1 Cor. 4:14-21
I used to hear from a fellow servant of the Lord “practice what you preach”. Whether it was an
advice or reproof or for any other reason, it goes around resonating to the minds of preachers and
ministers and for all those people serving the Lord. Looking back at the first three chapters of this
book, until here, I can only say that Paul wants the Corinthian church to repent from their sins of
pride and division and get back to unity, humility, and godliness. So here as a loving father he makes
himself as the model example for them to follow.
I. Warning (1 Cor. 4:14 – 16)
A. Paul describes his heart’s motive in reproving the Corinthian church. He is warning
them as a loving father. He did not want to shame them or hurt them but to help
them, build them up, and for them to grow spiritually. There is a difference between
a preacher rebuking after the flesh and one rebuking after the Spirit. Every preacher
must guard his spirit in this matter and keep his motives pure.
B. The Corinthians were Paul’s beloved children in the faith. Whenever we share the
Gospel with someone and have the joy of leading him to faith in Christ, we become a
“spiritual parent” in his life. This does not give us any special authority over his faith
(2 Cor 1:24), but it does create a special relationship that God can use to help him
grow. The local church is God’s family for helping the new born Christians develop.
C. There is no contradiction between this verse and Matthew 23:9. Christ forbade men
to use “father” as a religious title. Paul was not doing that. He would not have
allowed the church at Corinth to call him “Father Paul.” He was simply stating the
fact that he was the human instrument in their conversion and should therefore be
respected as such
D. It is important to note that Paul did not take the “credit” for their conversion. Their
spiritual birth was in Christ and through the Gospel.
E. Sinners are born again through the ministry of the Spirit of God and the Word of
God (John 3:6; 1 Peter 1:23-25).
Illustration 1: Storm Signal Ignored
I was in the north of England in 1881, when a fearful storm swept over that part of the country. A
friend of mine, who was a minister at Evemouth, had a great many of the fishermen of the place in
his congregation. It had been very stormy weather, and the fishermen had been detained in the
harbor for a week. One day, however, the sun shone out in a clear blue sky; it seemed as if the storm
had passed away, and the boats started out for the fishing ground. Forty-one boats left the harbor
Before they started, the harbor-master hoisted the storm signal, and warned them of the coming
tempest. He begged of them not to go; but they disregarded his warning, and away they went. They
saw no sign of the coming storm. In a few hours, however, it swept down on that coast, and very few
of those fishermen returned. There were five or six men in each boat, and nearly all were lost in that
dreadful gale. In the church of which my friend was pastor, I believe there were three male members
left. Those men were ushered into eternity because they did not give heed to the warning. I lift up
the storm signal now, and warn you to escape from the coming judgment!
Moody’s Anecdotes, pp. 115-116
Illustration 2: Ship Sunk by Missile
During the 1982 war in the Falkland Islands between England and Argentina, the Royal Navy’s 3,500-
ton destroyer HMS Sheffield was sunk by a single missile fired from an Argentine fighter jet. It
caused some people to wonder if modern surface warships were obsolete, sitting ducks for today’s
sophisticated missiles. But a later check revealed that the Sheffield’s defenses did pick up the
incoming missile, and the ship’s computer correctly identified it as a French-made Exocet. But the
computer was programmed to ignore Exocets as “friendly.” The Sheffield was sunk by a missile it
saw coming and could have evaded. Today in the Word, May 12, 1992
II. Paul wants them to Follow him (1 Cor. 4:16)
A. This shows his authority as an apostle. Ordinary preachers can only say follow me
insofar as I follow the Scriptures, but Paul wrote by divine revelation.
B. This shows that Paul lived what he preached and it is a challenge to every preacher
and teacher to do the same.
C. Paul had instructed Timothy to remind them of his teaching (1 Cor. 4:17).
1. Timothy had been so faithfully discipled by Paul that he could be sent in his
place in confidence that he would perfectly represent him. He was his beloved
son in the Lord and he was faithful. Paul had taught the Corinthians that
faithfulness is the prized quality in a steward (1 Cor. 4:2) and here he says
Timothy had that quality.
2. Timothy was faithful to do what he was instructed to do. He was dependable.
3. Reminding the brethren of known truths is important. Doctrine must be
repeated. Not only do believers need to hear the same truths repeated, but the
churches are constantly changing. New members are being added; old ones are
leaving; children grow up; circumstances change. Thus, there is a continual need
for doctrine to be repeated and re-emphasized and re-established. One wise
preacher said, “No position can be safely maintained without continual
indoctrination.” (Phil. 3:1 and 2 Pet. 1:13.)
4. Paul taught the same thing in all the churches. This refutes the idea that some of
the doctrine in 1 Corinthians was only for that particular church and situation.
III. Spiritual Pride (1 Cor. 4:18 -21)
A. Some at Corinth were puffed up against Paul (1 Cor. 4:18). Paul mentions this
several times. (1 Cor. 9:3; 2 Cor. 10:2, 10; 12:11). To be “puffed up” means to be
inflated with one’s sense of importance and knowledge, to be religiously proud. In
other words, arrogant. It is always the mark of a person who is not right with God.
B. “Paul will never come here!” they were saying (v. 19). “He writes stern letters and
tries to scare us, but he will never come back!” “Be careful!” warned the apostle.
“Talk is cheap! When I do come, I want to see how much power these Christians
have, and not how much they talk. A carnal Christian is often a bragging Christian,
but there is no demonstration of God’s Spirit in his or her life.
C. In 1 Cor. 4:20, we see that Paul is referring to the vain words such as those used by
his enemies at Corinth. He is saying that the kingdom of God is not in that type of
words but in true divine power and authority.
D. Repentance from their mistakes is all the Apostle Paul wants. If they would show
their change of mind and ways, He will come and lovingly forgetting the sins of the
past. But if there is no repentance, if those who oppose him persist, Paul will come
in power, and he will then use his apostolic authority to deal with them. The
eloquent speech of these leaders will not be enough when Paul arrives, for he will
expose their lack of real spiritual power. (1 Cor. 4:21)
E. Certainly, it grieved Paul’s heart to have to write this way to his spiritual children,
but he had to be faithful. Just as parents must warn and chasten their children, so
“spiritual fathers” must warn and discipline the children of God in love. This is not an
enjoyable experience, but it is a necessary one.
Illustration 3: What Sinks Ships?
Someone has pointed out that it isn’t the ship in the water but water in the ship, which sinks ships. A
ship can ride out the most severe storm so long as it isn’t capsized or punctured so that water gets
inside. There may be a great external threat, but if the water can be kept out, the ship will remain
It’s just so with the spiritual life of a Christian. We are in the world, but not of the world. All around
us, and often very close to us, there are immoral and unspiritual elements which, if allowed to
penetrate our defence, will surely “sink” us. Those elements must be kept out at all costs.
We must be strong to keep the world out of our hearts and lives. John says, “Love not the world,
neither the things that are in the world” (1 John 2:15), and then identifies those things more closely
as the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” The problem isn’t the Christian in
the world, it’s the world in the Christian. Whatever takes our eyes off Christ, discourages us from
serving Him in the church, or compromises our spirituality and morality in any way, can destroy us.
“O soul be on thy guard; ten thousand foes arise.” Practical Bible Illustrations From Yesterday and
Paul’s desire is that the believers in the church of Corinth would heed his written
warnings and to correct the things in which they are wrong. As their spiritual “Father” he
has the right and authority to correct them even discipline them. How about you
Christian would you be corrected by the words of God as written by the Apostle Paul