On Being A Spiritual Parent

For those of us who are parents we know that parenting is hard. In fact, at times it is almost impossible without the grace of God. As a parent I have learned more about the filial relationship that we have with God as our Father. What if we took the same principles of parenting and applied them to our spiritual life? What would that look like?

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1 Corinthians 4:14-21 describes this type of relationship. The relationship that Paul had between the Corinthians was a paternal one. Here are some principles that we can apply to our lives from this text.

1. To be a spiritual parent means that we are producing spiritual children.
Paul says in verse 15, “For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” It only makes sense to say that the only way we can be spiritual parents is if we beget spiritual children. Being a man does not make a person a father, nor does being a woman make a person a mother. The only way to be a parent is to have children. That sounds simple, but the same is true of spiritual children. In the same way a man sows his “seed” so that the woman may conceive, we sow the gospel as the imperishable seed that produces spiritual children. 1 Peter 1:23 says, “You have been born again – not of perishable seed but of imperishable – through the living and enduring word of God.” When Paul came to Corinth in Acts 18, he sowed the seed of the Gospel. In fact, Paul uses an agricultural metaphor in 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 to describe just that. There are three agents at work in salvation. First there is the power of Christ, secondly there is the administrative agency, and thirdly there is the gospel. Many of us forget about the second. It has been ordained by God that people be saved upon hearing the gospel preached, but that gospel has to have a preacher, or in this case a sower. To be a spiritual parent we must reproduce ourselves.

2. To be a spiritual parent we must be an example.
In verse 16, Paul says, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” I’m sure that you have heard of the phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do.” This phrase can be very misleading to a child. If we are honest enough to admit it, most of us would tell our children not to do the things we have done, but rather do completely opposite. For Paul, he could confidently tell the Corinthians to imitate him. He tells them in verse 15a, “For you can have 10,000 instructors in Christ, but you can’t have many fathers.” The word for instructors is the Greek word, pedagogue, which means tutor, or school master. They were responsible for the children in the absence of the father. The teachers of Corinth had made a real hash of things while Paul was gone. What he tells them is this: you can have teachers you adore, and that is fine, but remember, I am your father in Christ. Therefore, imitate me. As spiritual parents, we have a duty to set an example in the church and in the home. There are a lot of “teachers” out there, but our children need to be assured that they can follow after our example. In the church, older men and women are to set examples for younger men and women in all areas of life. Let me ask you, can you as a husband tell your wife to imitate you, as you imitate Christ? Can you, as a mother, tell your children to imitate you as you imitate Christ? To be a spiritual parent we must reproduce ourselves and set an example that others can follow.

3. To be a spiritual parent means a greater responsibility.
Not only must we set an example, but we must also follow through with what we have said. The teachers at Corinth talked a big game, but Paul tells them, “When I come, I will know not the TALK but the POWER of those who are inflated with pride.” (vs.19) As you know being a parent means that we must correct our children when they are wrong, but it also means that we had better make sure that we are living correctly ourselves. We are living in a day, loved ones, when we must make the decision to live for Christ no matter what it may cost. We can sound super spiritual in the pews, and we can talk a big game at home, but are we prepared to back up our talk with actions when times get tough? A preacher may sound good behind the pulpit. He may make people laugh and make them cry and really move their emotions, but is there any evidence of the Spirit’s power on his life? The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power. We may talk the talk, but do we walk the walk? Are we producing spiritual children? Are we setting an example for them to follow? Are we living that example not just by what we say, but also what we do? Paul told the church, “I’m coming, and what should I come with?” Should I come with a rod to beat you, or arms to embrace you?” No parent wants to have to come home from a long day of work and have to discipline their child. Paul did not want to come to Corinth to do that. We are reminded that we must correct our brothers and sisters out of love to keep unity within the Body of Christ. We are also reminded that God, who is our heavenly Father, will correct us as well. Are we producing spiritual children? Are we setting an example? Are we prepared to take on this great responsibility?


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Ryan Pendergraft serves as the lead pastor at Osceola First Baptist in Osceola, Missouri. He is currently pursuing his undergraduate in biblical studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Cheyenne, have one little girl and another little one on the way!

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