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“I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.15 For though ye have ten thousand instructers in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.” (1 Cor. 4:14-17)
Midlife Crisising Around the Drum Circle
We want to be careful about not focusing on fatherhood in such a way that we turn this into a gimmicky sort of thing. God gave us masculinity in order to teach us a deeper truth about what he is like. But if you take just physical machismo in the raw and act like this kind of manliness is some great virtue all on its own, then you will find yourself not getting the point. Guys like this are always hollow, they have a form of masculinity, but they miss the heart of the matter. And movements that want to reclaim masculinity or the office of father get distracted by the trappings and the gimmicks and miss the real thing. Masculine renewal movements regularly veer off into farcical displays of machismo, calling it masculinity. What starts as a good idea, addressing a real need, ends up as a bunch of men midlife-crisising in a drum circle around a fire in the woods. We should beware of teaching that merely exalts the trappings of masculinity or an understanding of fatherhood that is not deeply rooted in a biblical understanding of fatherhood.
Fathers Not Instructors
Paul makes an important distinction in this passage, which helps to see the difference between the trappings of masculinity and the heart of the matter. Instructors are a dime a dozen. Everyone has a new method or system, especially when it comes to parenting. But because this kind of thing is most on display, we often mistakenly put the highest priority on this. The teachers at Logos can do this for you. They are good at logistics. But they are instructors, not fathers, to your children. But Paul says that you need a father.
Good News for the Fatherless
Paul begins his comments here with the observation that the Corinthian Christians do not have very many fathers. His words apply to us as well. We have not had many fathers. But Paul’s exhortation is good news for the fatherless, because no matter what your situation, no matter what your story is, you have a perfect father, since you have a Heavenly Father that has begotten you. His begetting is his act of adoption (Rom. 8:15, Eph. 1:5).
A Progressive Work
But just because we have been adopted, does not mean that we have been perfected and the story is over. As any family that has adopted knows, this is just the beginning of a long and bumpy road. Particularly, if your story includes growing up with a father who failed in significant ways, a father who didn’t know the Lord at all, who gave you no example of what a Christian man looked like. Minimizing the impact of fatherlessness in your own life will only impede your own ability to deal with the damage.
On the other hand those who have had the blessing of being raised in a very godly family have another danger to look out for. A solid family, particularly a solid family in a world of messed up families, will raise children with deep loyalty to their parents and the family culture that they came from. But no family is perfect. We all miss it as some point. A man who had a terrible childhood is under no delusion about the need to correct where his parents went wrong. But a man who had a fantastic childhood has a much harder time bringing himself to correct where his parents missed something.
Imitating God the Father
We must constantly look to God the Father to get a clear picture in our mind of what a real father is like.
- He pursues: One of the hardest things about coming to the understanding of the doctrines of grace that were articulated during the Reformation is the realization that when you were saved you brought nothing to the deal. But that same humbling truth, once it is swallowed, becomes one of the sweetest and most comforting truths. God chose you, pursued you, hunted you down, and saved you, while you were still lost. He loved you when you were an enemy. This demeanor is essential to godly parenting. Your children are yours to pursue, regardless of how you feel about your task at any given moment.
- He is constant: God is not a father who turns over an ew leaf once in while and get engaged. He is a constant father. Your children will know you from what you are the nine days of out ten,, not the one out of ten.
- He regenerates: Lastly, the Heavenly Father begets. He makes spiritual children. Earthly fathers are called to imitate him in this. Talk about the gospel with your children. Pray with them. Walk them through the confession of sin. God is sovereign over all the physical realm as much as much as the spiritual realm. But why is it we are temped to hyper-calvinism with the spiritual and not with the physical? If they don’t clean their rooms there is hell to pay. But if they don’t deal with their sin, we say, well it is up to God to bring that change about. Be a father.
To the Third and the Fourth vs. to the Thousandth
Take comfort in the fact that, in the end, even in this fallen world, God has established things such that father blessing will outstrip father cursing.