1 Corinthians 14:14 I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. 17 For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church.
At this point in the letter, the apostle Paul has had some very challenging things to say to the church in Corinth – a church he presumably planted years before. Because there were some members of the church who had stature in the broader community, they may have resented being challenged in this way.
Paul then makes an interesting contrast between a “guardian” (of which there were many) and a “father” (of which there were few). A “παιδαγωγοὺς” (paidagogos), which we translate as “guardian”, was often a servant of the family who was tasked with watching a young boy, training his public behavior, and keeping him safe in public. While the guardian was important to a growing boy, he was still a servant. As such, there were limits to the amount of correction or rebuke a guardian might give to the master’s son. At the end of the day, the boy was effectively a master over the guardian.
A father, however, was quite different than a guardian. The boy may have been trained by a guardian, but the boy was not expected to become a guardian himself. In the culture of the day, a boy was expected to become like his father – in whatever trade or vocation the father occupied. In essence, a boy wasn’t expected to imitate a guardian, but WAS expected to imitate his father. And, of course, a father was not a servant of the family, but the head of the family. As such, a father had no limits on the discipline and rebuke he might bring when necessary to the boy.
Two key points Paul is making here:
1. There were too many leaders in the Corinthian church who were acting like guardians – offering mild correction in the face of great wrong, but nothing more. Paul indicated there was at that time great “πορνεία” (porneia) present in the church – sexual immorality. Paul did not intend to act like a guardian, but a father.
2. Paul was sending his protege Timothy to the church to remind them what a Godly life looked like. People often need more than “information” to shape our character. We need a living example to imitate. Since Timothy had spent years closely imitating Paul, his life and Paul’s life were very much alike. So, by imitating Timothy, they were imitating Paul.
Question: whose life are you imitating?
Question: who is imitating your life?
Question: are you living a life worth imitating?
Lord Jesus, we all need someone to imitate in life. Give us the gift of a spiritual father (or mother) to be an example for us. Also, give us grace to be a living example for others. We often don’t see ourselves in this way, but most of us have at least one other person who is doing what we do – whether we like it or not. By your grace, make our lives worthy of imitation insofar as that is possible among fallen humanity. We ask this in your precious name. Amen.