During my quiet time this morning I was reading 1 Corinthians 3-4:7 and I was struck by one verse in verse, 1 Cor 4:15:
“For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers.”
The Corinthian church is probably the most unruly church we read about in the Bible. It’s full of division, quarrelling, factions and pride, and so Paul doesn’t hold back in putting them in their place. But this verse really struck me for what it says about guides and fathers. There was no shortage of people in the church wanting to lead others but very few of them took on a fatherly role in their leadership, which probably goes some way to explaining why the church was in such disarray.
So this got me thinking, “what does it mean to be a father to people in my ministry?” Helpfully, I think Paul shows us at least 5 things in the passage surrounding this verse. Here it is in it’s wider context:
“14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 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. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent you Timothy,my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. 18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?”
Firstly, a father loves his children. In verse 14, Paul refers to the Corinthians as his ‘beloved children.’ These people, despite the mess they’ve made of their church and their very obvious sinfulness, are people who Paul loves dearly, as if they were his own children. This is in stark contrast to a guide. I might hire a guide to lead me up a mountain or take me on a tour of the Tower of London, but that guide has no love for me. He’s simply doing his job, detached from any real feeling for me. A father on the other hand, loves his children dearly, no matter what they might do to disappoint him. This love should be a mark of any ministry we are involved in.
Secondly, a father leads by example. Paul urges the Corinthians to imitate him, just as he imitates Christ (v16-17).Fathers realise that their children imitate them and are distressed when they see their child picking up their bad habits. As Christian leaders we need to realise that people see what we do and imitate us. If we really love the people under our care, then we’ll strive to be as Christlike as possible in our actions, leading people to imitate that.
Thirdly, a father teaches their child. In v18, Paul stresses that he has been teaching everywhere in every church. Teaching is such an important role of the Christian leader. Not long ago, I met some young people who went to church every week, attended their midweek bible study every week, went on summer camps and did every Christian festival going. Their exposure to Christianity was seemingly huge. But not one of them had any real grasp of the gospel which got me thinking, “if not the gospel, what are people actually teaching these kids week in, week out?!” My suspicion is that there were a lot of guides but very few Fathers around these people.
The teaching aspect brings me to the fourth thing a Christian leader does as a father. It’s not only that the leader must be a teacher, but he must teach the right thing. Paul says when he comes to Corinth he’ll come not to hear people’s talk but to find out their power (v19), “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (v20). So what’s this power that Paul is referring to? Well helpfully he’s talked about this at length in chapter 1:
” For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18
The power Paul talks about is the message of Christ crucified. That’s the message that seems foolish to the world but is actually the power of God. When Paul gets to Corinth he wants to see whether people are preaching the cross of Christ, because that is where the power of the Kingdom of God comes from. If the gospel message is not being taught in our churches, our youth cell groups, or camps, then our message is drained of power. But someone who is a real father to those in his care will preach the gospel.
Finally, a father spends time with his children. Paul tells the Corinthians he is coming to them soon (v19). The guide arrives at youth group at 7:30pm and checks out at 9:00pm, job done until next week. The father desires real relationship with his children and so spends time with them face to face, sharing his life with them. Facebook, twitter and texting are all great but they can’t compare to meeting face to face and that’s a real challenge to us in our increasingly isolated communities.
This verse challenges me to be a father to my young people. I hope it’ll challenge you too.