Paul clearly had to deal with believers who were immature in their thinking when he wrote to the church at Corinth. There is much in both 1 and 2 Corinthians that indicates as much, and we have already seen the immaturity of the Corinthian believers in their use of worldly means to assert themselves in the church, to elevate themselves over one another, and even to call into question the ministry of the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 1:10–4:13). At this point in the letter, Paul must remind the Corinthians of his Apostolic authority over them so that he can address the other matters that have come to his attention in the Corinthian church.
Certainly, Paul could have said something like this: “I am an Apostle. I have authority. Listen to me and stop your questions and objections.” However, Paul did not do that, as we see in today’s passage. As a servant of the Lord (he calls himself that in 4:1–7), the Apostle was unwilling to lord his authority over them. Instead, he calls attention to his authority by reminding them of his unique relationship with them, speaking in warm, familial terms.
We see in 4:14 that Paul has not been arguing against their poor conception of true Apostleship to shame them; rather, his purpose has been admonishment. Just as a father might use hard words to admonish or encourage his wayward sons and daughters in order to get them going in the right direction again, so Paul is admonishing the Corinthians as his “beloved children.” He sees himself as their father and them as his children, and with that metaphor comes all the ideas of authority, love, and obedience that exist in a rightly ordered father-children relationship.
Because Paul was an Apostle, the Corinthians were obligated to heed his words. However, they had in one sense an even greater obligation to Paul than to other teachers or Apostles, for it was through his work that many of them were converted and that the church at Corinth was planted (Acts 18:1–11). The Corinthians had many legitimate “guides” or teachers, including Peter (Cephas) and Apollos (1 Cor. 1:12), but they had only one father—Paul, through whose ministry the gospel took root in Corinth (4:15). As his children, they owed him their love and obedience. It would be a love and obedience well placed, for Paul had only the best interests of the Corinthians at heart, seeking to instruct them in the gospel and its ramifications. Truly, he was not merely their Apostle but also their pastor.