What is a Spiritual Father?
In 1 John 2:12-14, the Apostle John gives a significant description of three different levels of spiritual maturity. Throughout the letter, he consistently calls his readers “dear children.” However, here he takes a noticeable departure from his, standard address, adding “fathers” and “young men” to his typical “dear children.” When you look at the book as a whole, it seems at first glance that this passage doesn’t fit where it is placed. Yet, this reference to “dear children,” “fathers,” and “young men” is found twice in verses 12-14. In the Hebrew culture and Greek language, repetition was used to show emphasis; the writer was saying, “This is very important, don’t miss this.” So we will take a closer look at this message to see what John had to say to his contemporaries as well as to us, the readers of today.
In verse 12, John starts by saying, “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.” He continues, “I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.” He ends the progression with, “I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.” By using chronological age terminology, John distinguishes differences in levels of maturity among believers. Not only does John address the categories again, but he also places the levels out of chronological order. Once again, the “fathers” are placed between the “dear children” and the “young men.” Why would he do that? As we continue to look at the passage, I believe it will become clear that God has something special to communicate to us about the father role in particular.
We can summarize the definitions as they apply to spiritual maturity this way: “children” have come to a saving knowledge of Christ; “young men” are strong in the Word of God and have successfully fought the spiritual battle; and “fathers” know God intimately and have experienced a deep and fuller relationship with the “I AM”-the God of eternity (see Exodus 3:14-15). Now let’s look at the reason that I believe the Spirit of God inspired John to communicate the levels out of their expected chronological order.
God is revealing here a key element of being a spiritual father. If we miss it, we miss the main point. This critical point is that you are not a spiritual father just because of your mature characteristics and deep relationship with the “I AM. John placed the child and father together so that we would see the essential nature of reproduction in reaching and expressing maturity. You are a spiritual father because you have also been used to reproduce spiritual children. Until a spiritually mature man reproduces and disciples Christlike maturity in others, he has no spiritual children and cannot be considered a spiritual father. A spiritual father reproduces spiritual children who have a passionate and intimate relationship with God the Father. The spiritual growth process of these children and young men must continue so that they also become spiritual fathers who reproduce spiritual children.
We must mature children who have experienced salvation, to young men who know the Word of God and can wage the spiritual battle, to fathers who have walked intimately with God over a significant period of time and have been used to reproduce the next generation of spiritual fathers. If men are not reproducing spiritually, they have stopped short of experiencing and practicing full spiritual maturity.
-Taken from page 6 of Spiritual Fathers: Restoring the Reproductive Church
What Does it Practically Look Like?
In the early 1970s I began to have a spiritual passion for pursuing God and reproducing that pursuit in others; this is commonly called discipling. I have been involved in the process of discipleship since that time.
A few years into this emerging calling I owned a business that was located in a Denver business complex. Some of the construction workers who worked at this complex told the younger men who worked with them to stay away from the “weird and dangerous guy who sits under the tree and reads his Bible.” Well, that probably was a huge factor in one of those young men, Roger, not being about to stay away from me. Young men love danger!
Roger accepted Christ into his life and we started meeting daily over lunch. We spent many hours sitting under that tree digging deeper into the Word and God’s plan for Roger’s life. We both asked a lot of questions and we explored the answers together. This was an incredible time of pouring the life of Christ into Roger and seeing amazing changes in his life, in his values and perspectives and in his goals as a man. I remember him having a strong desire to see his seven siblings experience this new relationship that he had with Jesus Christ. (God honored this desire through the ensuing years.) Interestingly, the construction workers thought I was even more of a “Bible thumper” after my time spent with Roger.
Not long after this, Roger moved to Oklahoma to pursue a new job opportunity. There he met his wife and started a family. Each time Roger visited Denver he would connect with me; it was amazing how our relationship would pick up exactly where it left off. After five years Roger returned to Denver, and he and I started to meet regularly. His brother and a number of young men from varied backgrounds and denominations joined us once a week at 6 a.m. We continued to meet as a group for ten years.
Almost on a weekly basis, their lives and experiences brought up issues that they were facing as young men. We would go to different books of the Bible to specifically address their questions and apply the truth of God’s Word to help shape their lives. They were remarkably open, freely exposing areas to the group that had not been exposed to other men in their lives.
I remember them asking, “Who is Jesus Christ?” We went to the Gospel of John to answer this vital question. They asked what it looked like to live the Christian life, and we looked deeper into the life of Daniel and David in the Old Testament. In this safe masculine environment, struggles with sex, pornography, marriage, children, money, work, anger, significance, commitment, obedience and most every other issue that men face came to the surface.
One day as our meeting was ending, Roger emphatically said, “You can say things to me that no one else could without making me angry.” To further understand, I asked him, “Why is that?” He quickly responded, “I think it is because I know that you love me.” This relationship was in the context of a safe environment that allowed openness, honesty and growth. It was the power of God’s Spirit and the truth of his Word that brought about transformation.
Roger and I have been in relationship for over thirty years now. I was involved in his life when he married his lovely bride. I was there to see him raise his two sons, who are now committed followers of Christ. I will be there when grandchildren enter his life.
In the 1990s my schedule became so busy that we could no longer meet weekly. But we have continued in regular contact, and I have the opportunity to encourage and affirm Roger. I recently heard Roger share his perspective on our many years together:
Dan is my earthly spiritual connection with my Father-God. Through the years Dan has become an integral part of my spiritual foundation as a man, and no other man on earth is as close to me as Dan. I’ve seen our sons grow up together; I remember the times that Dan served as a spiritual grandfather to my kids, mostly through the stories and lessons of life he imparted to them. I believe the strength of our relationship as men has been a tremendous witness to my kids as they’ve become adults. I can clearly see that God used my relationship with Dan as a model of hope and encouragement for me to build into the lives of men God has placed in my life. The most important “life lesson” I’ve learned from Dan was that our spiritual walk is a process-like Job, we have to go through the “school of hard knocks” to get to where God wants us to go. Our challenge as men is to stay in the battle.
-Taken from pages X11I-XXV of Spiritual Fathers: Restoring the Reproductive Church