Love Like a Father
Passage: 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12
Good morning! Turn in your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12. Let’s start with a little review. What are the two overarching metaphors in vv. 7-12? (father and mother) So last week, our theme was “Love Like a Mother,” and this week, my title today is “Love Like a Father.” Fathers and mothers tend to express love differently. And yet, according to this passage, our love for other people (and specifically those we’re mentoring) should resemble both the love of a mother and the love of a father. Who can tell me what a mother’s love is like, based on last week’s lesson? We said that a mother is gentle, compassionate, self-sacrificial, and that she expects nothing in return. And all of these characteristics should apply to us as we nurture the spiritual children God gives us.
So let’s talk about that for a minute. Give me an example of spiritual parenting. (biological parent-child, mentor-mentee, pastor-church member, teacher-student, etc.) I said this last week, but I’ll say it again: if you’re a mature believer, you should be pouring yourself out into the lives of others. You should be involved in spiritual parenting. Just like healthy parents reproduce, healthy Christians reproduce. God didn’t save you just to sit here in church and listen to teaching or even just to work on your own life. The most nutrient-rich lakes have both inlets and outlets. In the same way, Christians need both inlets and outlets. To put it another way, you’re like an athlete. Nutrition is important, but so is exercising. Regardless of how healthy you eat, you can’t be successful if you don’t work out. So for own sake as well as for the sake of others, I urge you to involve yourself in spiritual parenting.
Last week, I had everyone right down the name of a person you’re mentoring. I said if you don’t have a name, then your job is to get one. And that challenge still stands. But maybe you say, “Pastor Kris, I don’t think I’m mature enough to be a spiritual parent.” What would you say to someone with that objection? Number one every Christian can and should share his faith. These believers at Thessalonica were not very old (most of them had probably been saved less than a year), and yet according to chapter 1, their testimony was already having a huge impact on others.
However, that said, your objection may have some legitimacy. Maybe you’re not really ready for some types of mentoring. But if that’s the case, let me encourage you to do this: go find someone to mentor you. Don’t wait around for someone to offer; it will most likely never happen. Rather, pick out someone you respect and admire here at church and ask them if they would mentor you.
Finally, I want to say that you can be mentoring someone else, even while you yourself are being mentored. That’s how it worked with Paul and Timothy! Paul was pouring into Timothy, who was pouring into the Thessalonians and others. So for instance, you could be pouring into some Awana kids or the youth group while simultaneously being mentored by an older individual. In fact, that is a very healthy way to do it.
I’ve heard that all of us should have a Paul, we should all have a Timothy, and we should all have a Barnabas. We need a Paul–someone who is older or more mature who is mentoring me; we need a Timothy–someone younger or less mature whom I’m discipling; and we should need a Barnabas–a friend who is roughly the same age or maturity level who will walk alongside me.
So that’s the background in terms of spiritual parenting, but now let’s talk specifically about the love of a father. How does a father love his children and what can we learn from that? Today, we are going to see that a father’s love involves blameless conduct and faithful instruction (vv. 1-12).
The love of a father includes 1) blameless conduct (v. 10).
In this verse, Paul pairs two words that go together quite nicely. The word “devoutly” means “pious living toward God.” The word “justly” means “righteous living towards others.” Both words have to do with carefully keeping a standard; and that is especially made clear by the last word Paul uses in v. 10– “blamelessly.” This verse reminds me of what Paul said in Acts 24:16– “I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.” Do you have a clear conscience, both as it relates to your relationship with God and as it relates to your relationship with others? Do you have a clear conscience–right now? If not, you know what to do. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confess your sin to God. If necessary, confess it to the person you sinned against. And if this is a consistent pattern of sin in your life, get help. Don’t continue to buy the lie of Satan that you can lick this on your own. It is amazing how much easier it is to fight sin once it is out in the open! So seek help; seek accountability. And like Paul, strive to have a conscience that is clear both toward God and toward men.
Why is a blameless lifestyle essential for spiritual parenting? (And by the way, I’m not by any means talking about spiritual perfection. No one can achieve that. I’m talking about sincere love for God that shuns hypocrisy, shortcuts, and rule-breaking, and strives to maintain a good testimony.) Why is that so important for spiritual parenting? It’s important because “Do as I say, not as I do,” just doesn’t work. If your children can poke holes in your testimony, they won’t follow your spiritual leadership. “Dad takes me to church and tells me to love God, but I see how he treats Mom.” “Dad tells me to obey my teachers, but he has no respect for the law.” “Dad tells me to work hard, but he never helps out around the house!” “He won’t let me watch certain movies, but I know what he watches on TV.” As a spiritual parent, your testimony can be either your greatest strength or your greatest weakness. It can lend tremendous credibility to what you say, or it can undermine everything you have taught.
Imagine that we had a special speaker this morning and that somehow, a Christian martyr (someone who has died for his or her faith) came back from the dead and appeared here in Sunday school to speak to us and give his or her testimony. You would all be on the very edge of your seats. It wouldn’t matter if the person was eloquent. I can guarantee you would listen more carefully than you do on a typical Sunday morning. Why? Because the person’s testimony speaks for itself. Even the simplest sayings on the lips of that person would be quotable, because you would know that they really meant it.
Now contrast that with this scenario. Let’s say that a politician or movie star with a less-than-wholesome reputation is lecturing on morality/being a good person. How are you going to respond to that? You might get angry; and you certainly won’t give him the time of day! Why? Because he or she has no “leg to stand on.” It doesn’t matter how eloquent a person is if he or she does not possess moral credibility. As spiritual parents, we must carefully guard our credibility by striving to maintain a clear conscience both toward God and toward others.
So one aspect of fatherly love is blameless conduct. The second aspect of fatherly love is faithful instruction (vv. 11-12).
It’s interesting how different societies have different expectations of fathers. It appears that in Roman society, fathers were harsh disciplinarians, whereas in Greek society, fathers tended to be more sensitive and encouraging. Among the Jews, there was emphasis on the responsibility of the father to teach his children. Paul’s readers probably would have related more to the Greek image of a father vs. the Roman image. However, it is the responsibility of the father to teach his children that Paul emphasizes in this passage. The most important duty of a spiritual parent is the communication of truth and wisdom.
When I taught a class on parenting this spring, we looked at the verses that command corporal discipline. The Bible commands corporal discipline in several places. However, if you compare the number of verses about disciplining your kids with the number of verses about teaching them, there are way more commands to teach your kids than there are commands to discipline them! Does that mean that discipline is unimportant? No, it just means that teaching, is really, really important.
In the home, teaching specifically begins with Dad. In Ephesians 6:4, Paul specifically addresses fathers when he says, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” However, as we’ve already seen from this passage, our love for other people (and specifically those we’re mentoring) should resemble both the love of a mother and the love of a father. And we know that mothers are to instruct their children, too. So all parents, both fathers and mothers, must teach their children the Bible. The importance of this cannot be overstated.
Paul uses three communication words in v. 11. The first is the word “exhorted.” In some contexts, that word can mean “to comfort,” but in this context, it probably means, “to urge.” It’s the same word that showed up in v. 3, where I related it to preaching. It has the idea of calling or summoning someone to a particular decision by appealing to his mind and his emotions. It’s teaching for application and not just teaching for head knowledge. Can you think of a book of the Bible that is filled with exhortations? The first one that came to my mind is Proverbs. Turn with me to Proverbs 4. It will take a few minutes, but I’d like to just read for you the whole chapter (Proverbs 4). Can’t you just hear the earnest, heart-felt tones of a father’s loving voice coming through in those words? Proverbs 1-7 includes many “my son” references, and the entire book is written as loving instruction to a son from a parent.
You might be wondering, “What am I supposed to say to this spiritual child I’m supposed to be developing a relationship with?” Say things like Proverbs says. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding.” “Work hard.” “Don’t go into debt.” “Run from sexual temptation.” “Study God’s Word.” You don’t have to have a PhD in order to be a spiritual mentor! Just give sound, practical, biblical instruction.
The second communication word Paul uses is “comforted.” This word is a reminder that although fathers are often considered sterner than mothers, they should never lack compassion. Spiritual parents must comfort people who are struggling as a result of trials or chastisement. We should be there to dry a tear, give a hug, or just tell them it’s going to be okay, so keep going. We talked about this sort of thing a lot last week, so I won’t say much about it today.
The third communication word Paul uses is “charged” or “implored.” This is the strongest of the three words, and it has the connotation of insisting on a particular course of action. One commentator said it has to do with a warning. Again, there’s a lot of that in Proverbs, isn’t there? –a lot of warnings about various sins and a lot of strong commands. A good mentor knows when to comfort and when to implore. Sometimes people need a shoulder to cry on and sometimes they need a good kick in the pants.
I’m not the kind of person who typically needs a ton of stern instruction. And yet, I can point to a couple of times in my life in which I am extremely grateful that someone was stern with me. Those conversations weren’t pleasant, but I needed something to wake me up; and looking back, those stern words saved me from some terrible consequences.
Beware of becoming the spiritual parent who is all comfort and no imploring. If your relationship can never withstand the pressure of a loving rebuke, it’s probably not worth having. One of my mentors at Ironwood taught me that we build relationships so that we can risk them. You cannot just walk up to a total stranger and call him out on his marriage. That’s not going to be effective. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. That sort of thing. But at the same time, you don’t want to waste time and energy pouring into a relationship that never bears spiritual fruit! So you patiently build the relationship by expressing love so that when something difficult arises, you are in a better position to help that person. However, when you that occurs, you are often brought to the point in which you need to say something very hard. If you’re like me, those a very difficult conversations, because you’re afraid of damaging the relationship. However, you must be willing to “risk the relationship” for the sake of the one you love. Does that make sense?
Before we move on, I’d like you to see two additional points from vv. 10-11 about Paul’s instruction. First, he instructed the Thessalonians individually (v. 11). Paul didn’t just speak to all of them together, but also to each one individually! Speaking to large groups is good and has its place, but there is no substitute for individual care. That’s why I love counseling. When you come to see me in my office, for instance, I can ask questions, assess more accurately where you’re at, and give customized instructions.
You say, “That’s great, Pastor Kris. Why don’t you do and Pastor Kit do that for everyone in the church?” Well, to some extent, we try. We are committed to providing individual spiritual care to every member of the church. But very quickly, we come to the end of our time limits, and others in the church have to jump in in order to provide all of the care and mentoring that needs to happen. So again, that’s just another reason why it’s so important for you to get involved with spiritual parenting.
But second, I want you to notice that Paul communicated to the Thessalonians as a father to his own son. How is the way that a father communicates to his own son or daughter different from the way he communicates with other children? When a father is talking to his kids, there’s a level of love and urgency there that is unparalleled in his relationships with other children. He has a unique sense of ownership with his own children.
Like I said last week when the same type of language came up with reference to mothering, Paul uses this language because they Thessalonians were his own converts. He led them to the Lord. In that sense, they weren’t his adopted children, but his own children. If you’ve ever led someone to Christ, you know that there is a natural bond that develops between you and that person. And like I said last week, I pray that all of you have the joy of experiencing that.
Finally, I want you to notice the reason for Paul’s fatherly communication (v. 12). Why did Paul comfort and exhort and implore every one of them? It was so that they would walk worthy of the God who calls them. That’s a weighty thought, isn’t it? We all are to walk worthy of the God who called us. Does that mean that we can earn our salvation? No. But by God’s grace, we can live up to the grace we’ve received. Not that we will be perfect, but we will children worthy of God’s name.
Have you ever heard a parent say to a child, “You are a Jones. Jones’s don’t do that!” That’s what v. 12 reminds me of. God freely saved us; He caused us to be born again into His family. But that free calling that we received also impresses upon us the duty to live out the grace we’ve been given. And not just are we to live worthy of the grace. We’re to live worthy of the God who gave us the grace–who called us and is calling us into His eternal kingdom and glory.
I’d like to close by illustrating the impact of selfless fatherly love.
On November 30, 2018 the forty-first President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush passed away. I watched his funeral at the National Cathedral last Wednesday morning. As I watched, I noticed that in the four separate eulogies that were given, the message that kept coming through loud and clear was that George H. W. Bush was a gentleman–a man of courage, but also a man with genuine, loyal love for his friends. When Bush forty-three eulogized his dad, he said, “Many a person would tell you that Dad became a mentor and a father figure in their life. He listened and he consoled. He was their friend.” George W. went on to name some of the people his father had mentored or been a friend to–the most surprising name on that list being Bill Clinton. (If you haven’t heard that story, Bush and Clinton struck up a relationship starting in 2004. Bush forty-one said he was the father-figure Clinton never had, and Clinton didn’t deny it. It’s an odd but fascinating story.)
Later in his speech, Bush forty-three quoted a line from his father’s Inaugural Address back in 1989. He said, “What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us, or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment, there, to trade a word of friendship.” George W. went on to say, “Well, Dad, we’re going to remember you for exactly that and much more.”
We get so distracted in life, don’t we? We all should take note of the fact that at the funeral of a very successful President of the United States, what was talked about most was not his political achievements, but his love for other people. It could be argued, just by glancing at the “Bush row” during the service at the National Cathedral, that George H. W. Bush’s greatest success came not as a President of the United States, but as father to his five biological children, as well as others he “adopted” along the way. I don’t know about you, but I pray that the same will be said about me.