First Corinthians 4.15-21


1. Turn to First Corinthians 4.15-21.

2. I have six main points that develop the concept of the spiritual leader's responsibility to work to secure the unity of the body. Six points to show the urgency of following the leader God wants you to follow, not the person who may simply be a dial away, a knob away, or a phone call away.

3. Let's stand for the reading of God's Word: "For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 16Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. 17For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church. 18Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you. 19But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. 20For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. 21What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?"


"For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel."

1B. Notice The Explanation Of Paul In This Verse

1C. It's back in verse 14 that Paul has both called the Corinthians his sons and has warned them. In this verse he continues on to show them both his difference from other spiritual leaders and his determination.

2C. What is his difference from other spiritual leaders? He points out to his readers that they have many teachers, but only one father. They have many who are able to teach them the Bible, but only one whose responsibility it is to train them up in the faith. Many who can conduct Bible studies and preach sermons, but only one who will be held accountable, as is a father, for their training as God's children. You see, Paul is different than others in the Church, and he is different than others outside the Church.

3C. His determination? We see that in his argument. Those people were supposed to follow him, but they weren't. You see, they decided to follow someone else, someone they liked. Did Paul give up? Did he write them off? No. He fought for his God-ordained role in their lives. 

4C. After all, in a spiritual sense, he was their father, and a father does not passively allow his children to run away or to disobey. He loves his children too much for that. And it wasn't an ego thing with Paul, either. He was concerned about them.

2B. Now, An Application To Us

1C. Folks, we live in a world of Bible teachers. Whether it be tapes or television, radio or written page, in the Church or outside the Church, so many today wants the glamour and attention associated with teaching the Word of God, with being the center of people's attention, never minding the warning issued by James in chapter 3 and verse 1: "My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation."

2C. But there are great differences between teaching the Bible and functioning as a father. What are those differences? For one, the father is not only interested in hearing the sound of his own voice. Some men want to teach and to preach, but they are not interested in doing the less glamorous things that need to be done to earn respect, to lay the groundwork, to actually earn the attention of those who comprise the audience. The father, on the other hand, is passionately concerned with the results of his ministry. He desires that his spiritual children prosper.

3C. If there is a single word that distinguishes between a mere Bible teacher and a spiritual father it would be the word training. The Bible teacher, you see, throws the truth out and lets you take what you pick and choose to take. But a father doesn't function that way at all.

4C. His goal is not to throw out truth, but to see that his child is raised properly. And raising a child properly involves training. And training requires a great deal more than hearing the sound of your own voice, standing up in front of the Church in the spot lights. To achieve training you have to be willing to do the grunt work that so many these days are unwilling to do. Now, how does that apply to us?

5C. Does the man on the radio, or the man on the tape, or the man on television, or the man with the magazine article, or the man who occasionally stands in front of you, see to it that you grow? Does he see to it that you understand? Does he apply the Scriptures to you personally? Of course not. How could he? The best of such men are in no position to do the grunt work that guarantees your long term benefit.

6C. Paul is arguing to the Corinthians that they are to respond to an authorized spiritual leader, their pastor, or the apostle of Jesus Christ who is given charge over them and surrounding Churches, not to every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to teach the Bible. His argument is as valid for us today as it was then.

2A. POINT #2. THE APPEAL (4.16)

"Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me."

1B. Notice The Responsibility Of The Church Member

1C. Church members are supposed to be followers. But not just followers. You are supposed to be followers of God-ordained leaders. You see, the really good follower is very careful to select the proper leader.

2C. Paul is appealing to his people to not follow someone just because he teaches or preaches the Bible in a way that interests you, or because you have a "special friendship" with him. Friends, the ability to teach or preach is not equivalent to a calling to lead. And the ability to lead isn't equivalent to a calling to lead.

3C. Your responsibility is to follow the leadership of someone who is ordained of God to be a leader in the Church you are a part of. This is why Paul challenged the Corinthians to follow his leadership instead of Peter's or Apollos'. You see, though they were God-ordained leaders, they were not God-ordained leaders to the Corinthians. To the Corinthians they were just Bible teachers and preachers.

4C. The point I'm trying to make is this: Just because someone has the opportunity to teach the Word of God does not mean that the one taught is authorized to follow the teacher. Shirley French has taught a number of you younger women, but I am your pastor. Gary Isenberger and Mike DiGiovanna have preached to you on numerous occasions, but I am your pastor. Special speakers come in from time to time, but I am your pastor.

8C. Those who are to lead are those God's Word says are to lead. And it's a Church member's responsibility, it's your responsibility, to keep this in mind.

2B. Notice The Responsibility Of The Church Leader

1C. I think there are two, actually. The spiritual leader must be what he wants his people to be and he must be going where he wants them to go. In Paul's day he would be referring to himself and to the Corinthian pastor, but in our day only the pastor would be referred to. Apostles of Jesus Christ are no longer on the scene.

2C. So, I ask myself the question, Do I want people to follow me? Then I must follow Christ, according to First Corinthians 11.1: "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." And when I am personally following Christ I am what I want you to be and am going where I want you to go. That's number one.

3C. Next, I must be a leader people will follow. When Paul said, "Wherefore I beseech you," it was Paul, the leader, who wrote. Therefore, it is not inappropriate for a spiritual leader to verbally challenge people to follow his leadership. Paul did, and I am.

4C. This doesn't mean that I should compromise in order for you to follow me. But it does mean that if you won't follow me it ought to be the result of your unwillingness to do right and be spiritual, not my own ineptness as a leader.

5C. So, we've seen Paul's argument about his leadership role in their lives, and we've seen his personal appeal for them to follow him.

3A. POINT #3. THE AID (4.17) 

"For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.."  Notice some extremely important things about young Timotheus. 

1B. First, Notice Paul's Purpose

1C. The "For this cause" refers us back to verse 16. You see, Timothy, as Paul's coworker in the ministry, had the ministry of enhancing Paul's leadership to those people. Not that he didn't have many other duties as well. I'm sure he wouldn't have lasted long with Paul had he not been willing to do whatever grunt work Paul wanted him to do. But this duty is often overlooked today by those who don't understand the role and the ministry of those who would serve with the pastor.

2C. You see, in this verse we have a confirmation of the fact that God did not abandon well- established Old Testament principles of leadership in His New Testament scheme of things. As with Moses and Joshua and Gideon, God still leads by a man. Further, it shows us the role that spiritual leaders have in Churches, insofar as the maintenance of Church unity is concerned.

3C. Was Timothy a spiritual leader? Well, he was a spiritual leader in the making. So, what was his purpose in going to Corinth? To get the Corinthians to follow Paul. And the same kind of thing is true today. Spiritual leaders in the making are men who are willing to do whatever is legitimately necessary to encourage Christians to follow their pastor.

2B. Then, Notice Paul's Plan

1C. In this verse Paul uses the phrases "my ways" and "as I teach" when describing the instructions Timothy was bringing to Corinth. This tells us that Timothy's plan wasn't his own plan. It was Paul's plan. It was God's plan.

2C. Timothy understood that his ministry was to do what he was directed to do. And in this instance he was directed to remind those people of the things Paul had previously taught. Once again, we see, it was a ministry of supporting Paul's role as a leader, something he could not have been effective doing had he not been willing to do the grunt work that is unromantic, that is unglamorous, but which is so necessarily a part of real ministry.

3C. So, we have argument, appeal, and aid. Notice how Paul is funneling everything in this passage toward his goal of persuading the Corinthians to follow his leadership. Why is he doing that? Because it's important!


"Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you." Imagine two things about the kind of attitudes Paul was dealing with here.

1B. First, Imagine The Pride He Is Describing

1C. Folks, I'm of a mind that there are two stages in the development of this wicked and Satanic sin called pride.

2C. First, there is pride in your heart. That's when you know you are better than everyone else, but in various ways you do a fairly good job of concealing your pride. Your arrogance is only occasionally seen by others.

3C. Then there is the rank arrogance and cockiness that is so manifestly displayed to one and all, such as Paul is describing with this phrase "puffed up." This person is so proud and self- important that he makes no attempt to conceal his supposed superiority. These were the kinds of people Paul was dealing with in Corinth.

2B. After Imagining Their Pride, Imagine Their Confidence

1C. "As though I would not come to you." Folks, those people thought Paul was afraid to confront them, that he would stay away in fear. What delusions of grandeur they had. How self-deceived they were.

2C. This verse shows us that sometimes a pastor will have to deal with folks who have a terrible pride problem, and that dealing with it to insure Church unity is a necessary task. Necessary because pride has a corrosive effect on a congregation, on its unity, on the humility of its people.

3C. Argument, appeal, aid, attitude.


1B. Assurance #1

1C. If God permits it, Paul will come.

2C. If God permits it, the pastor will deal with people who bring divisions to the Church. At whatever level. By the way . . .God usually permits it. Amen?

2B. Assurance #2

1C. When he comes, Paul will find out what the troublesome members are made of. "I . . . will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power."

2C. You see, talk is cheap. But what about power? The kingdom of God is in power. And this word "power" is synonymous with authority or right.

3C. People will influence others and be divisive and behave as if they have authority or rights to do what they are doing. But when the man of God with the God-given authority to lead comes on the scene . . . .

4C. I hate to hassle worse than almost anything. But in this verse I see Paul's willingness to wage a spiritual battle to consolidate his position as the spiritual leader so that spiritual unity might result. The lesson seen here? A pastor must be willing to engage in spiritual conflict to maintain his effectiveness as a spiritual leader in the face of the efforts by many to siphon off the willingness of Church members to follow his leadership.


"What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?"

1B. Do you see the determination Paul has, again? Is this the pantywaist, compromising kind of modernistic minister that is commonly thought of by the religious liberals and the unsaved crowd? No way.

2B. Notice what Paul's approach is. He is really indicating to the Corinthian Church that they determine the kind of approach to them he will have. If they are proud and haughty Paul will come to them with a rod, metaphorically. But if they are willing to learn, willing to follow the direction of God's man, he will come in love and in the spirit of meekness.

3B. This lets us know that those whose attitude is prideful should probably get hit pretty hard. Those whose hearts have been melted by the Holy Spirit, or those who have perhaps not been aware of the consequences of their actions, can be dealt with more tenderly.

4B. But there will come a realization of one thing certainly and finally. There will be unity. And since unity cannot be achieved when leaders other than the pastor is leading, leaders other than the pastor will have to stop leading. Amen?


1. Let's talk about Church unity for a moment, since that's essentially what the last 13 sermons I have preached on Sunday evenings have been about.

2. Disunity and divisiveness in a congregation is really only a symptom. It's the corporate symptom of individual believers in a Church who simply are not spiritual.

3. And as with many diseases, the proper diagnosis of this type of spiritual problem in a Church calls for the treatment of both the actual disease and the symptoms that it produces. For the disease of disunity and divisiveness I must work to treat the real problem of carnality in the individual believer's life, as well as the symptom of disunity which affects everyone in and around our Church.

4. That means you, as a Church, must make sure you do not glory in spiritual leaders; particularly those not specifically authorized by God to be your spiritual leader. You must also abandon judgmentalism, which is having your own personal standards for evaluating preachers. And, finally, you must attend to the leadership God has planned, purposed, and placed into your life.

5. But since every Church is composed of individuals, this means you must, as an individual, abandon glorying in spiritual leaders. You must, as an individual, abandon judgmentalism. You must, as an individual, attend to leadership.

6. Wait a minute! People simply aren't going to do that who aren't spiritual. Which means Church unity will not be a continuing reality unless you say to yourself, "I must abandon glorying. I must abandon judgmentalism. I must attend to leadership."

7. Do you see what Paul is doing here? He's bringing it right back to the individual, right back to you. You folks cannot corporately do those things which lead to unity unless you individually do those things which evoke unity. And you will not individually do those things unless you are individually spiritual.

8. That brings it right back on each one of you. My friend, like it or not, you are simply critical to this Church's ministry of reaching people for Christ. Whether you want to be important or not, you are important.

9. Now, you might not like the fact. And you may leave this Church and go to another Church where you won't be reminded of your Christian responsibilities. But it doesn't alter the reality of it, does it?

10. If you are a member who only comes on a hit or miss basis, never faithfully attending every service you legitimately can, you are divisive.

11. If you will not follow my leadership in such areas as giving, prayer, evangelism, separation from ungodly habits and practices, abstaining from the very appearance of evil, loving one another, etc., you are divisive.

12. In short, every single person in this Church, as well as every person who ought to be in this Church, is either directly aiding or directly hindering the cause of Christ.

13. "Is Church unity and my involvement in the Church really that critical, pastor?" You bet it is. We have seen that four chapters of the biggest book in the New Testament are devoted to unity and the personal role you play in that unity.

14. And what's at stake? John 17.21: "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."

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