1 Corinthians, Lesson 6: Just as a Father Corrects a Son

Father correcting his son (610x351)Paul just finished with words saying that “we” (that is, pastors such as Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Sosthenes) are stewards of the mysteries of God. For that reason, the congregation at Corinth were not to judge them, at least that which “is now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” With that, Paul gives how we are to “judge” others–not with what is in another’s heart, which we cannot know–but on what is said, which we can and do know.  

Now, Paul gets back to dealing with favoritism of one pastor over another. He starts by referring to “all these things,” the various points he has made so far, especially the conclusion in 1 Corinthians 4:4-5 about pastors not even judging “the purposes of the heart.”


Humility in Christ

Read 1 Corinthians 4:6-7

  • Paul urges the Corinthians not to go beyond what?


  • “What is written” refers specifically to what?


“Not beyond what is written”: In context, Paul did not use the phrase “not beyond what is written” to affirm a scripture-alone theology (as much as we Lutherans would like that!). If that were the case, then Paul violated that saying when he went beyond scripture, using non-Scriptural sources to make various points in 1 Corinthians.

Even the phrase, “not beyond what is written,” appears to be such a non-Scriptural expression. It is inserted in the text of 1 Corinthians in an ungrammatical way, which was most likely to keep the expression intact. An unpolished, more-literal translation of 1 Corinthians Verse 6b reads: “So you may learn with our help not beyond what has been written.” Later, in 1 Corinthians 15:33, Paul quoted an Athenian playwright, Menander, from his play Thais when he wrote, “Bad company ruins good morals.”

So then, what did Paul mean when he included “not beyond what is written” in 1 Corinthians? He was referring specifically to the Old-Testament warnings that he had included earlier in 1 Corinthians about boasting, where he used the formula, “It is written”: 1 Corinthians 1:19, 31; 2:9; 3:19-20.


Lesson 6, Not Beyond What is Written


  • What line of thinking does Paul use to show that boasting makes no sense in Christ’s Church? (vs. 7)


Filled with Christ

1 Corinthians begins this section, affirming that Christians already have what they need. If so, then sinful boasting makes no sense.

Read 1 Corinthians 4:8

Verse 8 begins with “Now, you having been filled …” not as the ESV says, “Already you have all you want!” 

  • What were the Corinthians filled with that made boasting in pastors as something irrelevant? (vs. 8, 10)


  • How can pastors “share the rule with you”?


Read 1 Corinthians 4:9-13

  • Discuss the irony: Paul said “we [Paul, Peter, Apollos, etc] are fools because of Christ but you [the congregation at Corinth] are wise in Christ.” If Paul was a “fool because of Christ” and they were “wise in Christ,” how could he instruct the congregation there?


  • So, why does this passage then belittle pastors as “fools”?


Lesson 6, Pauls FLow of Logic


A Father in Christ

Read 1 Corinthians 4:14-15

Contrasting that a Christian may have “10,000 tutors in Christ,” he then brings out his relationship to the Corinthian congregation.

  • Based on which family relationship, how does Paul want the Corinthian congregation to receive his words?


  • How did Paul become their spiritual father?


Excursus: “Call No Man Your Father”

Read Matthew 23:1-11

In this section of Scripture, Jesus spoke “to the crowds and His disciples” about the “scribes and the Pharisees” who were not practicing what they preached.

  • Why were the scribes and Pharisees using titles, such a rabbi? (vs. 5-6)


  • Whom did they not see as the Rabbi, thus exalting themselves over Him?


  • What was the point that Jesus was making? (vs. 12)


If Jesus’ point was that we not call a man “father,” then we can call no one a “teacher” either (Matthew 23:8). The implications of this would be that we could call no one by any title! But that wasn’t the point Jesus was making. After all, any title can be used in a sinful way to exalt oneself.

Many Jews in Jesus’ day were using titles to exalt themselves, even to the point of calling attention to themselves and taking away from Jesus as the Messiah. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

A title that accurately describes someone’s role or function is, in itself, simply an identifier, which neither humbles nor exalts. (Now, if someone other than Jesus called himself “God,” that would be an inaccurate title for him, which would also falsely exalt him.) Jesus was not against someone using titles or identifiers, for He called those to whom He was speaking as “brothers,” (Matthew 23:8). He was, however, against someone boasting in himself through the use of titles or actions (Matthew 23:5-7).

When someone yanks the verse, “call no man your father,” from its setting in Scripture and applies it indiscriminately in a different setting, he twists the verse to his own ends. When that happens, someone has a “sound-bite” theology, where a few words—apart from the setting in which those words were spoken—can be used to teach something that was not meant.

Paul called himself a “father” to the Corinthian congregation. His use of the term was not to exalt himself (he had just finished belittling himself!), but to convey accurately that they were his spiritual children “through the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15).

  • Discuss: Is “father” a proper title you may (not must) use to refer to your pastor?



Be Imitators

Read 1 Corinthians 4:16-17

  • Understanding, in the best sense, how a son learns from his father, what does Paul tell the Corinthians Christians to do?


  • Discuss: considering the problems in Corinthian congregation, in what way should the Corinthians congregation imitate Paul?


  • If Pastor Timothy was being faithful, then how were the Corinthians to receive him in comparison to the Apostle Paul? (vs. 17)


  • How does that logic live on today with pastors in the Church?


  • How do you know if a pastor, as a pastor, is a “faithful child in the Lord”? (vs. 17)


Note: Paul’s use of “everywhere in the Church” pointed to what those in the Church would later call “catholic” teaching, that which the Church of all times and places believed, taught, and confessed. “Catholic” means that which is universal; it has nothing to do with the Roman-Catholic Church, except that the Church of Rome has taken that title for itself to affirm that is has the “catholic” teachings of the Church.


Paul Plans to Visit Corinth

Read 1 Corinthians 4:18-21

  • Why had some become arrogant, disparaging Paul? (vs. 18)


  • When Paul does make it to Corinth, what does he want to do concerning the “talk of these arrogant people”? (vs. 19)


  • How can Paul say, “The Kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” when the Corinthians became his spiritual children “through the Gospel,” which is the word of God coming to another?


  • How would Paul like to come to the Corinthians, “with the rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness”?


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