Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Father And The Son

An online conversation with my friend Mike and a face-to-face conversation with my friend Mark have both got me thinking about Paul this week.  The timing is appropriate enough: Tuesday 25 January was the Feast of the Conversion of Paul, and Wednesday 26 January was the festival of Timothy and Titus, Paul’s travelling companions.

Mike set me reflecting on how Paul invested in Timothy, so that Timothy became such an excellent Christian leader.

In 1 Corinthians 4:14-17, Paul tells the Corinthians that, in Christ, he became their father through the gospel: and urges them therefore to imitate his life.  He goes on to say that as he is unable to come to them in person, he is sending them Timothy, who will remind them of Paul’s way of life in Christ Jesus, because Timothy is Paul’s faithful son in Christ.

Paul calls Timothy his son whom he loves.  Paul uses the same language to describe his relationship with Timothy as the Gospel-writers use to describe Jesus’ relationship with God: a father, and a son whom he loves.

In many churches we are comfortable with the language of being brothers and sisters in Christ – that is, with the language of all being peers – though we are not necessarily comfortable with the change required of us to actually live as brothers and sisters.  In some churches we are comfortable with ‘father’ as a term of respect towards the ordained minister, though it is hardly relational: in Liverpool, which has a large Roman Catholic population, I am regularly greeted as Father when I go out and about wearing my dog collar (and as La’ – that is, lad – when I go out without my dog collar).  But in many churches we are uncomfortable with both the language and the change required of us of having/being fathers and children in Christ.

As peers, we say, we all have the Holy Spirit within us: every sheep recognises the Shepherd’s voice: what I think God is saying is as valid as (i.e. more valid than) what you think God is saying.  As peers, we easily justify ourselves as being un-teachable; or excuse ourselves for not speaking into someone else’s life.

But – within the church and within the wider society we live in – we are desperately in need of fathers.

It is ironic that, in an age when we need to be discussing the place and role of women in leadership within the church, that we have so neglected discussing the place and role of men in leadership within the church (at every level of leadership).

Men as disciple-makers: men as fathers: men refusing to abdicate the responsibility to be a father – not just to create new life, but to raise spiritual children to spiritual maturity.

The same level of access Jesus enjoyed with the Father is Paul’s model for his relationship with Timothy.  Indeed, it was Jesus’ model for his own relationship with the twelve.

I am thankful for those men who have been spiritual fathers to me.  As Paul writes, you can have many guardians, but few fathers (i.e. more than one, but not lots).  My biological father is also a spiritual father to me.  So is my friend Mike, who I mentioned at the opening of this post.  Each of the few spiritual fathers in my life has given life to a particular part or parts of who I am, and has nurtured that part to maturity through making their life – wherein I first saw that thing modelled – available to me, to share, to observe and participate in, day after day after day over a period of years.  In the case of both my dad and Mike, on whose staff team I served, I no longer live in their ‘home’ nor see them very often: I have grown.  But, in the thing I saw in them and sought to imitate – not to copy, but to express in my own life in a way that is authentic to who God has made me, not them, to be – I hope that I am a faithful son.

The way in which I can be most faithful is to be a spiritual father myself: both to my own biological children, and to spiritual children.  To give them full access to my life, so they can see how I live – the totally: not simply what I do, but how I be – and why I live that way.  And to say, you see how I live: imitate me, as I imitate Christ.  That is what discipleship means.

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