So what does all of this patron-client talk have to do with Paul’s first letter to Timothy? What’s the point of the examples of clients honoring their patrons, be it by heralding, inscriptions, or some other manner? Is Paul to be viewed as Timothy’s patron? Is one to somehow perceive Timothy as being Paul’s client? Though something like that could certainly be gleaned from the introduction to the letter, when Paul writes “to Timothy, my genuine child in the faith. Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord!” (1:2), it would be a stretch to assert this as being true to the situation. Observers, however, could possibly infer such a relationship, and it is possible that Paul has this potentiality in mind. With that in mind, Timothy will be considered in short order, but another detour is most necessary.
Paul, much like Jesus, does not wish to be viewed as a patron. At the same time, Paul took steps during the course of his ministry to make sure that he is not looked upon as being a client either, as this, according to his way of thinking, would diminish his effectiveness and run contrary to what needs to happen in the communities envisioned by the messianic mission and the kingdom of the covenant God. Thus there is a stark emphasis on this aversion in what is looked to as Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth.
In the eleventh chapter Paul can be heard asking “did I commit a sin by humbling myself so that you could be exalted, because I proclaimed the Gospel to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so that I could serve you! When I was with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone… I kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so… And what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may eliminate any opportunity for those who want a chance to be regarded as our equals in the things they boast about” (2 Corinthians 11:7-9a,9c,12).
Not only is Paul expressing his independence from this church, while also diminishing the patron-client relationship into which others might naturally enter in their service of the church, one must notice that Paul also debases himself by referring to himself as a robber. Such words, along with the other rhetorically oriented words of debasement, demonstrate that Paul is not attempting to elevate himself in any way, but that he truly desires to serve the churches for their edification.
In chapter twelve, he reiterates and emphasizes his eschewing of patronage and clientage, writing “I will not be a burden to you, because I do not want your possessions, but you. For children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. Now I will most gladly spend and be spent for your lives… I have not burdened you” (12:14b-15a,16b). If Paul’s words are heard merely as some type of erection of spiritual laws and the relationship between children and parents, dismissing the patron-client constructs of his world and forgetting the significant amount of time and attention this congregation received from Paul, a great deal of what is being communicated to the Corinthian church will be missed. The reader do himself a tremendous service by gaining familiarity with the cultural dynamics of Paul’s world, which, of course, were the same cultural dynamics at work in the world of Jesus. This opens up the world of the Gospel, making the mental application in vastly different worlds that much easier, while at the same time making the application of the message of the Gospel even more challenging.