What Paul Says About Fatherhood

Today, we have a verse for you that Jeremy’s going to read, and this is about the apostle Paul’s vision of fatherhood. So Jeremy, take it away.

So you guys know Paul was an apostle, and one of the primary roles of an apostle’s to be the father, the founding father of a church in a new region. And so, he was very good at this. And after he had left one of the regions in which he had sort of fathered the Corinthian Church in that city in Corinth, there was lots of other apostolic people who came in, other gifted people. And they began to sort of drift from the traditions that he had really instantiated there.

And so he wrote kind of a pleading correcting letter called 1 Corinthians. And in this letter there’s a lot of fascinating things Paul does to correct them. But one of the things that he does is sort of just lay out his heart as a father in many places in this book. But one of them I want to read you guys from 1 Corinthians 4 he says, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 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 to be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ as I teach them everywhere and in every church.”

One of the clues that I think we can grasp from what Paul’s describing here is what is the heart of fatherhood from Paul’s perspective as an apostolic father, what did he really want? And one of the things he wanted, which is a little bit tough for us to receive, I think culturally and this why I wanted to bring this up, is he wanted them to imitate him. He wanted them to become more like him. And so this is a tough thing for us because what Paul is really saying is the goal of fatherhood is not that you know what I know, but is that you become who I am. You become like me.

And what the assumption was in ancient cultures is that a father contained within their lifestyle, within their DNA of the way they lived the accumulated wisdom of so many generations. Since there wasn’t this idolization of children, the way we have it in our culture, there was really a feeling that fathers were really sort of repositories of the generational wisdom. And so, the best thing that a child could do, a son or daughter, who really wants to have a leg up in the world is to imitate their dad.

Now, of course, there’s lots of places or examples in our culture where this would be a terrible idea, right? So what we’re talking about is the ideal of what fatherhood was designed to be, and what I think a lot of you guys are trying to pursue. And we’re all fallen, we’re all going to be passing on both positive and negative things to our children. But the way that Paul really is describing is that children are really lost, that they start in a very lost state in the world. And the best thing for them is to begin to imitate their dad, to become more like their dad. And, as they do that, they will begin to stand on this accumulated wisdom of the generations. And from there, of course, they can put their own stamp on those things, take it in their own individual direction, begin to make their own riff on what God’s called them to be and do.

But what Paul was saying to this very immature, very young church is, “Hey guys, the first step of really getting to sort of first base in maturity is be like me. And every time I hear that, even saying that I feel like really conflicted, right? This is so culturally challenging for us because we do not want our kids to be like us. We want them to have a completely separate story, almost a completely different identity. Start from a totally different place and I am not sure that that is a good vision for fatherhood. I think what Paul’s laying out here is more what God had designed it to be, even though there are a lot of challenges really that we’re going to always struggle with this. But Jeff, yeah, how do you wrestle with this tension?

Yeah, I loved what you said. I think that’s mainly it. What I would probably just add is, yeah, there is that bad pressure, but then there is that good pressure, right, of when he says imitate me, and if we want our kids to imitate us, we have to be [imitat-able 00:04:09], right? I don’t think that’s even a word, but you know what I mean. In the sense of living. And there’s a line there where we know we’re not talking about perfection. We know that, right?

We’re talking about worthiness, and we’re talking about doing our best, and leaning into what that means. And so I think, yeah, the things that tend to really stand out, I think about who we follow as adults, right? And who we usually tend to follow is people with particular principles and values, right? And that those play out in very anchored ways in their life. And so, I think we have to really check ourselves and ask ourselves as fathers, can we say that our life is methodically hitting the same drum of a certain value we want our kid to follow, a certain principle we want our kid to follow? Because that is what speaks, that’s what they look back on later, that’s what really does stick in a lot of ways.

And, of course, the conversations here and there I think compound that, help that, glue that together. But in a lot of ways living with that integrity, which has a high value in principle, living with truth, with honor, with courage, et cetera, a humility, service, all of those things those are the things that come through. Those are the things that stick. And that’s what I think we have to really wrestle with as fathers. And if that does give us a lot of pressure, we have to ask ourselves, “Oh, is it because I’m feeling like maybe I don’t do that. And where are some checks I need to work on, where some spaces I need to lean into?” And so, that’s the challenge for you today, but also the encouragement.

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