World English Bible translation
4:18Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. 4:19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord is willing. And I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. 4:20 For the Kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. 4:21 What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he was their father in Christ Jesus. By this he meant that he had founded the church in Corinth and that God had given him authority over them as the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul used the figure of the father in order to instruct the Corinthians to imitate him. This was the positive aspect of the image of the father. In Today's lesson, Paul gives us another side of his role as the father to the Corinthians.
As the "father" to the Corinthian church Paul had the responsibility of instructing them in the ways of the Lord and calling on them to imitate him in Godly living. But, now he tells those Corinthians that he also has another duty in their regard. He has the duty to discipline them when it is necessary as well.
"Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?" By invoking this question, Paul was bringing forth a powerful image to the Greeks. The rod of discipline was a symbol of the absolute authority that a father exercised over his own household. In Greek and Roman culture, fathers had complete authority over the disposition of those in their household. A father could, in most cases, even discipline an errant child or slave with the absolute punishment of death without fear of retribution from the state.
But the right of the father to discipline was also held up as a grave responsibility too. Fathers were responsible for the actions of those in their households. If another citizen was injured by the actions of a minor, it was the father that was often held as the ultimately responsible party.
In this case both the power to discipline and the responsibility for their conduct was given to Paul by Jesus Christ. Paul tells them that even though some of them are puffed up with pride thinking that he will not come to discipline their actions, they are mistaken. Not only will he come to them, he will come to them with the power of the Kingdom of God.
"For the Kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." The power of the Kingdom is the power of God that he sends to us through His own spirit, the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit that brings the power of God into our lives on a daily, moment by moment basis. Most importantly to this lesson, it is the Spirit of God that is most concerned with disciplining the children of God to follow His will.
In Hebrews 12:7, it is written, "It is for discipline that you endure. God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom his father doesn't discipline?" It is through the power of God's Spirit that we are disciplined as the children of God. That is the lesson Paul is trying to give the Corinthians. It is not a matter of "if" God will discipline, but "when."
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