Summary: Paul here explains what it meant that he was a spiritual father to the Cornithians and therein gives us insight into how we can impact others.
The Heart Of The Passage:
“Paul is a spiritual father to the Corinthians.”
- v. 15.
- There are two ways to become a spiritual father. One is to be part of birthing someone to new life. The second is to raise a spiritual child into a spiritual adult (an adoption type of situation).
- In both cases, we’re talking, as it refers to earlier in v. 15, about a special relationship, which is not something that’s true of every teacher that we sit under. We need to ask ourselves whether we have “birthed” anyone and been a spiritual father or mother to them. Also, have we seen someone hungry to grow and mature spiritually and come alongside them and invested ourselves in them?
- Many Christians have been believers for 20, 30, 50 years and have never been a spiritual father or mother in either sense. We are called to move beyond being a child and to being a spiritual leader and mentor.
- What does that look like? Let’s talk about it using the more common term “mentor.”
Six Marks Of A Spiritual Mentor:
1. A mentor speaks the hard truth.
- v. 14 - “warns”
- So many people walk around making bad spiritual decisions and, amazingly, the other Christians around them all stand back and watch as mistakes are repeated again and again. We need someone who loves us enough to come to us with the hard truth - “That relationship is destructive,” “Your anger is inappropriate,” “You seem to be pulling back from your church family.”
- In doing this, I am presuming a mentoring relationship where trust and love have been built up, rather than just deciding to walk up to someone we barely know and unload on them.
- Note, too, that Paul specifically says that his goal was not to shame them. Some people who do talk about what someone is doing wrong go about it in the wrong way. They may talk about the person in order to justify their own sins. They may talk the hard truth to others, but not to that person. Our desire cannot be to add shame to their name, but rather to see their behavior changed and their relationship with God redeemed.
2. A mentor gives their heart away.
- v. 14 - “beloved”
- Paul, even when writing hard words, is quick to share his love for the Corinthians. If we are going to be spiritual mentors, we have to be willing to be the first to share our hearts with words of love, encouragement, and compassion.
- Sadly, there are relatively few people who are willing to actually speak those words of bold love. We must be brave enough to do that.
3. A mentor forges the trail.
- v. 16.
- Paul’s words leave many uncomfortable, but the truth is a simple one: we must be able to say to those we mentor, “Don’t just do as I say; do as I do.”
- “I’m not just going to talk about prayer, I’m going to show you what a man of prayer looks like.” “I’m not just going to talk about forgiveness, I’m going to show you what forgiving an enemy looks like.” “I’m not just going to talk about Jesus, I’m going to show you what He looks like.”
- We cannot expect anyone we mentor to go to levels of maturity that we have not experienced ourselves. This is a good question for us to ask ourselves: if my spiritual child becomes as mature as me, how far along will they be toward being like Jesus?
4. A mentor opens doors.
- v. 17 - “I have sent Timothy”
- Here Paul tells them of Timothy’s imminent arrival in order to help them to grow. Some might presume that being in a mentoring relationship means holding tight to your control over the person, but that’s not true. You want to introduce the person to other mature believers and other positive spiritual influences that can add more to what you’ve shared. Jealousy should never be an issue with a spiritual mentor, but thankfulness at everything they learn, no matter who the source is.
- It may be opening a door to a relationship with another mature believer. It may be opening the door to a great book. It may be opening the door to a deep preacher. In any case, a spiritual mentor is looking to expand his spiritual child’s world of influence.
5. A mentor shares biblical wisdom.
- v. 17 - “my ways,” “teach everywhere”
- There is no substitute for a solid grounding in the Word. Mentoring is about developing a relationship and friendship, but it is not only about that. There must be a passion for spiritual maturity that comes from the Word.