You Do Not Have Many Fathers
“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” (1 Cor. 4:15, ESV).
There is a lament, a charge, and a plea in this verse from Paul – and I should also say a particular awareness.
Paul proves himself more emotionally aware and spiritually aware than is often given credit in this instance. There is an intimately felt personal desire to meet the needs of the Corinthians as a fatherly figure to them. There is an implied tenderness, this in part demonstrated by his desire to send to them Timothy, that he may help them to feel his presence.
Read: What is the Gospel?
Timothy, to Paul, is considered a “spiritual son,” as he considers Titus (2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4), and sending his “spiritual son” to them is described to be like sending himself and His own heart (what does that sound like? Sound familiar?).
Timothy is described to be like a sincere and gentle arm of Paul’s own heart. He calls Timothy faithful, and he implies that old Timmy is servant-hearted and emphasizes that his love is “genuine.” What value is there, insincerity? Is it not to be a warm and authentic and trusted presence for someone? These ‘sons’ have followed and learned from him, watching where his steps land, how and why they land as such, and what he values – in all of their subtleties.
God as a Father Figure
God has put something unique, meaning distinct, into the idea of being a father figure. This need is a space that all people need fulfilled, firstly in God through Christ (the image of the Father to us – a Timothy in a sense toward us) and also through the community. This need is meant to reflect an aspect of God’s own heart toward us – being a father.
Our culture talks much about forms of masculinity that turn ‘toxic,’ and at times, our culture even goes as far as claiming all masculinity is inherently ‘toxic’ in nature. Yet, did you know that according to the Texas Department of Corrections, 85% of those in prison grew up in a fatherless home? Everyone agrees that one needs a mother’s touch, but do we understand that we also need a father’s?
In fact, there are enormous statistical correlations between rape and fatherlessness, some estimates as high as increasing one’s chances of rape by 14 times, who would have thought that masculinity (when it is even remotely healthy) is able to make a man more tender or compassionate? Yes, mainly, our father in heaven – yet, let us consider our need for ‘spiritual fathers.’
(Check out this link for more statistics on fatherlessness in the United States)
When Paul refers to himself as a ‘father,’ he is not using this as a priestly father who stands between us and access to the God of the heavens (as Jesus is our one and only high priest). He rather gives a stark warning,
“And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9, NIV).
A gentle and strong father is like a lion who lets the cub bite its ears confidently. You know inwardly that if this lion ever wanted, this same warm and softly furred giant, who chooses not to use its teeth, could turn in an instant and kill a beastly hyena.
A “Spiritual Father”
It was a dear friend who took the time to challenge me these years ago. We were on the beach in northern Michigan and staring out over the waters. He grew up in France (his father a missionary and with many children) and grew up with a fatherly figure who walked life with him, always patiently and lovingly pointing him to Jesus.
He said to me that though he believed God led me and taught me, he said, pray for a mentor. At the time, I lived in an area and in a community where such a commodity in the church was few and far between – and I was moving to the least churched state of the country. But, through fear, I nodded and agreed. I prayed for a year.
The next year God provided for me a man who I consider today to be a ‘spiritual father’ to me. I’ve seen first hand what a difference this makes. Having someone you trust to correct you and speak into your most vulnerable spots. A person who notices you and reads you – and has the ability to speak sometimes just a simple word that runs miles for you.
The strongest power of a spiritual father is not only to lovingly correct, but it is to show you what faith looks like walking around and to affirm you. To have someone in your life that you know is not going to just flatter you is not going to say what you want them to say, but what you need. When that type of person says to you, ‘you know I love you right? You know you’re a special one to me, you know that right? You know I see you growing?’ It helps one to taste an Aslan’s anointing, just as one is knighted by the sword.
You are a warrior, I see it, carry on.