I Corinthians 4:15
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.
Strong’s definition of the Greek word translated ‘guardian’ or ‘instructor’ includes this phrase: “… a servant whose office it was to take the children to school.”
If multitudes in the church are not growing up into the mind of Christ and are still not seeing themselves after the spirit (2 Cor. 5:16), could it be because we too can still look at the church today and say what Paul said, “You have ten thousand servants taking the children to school, but not many fathers.”
As long as believers remain without a revelation of their son-ship in Christ (Rom. 8:14), their acceptance in the beloved, they can only live as eternal students.
In all honesty, how many believers in our churches have spent years accumulating knowledge, but have never entered the rest and confidence that only a child who knows they are the apple of their father’s eye can enjoy? Many entered this ‘school system’ decades ago but still feel unqualified to do much more than invite others to join the school. In the natural world, maturity is defined as attaining the capacity to reproduce. Is our dependence on a model of church that revolves around producing ‘events’ to attract unbelievers, simply an admission that many of our churches are not raising disciples but managing converts? Maturity has always come by the building up of the body “in love” (Eph. 4:11-16). Children enter the school system to be built up in knowledge, but it is to another institution that society looks for them to be built up in love: the family.
Changing the model of school does little to heal the heart of an orphan. There has been much discussion about the ‘how’ of ‘doing’ church in a pandemic, but the real question is not, “How will we be doing Church?”, but “Who will be being Church: sons or students?” In the Kingdom of God, exploits are done by those who know their Father, not just know about Him (Dan. 11:32).
Schools demand a focus on self and hold out the promise of making something of oneself. Families do not promise identity, they impart it. Families are not a means to a better end, they are God’s better end, our source and our destiny. Families speak to a child of who they are, not who they could be.
This difference between speaking to people according to their works, or their performance, and speaking to them according to their true worth, is the difference between speaking as a manager and speaking as a Father. A manager can give you great advice that can result in increased productivity in your life. But unfortunately, managerial language tends to speak to us of who we could be one day, if we, rather than speak to us as who we are today, because He! The danger is that such language keeps our vision on ourselves, and our hope on our performance. Better days are always promised but never seem to arrive, sparking repeated waves of introspection. Earthly vision is always looking for more because it can’t see the enormity of what has been given (2 Kings 6:17). It always speaks of a future goal, what we are going to achieve, but never a present reality; who we are today in Christ.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick. There is only so long that faith can survive in a measuring atmosphere. Our hearts were built to celebrate, not endlessly calculate. The Father’s house is, in truth, full of the sound of a finished work, the sound of music and dancing, but all work and no celebration indeed makes the church a very dull son.
The language of earthly vision is not the voice of a Father entreating us to enter into His joy, but that of a manager entreating us to try harder to do better. Such language creates in the church a culture of good advice, not good news. Where has that culture led us? It has left us with the local church blending right in on main street, alongside all the other charitable organisations who are also offering good advice … and serving better coffee than we are!
Keep watering down the Good News of what He has done with a little good advice on what we still need to do, and the result is that too many of us as believers struggle to see ourselves as who we now are in Christ, who we are in the Father’s eyes, for we are being reared on the vision of who we are in our elder brother’s eyes! Such short-sightedness is the result of our vision being formed by the words of those who see us primarily as workers for His Kingdom, rather than sons in His Kingdom, for to be short-sighted in the Spirit is to be living as if what Christ achieved wasn’t enough to qualify us to live in communion with His Spirit (2Peter1:9). When the blind lead the blind, the only way is down, and how the angels must wonder at the sight of sons of God living as mere men (1 Cor. 3:3)!
So how are the sons to be raised to maturity? How are we to see in the Church the Gideons rise out of the hole they have stepped into and the Sauls of Tarsus breathing out the Spirit rather than anger. We need the fathers to arise, those who will not measure the children of God according to their performance, for only those men and women who carry the heart of the Father can see as He sees and so speak as He speaks (1 Cor. 2:13). Only the words of a father can impart what a manager cannot: a revelation of identity that transcends earthly performance; the life of a son, not the life of an employee working his way to a promotion.
When believers come to see that they are a Christian, not because of their new behaviour but because of their new birth (– that they are saved by grace through faith and this not of themselves), a remarkable thing happens. They finally stop trying to be a Christian and start living as a child of God because they begin to see themselves as their Father sees them: hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). To see yourself the way the Father sees you is to be filled with joy inexpressible and full of glory, and any believer full of thanksgiving is holier by accident than the most sin-conscious, self-absorbed zealot (Rom. 10:1-4).
So how is this vision of the father imparted to His children, to raise up sons to maturity? Is it through a new model of church? … or a different system of training leaders? … or perhaps a fresh wave of self-examination? How did Paul become a father to the Corinthians? The answer is right there in the verse we began with.
“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.”
Only a gospel that reveals salvation as all of Christ and “not of ourselves, lest any man should boast” (measure), can unbind the Lazarus church from being so wrapped up in its own performance as to remain blind and deaf to the reality that we died and this life is now an entirely new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
Irrespective of whether He finds them returning from the world stinking of drink, or finds them working away in the church stinking of self-righteousness, the Father always greets His children in the same way: as the apple of His eye, a cause for rejoicing (Lk. 15:20-24). Only a gospel that reveals such a loving father can raise children who live so well loved that they speak the language of heaven in all circumstances – thanksgiving – and by this the will of the Father is done on the earth (1 Thess. 5:16-18, Acts 16:25, 16). Only a father can greet his children the way Paul greeted his churches. Irrespective of the moral failures or heresy at work in their lives, he greeted them as the saints in Corinth, not the sinners, because he understood that their fundamental lack was not will-power, but vision and the vision of the Father can never be imparted through a gospel that says, ‘Try harder’, only one that with great rejoicing declares, ‘See further! Christ and Him crucified was enough!’
Such good news creates a sound in the realm of the spirit, the sound of music and dancing, the sound of the Father calling His children in from the field, a sound powerful enough to cause a metanoia in the Church, a repentance unto life, a looking up from self to Christ. It is the sound of this outbreak of joy in the church that will cause the world also to look up and ask, “What does this mean?”, for up to now all they have heard is the sound of servants bringing the children to school. How different is the sound of sons entering into the joy of their Father, for it is the proclamation so many have longed to hear: “School’s out!”
Let such great commotions once more break out in cities across our land – the sound of the joy of the poor and the consternation of the religious; a sound that can only be caused by the proclamation of a gospel foolish enough to set men free from themselves (1 Cor. 1:23).
One thought on “School’s Out: from students to sons by the power of the gospel!”
Thanks Phelim. Wonderfully expressed truths! So many nuggets of gold in this. Important we truly take this message to heart and live in the glorious revelation of the Good News of grace!