Friday, March 8, 2024

A Pastoral Warning (1 Corinthians 4:14-17)

"I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you" (1 Cor. 4:14).

Paul’s sarcastic rebuke in the previous passage was not meant to shame the Corinthians but to warn them. The word “warn” in this passage expresses parental admonition and instruction. Paul didn’t want to make them feel bad; he wanted to turn from their sin. He wanted them to change from being prideful and worldly to being faithful, self-sacrificing, humble servants of Christ even as he was.

Paul had not only been a teacher among them, he was their spiritual father—the one through whom God brought salvation to the people of Corinth. Though they had many teachers, they only had one Paul, one apostle, one man through whom they heard the Gospel of Christ. Paul does not take credit for their conversion as if he caused it, but he was the primary means God used to bring them into the kingdom; and, therefore, he had a special interest and duty to bring them up in the faith and to warn them of their sinful ways.

Just as children are raised to imitate their parents, the church of Corinth was expected to imitate their spiritual father, Paul. With a clear conscience and earnest integrity, Paul urged them to be self-sacrificing and humble even as he was. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14; Eph. 5:1). How many pastors could issue such an exhortation? Paul was not perfect, he himself admits that much. But he knew that he was following his Savior in humility and in faith.

For the cause of bringing the Corinthians into subjection of God’s ways, Paul sent one of his most trusted and faithful companions, Timothy. Paul sent this faithful servant of the Lord to remind the Corinthians of what they seemed to have forgotten. Notice that Paul did not leave the Corinthians to struggle through their divisions on their own. Instead, he sent them a faithful minister, one who would lead them in the ways of Christ. Did Paul, then, not believe in the priesthood of all believers, in the work of the Spirit in every individual? Of course he did. But he also understood that God works through means, through ministers who faithfully discharge their calling. A church is truly blessed when it is led by faithful shepherds, when God sends trusted servants to instruct those who have gone astray.

How willing are you to listen to the warning of your pastor? If you are an elder or a pastor, have you been faithful to warn your people of their sin either individually or as a whole congregation? Ask God to help you accept warnings from your elders. If you are a pastor, confess ways that you have failed to faithfully warn your people.