1 Corinthians 4:8-21
Growing to Full Manhood
Chapter four closes the first major part of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church which had strayed so far off course. He has been “nice” so far, and even subtle in my opinion. But now Paul comes full force showing the hypocrisy of these members of Christ’s body. Now remember, Paul begins this letter affirming that these Corinthians are “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” He does not doubt their salvation. The fact that a child is disciplined by his father does not make him any less a son. Paul receives no joy from holding the mirror to their face, but the mirror he must hold and their ugly visage they must see. That’s called good parenting.
“Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings!” And then Paul teases, “And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!” These Corinthians thought they had arrived, that they had outgrown their father (i.e., Paul), that they were wise, strong, honorable. How blind we can be to our own state of affairs! Then Paul contrasts their “exalted” condition to that of himself and his fellow apostles: mocked, ridiculed, made spectacles before the world, hungry, homeless, poorly dressed, reviled, slandered, persecuted, indeed, the very scum of the earth, but all the while blessing those who abuse them.
Starting with verse fourteen, Paul returns to his usual sincerity. If he was cynical, it was only to admonish them, and churches need to be admonished from time to time. “You have many guides,” Paul says, “but not many fathers.” Churches often have many who want to lead but few who should be leading, and that for lack of knowledge and wisdom, not the worldly wisdom the Corinthians boasted of, “but the wisdom from above [which] is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). And so Paul urges them to be “imitators of me.” Some see arrogance in Paul for this but that is not the case. Paul is not calling them to his banner or fan club as the Corinthians were already doing with him and others, but calling them to observe his ways. It is an acceptable thing and an act of spiritual maturity for a Christian to seek out another brother or sister in Christ whom he or she respects and can imitate in the faith. And we each need to grow so that we might disciple others. This is what God wants, that “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13-16). And what a church that would be!