December 3, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.”—1 Corinthians 4:14–17 (NIV)
According to an article from Michigan State University, “Infants and toddlers are the world’s best ‘copy cats.’” While young kids learn from siblings, caregivers, teachers, and even TV, all the research conducted shows that their primary influence and most significant teachers are their parents, even into their teenage years!
I remember watching my parents and learning how to do so many things—things I still do today. But more than that, I can now see habits, mannerisms, ideals, and thought patterns I picked up from them. And while they weren’t perfect, I know they did their best and their intentions were always the very best for me. I can’t say the same for others I allowed to have a seat of influence over the person I’ve become—classmates, coaches, celebrities, and others. There’s a lesson here . . .
In today’s passage, Paul isn’t trying to shame the Corinthians or make them feel guilty for how little they suffer in comparison with him and the other apostles. Instead, he’s trying to provide wisdom and perspective, to help them move toward a different mindset, heart attitude, and way of doing things. Like the spiritual dad he is to his “dear children,” he’s having a tough-love conversation with them for their good and spiritual wellbeing.
Joseph Barnes paraphrases Paul’s intentions like this: “I do not say these things in a harsh manner, with a severe spirit of rebuke. . . . I say these things not to make you blush, but with the hope that they may be the means of your reformation and of a more holy life.” It’s like when my kids demonstrate an ungrateful attitude or act selfishly, I have to help them see things differently and put things into perspective for them so they can learn and grow.
Paul then points out that while they have lots of other influences, they don’t have many spiritual parents. And he, being their spiritual dad who has nothing but their best interests at heart, should be who they imitate. They should follow his example—and Timothy’s example who has learned from him—over other influences.
Friends, this is of vital importance in the discipleship journey of every believer. You absolutely must have people like Paul in your life—spiritual moms and dads, trusted, solid leaders, mentors, disciple makers, and role models who imitate Christ—whose lives have produced fruit, who are worthy of imitating, and whose hearts and motives are for the glory of God and the building up of others and not for their own gain.
It’s from these “spiritual parents” we learn to live the Christian life, grow in relationship with Jesus, study the Bible and pray, walk in humility, serve others, share the gospel, walk through trials and tragedies, and be a godly spouse, parent, friend, and neighbor.
It’s their counsel and wisdom we should seek and listen to; their rebukes and admonitions we should allow to give us perspective. Therefore, while we can learn things from others (friends, peers, celebrities, influencers, etc.) and see things in new ways, we must be careful who we allow to truly influence us. And then, just like kids and their parents, as we grow up and mature in our faith, we must become the spiritual parents for the next generation and for those younger and less mature in the faith.
Pause: What should we consider when determining who we allow to influence and shape us?
Practice: If you have a mentor like Paul, this week share with them how grateful you are for their influence and heart to glorify God and invest in you. If you don’t have a person like that, please reach out to us—you can find our contact info on the final day of the plan. I’d love to help you get connected with godly, loving people who will help you grow and point you to Jesus!
Pray: Father, I pray that You surround me with the right people (godly influences, disciple makers, role models, and spiritual parents) who will draw me closer to You and help me grow in my love and devotion to You. Amen.
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.