Jesus had said: “Call no man father,” yet it wasn’t long before the “disciple Jesus loved” wrote to fathers. What’s wrong with this picture? Assuming that the Same Spirit inspired both communications, there must be something beneath the surface that we need to better understand. (Perhaps it turns out to be “above the surface.”)
They both must be understood by the Spirit, and cannot be properly understood by or in the flesh. John was clearly writing to fathers in The Spirit, because they “knew Him that is from the beginning.” Let’s take a look at John’s context:
“I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.”1 John 2:13 KJV
Clearly, all of those to whom John is writing know the Father on some level. “Father” is a word that has meaning only in the context of relationship, and it derives more from having children than it does from having a father. So these are fathers in a spiritual sense, and in a spiritual relational context. That is, these are those who have spiritual children in some way or other.
So then, what could Jesus possibly have meant when he said “Call no man father”? My own understanding of this has had a great deal of help from two sources; one, the way life is – the way God does old creation life, which foreshadowed the way He does the more abundant life that Jesus came to bring us. The second is one of Paul’s prayers:
“For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named: That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened by his Spirit with might unto the inward man: That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts: that, being rooted and founded in charity, You may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge: that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19 Douay-Rheims Version
I have chosen the Douay Version here because it puts the focus where it belongs. It more accurately translates the original, which is most often translated “family,” but is more accurately translated “fatherhood.” For today’s readers, that communicates a little better, than “paternity.” That said, I’ll put it in my understanding of its plain meaning:
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives its name.”
In heaven we all have one Father. Down here in the “hoods” we have multiple fatherhoods, they get their meaning from our Father which art it in Heaven. These “fatherhoods” are not only recognized in heaven, but are sanctioned by our defining Heavenly Father.
Here is another piece of evidence of the legitimacy of fatherhoods, even spiritual fatherhoods here on earth, albeit in the spirit:
“See, 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 was never meant to be God’s “plan b” for earthly fathers. No this was meant to be the beginning of whole new fatherhoods. This was God’s promise of putting in place in the new creation what had been lost to the old creation. Here is the primary focus of its fulfillment: “And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again he says, ‘Here am I, and the children God has given me.” Hebrews 2:13
It gets better: “Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.” Isaiah 8:18 (In other words, this is another one of those “this is thats.”)
This was not only fulfilled in Jesus, but it continues to be fulfilled in us who believe – this is our inheritance in The Lord. What Jesus wanted to be clear about is that this was not about earthly fathers, but about our heavenly father hooded in earthly fathers, and legitimate only so long as it was rooted in and reflecting God the father – many hoods – one Father. Jesus didn’t want us taken in by religious pretenders to fatherhood.
In this light and Spirit we can identify and honor God the Father in His earthly representatives. This has mostly to do with our need for a second or even third witness to our heavenly validation in Christ.
At 73 my Spiritual fathers have all gone on to be with the Lord, their validating work done in my own spiritual life. Soon I will be joining them. (I’m already living in Biblical over time, which is to say, beyond “threescore years and ten.”) Meanwhile the validating witness goes on in my own life for those that God has given me in Himself. We are for signs and symbols – in short we are witnesses.