by Santosh Poonen
“For though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers… In Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me” (I Corinthians 4:15-16).
Jesus depicted true spiritual fathers as shepherds. And when He identified Himself as the ultimate Shepherd, He contrasted Himself with hired hands – those who, in the face of adversity, abandon the flock and flee, because they are not concerned about the sheep (John 10:11-13). This is true even today, in both the church and the home.
There are those who are fathers in name – simply because their children call them “Daddy”, or because the members of their church call them “Father” or “Pastor” (incidentally, Jesus expressly forbade such religious titles in Matthew 23:8-10). You can identify such “hired hands” by the fact that they “can’t wait to tell you what you’ve done wrong” (as The Message paraphrases Paul’s words to the Corinthians).
And then there are the true shepherds who carry the welfare of their flock as a burden in their hearts. These fathers, to borrow that paraphrase again, are “willing to take the time and effort to help the sheep grow up.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the ratio is quite literally what Paul seems to indicate: one in ten thousand!
So, what does it really mean to be a father?
1. A true father knows God (I John 2:13-14). This is the same intimate knowing (Greek: “ginosko”) that also describes the intimacy between a woman and her husband. Only when you know God intimately as a Father, will you be able to be a father to others. The “god” you know is the “god” that you will be to others.
2. A true father is merciful (Luke 6:36, Matthew 5:48). This comes from imitating our Heavenly Father who is perfectly merciful. The amount of mercy you believe you have been shown by your Father in heaven is the amount of mercy you will show to others.
3. A true father lives a blameless life (I Thessalonians 2:10-12). This does not mean that you never make mistakes. Rather, if you do sin, as soon as you realize it, confess the sin, apologize, and set things right. This makes you immediately blameless through Christ’s blood, and sets a godly example for others to follow.
4. A true father only speaks encouraging words (I Thessalonians 2:10-12). Jesus spoke a stern warning to anyone who caused “little ones who believe in Him to stumble” (Matthew 18:6). One of the most common ways in which this happens is through discouraging or disparaging words. The words you speak to others now will make or break their relationship with you later, so let your speech be seasoned with grace.
5. A true father fights the fight of faith for others (Mark 9:23-24). I’ve always been challenged by the story of the father who had persistent faith for his demon-possessed child to bring him to Jesus. The only “personal gain” he sought was his child’s freedom. Yet today, there are many “children” who suffer because of a lack of spiritual fathers who can believe and intercede on their behalf that they can be set free from Satan’s power.
God needs those who will be such spiritual fathers – to their wives, husbands, children, brothers and sisters.
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