of God; for only through it can they have oneness with Christ and fellowship with his disciples. Come to them St. Paul will - come to them as a father - the acknowledgment of them as sons, beloved sons, precedes him, and he will not forget his relation to them; but how shall he come? With a father's rod or in love? Will they relieve him of the necessity of discipline? And the thought of love lingers in his mind, amplifies itself, seeks fuller utterance, and the father's heart throbs once more in the associated clause - "the spirit of meekness." - L.
Parallel VersesKJV: I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.