Fathering and Sonship
From the beginning God had revealed Himself to be a personal God, but more amazing is this; when Christ came in the flesh as the great revelation of God, He revealed God to be God in Father and Son.
God as Father and Son,
A Father/Son God! And the Son was of the very essence and nature of the Father, was One in being with the Father. Furthermore, He taught us, the Son does nothing except in submission and agreement with the Father, and the Father does nothing except through the Son. The Son loves the Father, and the Father loves the Son!
Jesus speaks: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not
honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:19-23,30)
This is astounding. God is, at the same time, a father to a son and a son to a father. Now that revelation must become typical of the life of the church, or we fail to know Him as we could, we fail to fully share His nature as we could, and we do not bear His image in the world.
The ‘Nature’ of Church and Ministry
If we would show God to others, revealing the light of Christ, the nature of the church must reflect the nature of God. The church must be a relational people, or else we are not able to impart to others the life and love of God. The heart relationships of God’s people are the key to power for taking the gospel to our world. Jesus clearly meant us to understand this. Consider the words of His prayer, “I pray… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. …that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23).
Over the years, it has been said by many authors and teachers that the leadership, ministry, and life of the church is to be relational, and that all authority in the church is meant to be a relational authority. Going further, I believe the Lord has said that the father/son relationships that will be established amongst leaders and believers is the new wineskin of the church.
The ‘Spirit of sonship’ is about to be newly understood by God’s people. We shall grasp greater meaning in such scriptures as, “you received the Spirit of sonship” (Romans 8:15). This will change the church, and ultimately the nations.
When we consider the Father/Son nature of God, we can begin to understand why fatherhood is so important to God in His dealings with humanity. To begin with, the first man, made in God’s image, was to be the father of the human race.
Subsequently Abraham, the friend of God, was chosen to be the father of faith, and the father of many nations — and he was so chosen because, as the Lord said, “he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD” (Genesis 18:19).
It is greatly significant that the word of God to Abraham was centred around his fatherhood. For much of his lifetime, Abraham’s faith was focused on a single promise that God gave him — that he would have a son. Just as he was chosen to be a father, a certain kind of father, so every ministry leader today is called to be a father in the faith, and to exercise faith to raise ‘sons’ for the ministry, since Abraham is our model for faith according to the scriptures.
Later, a greater test of Abraham’s faith came again over that son, as to whether he was willing to sacrifice him for the purposes of God. This was to bring Abraham’s heart to maturity in the faith he held, showing the evidence that his heart belonged to and trusted the living God. Further, this effectively put him spiritually into the same position as the One who would later sacrifice His own son on the mountain where Abraham was tested.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments we see a repeated emphasis on the importance of ‘father and son’ type relationships in the ministry. The outstanding examples in the Old Testament are Moses with Joshua, and Elijah with Elisha. Both Moses and Elijah are ministry ‘fathers’, mature experienced men who carry great anointings and responsibilities, the outstanding leaders of their day. Joshua and Elisha are younger men who served faithfully as sons, waiting as servants upon their fathers, honouring and obeying them, walking with them in complete devotion. When it came time for Moses to die, the Lord instructed him to lay his hands upon Joshua as the new leader. “Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses” (Deuteronomy 34:9). When Elijah was taken, the anointing fell upon Elisha in double portion.
Moses and Elijah happen to be the two prophets chosen from amongst numerous outstanding and highly esteemed prophets of the Old Testament (such as Samuel, Isaiah, and Daniel) to appear with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. This is very significant. They were the two outstanding ‘fathers’ of the Old Testament, the two who most obviously and successfully raised a ‘son’ to succeed them in the ministry. These two were symbolic of the nature of the ministry to come, which was to bring “many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10).
As we move into these coming days, every church, and every pastor or minister, will need to relate to apostles and prophets, but in particular to an apostle who will be to them a father.
Remember how Paul wrote to the Corinthian church and clarified matters, “Though you have ten thousand instructors, tutors, guides, though you have ten thousand others in Christ all eager to teach you, you have only one father. I became your father through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15, paraphrased).
Many of the pastors and churches in the world today do not have such a spiritual father. In reality, denominational Christianity has a terrible record with respect to providing true spiritual fathering. Some institutional systems just ‘ship in’ and ‘ship out’ ministers all the time without reference to relationships. The allegiance required is to the institution, not to specific people. And many churches don’t really have a pastor. They might have someone there who is called to be a pastor, but he’s not allowed to work as a pastor — if he was, he’d be serving as a representative of Christ. In representing the Head to the body, he would have authority, the right to say, “I believe this is what God requires of us.” Then, ideally, the people should have an inner witness that what he was saying was true, and rise up with one heart to work together with understanding to do the will of God.
Instead of a pastor, most institutional churches have a chaplain. A ‘chaplain’ is someone hired to say nice things, conduct the ceremonies, and visit. We do not call him or her a hireling, for the term ‘hireling’ has negative connotations and is actually a comment on the heart of that person, and their motivation. That is not what we are discussing here. Many of the people working as ‘chaplains’ to our churches really want to serve God and their people. They are not hirelings, unless someone is only there to get paid, in the sense that “It’s a job”. But the system, the corporate culture of many denominations, has established parameters in much of Christianity that has forced them to be chaplains rather than pastors. Much has to change. Now not just anyone can be your father. There may be many that will be valuable instructors and teachers, but there are few who can be your father. Nor will it be the church members who vote on who the ‘spiritual father’, or apostle, will be.
It is the senior minister of any given ministry or fellowship (whether that leader is a pastor, prophet, apostle, teacher, or whatever his primary gift may be) who will need to enter into meaningful relationship with an apostle as spiritual father. The one called of God to lead a company of people on a journey, travelling with Christ in the things of the Spirit to the City of God, will need to identify the spiritual father who has the love, anointing, and heart of God for
them. Naturally, that leader will not be alone in this process, for each will be in co-operative covenant partnership with those around him or her in the Lord, but at every point this must represent a meaningful and personal relationship, of anointed covering, accountability, and fatherly care, for that leader.
The whole ministry of the Church ought to be built, must be built, on wholesome father-son relationships. We are not leaving mothers and daughters out of the ‘equation’. Please take that as implied here. Fathers and mothers, sons and daughters — that is what the Church is meant to be. Go to most churches, however, and you won’t recognise father-son relationships. Mostly they do not exist, since they are outside our mindset of what the church is, because we have been raised with an institutional Christianity that has a professional priesthood.
But when God the Father anointed and released His Son into ministry, to launch with power the ministry of the New Covenant based on better promises (Hebrews 8:6), He made this pronouncement with ” a voice from heaven”. He declared, “This is my beloved Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
We have been raised with an institutional form of Christianity that has denied the real nature of the church, the father-son type relationships that should develop amongst God’s people. Why is this critical? Why is this issue so central to what the church should be? Because, just as Christ was in a personal way the spiritual father of His twelve apostles, so are relationships such as these the vital manifestation of the apostolic nature of the church in every age.
In both the Old and New Testaments, central to the meaning and purpose of the covenants is that Abraham is a father to a son. Everything you know about the gospel goes back to that. Abraham was to be the father of nations, of multitudes, but in the first instance he was to be the father of a son. Everything God has done for you and me through Christ, has come from God challenging a man to believe that he would be given a son who was called the son of promise.
It didn’t end there. When Moses came as the lawgiver, the anointed leader of the first covenant, we find Moses had a ‘son’ in the ministry, Joshua. Everything that Moses knew and learned, all that was in his heart, he taught to this young man, and — Joshua became the great warrior leader of the people of God. God gave the great prophet Elijah a ‘son’ also. And with Elijah’s passing, not via death but alive into heaven, the anointing and power to be the father of Israel transferred in double portion from Elijah to Elisha. It is all there in the pattern God has given us, and that is why, when we come to the last verse of the Old Testament, we discover that it closes with a statement that holds a promise, a prophecy, and a curse. “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).
This is a tremendously significant statement, as we shall see. But why Elijah? Because he successfully passed a father’s anointing in double portion to a son in the ministry. This is the only example we have in the scriptures of a double-portion of anointing for ministry being actually received. Yet it is the rightful inheritance of every first-born son, and biblically, every believer is a first-born son. The church is “the church of the first-born” (Hebrews 12:23), which is a reference not to Christ but to every saint “whose names are written in heaven”.
Part two coming next week.