Spiritual Fathers

Yesterday I read through 1 Thessalonians because I had a question about the rapture.

(Why didn’t I just read “the rapture verses” (4:13-18), you ask? Because reading through entire books of the Bible all at once gives you invaluable context for the oft quoted verses we Christians like to lob out to people. I recommend you try it.)

What’s awesome about the Bible is I usually get more than I came for when I read it. That happened several times throughout my reading of 1 Thessalonians, but the verses that gave me the most pause were 2:11-12.

Context: Paul is writing to encourage and affirm the Thessalonians as they face persecution.

And smack dab in the middle of chapter 2, Paul says, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory,” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

To say that I love this model Paul gives for what a spiritual father should look like is an understatement.

(I say “spiritual father” when Paul only says “father” because not all fathers do the three things Paul says they do. Though they should, not all biological fathers encourage their children or comfort their children or urge them to live lives worthy of God. And for kids who don’t have fathers who fit this bill, they can benefit greatly from having a spiritual father – someone who steps into their lives and does these three things for them as if they were these men’s own children. If you are blessed with a biological father who does do the three things Paul describes here, your biological father is your spiritual father.)

I think what strikes me most about this passage, aside from the warm feeling I get from this positive portrayal of an ideal father, is that Paul is talking to adults.

The Thessalonians – full-grown adults – still needed someone to deal with them as a father deals with his children. No matter how old these believers were (and, chances are, some were probably old enough for AARP cards), they all still needed a fatherly influence in their lives, at least in a spiritual and emotional sense.

The Thessalonians didn’t necessarily need anyone to protect them physically or to provide for them financially, like a father would’ve done for them when they were actually children. But they still needed encouragement and comfort – emotional support as they went through difficult times. And they still needed urging to live lives worthy of God – spiritual support as they faced trials and tribulations.

It is no stretch, then, to say that we probably need spiritual fathers, too. Yes, us. Independent, make-yourself, college-degree-holding, home-owning, don’t-want-for-anything Westerners. We need men like Paul to come alongside us and to speak into us in fatherly ways. We need spiritual fathers to encourage us when we’re discouraged, to comfort us when we’re out of sorts, and to urge us in loving ways to live up to our potential in the Lord for His glory and our benefit.

Do you have a spiritual father?

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