14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent  you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ,  as I teach them everywhere in every church. 18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? (1 Corinthians 4:13-21 (ESV)
“For I became your father in Christ through the gospel.”
Some Christian traditions call their pastors father. I didn’t grow up with this, but I have learned to smile and greet those cordially when I’m at the hospital or about town in my collar and they call me that. I’m good with pastor. In fact, I’m good with Pastor Bror, Pastor Erickson or in most cases just Bror, especially if I’m hanging out drinking a beer with you. I decline to answer to Mr. Erickson if at all possible. I might answer to that at the doctor’s office before asking her to call me Bror. For a while there within different Lutheran circles, there were some asking to be called father. I have always been uneasy with trying to introduce that practice. Seemed unnecessary and frivolous. At the same time, I always had to shake my head when I would hear people saying but Christ said you should call no one father! That needs some context and is somewhat offset here with Paul telling the Corinthians that he is their father in Christ.
This also puts a little perspective on his hyperbole and sarcasm in his previous section. Father’s do this with their children when they are growing up, and when fathers do it, it is a loving thing that they do. If it was a teacher or a pedagogue doing it then it would be different. Paul has a stronger relationship to the Corinthians than these other pedagogues so he takes advantage of it in order to show his love for them. Here he clarifies that he does this out of fatherly love for them in case there was any doubt. And so that everyone understands the respect they are to give Timothy when he comes because Paul will be coming soon himself.
Paul is sending Timothy to help straighten things up, to help the Corinthians find their way again. He asks them to be imitators of him as he is an imitator of Christ. This is learning how to live the Christian life, which would have been quite a bit different from the way the people around them lived, even as today it is increasingly becoming different than they ways people live. This has never been an easy thing. The hardest thing to overcome is the arrogance that we know better than God how it is we should live our lives in love. But if we let the love of Christ shape us then we will be imitating him. It is love that Paul will put into contrast with arrogance and rudeness. It is love that saves us by dying on the cross rather than lording it over us.