The Need to Restore Fatherhood
The danger of the earth being struck with a curse if the hearts of the fathers and their children were not turned back to each other was prophesied in Malachi 4. In many ways, fatherlessness is the curse, and fatherhood cancels the curse. This is true in both the natural and the spiritual world. It is true in the society around us, and in the church.
For decades now, fatherlessness has been a growing curse in many nations, especially affluent nations. The number of boys and girls growing up without fathers is enormous, and the impact on our society is horrendous. The world and the church has been largely ignorant of the full ramifications of this tragedy because we are uninformed about the purpose and the value of fatherhood. And for years, dads have been despised, denigrated in the media and suffering injustice in the courts. It has been considered that a mother’s role was more important than a father’s role. Only now are we beginning to understand the tragic consequences of this foolishness.
I sometimes wonder whether the curse of fatherlessness upon society has not resulted because the institutional church has emasculated spiritual fathering. Has the church’s failure to honour leaders, and to listen to the voice of fathers, been a primary cause of the dishonouring of fathers in the world? The maxim remains true, “As goes the church, so goes the world”. Fathers in family life have a very important role in their children’s lives. Of course, it is best when children have both parents, for both a mother and a father have something of great importance to impart to their children. But here, I am addressing specifically the importance of the father’s role, as it gives insight into our present spiritual need in the church.
Identity and Impartation from Fathers
Briefly, fathers impart courage, security, discipline, identity and blessing to their children. Concerning courage, it is the encouragement of a father that releases a child from fear. It is the strength and comfort of a father that keeps a child from insecurity, enabling a child to grow up secure. A father’s discipline deals with the child’s lack of motivation, and urges them to live worthy lives. It is a father that gives a sense of identity, purpose and destiny to a child.
Furthermore, with a father’s blessing there is placed within a child a clear sense of having permission to succeed.
Without the ministry and impartation of a father’s strengths and love, children can grow up not knowing who they are, why they are here, or where they are going. They grow up at risk to fear, insecurity, lack of discipline, lack of motivation and without a sense of either personal or corporate destiny. That is the curse of the one parent family.
With this in mind, we can all the more fully understand the importance of the words which God the Father spoke over His Son on the day that Jesus was baptised and anointed for ministry. He said, “This is my Son, whom I love: with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Here was an affirmation of identity, love, acceptance, blessing, honour and, indirectly, permission to succeed.
The key elements here are: the father gives identity, expresses His love, and declares the delight He has in His son. Everything flows from this, both in natural families and in the spiritual life of the family of God.
In the ministry of the church, there are important things that can only come to us through the ministry of fathers. Every young man and woman growing into spiritual maturity, and hearing the call of God to the ministry, is greatly helped if there is for them the voice of a father, who communicates to their hearts love, acceptance, identity, and permission to be a success.
The following biblical description of the apostolic ministry comes alive for us when we are more informed of the importance of a father’s role. “As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children… For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God…” (1 Thessalonians 2:6-7,11-12).
“A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honour due me?” (Malachi 1:6)
The church must honour the fathers. The giving of honour is a key principle if we would obtain life. Not only do the Scriptures call us to honour God (1 Timothy 1:17), we are also called to honour every person in authority over us (Romans 13:7, 1 Peter 2:17). This is especially true of our parents and the leaders of the church. The command to honour your father and mother was the only commandment that had attached to it a promise — and it is a very specific kind of promise. “Honour your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 5:16). This is the promise of a longer life, and a better life, to those who give honour. The New Testament renews the promise which was given under the old covenant (Ephesians 6:1-3), and shows that the giving of honour is a life-giving principle. When we fail to give honour, we curse ourselves, and effectively cut ourselves off from the springs of life, which are for our blessing.
The elders who govern the church, in particular those responsible for teaching, are to be especially honoured. They are worthy of double honour, says Paul. “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). When the church fails to honour its leadership, we fail to walk in the fullness of the blessing of God. If the church does not honour its fathers, the promises and great blessings that attach themselves to the giving of honour are not appropriated.
When we fail to honour, the command to bless is not given. This is, unfortunately, the very reverse of the process which brings such abundant blessing described in Psalm 133, for there can be no unity in the church of Jesus Christ without the leaders being held in high honour, loved from the heart, and imitated as role models. Scripture
commands these things.
In the apostolic church, which is established by the power of Christ through relationships, the giving of honour is central to Christ’s purpose. If we lack in the giving of honour, we lack grace. When our hearts are pure, so that we love to give honour, we are Christlike.
Sonship in the Ministry
“In bringing many sons to glory” was a phrase we quoted earlier as we outlined God’s purpose. The text of Hebrews continues, “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Hebrews 2:11). Here we see again the repeated emphasis of the importance
of family relationship in the household of God. In this house, there is but one family.
Many believers, including anointed ministers, do not understand the grace and relationship dynamic of their adoption as sons (Romans 15:17). They know in theory they are sons, but do not think and relate to God that way in practice. Like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, they are forever coming to God hoping to be treated as one of the servants. The prodigal said to himself, “I will…go back to my father and say…’I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men’ “(Luke 15:18-19). Most Christians relate to God as a disciple to a teacher, or a servant to a master, rather than as a son to a father.
Of course we are all disciples and servants, as well as sons. Our problem is that we relate to God out of a servant’s mentality, which He never intended. We still subconsciously think of ourselves as unworthy to be sons. It is a tremendous breakthrough when we discover the true nature of grace and relationship with God, and learn to come to Him with the confidence of a first-born son. Then do we walk in the grace of God, and find it has great power.
God’s purpose is that we would not only relate to Him as sons to a father, but that we would also relate to those over us in the church as sons to a father. Our relationship with those over us in the Lord is not meant to be distant, formal, religious, hierarchical, mechanical, or institutional. Neither is it meant to be untrusting or impersonal. It is meant to be very personal. It should be the trusting, relaxed, intimate, caring, gracious, non-legalistic, warm, selfless, giving, honouring, committed and ‘without private agenda’ relationships of a good family. In a good family we care about others, and we live for each other. In a good family, despite what ups and downs there may be, the most important thing is other people, and maintaining healthy, appropriate, personal relationships with them.
No one is suggesting that we submit ourselves to leaders who are tyrants. We have all heard stories of manipulative, controlling leaders, and of problems caused by deceptive and inappropriate religious leaders. We are free to obey Christ and not men, when men have a wrong spirit or a personal agenda, just as the apostles have told us, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29). These words, however, must never be used with an arrogant independence,
contrary to the spirit of the Word of God that calls us into community. Paul made it clear that God uses leadership authority to bring about obedience to God, as in these words, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done” (Romans 15:18).
What we are speaking about is the giving of allegiance from the heart to true apostolic fathers, who are not controlling, and never motivated by greed or personal ambition, but who have the heart of God to care for you and all the saints. Here, from the heart of the apostle John, is an example of fatherly care. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). Here is one from Paul. “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone,
because I am perplexed about you!” (Galatians 4:19-20).
Spiritual fathers love their sons, and spiritual sons serve and honour their fathers. The relationship is mutually beneficial, and involves mutual giving. The son gives, and the father gives. They honour one another, and each wants the other to succeed. These are life-giving and freedom-giving relationships, for an apostle loves to see other people set free. There is accountability and authority, but not control, and a true father does not create dependency. Like a Dad with his family, the way in which fatherly authority is exercised varies greatly with the maturity of the child. As sons become mature, they also become more ‘independent’, yet all the while remaining strongly bonded in love to their spiritual father. This kind of life is the life of the church, and these values are central to the ministry of Jesus Christ. If we misunderstand this, we miss the substance of what the faith and the gospel is all about.
We return again to the example of Jesus, upon whom we are told, as brothers, to fix our thoughts. “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house” (Hebrews 3:1-3). There is in this text a fascinating phrase, which is definitive of both the relationships and the nature of the apostolic church. Following the instruction to focus our full attention upon Him, we are told that Christ, as an apostle, was “faithful to the one who appointed him”. This is therefore a piece of information of the utmost importance.
Notice that the appointment is personal in every respect. The appointment is not only given to Jesus as an individual person, but the authority of the appointment is conferred upon Him by an individual, God the father. Christ was not called to be faithful to an organisation, or to an office in an institution, but to a person. He was faithful to “the one” who appointed Him. Sons in the ministry are also called to be faithful to those apostles who confer authority upon them. The future effectiveness of the church will come from sons who will be faithful to those who appoint them.
Read the New Testament again, and tell me it is not all about how we relate to each other as well as to God. Christ and the apostles spent as much time instructing us on how to love and relate to others, as they did on how to respond to God and pursue Christ. Holiness and obedience to God is defined as much by your fellowship with, attitude to, and treatment of others, as it is by what goes on in your heart and mind, or your service to Christ.
There is much that could be said concerning this, but in the end I desire to make one main point. Each of us is meant to find the ‘Spirit of sonship’ in our relationships in the church, as well as in our relationship with God. If we miss this, we will miss the way of God, and the purposes of God. But when we relate to those over us in the Lord as sons to a father, we will have effectively discovered and entered into the real life that God intended for the body of Christ. This is church reformation, and it will result in community transformation.
Sonship and Inheritance
Sonship is the secret to spiritual inheritance. Wherever the Bible speaks of sonship, we discover that in close proximity it speaks of inheritance also. For example, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:4-7).
The Bible makes extensive reference to our inheritance, and there are two stages in receiving inheritance. Ultimately we obtain the amazing provisions of God, things that really cannot be described (1 Corinthians 2:9), which comes to us after the Day of the Lord, and which is the day of our redemption. “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are
God’s possession…And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 1:13-14, 4:30-31).
This vast future inheritance, jointly sharing everything Christ inherits, is spoken of by many biblical authors. It is preserved for us by the power of God, “…an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4-5).
In addition to future inheritance, there is also much that we are meant to receive whilst in the body on the earth. We are told to “…imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Hebrews 6:12) and, in the case of Abraham who is in this text referred to as one we should imitate, it is made plain that there is also an inheritance for here and now, since “…after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised” (Hebrews 6:15).
As believers, there are a number of ways that we receive the things we need, and which God has promised. We exercise faith to receive answers to prayer, we walk in the principles of sowing and reaping, we believe the promises and receive their outcomes just as sons would receive an inheritance, and over and above all these, there is abundant and merciful grace.
Here I want to make a distinction between receiving from God on the basis of sowing and reaping, and receiving from God what is promised as inheritance given to sons. The laws of sowing and reaping are universal, and everyone may benefit by this provision. Many scriptures attest to this, such as 2 Corinthians 9: 6-11, and Luke 6:38. Every believer should participate in sowing and reaping, or giving and receiving as Paul called it in Philippines 4:15.
Then we are blessed and benefitted by the laws of harvest. It is God’s will that all of us should work and believe for a great harvest. God promised He would enlarge the harvest of your righteousness, and that you would be made rich in every way so that you could always be generous, to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 9: 10-11). These laws of harvest are to benefit you and the Kingdom of Christ, both spiritually and materially.
However, the harvest field requires your labour, in the form of good stewardship of your wealth, our regular generosity, and your exercise of faith. You must learn how to sow by faith, and you must also learn how to reap your harvest by faith. Therefore, you work for a harvest.
But inheritance is obtained differently. You do not work for your inheritance, instead you simply receive it. Inheritance comes to you because of relationship. You are a member of the family, and specifically, a first-born son. Sons do not work for their inheritance, although as a member of the family a good son will certainly work hard for his father. For a son, both the motivation for service and the manner in which reward or provision is received, is entirely different to that of an employee.
Consider the following scripture: “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. …But what does the Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son’ (Galatians 4:22-26, 30).
The two sons of Abraham represent people in the church today. There are those that have, albeit unknowingly, a slave mentality, and there are those who live as sons of a promise. We mentioned earlier the tendency for many to continue coming to the Father as the prodigal did, hoping to be treated as one of the servants. The prodigal in Jesus’ story was not received as a servant, but as an honoured son, yet many in the church, even though God has received them as sons, continue to function as if they were slaves.
A slave, servant, or hired hand does not receive inheritance. Likewise, any Christian with this mentality will find it difficult to receive through inheritance, because to receive anything from God requires faith, and faith for inheritance is effectively absent in a slave mentality. Remember there is a spiritual principle that says, “the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son” (Galatians 4: 30). To walk in the abundant provisions of inheritance made by God for His children in this life, one must walk in the freedom of the Spirit of sonship. This must be, by faith, our experience of God, not just a theory.
The things that we obtain by inheritance are all those things that are promised. Abraham’s son by the free woman was born as “the result of a promise”, and all sons that walk in the inheritance provisions of God look to the promises so as to receive them. This does include anointing for ministry, and the power to do what God has called us to in the Kingdom.
As an aside, I do not wish to imply that inheritance replaces harvest, or that believing the promises displaces the need for generosity, and sowing and reaping. Actually, both are needed for you to be complete in faith and righteousness (James 1:4, 2: 22).
Relationship, The Key to Inheritance
Having explained a little about the principle of inheritance, we now proceed to a climactic discovery. God intends that we shall inherit the promises and anointings, not only by relating to the Father in heaven as a son, but also by relating as a son to a spiritual father on earth. This is precisely why Elisha received a double portion of Elijah’s ‘spirit’ — it was his inheritance as a first born son who had served a father in the ministry. Double-portion inheritance is, therefore, an inheritance received from God via relationship with a spiritual father who is in Christ. We gain, not only what our faith is able to obtain from our Father in heaven, but also what our spiritual fathers themselves have obtained by their faith, and which is passed to us through the power of faithful, submitted, accountable relationships, with God’s blessing.
On the other hand, a spirit of independence robs us of our inheritance. There are many in the ministry who have failed to obtain inheritance, that which could have been theirs, that which was available to them, because they have failed to understand and walk in the call of God to relate to fathers in the faith. We must have the spirit of submission in our hearts (Ephesians 5:21) or we miss much of the grace and miraculous provision that God our Father has made for us.
To illustrate, Elijah found great power with God, but he came forth out of years of rejection, wilderness experience, and testing. This is one way in which men and women of faith grow in the power of God. However, Elisha did not obtain grace for ministry in that way, but rather by walking with Elijah and serving him. For Elisha, years of submission and service to a spiritual father was the key to the anointing and the prophetic office. For this faithful service he was given the double portion, as the right of a first born son, and an easier, more sociable life. Elijah had been a prophet of the wilderness, but Elisha of the towns and cities. This represents a great advance for the work, an acceptance of the prophetic ministry, and an honouring of the prophet. Elisha obtained the greater anointing and the advance of the ministry through being a son to a father.
On the other hand, Elisha did not successfully pass on his prophetic authority. He died, and his corpse went to the grave still carrying the anointing, as we learn from 2 Kings 13: 20-21. It seems that he was training his servant Gehazi to be his successor (2 Kings 4: 29), but Gehazi was not submitted or faithful as a son. Because he did not have the heart of a son, he fell through greed, and was judged (2 Kings 5: 19-27).
We can understand now more clearly why the New Covenant was prefaced with these words, “I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).
A Coming Judgement
There are numerous witnesses in Holy Scripture that point to a coming judgement upon, not the world, but the church, specifically the shepherds and leaders.
Earlier I referred to Psalm 78: 9-12, 65-72 as a precedent now being used by the Holy Spirit to communicate an imminent leadership change in the body of Christ. In addition we have the prophecies of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. In Ezekiel 34: 7-10 God declares that He is against the shepherds who do not care for His flock, and predicts that He will remove them from attending the flock. Jeremiah 25: 29, 34-38 contains some of the most fearful words in all the Scripture, and we must not assume that fulfilment of these words is complete. Like all prophecy, this passage will have both a ‘near’ and a ‘far’ outworking. The witness of the Spirit seems to be that these words will have yet another fulfilment, and what is so fearful is that the “city that bears my Name”, with its “shepherds” and “leaders of the flock”, is the church.
To clarify matters, and to confirm the prophetic interpretation of Psalm 78 and Ezekiel 34, both of which refer to David as the shepherd of integrity that God will appoint to replace the rejected shepherds, I feel the Lord has drawn my attention to the following passage. Here in the prophecies of Isaiah, Shebna is ousted from his position, and the Lord appoints another, Eliakim, to whom He will give the authority of David, for he is to become a father to God’s people. This is very much in the spirit of the prophecy of Malachi 4:6, and the restoration of apostles and
spiritual fathers of great integrity for the people of God.
“This is what the Lord, the LORD Almighty, says: ‘Go, say to this steward, to Shebna, who is in charge of the palace: “…I will depose you from your office, and you will be ousted from your position. In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the
key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will be a seat of honour for the house of his father. All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and offshoots — all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars” (Isaiah 22:15,19-24).