In our series on the meaning of the word “gospel” we are now looking at how Paul uses this great term in his letters to the Christians in Corinth. Today we look at 1 Corinthians 4:14-17:
14 I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. 15 Even
though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many
fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For
this reason I am sending 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.
This text, too, is revealing of what Paul means by gospel.
And what it reveals is this: gospeling involves conversions and conversions involve spiritual relations to those converted. In fact, Paul saw himself as the spiritual parent of those who converted as a result of his gospeling. He saw himself as their spiritual father.
But he is their father with one big condition: he is their father “in Christ.” This is not something he did but something that happened as the converts were united to Christ.
This fatherliness leads to the moral injunction that Paul thinks his “in Christ” converts ought to imitate him! He wants them to imitate his life of service and of rejection and being the “scum of the earth” (1 Cor 4:13).
Conversion, in other words, entails relationship to the “converter”. Of course, this can involve abuse and control issues … but Paul is urging the Corinthians to live according to the gospel of Christ crucified and that means living like Paul.