“I am writing to you, fathers, because you have come to know the One who is from the beginning.” (1 John 2:13 HCSB)
John mentions the fathers in the faith. Every assembly of believers would benefit from the guidance of fathers in their midst. The quality of their lives and their witness for Christ, tend to naturally draw people to God, and stir up in new believers the desire to live for Christ. We see a clear distinction between them and other believers in 3 aspects of their lives: 1. Knowledge of God, 2. Character and 3. Conduct in the church, which is the body of Christ.
Knowledge of God – To the ‘children’, John writes, “you know the Father” indicating that they have entered a new and important relationship with God through Christ, and have begun to taste something of the goodness and love of God. To the ‘fathers’, on the other hand, John writes, “…you have come to know the ‘One who is from the beginning’”. This suggests a deep and enduring knowledge of the eternal attributes and character of God. Their understanding of God is considerably greater than even what the ‘young men’, who are properly rooted in the word and productive in their Christian walk might possess.
They do not simply know of God, as we might, for example, know of the US President – having seen him on television or read about him in the papers. Rather, they know Him, and their level of fellowship and intimacy with Him is quite exceptional, and this produces in them an unshakeable faith in God. Therefore, the trials that might cause wavering in ordinary believers have no power to derail them. They are convinced, as Paul was, that nothing could separate them from the love of God.
Character – They are not engaged in a constant battle with the flesh and the world. In them, the flesh is truly dead ‘with Christ’, and the trinkets this world offers hold no attraction for them. Their character has matured to such an extent that they bear ‘in their bodies’ – their countenance, demeanour, speech and actions – the death and life of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:10). They are very humble, peaceable, and never quarrelsome as their lives show forth the fruit of the Spirit.
Conduct in the Church – The strength of their ‘vertical relationship’ with God, impacts their ‘horizontal relationship’ with people, resulting in selfless love and service. Their devotion towards the body of Christ is rarely dependent on the behaviour of the church members themselves; rather it flows out of their closeness to God. They share the love, which God Himself has towards sinners; so when they see other believers stumbling, and even when these Christians turn against them – their inclination is not to judge, but to gently restore and establish them in the true faith.
In comparing the reactions of Joshua and Moses, when ‘God took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders’ of Israel and they began to prophesy, we see the difference between the ‘young men’ and the ‘fathers’. Joshua said, ‘“My lord Moses, stop them.” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”’(Numbers 11:24-29 ESV). Moses had no desire to guard his position or standing among his countrymen; he was glad to see others being blessed.
The Enemy’s Response – The fathers often face much opposition; but the battles they fight are different to what a less mature believer might face. They have the power to discern the enemy’s tactics, and to ward off his attacks – so the churches under their care are stronger and better protected. Not surprisingly, the enemy seeks to wound, and to paralyse them, if only for a season. But as with Job who enjoyed the hedge of God’s protection, the devil hesitates to attack them directly; his chief tactic is to prompt people, often worldly believers, controlled by envy or malice to strike at them. People are less hesitant to oppose a spiritual father like Moses; unlike the devil’s minions, they do not realise that an attack on the ‘friend of God’ could recoil on them. We will shortly examine God’s response to such attacks.
The Example of Moses
The life of Moses exemplifies the nature of a spiritual father. He is described as being “a very humble man, more so than any man on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3 HCSB). His prayer to God speaks volumes about his priorities – “Now therefore, if I have found favour in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favour in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people…” (Exodus 33:13 ESV).
In all the years when he led Israel, Moses had 2 priorities – the honour of God and the spiritual welfare of his people. For himself, he desired only to know God. The desire for God’s presence became an all-consuming passion in his life, overtaking his desire to reach the ‘land flowing with milk and honey’ for he said “… If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here…” (Exodus 33:14 ESV)
He was entrusted with the thankless job of leading the Israelites, a quarrelsome and rebellious group, submerged in the ways of idolatrous Egypt to the Promised Land, and this entailed much sacrifice and suffering. Despite the endless criticism and slander he was subjected to, their welfare remained his priority. Rarely did their attacks affect him in a personal way; his fear was that the wrath of God would fall upon his accusers. In Numbers 12, we find his siblings, Aaron and Miriam speaking against him. God rebuked them both: “…I speak with him directly, openly, and… he sees the form of the Lord. So why were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?” (vs. 8 HCSB). Miriam was struck with leprosy. Then Moses immediately ‘cried out to the Lord, “God, please heal her.”
When God’s anger was aroused at Israel’s idolatry in the matter of the Golden Calf, he was willing to forfeit his own salvation so that they might be forgiven – “So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin… But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Exodus 32:31-32 ESV).
Moses’ intercession on behalf of those who were so quick to rise up against him stayed God’s hand of judgment. It also brought them victories as in the case of their battle against the ruthless and formidable Amalekites – “…his hands were steady [raised up in prayer] until the going down of the sun. So Joshua defeated Amalek” (Exodus 17:11-13 NKJV).
Yet he also knew God well enough, to yield to God’s superior wisdom. Like Jesus, and unlike Peter before Christ’s resurrection, he had in mind the things of God rather than the things of men. For this reason he did not hesitate to pronounce God’s judgment on fellow Israelites, or submit to the judgment of God over his own life. The honour of God took precedence even over those he loved.
The Example of the Apostles
The apostles were uniquely suited for their service as fathers in the church because “… they had been with Jesus,”(Acts 4:13) – that is they were impacted by their close association with Christ, but even more because they were transformed by His death and resurrection. When Jesus was buried, their desire for worldly honour and their former propensity for self-promotion died with Him. Following the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they lived the rest of their lives under the shadow of the cross, bearing in themselves both its humiliation and its power. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV).
As the apostles continued in their service to Christ by ‘feeding His sheep and lambs’ as Jesus had exhorted Peter, they matured to become fathers. They learnt that their calling from God was not for earthly honour, but for the bearing of His cross – “For I think that God has exhibited us apostles… like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake… We are weak… in disrepute…” (1 Corinthians 4:9-10 ESV). They willingly embraced the self-denial and suffering demanded by the cross.
In the writings of the apostles, we sense their deep concern to see believers fully established in Christ. As Paul explained, he laboured for this purpose – to see that their “lives might be pleasing to God, who has given you a part in his kingdom and his glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:8-12 BBE). He experienced what he called a ‘godly jealousy’ for them just as any parent might feel for their children in desiring to protect them from things that would lead them astray – “…because I have promised… to present a pure virgin to Christ. But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a complete and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2-3 HCSB).
In all his labours, Paul was determined not to be a burden to the church in any way – “And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you… I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less…” (2 Corinthians 12:14-15 ESV).
Paul described his relationship with the believers under his care, and his continual effort to raise their spiritual stature – “Even so, being full of loving desire for you, we took delight in giving you not only God’s good news, but even our lives, because you were dear to us… You are witnesses, with God, how holy and upright and free from all evil was our way of life among you who have faith. Even as you saw how, like a father with his children, we were teaching and comforting you all, and giving witness…” (1 Thessalonians 2:8-11 BBE).
Imitating the Fathers
The fathers in the church are worthy of double honour – certainly of respect, but even more of imitation. They are a rare, and increasingly endangered species, within our churches. By following their example of godliness and service, we all reach new heights in the things of God. “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers… I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:15-16 ESV).
We ought to pray that God will raise up many fathers in the church, as well as the diverse ministries in our age, “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man… Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit” (Ephesians 4:12-14 ESV).
Father, thank You for the fathers in the church who demonstrate through their lives the sacrifice of Jesus, and the fatherhood of God. Help us to imitate them, and grow to maturity. We pray that You will raise up many fathers in our generation, that the church may be strengthened and be empowered to resist the strategies of the enemy. In Jesus’ name.