Spiritual Fatherhood on Display
Topic: English Passage: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12
Because of all that’s happened in the past few years, we have been inundated with words like pandemic and epidemic. The word “pandemic” points to something that is spread across a wide geographic area. And the word “epidemic” points to a high number of individuals that are affected in a given area or community.
This past week I was reading some statistics about an epidemic in our nation, but that epidemic was not a physical disease or a medical condition. It was, as one group called it, an epidemic of fatherlessness. According to the statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau last year, over 25% of children in the country live without a biological, step, or adoptive father in the home, and that appears to be linked to a variety of problems in our society.
I understand that correlation does not prove causation, but it should at least catch our attention when we see multiple statistics related to children who are raised without a father. Groups like the National Center for Fathering and the National Fatherhood Initiative have gathered some of those findings.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, twelve percent of children being raised in the home of a married couple are living in poverty. For children being raised with the mother only, that percentage goes up to 44. In other words, kids being raised by just mom are four times more likely to live in poverty than kids being raised under a married couple.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse.”
Fatherlessness was also linked to lower academic achievement and higher rates of dropping out of school and teen pregnancy. One report also said that children raised without a father were twenty times more likely to be incarcerated than children who had their father in the home.
Connected to this kind of research, one former president said this one Father’s Day: “Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives… family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it. But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing — missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”
Those words were spoken by then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008 before going on to win the election that year. The importance of fatherhood is something that even many in the secular world will recognize.
Ironically, President Obama’s political party is now the group most pushing to remove the influence parents have over their children. From what I’ve seen, if the modern Democratic party had its way, more children would be supported, raised, and educated by the government rather than their fathers. In fact, that’s the group most vocally saying that masculinity is toxic.
By definition, masculinity is not wrong, but like most things, it needs to be understood and applied correctly, being guided by the truth of God. So, on one hand you’ve got men abusing their masculinity and their strength, and on the other hand, you have folks trying to erase it altogether.
When I was a kid, I didn’t understand the value of a father, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t benefit from it. As the years passed and I was more exposed to the world, and then as I came to have children of my own, the importance and the responsibility of a father has only grown in my heart.
It's a sad thing to have children raised without a father. But where we see the evidence of sin and Satan in the world, we should also see the grace and love of Christ in the church. God’s design for the church is that she be a pillar of truth, proclaiming it in word and demonstrating it in deed.
God has said the church is a family. In fact, Jesus said that the relationships within His covenant community are stronger and more significant than the relationships between the nuclear family. It’s wonderful when those line up, but even if the nuclear family is shattered, we are to find our true identity in Jesus Christ.
Understanding that the church is a family, it shouldn’t surprise us, then, to hear about spiritual fathers—men who take an active role in shaping those who are younger in the faith. This was the way Paul saw himself as a minister to the churches throughout the Roman Empire.
As we saw last week, Paul uses motherly language as well, though he never refers to himself as a spiritual mother. In verse 7, Paul says, “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” And that illustration also includes his affection for them.
We see similar language to the Galatians when Paul refers to the church as “my little children” and then adds “I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” That’s another use of motherhood as an illustration of Paul’s ministry. The takeaway from that is that our ministries should have a certain element of motherhood in them. Like Paul describes in verses 7 and 8 of 1 Thessalonians 2, there should be gentleness and affection.
But shortly after Paul shifts his analogy to one of a father. Jump down for a second to verse 11. Paul says his ministry was “like a father with his children.” Like a father with his children.”
If last week’s message could have passed as a Mother’s Day sermon, today’s message should be able to pass as a Father’s Day message.
In looking at what Paul meant when he said he ministered like a father, I want to organize our time under two main headings: a father’s example, and a father’s exhortation.
I think that’s a good summary of the main components of fatherhood, both in the family and in the church. If you want to be an effective spiritual father to some, helping them mature in their walk with Christ, you need to understand these two components: your example and your exhortation.
Your example has to do with how others see your life. Your exhortation is the words you speak.
Let’s start by looking at Paul’s example as a spiritual father. What did the Thessalonians see in his life?
First, they saw diligence. We talked about this last week from verse 9. It says: For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
Some translations lump verse 9 with the motherhood illustration, and others connect it with the fatherhood illustration. The paragraph breaks in your Bible, though they can be helpful, aren’t inspired by God, so we don’t want to make more of them than is necessary.
I don’t think Paul was necessarily trying to connect this idea of diligence to either side. In fact, I think it’s a pretty good connecting point between a mother and a father. Whether a parent work outside the home or inside the home, if they are honoring God in their role as a parent, they will be characterized by diligence. And that’s what the Thessalonians saw in Paul. That’s why he says to them, “You remember.”
This is actually a significant theme in this portion of the letter. Paul is appealing to the Thessalonians’ memory of his ministry, and he appeals to God as well. Back in verse 1, he says, “You know,” then he says it again in verse 2. “You know.” Then he says it again in verse 5. “You know.”
Paul wasn’t telling the Thessalonians church anything they didn’t already know. He was just reminding them about it.
And we fathers, should be able to do the same. We shouldn’t be trying to convince people about our reputation; it should be evident. Those to whom we minister should see it clearly. And one of the things they should see is diligence.
A second virtue they need to see is integrity. Diligence and integrity—that’s the example Paul set for his spiritual children as a spiritual father. Look at verse 10—You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.
Again you’ve got another reference to the Thessalonians’ personal experience. “You are witnesses.” They saw this in his life. It was clear. Paul’s diligence was clear, and so was his integrity, his righteousness.
Like I told you before, it’s possible that Paul’s intent in this section is to defend himself against false teachers who were accusing Paul and trying to discredit him. But Paul’s conscience was clear, and his example was impeccable. What a challenge that should be for us!
And to highlight his own righteousness, Paul uses three words that all point to the same thing. His ministry was holy. It was righteous, and it was blameless. Those are synonyms pointing to and emphasizing the same idea. Paul was a man of integrity. Paul did what was proper. Paul ministered to the church in a way that was acceptable to God and to man. His righteousness was an expression of the righteousness and love of Jesus Christ.
And looking back over what we’ve already covered in this chapter, we see how his righteousness was manifested. He didn’t quit when persecution came. He didn’t abandon his charge. He was bold. He was sincere. He was genuine. He wasn’t in it for the money. He wasn’t in it for the fame. He wasn’t in it for his own glory. He was gentle. He was patient. He was loving. He sacrificially invested his life in his people. They had been given to him by God, so he worked hard for them.
What an example for us to follow, especially for us who are fathers in the home and spiritual fathers in the church. Our lives are supposed to put the grace of Jesus Christ on display. And one of the manifestations of Christ’s grace is holiness, righteousness, integrity.
Titus 2:11 tells us that “the grace of God has appeared… training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,  waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
If we are trusting in Christ and waiting for Him, that’s going to be shown in righteousness. And it will serve as an example to others. That’s the example of a spiritual father. There’s diligence and there’s integrity.
What kind of example are we setting for our children, and for the ones who are younger than us in the faith? Dads, what are your kids seeing in your life? Would they say dad works hard? Would they say he cares about serving others? Or is dad more known for how much time he spends on the couch, either physically or spiritually?
Our goal should be to be able to say what Paul said to the Corinthians. First Corinthians 4:15—Though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
There are plenty of good Christian teachers. That’s not a bad thing. You can hear solid preaching on the radio and online, but what a Christian needs, in addition to a good teacher, is a spiritual father. They need someone whose life they can look into. They need a shepherd living among the sheep. They need someone whom they have seen withstand a test of character.
We want lives worthy of imitation. We want to be good examples to the flock of Christ. That’s what it means to be a spiritual father. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to sin. But when we sin, we are going to confess. We are going to set things right, and we are going to continue faithful to Jesus Christ in a world that is bent on rebellion. That’s the needed example of a spiritual father.
Let’s turn our attention now from a father’s example to a father’s exhortation. A father’s exhortation.
Like with any Christian ministry or function, we can’t just try to live righteous lives, and assume that’s going to be enough. We need to open our mouths as well as our lives.
Look at verses 11 and 12. And again, Paul says to the church “You know. You saw this for yourself.” Verse 11—For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
I think the clearest expression of a father’s heart is to teach, to instruct. Dads in this world have all kinds of things they teach their children—some for better and some for worse. But the nonnegotiable component of fatherhood is teaching our children the word of God. We teach the truth of the word and we teach the application of the word.
Ephesians 6:4 simply says—Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Our authority as fathers was not given so that we would intimidate or dominate a child. It was given so that we would train them in truth and in practice, in mind and in character.
There are all sorts of practical things a dad will teach his kids. Dad might teach how to swing a baseball bat or how to drive. But more important than all of that is teaching them how to trust and honor the Lord Jesus Christ. They need to learn how to live with self-control and love toward others.
Looking at verse 12, we’ve got some helpful reminders about a father’s exhortation.
Number 1, we see that a father’s exhortation should be urgent. It should be an urgent exhortation. Urgent doesn’t mean it should be impatient. But it’s a recognition that this stuff matters. And, again, it’s more than just information. It’s aimed at a change of life.
Similar to how Paul described his integrity, Paul describes his fatherly ministry in verses 11 and 12 with three synonyms, again emphasizing the importance. He exhorted, he encouraged, and he charged.
Paul spoke with the intent to change the people’s hearts. That’s what it means to exhort and to charge. There might be a temptation to sin. There might be a spiritual fatigue or a spiritual laziness. So, when Paul spoke to his people, he needed to shake them form that.
And isn’t that what all parents do? We know that left alone our kids are going to do foolish things. So we remind them over and over again. We want to engrain truth and engrain habits that will be good for them.
In Second Peter, the Apostle Peter says, “I want to stir you up with a reminder.” He uses that word “reminder” three times. Peter had no problem repeating himself, because he knew his children needed it.
We all need that. Like Hebrews 3 says, we all need to be encouraged and exhorted every day because we can be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Spiritual fathers play a big part in all that. We are to exhort one another with urgency. This is so important. Our exhortation should be urgent.
Second, our exhortation should be personal. Personal. It should be distinct to each person. As a dad, I treat my kids differently, not our of favoritism, but out of their distinct personalities. Every kid is different, right? There is no one-size-fits-all approach. We shouldn’t be doing cookie cutter discipleship.
Again, in verses 11 and 12 Paul says that he ministered like a father with his own children. That’s specific. That’s personal. And then Paul says he exhorted and encouraged “each one of you.” There was a personal element in Paul’s ministry.
You get a taste of that later in this letter, but I want to show it to you. Jump over to chapter 5 briefly. First Thessalonians 5:14. Maybe this is a verse you want to mark in your Bible. And we’ll look at it in more detail when we get there eventually. First Thessalonians 5:14—And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
Notice Paul uses different words to describe different approaches toward different kinds of people and situations. Lazy and rebellious people need affirm correction. Tired people need encouragement. Weak people need help. And it takes patience and wisdom to know what kind of situation you’re in and what kind of person you’re dealing with. That’s personal ministry. And that’s how a spiritual father should minister too. We want urgent exhortation, and we want personal exhortation.
Lastly, a father’s exhortation should be comprehensive. Comprehensive. What I mean by that is that, as father’s, we don’t have the option to select what we are willing to teach or not teach. Like Paul said to the Ephesian elders: “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
We don’t get to pick and choose what we want to teach or not teach when it comes to God’s truth. We want to teach it all. And we want to teach how it’s all connected. We don’t want incomplete knowledge, and we don’t want disjointed knowledge.
When Paul wrote his letter to Titus, in chapter 2, he said: “Teach what accords with sound doctrine.”
Sound doctrine is vital, but it’s not enough. We need to teach what is connected to that, and that is a righteous life. We need to help other connect those dots.
If all we teach is doctrine, then we get Pharisees. They might know all the right answers, but they don’t have the heart of Christ. Or, if we teach the commands of Christ without the doctrine that supports it, we get moralism. We’ve reduced Christianity to a list of rules: Don’t get pregnant, don’t cheat on your spouse, don’t lie, don’t kill, etc.
That’s not how Paul taught. He didn’t preach moralism, and he didn’t teach simply the intellectual. He connected his teaching to his people’s lives. That’s a comprehensive ministry. And we see it here at the end of verse 12. He says, “we exhorted you, we urged you, to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”
Behind the ethical instruction Paul gave was the big picture. And the big picture is: You belong to Jesus Christ. You have been called by God, and you need to walk worthy if your new identity in Jesus Christ.
Becoming a Christian doesn’t simply mean you update the label of your own religion. If you are a genuine Christian, there has been an eternal, spiritual shift, and there will also be a visible transformation.
The holy God of all creation has called you into His kingdom. He’s called you into His glory. And you live for Him. You’re no longer part of this world. You are a citizen of the kingdom of God. You’re no longer a slave to the allurements of the world. Your eyes have been opened to the eternal, beautiful, captivating glory of God. And so, now, you need to live like that. You belong to the holy God of all creation.
Parents, your kids need to know that big picture of Christianity. It’s not: “Be a good person, and, oh, by the way, Jesus died and rose from the dead.” That’s not Christianity. And it’s not: “Jesus died and rose again to forgive you from sin, so now you can do whatever you want.” That’s not Christianity either.
Christianity is a recognition that there is a holy, eternal God who made all this. And He made you and me too. But we are too sinful, too evil, to be in His presence. We deserve judgment. But God, because of His love and mercy, and His desire to save, sent His Son Jesus Christ to save sinners.
Jesus died on the cross to bear the penalty that sinners deserve. He faced the wrath of God the Father. But then He rose from the dead. And one day, Jesus will return in full glory to judge this world and rescue those who trust in Him.
If you will trust in Jesus alone as Master and King and Savior, He will save you. He will wipe away your sins, and God will transfer you from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. And He will give you a new heart, with new desires.
If you’ve done that, then you have recognized that Jesus is the true King of this world. And so, you need to act like it. You need to walk in a manner worthy of the kingdom and glory of a holy and loving God.
We need to preach that message to ourselves every day, and we need to exhort one another in the same way.
We have seen, and will continue to see, the disastrous effects in our society because children are raised without a father. Let’s not let that happen in the church. We need to step up and minister like spiritual mothers and spiritual fathers to one another.
We need to let the younger ones see our example, and we need to have the courage and the love to exhort one another every day, for the glory of God and the health and beauty of His church.