“For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” – the apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:15-16
The followers of Jesus knew He was different. He loved the unlovable; He sought out the lost and the least; He was changing the world at the deepest possible level. His life transcended the ordinary in every way imaginable, and these disciples wanted to follow His lead. As they realized there was something pivotal about His prayer life, they asked Him to teach them the way. Jesus response? When you pray, relate to God like this: “Our Father…”.
Our Father? What? Jesus calls the King of kings and Lord of lords FATHER? Isn’t that a bit personal? Isn’t that reducing a transcendent God into a casual, ordinary being?
No, in actuality it was giving the disciples the greatest revelation of who God truly is and in doing so who they truly were. The following post is lengthy and in some places technical. It is necessary to get a deeper understanding of what it means for God to be Our Father. To know what it means to be a disciple and to disciple others.
“For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” This admission by Paul in reference to his relationship to Timothy may very well be the most powerful verse in the New Testament and holds the key to the Church.
Paul expressed to the struggling believers in Corinth that they do not lack in teachers. They lack fathers. The principle that Paul was expressing was in contrast to their thinking. The Greek way of thinking was based upon a teacher-student philosophy. The teacher can pontificate their ideas which will then spark ideas within the student. Ideas begat ideas. The teacher was merely the deepest thinker and would provide the original premise that other ideas could be built. Unfortunately, this is the practice that has been in place within Christendom for generations.
But Paul was showing them a Hebrew principle of Rabbi/talmidim (i.e. disciples). The rabbi acted more as a father than he did a teacher. He would take his learner under his wing and replicate himself. Much in the same way that fathers would take their sons to teach them a trade. Sadly, today, Paul’s words still ring true. He could very well be speaking directly to the modern church at large and say, “you have more than enough teachers, but you do not have many fathers”. We desperately need fathers in the Body of Christ.
Paul was a rabbi and understood Jesus better than any of the other disciples. Although the twelve spent three years with Jesus as talmidim they themselves were not formerly trained rabbis. This is an important point. Paul was from a wealthy family and was sent to the best school in Jerusalem; Bet Hillel, under Hillel’s grandson, Rabban Gamaliel haZaken. Paul would have started school at the age of 6. There are three stages that a person undertakes as a student of Torah. Why is this important? In order to understand what Paul meant by father you must understand this relationship.
There are three stages of learning to reach the level of rabbi; Bet Sefer, i.e. House of the Book (ages 6 – 12), Bet Talmud, i.e. House of Learning (ages 13 – 15), and Bet Midrash, i.e. House of Study (ages 15 – 30). Those in the latter stage were known as talmidim. Only a few students – the best of the best – were selected to advance from Bet Sefer to Bet Talmud. The same was true from Bet Talmud to Bet Midrash. Once a student had reached the level of Bet Midrash the relationship was completely different. The rabbi would invite the talmidim to follow him. This was a choice to leave your old life and “follow in the dust of the rabbi”. To follow a rabbi was to “be covered with the dust of his feet.” That represented how closely you followed. It was not a distant relationship. It was very up close and personal. The talmidim would spend the next several years emulating their rabbi. They would learn his way of interpreting the Torah. They would do what he did even down to the most smallest and minute details. They would learn his mannerisms. They would do and understand everything the exact same way as their rabbi. In turn the rabbi would father them through this process and take great care to ensure they grew into being a rabbi themselves. Now you understand why Jesus didn’t start his “ministry” until the age of 30.
Understanding this process helps us understand the relationship that Jesus had with His disciples and their relationship with Him. This is why Peter walked on water. Why the twelve and seventy were sent out to do what Jesus did. Why Jesus said they would do greater works. It also helps us understand what a disciple really is and the expectation of discipleship. Rabbis make disciples. The Great Commission was all about Jesus releasing His talmidim to be rabbis and go into all the world to replicate Him. However, He did not send them alone. He gave them the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. He gave them the Spirit of the Father.
Recently I read a study on the effect of fathers being absent from the home on children and in turn our nation as a whole. (http://canadianepc.org/files/McLanahan-Father-Absence.pdf) The results of this 10 year study was shocking and in many ways parallel the Church in America. Children that grow up without fathers have a higher rate of suicide, behavioral and psychological problems, poor grades, drop out of high school, drug and alcohol abuse, crime, juvenile and adult prison terms, early sexual activity, and teen pregnancies. It is shocking. The result of absent fathers have crippled America’s economy. Unless we focus on securing the family unit and bringing fathers back into the house the overwhelming snowball effect from generation to generation will lead to utter destruction. The same is true in our churches.
Within the past 30 years we have witnessed the increase of mega-churches within America. We have moved from a local church society to mega-church society. This is due to the increase of the Christian celebrity culture that has permeated the church through TBN, Daystar, and other Christian Broadcasters. These Networks have perpetuated the culture of teachers/ preachers that pour into us teaching without the responsibility of shepherding. This culture has affected the local church pastors to a great degree. They have focused on teaching/ preaching without the responsibility of shepherding. It becomes all too easy to seek one’s own fame and glory. The focus becomes a new revelation, whether cool and relevant or deep and spiritual, to set themselves apart from the crowd. It is the new Christian celebrity culture that is leaving behind a generation of fatherless children. A generation of orphans.
The result of a fatherless (orphan) generation of church attendees has been an increase of Biblical illiteracy, unsound doctrine, lack of understanding and operating in callings and giftings, spiritual flakiness, New Age interpretations, feelings of hopelessness and confusion, faithlessness, and unbelief in absolute truth. You can always tell someone is a Christian orphan because they do not receive love well. They are church consumers; hopping from one place to another, lacking stability. They treat Church like foster care rather than an eternal home. They are far too quick to judge and ready to walk out the door when the pastor forgot to say hello to them on Sunday morning. As a matter of fact, the list of orphan behavior is more accurately given by Paul in 2 Timothy chapter 3 verses 1 through 9. Within the context of 2 Timothy you will notice that Paul gives an antidote to this decline by commending Timothy for being faithful in following Paul’s teaching, conduct, aim in life, faith, patience, love, steadfastness, and persecutions. What is Paul talking about? He is referring to how he discipled (fathered) Timothy. In turn, Paul was encouraging Timothy to be a father and a rabbi to the next generation. We need to heed to Paul’s advice and let it ring loud and true to a new generation of pastors. We need fathers. We need shepherds. We need people that are willing to take under their wing spiritual children and disciple them the proper way.
Although we are immersed in a generation of fatherless children, God has sent the cure. God has promised that in the last days he would release the spirit of Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6). God will not leave us as orphans. He will raise up disciples in the generation of Elijah that “will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” We must cry out for this upon our local churches. We must cry out for fathers to rise up. The five-fold ministries are categories of fatherhood for the equipping and perfecting of the saints. If you are lost and hurting and trying to understand your calling and purpose I encourage you to seek out fathers. Seek out a rabbi that will cultivate the gifting and calling upon your life. There has been an absence of fathers and a decline of sons and daughters.
One last beautiful point. There is actually such deep revelation in understanding the rabbi/talmid relationship that we totally miss today. When Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, James and John, “come, follow me.” The Bible says that they dropped everything and followed Him. In our way of thinking this does not make sense. There must be more to it than that? He must have said more and the writers didn’t include it. Our logical mind tries to fill in the gap of understanding. The truth is, that is exactly what happened. To the 1st Century Jew it made PERFECT sense. It is actually a beautiful story and provides the reader lots of hope.
Allow me to explain. When a young Jewish child would complete the Bet Talmud stage (around the age of 14 to 15) he would ask a rabbi if he could join his House of Study (Bet Midrash). The rabbi would ask the potential student a series of questions to be able to know whether or not this student could become just like him. If he had the potential to become a rabbi. If selected the rabbi would say, “come, follow me” and the student would leave EVERYTHING to follow him. BUT, if the rabbi did not select him, he would tell the student to “go home, learn your family business, get married, have children, and hopefully they can grow up to become rabbis”.
So, now, with this in mind, read the gospel account again. Realize that Peter, Andrew, James, John, and the entire crew were likely rejected. They were not the best of the best. They were ordinary. Ha! Then Jesus came along. Yes! He did not choose the best of the best. He chose the ORDINARY! The rejected! The least! He said to them, “come, follow me” and they dropped everything! Their dreams came true. That had been chosen. Imagine the excitement. Imagine the thrill for Zebedee, James and John’s father. It was an honor for your son to be selected by a rabbi. What an exciting day!
The conclusion is this; be a disciple and go make disciples. What does that mean? As disciples (i.e. talmidim) we realize our great need of being fathered. To be under a mentor and shepherd. To have someone take the time to disciple us. Then, in turn, we disciple others. This is the Great Commision. It is the heart and DNA of Greenhouse Church. It is the cry of this generation that has lived as orphans far too long. Being a disciple that disciples others is not a suggestion. It is the heartbeat – and genius – of God. You will never feel closer to your Father in heaven than when you allow yourself to be fathered well and in turn father others in the gospel. Then your heart will freely cy out, “Abba, Father!”
(Much thanks to Shawn Maynard for these thoughts)