Many of us still have our physical fathers and we honour them. However, not all of us have spiritual fathers, though we might have a number of spiritual counsellors. It is because spiritual fatherhood is the result of the proclamation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul made this clear in his epistle to the Corinthian believers. He said, “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). Those who sit under the preaching of a minister become spiritual sons and daughters as they acknowledge his spiritual authority and guidance. The minister attends not only to the spiritual needs of those under his care, but, to a certain extent, their physical and emotional needs, as well.
Loving as they are, fathers, whether physical or spiritual, impose discipline on their children. However, discipline is not always appreciated, for the reason that “no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11). It is only in hindsight that discipline is fully appreciated. When we look back, we thank God that our fathers did what they did. We were able to get to where we are now because of their guidance and discipline.
For disciplinary action to be effective, the one under discipline should be allowed to go through it unabated. He needs it to learn his lesson well. If a hand is lifted prematurely to give him relief from the disciplinary action, he will not fully learn his lesson and he will turn out to be worse in the end. This was the case of Absalom, the son of King David. When he murdered his brother, Absalom fled to Geshur. His separation from David, his father, was not a result of discipline, but fear of possible punishment for his action. This could have been a good way to teach him a lesson, for there is no joy for a son to be separated from his parents. The proof that this separation was working as a form of discipline was the fact that Absalom longed to go home. Yet through the intervention of Joab, the commander of his army, King David eventually allowed Absalom to come home prematurely, without him learning his lesson first. As a result, Absalom turned out to be worse; he even attempted to kill and dethrone his own father. King David had to flee to save his own life.
The task of a father is not always easy. A father doesn’t just provide food for the family. His most challenging role is to raise his children to become godly. Even the apostle Paul had to struggle over his role as a spiritual father. On one occasion, he appeared to be lamenting over the fact that his spiritual children were not behaving the way they should. He said, “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings—and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you!” (1 Cor. 4:8). The attitude of the believers then is still true today. Many spiritual fathers are having a hard time controlling the behaviour of their flock. They have suddenly found freedom to act the way they want. Some even look down on those whom they should uphold and obey as their leaders.
A loving father should not give up. He needs to persevere and expose the faults and weaknesses of those under him. In Paul’s case, he rebuked the believers and quickly added, “I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children” (1 Cor. 4:14). He needed to dig deeper into the cause of their misbehaviour and wanted them to live up to the standard of Christian life. But for want of a proper model, he said, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (1 Cor. 4:16).
The best way for fathers to teach their children how to live godly lives is to model it. This is true to both physical and spiritual fathers. For the effort of teaching and guiding their children, fathers need to be accorded the honour due them. Even if they are not the best fathers around compared to others, they are a big blessing to the family. It is not right for children to belittle their fathers, especially when they are not spiritually strong. The light that these fathers have, little as they are, should be enough to guide and carry the family through. May the Lord bless all the fathers for their persevering faith. Hallelujah!