For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel.
~1 Corinthians 4:15, NKJV
"When I grow up, I'm going to get a place by myself, or maybe with my best friend, and then I won't have to worry about paying all the bills for a family. That way, my life will be MUCH easier!"
So said my young teenager to me last night as he brushed his teeth in our bathroom. After making sure that I knew his "girlfriend" was just a "girl" / "friend" and not a romantic interest, he launched into his thoughts about the difficulties of life with a family. He has seen my job as a parent, and he doesn't want it!
The human side of me agrees; through 17 years (and counting) of parenting, I have encountered more trials and tribulations than I originally thought I was signing up for! Parenting is full of dirty messes, sleepless nights, hospital visits, identity crises, endless paperwork, sibling rivalry, event planning, homework helping, meal cooking, and child consoling. It is a thankless task.
Or is it?
From God's perspective, we could say that parenthood is, in a word, the essence of servanthood. And servants, according to Jesus, are the ones who receive the highest commendations in eternity! (See .) God intends to reward eternally those who lay down their lives for others as servants - and parents.
The problem is that our humanity stands in the way. We long to be faithful, yet we are negligent. We long to truly love others, yet we are more often selfish. We long to sacrifice, but fear the pain. I know. I feel it, too.
As believers, we want to hear our Master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant... Enter in to the joy of your Master!" But this commendation comes only through faithfulness over what God has entrusted to us. (See Matthew 25:23.) For some of us, that "trust" may include natural children. But God wants all of us to become spiritual mothers and fathers!
Paul's Call to Parenthood
It is not clear whether the apostle Paul was married or had children. The Bible doesn't tell us these details. What it does show us is that Paul understood the principle of spiritual parenting better than most. Paul believed Christ's call to make disciples was best done through the type of servanthood we call parenting. Look, for example, at these scriptures:
1 Thessalonians 2:7 - "But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children."
1 Thessalonians 2:8 - "So affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us."
1 Thessalonians 2:6 - "We did not seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ."
1 Thessalonians 2:9 - "For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God."
2 Corinthians 12:14-15 - "I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls..."
1 Thessalonians 2:10-11 - Just, devout, and blameless conduct among them as they exhorted, comforted, and charged every one, "as a father does his own children."
1 Thessalonians 2:17 - When separated from his "children," Paul longed for them eagerly and was separate only in presence, "not in heart."
1 Thessalonians 2:19 - Paul's spiritual children were his "hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing."
1 Thessalonians 3:1-2; 5 - Paul did not abandon his spiritual children in times of affliction, but sent Timothy to watch over them, "that no one should be shaken."
1 Thessalonians 3:10 - "Night and day praying exceedingly" for them and desiring to see them and perfect what is lacking in their faith.
1 Timothy 5:2 - Paul commands the churches to treat each other like family, calling older women mothers, older men fathers, etc.
Colossians 3:21 & Ephesians 6:4 - Paul writes to fathers, commanding them not to "exasperate" or provoke their children to anger, but to "bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord."
1 Corinthians 3:1-3a - "I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal."
Philippians 2:22 - Paul commends Timothy for serving with him "as a son with his father."
Clearly, Paul believed that God's desire was to "set the lonely in families." (Psalm 68:6.) He labored night and day to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children. (Malachi 4:6.) Regardless of whether he was a father in the natural, he assumed a leadership role in training up spiritual children in the faith. We should, too.
What Does God Say?
It wasn't just Paul's idea to create churches full of spiritual families. As far back as 2 Samuel 7:14 we hear God proclaim, "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters." Hebrews tells us that God deals with us as sons, disciplining us so that we grow up into Him and reflect His glory. From the very beginning, God's children were made in the Father's image, intended to be the very best - and most loyal - representatives, or ambassadors, of His Kingdom.
Jesus astounded the religious leaders of His time by calling God "Abba," which means "Daddy." At His death, Jesus entrusted John with the care of His mother, Mary. I believe this was not just so that Mary would be honored and cared for in her old age, but also so that John would have the continuum of a spiritual mother's care as he mourned the loss of his best friend.
Not surprisingly, when Jesus' family came to find Him in the midst of ministry, He famously proclaimed: "Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:50.)
A Call to Spiritual Parenting
My son is right: selfish living would be easier. But it isn't an option for those who follow Christ!
Christ tells us that in the end times, the love of many will grow cold. Selfishness and a spirit of entitlement already dominate our culture today. We have labelled our youth "the fatherless generation" and they suffer for want of fathers, mothers, and godly mentors. (*To read a profound report on Fatherlessness from the Massachusetts Family Institute, click here.) One out of every three children in America now grows up in a home without both biological parents. Children are desperate to know the love of a family or community. Christian leaders can change that.
Here are four steps to :
1. First and foremost, leaders (mature believers) need to repent for embracing selfishness and personal comfort when the children of our generation are perishing for want of mothers and fathers. You don't need to be a pastor to "parent" children in the faith. Your friendship with Jesus is what qualifies you to love the next generation!
2. We must recognize that like God, the enemy has his own plan for spiritual "parenting." The mother of harlots, "Babylon," is even now actively instructing the human race in the ways of idolatry, harlotry, and rebellion (Revelation 17:5). This woman sits atop the "seven mountains," or the seven spheres of society that influence our culture: entertainment, business, education, media, family, religion, and government. We must counter the deception of the enemy with the love and truth of God, by laying down our lives if necessary to demonstrate God's goodness.
3. Determine where the Lord has called you (your primary sphere of influence), and make a quality decision to invest in people within that sphere who lack mentors or parents. This is the work of discipleship and the fulfillment of the Great Commission! Ask God to open your eyes to those who need spiritual moms and dads. Ask the Father of all to give you two things: His love for the people around you, and His specific strategies for reaching them. He knows what will work for each generation.
4. Begin praying fervently for those God gives you. If you read through Paul's letters to the various churches in Asia Minor, you discover that he prayed night and day for his spiritual kids, with very specific requests. I am including with this post a collection of Paul's prayers as I have found them in his letters. They are a wonderful starting point for prayers for our spiritual children. Click the button below to download or print your free copy.
If you are reading this, know that I pray these very same prayers for you on a regular basis! Each of you is dear to my heart and I believe we are all coming to maturity and unity IN HIM as we get to know our heavenly Father, together.
© Deborah Perkins / www.HisInscriptions.com
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.