The Pastor as a “Spiritual Father or Mother” by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg – Bible Study Material on 1 Cor 4:14-21


Paul has been addressing the issue of division in the church over their allegiance to various teachers. Using sarcasm, Paul challenged the immaturity and arrogance of the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 8-13. This study on 1 Cor 4:14-21 focuses on Paul’s special relationship and responsibility to the Corinthians as a “Spiritual Father.”

Who the “Spiritual Fathers” or Mothers are in the Local Church

Jesus warns us that we should call no man on earth “father” (Matthew 23:9), but it is still true that those who lead souls to Jesus are, in a sense, “fathering” them (1 Thessalonians 2:11.) To the Corinthians, Paul had been their spiritual father in that he gave them the gospel and helped to lead them to Jesus. A person is born into God’s family through the Spirit of God (John 3:6) and the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23), but God uses human instruments to bring people to the Gospel. Through Paul’s hard work and labour (Galatians 4:19) he made possible a church in Corinth.

The men who followed Paul may have been their instructors or guides, but the Corinthians had only one spiritual father. The Greek for “guide” describes an ancient practice where a slave would assist parents by taking a young boy to and from school, overseeing his homework, and thus helping develop and shape his conduct and character. It was something like a nanny or a personal attendant in contemporary times. To Paul, it is possible to have many guides but not many spiritual fathers. The Corinthians should have shown Paul more respect and listened to his word. He had warned them about sin, but they had failed to listen. Now he sent Timothy to help them settle their church problems.  If that did not help, Paul intended to come himself. Their attitude would determine whether he would come with a father’s rod of correction, or with a word of commendation and approval. History tells us that they did not listen to Timothy, so Titus needed to go to Corinth.

Undesirable attitudes of the Church towards its spiritual leaders

Several times in this chapter you find the phrase “puffed up,” (arrogant) referring to the Corinthians’ attitude of superiority and carnal pride (1 Cor. 4:6, 18, and 5:2). What made them “puffed up”? Was it not the yeast of sin in their church (5:6)? As the yeast of sin grew, it inflated them into a false spirituality.  Therefore, Paul found it necessary to warn them. This “puffed up” attitude often reveals itself in much talking. “Paul will never come here!” they were saying (1 Cor. 4:18-19). “He writes stern letters and tries to scare us, but he will never come back!” “Be careful!” warned the apostle. “When I do come, I want to see how much power these believers have, and not how much they talk.”  A carnal believer is often a bragging believer, but there is no demonstration of God’s Spirit in his or her life (see 2:4).

Desirable attitudes of the Church towards its spiritual leaders

These two chapters illustrate the proper attitude of the church toward its spiritual leaders. Believers should thank God for their leaders.  They should pray for them, love them, honour them and obey the Word that they are taught. The pastor ministers the Word, sows the seed, builds the temple, dispenses the mysteries of God, suffers shame before the world and lovingly fathers the church family. These are great responsibilities, and only the sufficiency of God enables anyone to fulfil them.


Jesus Christ gives leaders to the Church. 1 Cor 4:14-21 reminds the believers in Christ about the need to submit to these leaders in order to grow up in Christ. As in all leadership, this implies receiving the leaders’ encouragement and heeding their correction.

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