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June 21, 2020  What’s a Father to Do?

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Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,

“I didn’t really like my beard at first;…and then it grew on me.”  That’s called a ‘dad joke’.   I don’t know if there’s such a thing as ‘mom jokes’,  but dad-jokes are an actually thing = and you can look them up on the internet.  Such as: “I don’t trust atoms;  they make up everything.”   I think these dad-jokes sound a lot like 3rd or 4th grade quips, puns & riddles;   so I guess fathers are not known for very sophisticated humor.   On this Father’s Day,  let me read a few verses from 1 Corinthians 4,  where Paul is instructing,  not joking:

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The apostle Paul was not the biological father of any of the Christians in Corinth;

he was not their adoptive or their foster father.  St. Paul was their ‘spiritual’ father.  They owed their spiritual lives to Paul  because he brought the Good News of Christ Jesus to their ears.

Paul planted that seed,  & the Spirit brought faith to life.   In Acts 18,  we hear about their first year &a half of life together,  as father-Paul fed & tended Corinth’s newborn church.

Paul sounds like a proud papa toward these baby-Christians,  as he wrote, “My dear children…

 in Christ Jesus  I became your father thru the Gospel.”    Let’s use this example to see how God  father’s us,  and teaches men to be godly fathers.

Paul writes this letter to this church because they needed a letter from ‘father.’   Paul had now been gone from Corinth for about 3 years;  he had moved on to new mission fields.

But he learns that his Christian~children were fighting with each other.    Some had brought lawsuits against others into the pagan court system.  Some were perverting the idea of biblical marriage,  and even disturbing their pagan neighbors with their immoral sexual behavior.

God had blessed & gifted them in the beginning;  but now  many were twisting things into terrible errors & sins.  Some had been using the Lord’s Supper to get drunk;  others were now saying that Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t important,  or it was just a made-up story.

These children of the gospel were misbehaving terribly.  That not only happened back then,  it happens today.  A congregation goes astray from God’s truth;  a church family has a falling out among its members;  arguments & turmoil & power struggles spring-up  because of arrogance, pride, & ignorance about the meaning of God’s Words.

So,  *how should a Father deal with his children’s sin?   /Ignore it?  /Heap up shame & guilt on them?   /Discipline or punish them?  (maybe)  Here, Paul writes,  “I am not writing this to shame you,  but to warn you.”

Like Jim,  who is the father of 7 yr-old Katie.   He’s teaching her to ride her bike.

Katie pedals,  straightens out the wobble,  & finally pulls away,  rolling faster than Dad can run alongside.  Letting Katie go,  Jim’s cheers with pride.  But,  *what if Katie pedals out-of-control toward some deep ditch?  A Father’s love won’t stay silent in his heart,  it will engage his voice, and he’ll say,  ‘watch where you’re going!’  ‘turn to the right!’   ‘be careful!’

So,  *what if a father sees a danger more deadly than a little ditch?  *What if a slippery slope means a slide toward a lifetime of despair,  a falling from God’s grace,  or a loss of precious faith?  God’s own warning to us  includes the seriousness of how sin chips-away at our faith,  and how unrepentant guilt burns-away a good conscience toward our Savior.  God warns us,  because the danger is that  some of those who were once His children  can be lost again forever.

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*What’s a father to do?   Somewhere in the bulletin is a little OUTLINE with that heading.  ‘What’s a father to do?’   Number one is:  Love.   *What does love do?   It  ‘warns against sin.’

As Paul said,  “I am not writing this to shame you,  but to warn you,  as my dear children.”

Even tho they are pedaling faster & faster  away from Paul,  & away from Jesus by ignoring Jesus’ teaching;  whether they are caught in mindless sins or willing sins,   he still calls them  “Dear children.”    The shame of guilt is fitting;  they were bringing shame on Paul’s name, misrepresenting him = he never taught them to sin like that.   Even worse,  they were bringing shame on the name of Christ  by doing the opposite of what Jesus taught as good & right.

So,  *why wouldn’t Paul come down hard  with condemnation & punishment?

That might’ve stopped the bad behavior,  but not fixed the problem.  Just as Jesus did not condemn & disown his disciples when they doubted or disobeyed;  he stopped them & then re-taught them.   Besides,  Paul knew that he was also a sinner;  he had given birth to these spiritual ‘children’ at Corinth,  but the little acorns didn’t fall far from the ol’ tree.  So, he would not reject them,  but tries to restore them;   just as he had been restored.

We remember that Paul had once been ‘Saul’- the pharisee;  and 20 years earlier,  Paul had hated Jesus & his followers.  Paul thought himself so smart  that he knew everything about God; ….>   yet he had denied God’s grace to the world,  denied the messiah,  denied the forgiving cross,  and led the Jewish campaign to exterminate the Christians.   He could still feel the pain of that guilt  when he wrote in 1st Timothy  that HE was the worst of all sinners.   That memory made him cling to his Savior Jesus even harder;  and every day Paul marveled at the grace shown to him by the Lord.   So,  he knew he didn’t have to add any shame to the mix;

human sin is shameful,  but even worse,  it’s deadly.   Because he loves his children at Corinth,  he writes to warn them,   and show compassion toward them.

*What’s a father to do?   They are guilty,  but they are his children;  and a father believes in  /the power of a warning to repent,  /the power of forgiveness to renew them in the faith, /& the power of the Word to teach them the truth.  The cross of Jesus would set their minds & hearts straight.  The power of God’s merciful love & God’s Word  would result in more righteousness than punishment could give.   Just as Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus:  “Fathers, do not exasperate your children;  instead,  bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph.6)     In other words,  don’t just punish-punish-punish  until they toe the line outwardly;  but discipline, teach, & love  until they are grown-up  to be willing & strong in the faith  from the inside.

So,  in that outline,  a father’s love will ‘warn against sin.’   That’s true;   but that only goes so far.   So a father will also  ‘love despite sin.’   This is a balance all Christian fathers strive for.   We may or may not have had an earthly father  who was able to do that;  but we needed one,  and still need one.   One who clearly warns us against wrongdoing,  yet reliably loves us  even when we are rotten.   We have that Good News.  That perfectly describes only one perfect Father,  Abba = our heavenly Papa.

So we thank you,  our Heavenly Father!  You identify & steer us away from every evil. At those times when we have crashed in dirty ditches,  again & again,  You have  /rushed to us, /picked us up,  /cleaned us off,  /made us whole;   /and  put us back on the good road,  because we needed to learn & keep living.   Abba-Father,  give us hearts like yours;  hearts that love others like that. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

So,  Paul is quick to remind himself & the Corinthians  that they are God’s ‘dear children’ thru Him & the gospel.   He goes on to write this:  “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ,  you do not have many fathers,  for in Christ Jesus I became your father.”

What he is saying is this:   Many other leaders share responsibility to guard his children;  Paul is not fathering alone.  When Paul left Corinth,   Christ sent other ‘guardians,’ other pastors & teachers,  to lead people to faith in Christ.   And, even tho there are others,  the fatherly leadership for them is Paul’s.   No one else can be his children’s father;  Christ had chosen him as father.  So Paul speaks to them freely,  sternly, and compassionately,  as only their spiritual father could do.

Part 2 on the sermon outline,  of  “What’s a Father to Do?”  #2 is:  Lead.   This means to ‘recognize other leaders.’   and  ‘exercise fatherly leadership.’    So,  this question applies to both father and mothers:  ‘how many others help you to parent your children?’   There are many who help:  school teachers, doctors, & public servants; / church teachers & youth group leaders,  & pastors;  / grandparents, aunts & uncles; / family friends & church friends.   When you’re not around,  others are there;   so the Lord puts others into our lives, & our children’s lives.

There may not be ‘ten thousand’,  but we thank God for guardians in Christ.

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HOWEVER!   *Does Paul then say father’s can ‘relax’,  or  imply that you can avoid your responsibility?   No.   Father’s still have a voice with their children  that guardians do not have;  and guardians should not try to undermine it.   Father’s should speak clearly,  altho this is not easy & takes practice.   So,  +tell your children:  “I love you;  Jesus loves you & me.”

+Tell them sternly,  “This is sin,  & don’t fall for that.”  +Tell them caringly,  ‘repent.’   AND +tell them,  “God forgives me and you.”    This is what children need for this life from both fathers and guardians.   And if the Lord made you a dad,  it comes from you the best.

And so there is a balance here too;  the Lord designed leadership  with some backup  for the good of our children.   A father’s job is to exercise your authority  to lead your children;  and  also to help your child recognize the other guardians that Jesus has provided.

We may  or may not have had  such a well-balanced earthly Father.   But we most certainly have had the perfect Heavenly Father!

So,  Almighty Father,  you have all authority over heaven & earth & us.  And your promise is that in every situation,  you work all things together  for our good.  As you lead, guide & guard us,   help us to trust you & follow your good ways.

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3rd & finally,  Paul shows us what fathers do,  & what God-our-Father does,  when he writes to his Corinthian-children:  “In Christ Jesus  I became your father thru the gospel.”

In other words,  ‘Jesus gave you life thru me!  That’s how He works;  you are mine  because Jesus gave you to me.   I had a part;  but  Jesus gave you a new birth & new life.’

Men can be biological fathers,  but the Lord Jesus expects more of us = more of our lives & for the lives of our children.  We will explain to our children:  ‘because of Jesus, I became your father.’  This leads us to Worship with our children,  where we both focus on the world’s only Savior.   We say,  ‘Thank you, Jesus, that you gave this child to me,  and that I can point them to You.’  The child says,  ‘thank you, Jesus,  that I have a father who reminds me of   Your love.’

So,  Paul says,  “In Christ Jesus  I became your father  thru the gospel.  Therefore I urge you to imitate me.”   We all know it does no good to say,  ‘do what I say,  not what I do.’  A child can see what’s important to a father  by what he does.    And so,  worship is more than words,  it’s the walk.   ‘Like father, like son.’   Paul is not saying he’s perfect;  he is saying that the Lord has shown him the right way;  so now ‘I’ll show you,’ he says,  ‘imitate me.’  This is  ‘my way of life in Christ Jesus’;    come,  we will follow the Lord Jesus together.’

With faith,  this same responsibility does not scare us.  The goal is not perfection, but faith.  When we run off God’s road,  we worship the only One who can pick us up,  brush us off,  strengthen us, & get us going again in the right direction.  That’s what happens thru worship.   To complete the blanks in the sermon outline,  what the father does is:  worship;  to ‘celebrate Christ’s work,’  and  ‘model Christian life,’  where the Christian life is learning God’s Word,  with daily repentance,  forgiveness,  and putting faith into practice.

You may or may not have had an earthly father who did this well.  But you do have a Heavenly Father who is perfect.   We thank you,  Heavenly Father,  for the Gospel,  by which we hear & believe in your Son Jesus,  who gave up his life to save us,  and who perfectly taught us everything we need to know to worship & to live as your holy children.   Help all fathers to imitate You,  and to worship You with their children.

What’s a father to do?   He might tell ‘dad-jokes’  such as:  ‘ya know,  it really takes guts ….to be an organ donor.’    But a real father does MORE.  He loves, leads, & worships.

It means that he is -first- a child of the Heavenly Father,  and -then-  he accepts the God-given responsibilities for his children.   Triune God,  bless our fathers;  so that we may all rejoice in You,  our perfect Heavenly Father.     Amen