Last night’s Bible study looked at the end of 1 Corinthians 4, which probably contains one of the most challenging verses in the whole Bible: Paul tells the Corinthians, whose squabblings and immaturity towards leaders reflect their lack of Christlike thinking, ‘I urge you to imitate me.’ (1 Cor 4:16) Paul and the apostles truly lived like Christ: they were homeless as He was (see Luke 9:57-58); they faced rejection and abuse and slander, but responded graciously, seeking reconciliation (see 1 Pet 2:18-25 for how Christ reacted to those things); they knew what it was to be despised and rejected (see Is 53:3-6). They were living out the life of Christ as we are all commanded to do and Paul knew the power of a good model or example (see also 1 Cor 11:1, Phil 3:17, Phil 4:9, 1 Thess 1:6, 2 Thess 3:7-9 for other places where he urges Christians to follow his example.)

Paul likens his role in wanting to see the Corinthians mature well to that of a father who takes the time and effort to help his children mature. His intention is not to shame them, but to point them to the right way of thinking and living. A good father helps his child to mature and learn valuable life lessons through encouragement, comfort and exhortation (see 1 Thess 2:11-12). He will also warn and advise (1 Cor 4:14, see also Eph 6:4) and will model good behaviour: children mimic their parents in everything! At times, a good father will also discipline (see Heb 12:7-11), something which is not pleasant but is necessary if we are to see a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it! As Jarrod Kintz says, ‘She called it a slap, but I called it a high-five to my face. Love is so encouraging!’

Mentoring is a buzz topic these days in the workplace and we need mentors who will show us how to do things. Jesus was the ultimate mentor to the twelve disciples, who learned through being in His company, through watching Him and ultimately through working alongside Him. We are urged to be mentors to others (see Titus 2:1-8), giving our time, our attention and our care to others. Good mentors will listen well, will value people and will be open and honest with them. Christianity is not meant to be restricted to ‘fellowship’ on a Sunday only, but we are to share our very lives with each other, as Christ (and Paul and the apostles) did.

Paul concludes the chapter with a reminder that how the Corinthians respond to his warnings and advice will determine how he comes to them (see 1 Cor 4:18-21). Their arrogance (being inflated like helium balloons!) means they have a higher opinion of themselves than is warranted. Paul reminds them that the kingdom of God is not about talk but power. We have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. How we respond to discipline will determine if we have to be treated with a ‘rod of discipline’ or gentleness and love. Prov 22:15 reminds us that children learn through discipline; the same applies to us as Christians!