I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. - 1 Corinthians 4:14-15
I have yet to meet a young parent who hasn’t felt overwhelmed or inadequate. Most of us are keenly aware of the enormous influence we have on our children so our ignorance or incompetence feels all the more glaring. At first, the bar seems set impossibly high when we encounter behavioral issues. Ideally, we grow in wisdom and become more skilled with experience. I had to marvel the other day when my friend described the selfish tactics of her five-year-old granddaughter. Her tiny brother was easily duped, but his guileless chatter exposed his big sister’s devious scheme to dominate grandma’s time and attention. I didn’t even have to ask. I have no doubt that my wise, “grizzled” friend knew exactly what to do. Her love for her granddaughter would never allow her to leave such behavior unchecked.
The believers in Corinth were in rough shape. Paul was personally and painfully aware of the fissures that had siphoned away the spiritual vitality of the church. He identifies at least ten(!) behavioral issues. While we can only tentatively posit core causes, we don’t have to read between the lines to see the burden that the well-traveled Apostle felt for this church. The fatherly way he responded had many facets and it is instructive to consider his multi pronged approach.
Paul was Hopeful
The Apostle began his hard letter to the Corinthian Christians by reminding them of the amazing grace they had received in Christ Jesus...“you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge...so that (they were) not lacking in any gift” (1 Cor. 1:5-7). He thanked God for them, and reminded them that the Lord would faithfully “sustain them to the end”. Paul’s hope for the Corinthians Christians was founded on our Father’s provision in our life of faith.
Paul was Direct
…and unflinching when calling out sin (1 Cor. 3:1-4; 5:1-2, 6:1-8, etc.). Some note that Paul sounds a little defensive and even sarcastic when highlighting certain transgressions. What I “hear” in his tone is a familial level of parental exhortation. Paul seems to simply expect that his spiritual children would respond well when their obviously messy rooms were called into question. He had earned the right, if you will, in his deep investment in the community to speak frankly and forcefully.
Paul always included the Theological Why
“Do this just because” was never a part of Paul’s approach. A teacher at heart, we see him skillfully weave the theological thread throughout his letter in every chapter, in each instance. We might not possess his teaching chops, but we can all provide the basic biblical underpinnings as we “correct, rebuke, and encourage” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Father, our first prayer to thank You for treating us as children when You discipline us. Your love for us and commitment to our reclamation and formation is at times painful to be sure, but we know it is for our own good. We also pray for much grace in our attempts to mentors, parents and priests. We are grateful for the example of Jesus and Paul and so many others in our lives. Amen.
Ministry Director, Christian Union Gloria
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