The Bible is replete with the use of the masculine parental term “father”. In both the Old and New Testaments, the word is used to refer to God, biological male parent, foster male parent and metaphorically used to refer to leaders of the church. In our generation too, some Christian denominations call their ordained ministers “father” as an ecclesiastical title.
It appears ministers, who use the title have been influenced by Paul, the apostle. In his epistles, Paul uses the father metaphor umpteenth times to refer to himself. “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, WHOSE FATHER I BECAME in my imprisonment…If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I WILL REPAY IT…” (Philemon 1: 10- 19).
“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 Corinthian 4: 15).
“But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a SON WITH A FATHER he has served with me in the gospel” (Philippians 2:22).
Thus, today, most pastors take pride in being addressed as father by the church they shepherd. In fact, many young pastors in particular refer to senior pastors who seem to have excelled in ministry as their fathers. The sad reality, however, is that most of these young pastors are not known to their supposed fathers personally. They have neither met before nor do they have any relationship with them.
However, Paul, the apostle, explained that he became a father in Christ Jesus to the Corinthian church, Timothy, Titus, Onesimus and other younger ministers through the preaching of the gospel. Now, it must be emphasized that Paul did not refer to himself as a father to Timothy and others just because he got them saved, but also he had personal relationship with them. He had them in his missionary work, sat with them, advised them face to face, defended them, spoke into their lives and spent money on them.
Paul was prepared to pay any debt his son in the Lord, Onesimus owed Philemon. “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment…If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it…” (Philemon 1:10-19). Paul actually took the responsibility of raising those young men as their biological fathers would.
It is equally important to stress that in the father in Christ-son relationship, it is not only the fathers who invest in the lives of their sons and daughters, the sons and daughters also serve their fathers. In Philemon 1:13, Paul said he had wanted to keep Onesimus with him for him to serve him (Paul). Sons in Christ serve their fathers; they do menial jobs for them just as their fathers equally do menial jobs for them, demonstrating genuine love to nurture, support and provide for them.
When the Lord Jesus Christ was fathering the apostles during His earthly ministry, He had personal relationship with them. He did not only feed them the Word of God by teaching them, but also fed them natural food. Jesus Christ protected, guided, defended and prayed for the disciples.
In fact, He exposed them to various places and rich people in the Jewish communities and also gave them hope for eternal rest. One day, the Lord Jesus paid Peter’s temple tax (Matthew 17: 27). As Jesus Christ was providing for His disciples, they were also humbly serving Him. They went on errands for the Lord Jesus Christ even sometimes buying food for Him (John 4:8,31). That is the beauty of father-son relationship in Christian ministry.
Similarly, Elisha did not call Elijah his father for nothing. Elijah fed, clothed, taught and mentored him in the way of the Lord. It must be remembered that in 1 Kings 19: 20, Elisha had left his business which provided for his needs and followed Elijah. He left his house and stayed with Elijah, his father in the ministry. This should tell us that Elisha undoubtedly lost his source of income, so he had to depend on Elijah for food, clothing, accommodation and other necessities of life.
Elisha left his family and went to stay with Elijah just as Timothy also left his parents to be with Paul. The apostle saw Timothy during one of his missionary journeys, and took him to stay with him (Acts 16: 1- 3). True father-son relationship in Christ Jesus is not a joke; it can be very expensive. Paul would not take young Timothy with him on his missionary journeys without spending on him.
Paul took Timothy away from his biological parents to stay with him. It is obvious that while staying with him, Paul helped him to realise his calling in ministry. He wrote two letters instructing, encouraging and inspiring Timothy in the performance of his duty as a young man of God. The letters included 1st and 2nd Timothy. Paul also wrote one letter to instruct Titus on his pastoral duties and a love letter to Philemon concerning Onesimus.
However, most pastors, today, only speak about Elisha serving his father in the ministry, Elijah, by pouring water on his hands, washing his clothes and doing other chores for him (2 Kings 3: 11). But they forget that Elisha happily washed Elijah’s hands because Elijah also fed, sheltered and clothed him.
Fatherhood is not only positional; it is also functional. It goes with cost. True fathers in the Lord feed, shelter and clothe. These things may not always be spiritual provisions; they may be physical provisions as well. If Elisha poured water on Elijah’s physical hands, then there is the probability that Elijah also provided physical food, clothes and room for Elisha to enjoy. When we look at the relationship that existed between Paul and his sons in the Lord, and Elijah and Elisha, you can see that it was personal. There was physical attachment.
By James Quansah