< Back To Sermons

Not Many Fathers

Listen to MP3 View PDF (to download mp3, right click here and choose "save target as" or "save link as")

Not Many Fathers

1 Corinthians 4:15

June 19, 2016

Pastor Steve Schantz

Preparing a Father’s Day message in today’s culture can be like negotiating a mine field. For those individuals hurt by past events, Father’s Day can trigger a host of negative emotions. Others ache from an unexpected loss or accident which took a father away. For victims of neglect or abuse, the term father itself can carry baggage. But God’s word and His revealed nature bring us hope, truth, comfort, and direction. Whatever image of a physical father we may carry in our mind’s eye this morning, let us go to God’s word together and allow His truth to shape our perception of that role.

In contrast to the limitations of human fathers, scripture reminds us in powerful and intimate ways what our Heavenly Father is like. The Psalmist describes him as: A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. (Psalms 68:5) This concept of our Heavenly Father guided these words from the Apostle’s Creed which we repeat monthly during communion: “I Believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.”

These early church fathers weren’t trying to ascribe biological characteristics to God the Father. Their primary concern in calling God, Father and Son was to preserve the sense of person-relatedness grounded in the Trinity, God’s biblical oneness in character and attributes. We can know this Father loves us deeply through Jesus’ revelation of Him. In knowing Jesus, we can know what our Heavenly Father is like. It is supremely important to our understanding of God the Father to realize that there is not another kind of God hiding behind Jesus! When one of the disciples asked Jesus:

Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us. Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

John 14:9

In his children’s book entitled The King Without a Shadow, author and pastor R.C. Sproul tells of a young boy who asks questions about his shadow. A prophet comes along who leads him to find the only king without a shadow- God Himself. The story is based on a scripture from the first chapter in the book of James:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17

No matter which way he turns, this King never casts a shadow! Kind of makes sense if you are the true source of light in the universe, doesn’t it?

In his monumental work Knowing God, JI Packer wrote: “You sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s Holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.”

The Kingdom of our Heavenly Father is one of light, not darkness, fear, and not hate! You may have noticed that fathers often get a bad rap in the movies, even in epic films like Star Wars. Darth Vader & Luke Skywalker are as opposite a father and son combination as we can imagine. As fans anticipate another Star Wars sequel to be released this December, I’m wondering if Darth Vader will still be the bad guy! He holds third place among the greatest movie villains in cinema history. According to The American Film Institute, Darth ranks right behind Hannibal Lector and Norman Bates. Darth Vader swears allegiance to an evil empire described is a brutal dictatorship based on “tyranny, hatred of nonhumans, brutal and lethal force, and, above all else, constant fear.”

How different from the Kingdom our Father initiated through Jesus. A Kingdom in which our heavenly Father’s perfect love casts out fear! In this true Kingdom of light and life, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God in three persons. Distinct, but not separate is the descriptive given us by theologians to describe the mystery of the persons of the Trinity. Sufficient for us today is the truth that our Father loves us as His adopted children just as Jesus loves us. There is no Wizard of Oz behind the curtain playing tricks on Dorothy and her friends. In the grandest drama of human history, our heavenly Father pulls back the curtain, rending the temple curtain from top to bottom at the moment of the Son’s death on the cross. He invites all mankind to witness the depth of love He has for us in this Son! There is nothing to hide in Him, and nothing can be hidden from Him.

So a biblically informed definition of our Heavenly Father finds its fullest revelation to us in the Son. When this Son brought a man named Saul to his knees on the road to Damascus in a blinding light, it changed the man forever. Jesus spoke personally to the man who became the Apostle Paul, and this life changing introduction to the Father’s love turned him from persecuting the church to serving her with his life. This prequel brings us to our key text in 1 Corinthians 4 as we note how Paul uses the metaphor of a Father in claiming to have begotten the Church at Corinth in Christ.

Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.

1 Cor. 4:15 (NIV)

For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.


Now Corinth was a problem child. (Aren’t we all at times?) They had really been acting out when Paul writes this first letter to them. He acknowledged the good work begun in them, but he also saw them hurting each other with their gifts because pride and arrogance ruled in their hearts. It’s been said that people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. But Paul was intent on loving them from the cradle to the grave while they grew and matured in Christ. Eugene Peterson rendered this kind of love for them:

There are a lot of people around who can’t wait to tell you what you’ve done wrong, but there aren’t many fathers willing to take the time and effort to help you grow up.

The Message, I Cor. 4:15

This was personal for Paul. Because he cared for them like a father, he had to confront their carnality, their pride, their love for human wisdom when it stood in opposition to the wisdom of God. Corinth needed to know that Paul loved them deeply in order to hear and heed his instruction. Paul called them out for their sectarian spirit, their splits and quarrels even over which preacher they liked the best. Of course this has never happened again in a church since the first century A.D., right? And this is just in the first four chapters of his letter! Paul was firing on all eight cylinders but fueled by a Father’s love for them. (For any electric car owners, he was fully charged and accelerating!) He was connected to them from their spiritual beginnings, through their early years of zealous excitement for the truth, through their teen age years when the idolatrous culture around them threatened to choke out the gospel. He jumped right into the middle of their messed up family lives to bother correct and then to comfort in 1 Cor. Chapter 5. And it wasn’t just Corinth Paul cared about. Each church under his care was special and he engaged them in unique ways as led by the Spirit. To the Thessalonians he wrote:

Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.   

1 Thessalonians 2:7-8

Paul employed every metaphor in the book to relate to the Corinthians and to gain their trust. I’m saying this because I am your servant (3:5), I’m saying this because I’m a steward of God’s mysteries and I must tell you the truth.  He says “I have planted and Apollos has watered”, using the metaphor of a farmer. In another place he uses a building metaphor calling himself a wise builder. But Paul’s strongest connecting bond with them is found in the word father“I became your father through the gospel”. In their time of vulnerability and immaturity, Paul did not stop sacrificing for them, reaching for them, correcting them, and nurturing them forward. He joined them in the trenches, re-entering their world and cultural challenges time and time again. As a spiritual Father to the Galatian church, Paul used the language of giving birth!

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you… 

   Galatians 4:19

How often would you want to go through that again Moms for the same child? Because he loved them with the love of Christ, Paul sought to protect these churches from self-harm. Sometimes as parents we have to protect our children from themselves, don’t we? Parents are called on to protect and provide!

We’re meant to spot potential danger quickly and attentively. Like providing head gear for their tiny bodies when they face the challenging world of gravity and centrifugal force on their first bicycle. Count the number of grey heads among us and you have counted those who never knew what a bike helmet was growing up!

Many of you probably saw footage of the tragedy at the Cincinnati Zoo three weeks ago captured by the media. Harambe, a 17 year old Silverback Gorilla had to be put down by the zoo’s officials. A three year old boy had climbed the barrier and fallen into the Gorilla’s living room moat below. The 400 lb. male Silverback pulled the child around like a rag doll. Amid public outcry to charge his mother with neglect, local county officials announced that no charges would be filed against the boy’s parents, citing: “this could happen to even the most attentive parent.” Parents and grandparents, we know this is true from experience don’t we? Even the most caring and attentive parents struggle when their child slips beyond the grip of our protective instinct. And of course, we lift up the Graves family in the loss of their 2 year old son, Lane this week at Disney.

Our limited power to protect as a parent comes right along with the privilege to provide opportunities for learning and growth. A parent sacrifices much time, energy, and planning with a deep desire to see their child mature. As much work as it is, when parents look back at that time in their family life from the future, they often wish they could do it again! Though there is much hard work and sacrifice, Parents are called on to prepare & educate their children.

I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls.

2 Cor. 12:15

As my wife and I were finishing a hamburger last week at “Le Golden Arches”, a family passed by us on their way out. One of their teenage sons who looked to be about 14 years old tossed his empty cola cup toward the trash container with significant force. Though the liquid was gone, the large cup happened to be full of ice, and as it bounced off the backboard of the trash station the ice spilled all over the floor, up the wall next to where we were seated, and around our feet. It embarrassed and then angered his mother so much that she turned and shouted “What were you thinking!”  (Along with a few other well-chosen words…) Now, as a parent, our reaction to stupidity seems completely justifiable, but to bystanders it sounded like an overreaction. When we saw the mother’s anger, my wife eased the tension with a parenthetical response in the boy’s voice, “Hey Mom, I was just trying to hit the trash bucket from the 3 point line!” Parenting born out of love needs to prepare and educate toward a goal, not just correcting a child’s problem. Wouldn’t we all like to rescript some of the things we’ve said to our children?

Children, like adults, need to grow into their critical thinking skills in ways that move them from the self-absorption of the moment to thinking and acting toward their future. Neuroscientists have actually located the part of our brain that is the most active when we are thinking about ourselves – the vMPFC – ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

If you want to have a narcissistic moment and focus on yourself right now, your vMPFC will be active. But they discovered something else as well. When impatient people are thinking about their future selves, the vMPFC is not active. (The lights are on, but nobody’s home) In patient people, by contrast, that region of the brain is active when they are thinking about their future selves. How the doctors separated patient people from impatient people to establish norms for this brain activity testing was probably humorous!

Princeton University Psychologist and Nobel prize recipient Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast & Slow, suggests that our brain has two operating systems which interface: System 1, the automatic system, works fast, driven by habits, emotional and intuitive. When it hears a loud noise, it is inclined to run. When it is offended, it wants to hit back. It certainly eats a delicious brownie. It can procrastinate; it can be impulsive. It wants what it wants when it wants it. System 1 is a bit like Homer Simpson, or James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

System 2, is more like a computer or Mr. Spock from the old Star Trek show, (or the Android Data from the somewhat less old Star Trek show.) It is deliberative, it calculates. When it hears a loud noise it assesses whether the noise is a cause for concern. It thinks about probability, carefully, though sometimes slowly. It is not easily offended. If it sees reasons for offense, it makes a careful assessment of what, all things considered, ought to be done. It sees a delicious brownie and makes a judgment about whether, all things considered, it should eat it. It insists on the importance of self-control. It is a planner as well as a doer; it does what it has planned.

The idea of the two completely different systems is an over simplification, but it may help us distinguish between automatic, effortless processing and more complex, effortful processing.

As adopted children of our heavenly Father, we will continue to learn to think about ourselves less, and God’s purposes more. This is what Paul wanted for Corinth. This is what parents want for their children. This is what our Heavenly Father desires for us! The prayer of Jesus, uttered to our Father: Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done is forward leaning, and not self-absorbed! Isn’t this what’s behind our concept of Community Overflowing? Living into the future our Father wants for us?

When adults invest meaningful time with children, it teaches them to exercise their forward thinking and to develop critical thinking skills. Parents need all the help they can get in steering their children toward long term goals and rewards. Each of our Trinity Wellsprings adult volunteers help plant food for thought in the minds of the next generation.

In some ways, it does take a village to raise a child:  Adult mentors, teachers, aunts and uncles, sports coaches, band directors, and guidance counselors, troop leaders, and Life Guards help us shape our future selves. The children we serve will learn to love, because they are loved. Parents and grandparents, family and friends, Christ followers – We as adopted children of our Father are called to join Him in His care for others. And when progress takes place, the nurturing parent gives praise! Paul was proud of the progress Corinth had made when writing them again in second Corinthians chapter seven:

I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.

2 Cor. 7:4

We are to love as we have been loved by our Heavenly Father; through the thick and thin of our own growth and maturity in Christ.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

John 15:9