No ship should sail alone
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. (1 Corinthians 4:15 ESV)
"Satan watches for those vessels that sail without a convoy," wrote Puritan pastor George Swinnock (1627-1673). Every individual knows he was created for community. Isolation is the Devil's playground, and Satan is on the lookout for the Christian who thinks he can stand alone in independent isolation from the fellowship, accountability, and encouragement of faithful brothers and sisters. The reality is, whether we want to admit it or not, many men are sailing without a convoy, apart from a community of men.
God gave each of us an insatiable hunger to experience life together - life's joys and passions and life's sorrows and burdens. Contemporary Christian men, whether they can verbalize it or not, want to know that they are loved right now. They long to be loved, invested in, fathered by men who want to see them reach their full potential in Christ. Legitimate, healthy, and biblical father-son relationships are critical. Dr. Howard Hendricks said, "Every disciple needs three types of relationships in his life. He needs a 'Paul' who can mentor him and challenge him. He needs a 'Barnabas' who can come along side and encourage him. And he needs a 'Timothy,' someone that he can pour his life into."
Paul was a spiritual father not only to Timothy and Titus, but also to churches as well. Paul sometimes referred to himself in a fathering-type of role, and he articulated certain characteristics he exhibited toward those to whom he ministered. What do we see in these passages about the heart of a spiritual father?
He did not flatter them (1 Thessalonians 2:5). He wasn't buttering them up just so they'd like him or so that he could get something out of them.
He was not covetous toward them (1 Thessalonians 2:5). He didn't see having a relationship with them as a means of getting their goods.
He did not seek glory of men – he wasn't seeking to be put up on a pedestal (1 Thessalonians 2:6). This wasn't about Paul gathering spiritual sons around him to feed his own ego.
He was not demanding of them. He wasn't controlling, manipulative, or dictatorial (1 Thessalonians 2:6).
He showed a heart-felt, compassionate concern for their well-being.
- He was gentle toward them (1 Thessalonians 2:7).
- He cherished them (1 Thessalonians 2:7).
- He longed for them affectionately (1 Thessalonians 2:8)
- He not only gave them the gospel, but he gave his own life to them (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
- They were dear to him (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
- He exhorted, comforted, and charged every one of them, as a father does his children (1 Thessalonians 2:11).
His energies and efforts went toward their spiritual development (Galatians 4:19).
He was not interested in shaming them, but did feel obligated to warn them. He wasn't putting them on a guilt trip or making them feel intimidated (1 Corinthians 4:14).
He was different than a mere teacher – he wasn't just passing information on to them, but he had received them through the Gospel and was setting an example they could follow in their spiritual development (1 Corinthians 4:15-16).
He wasn't seeking what was theirs (their money), but he was seeking them (2 Corinthians 12:14).
He was willing to spend and be spent for them – in other words, he was willing to live and give sacrificially for them – for their advancement and their development (2 Corinthians 12:15).
If you are a mature or maturing leader, I pray that these are the traits you will exhibit toward those you have the privilege of influencing. If you are in search of a father-figure, a mentor, or a role model in ministry, I trust you will keep these traits in mind as you look for someone who can be a good influence and example for you.
No ship should sail alone…