“They taught me that as long as I had a father in my life I should be satisfied. I believed them. It’s only when I woke up to the realization that his presence does not automatically mean that he is present that I discovered the lump in my throat, the pit in my stomach and the gaping hole in my life.”
A lot has been said about men in present day society. In fact, we have heard so much about the bad that even an example of the good reminds us of the percentage that still falls short of the standard. It’s like there is no winning. For a long time, the situation seemed mostly hopeless; no light at the end of the tunnel. We would need nothing short of a revolution to change the status quo. Now I don’t know if there has been a revolution, but I know that there is hope.
Movements have sprung up and voices have been raised to put an end to the mostly fatherless trend which had gradually become normal in many parts of the world.
Courageous (the movie), Man Up (116 clique) and our very own Man Enough (a Kenyan programme run by Transform Nations) are some notable efforts at redefining manhood and helping men step into more than just a cliché of who they ought to be: as men, as fathers. I am sure that there is much more going on behind the scenes and on a personal one-on-one discipleship level in different communities that is commendable and that we may not know about. But that is not what this post is about.
It’s way past Father’s Day; August to be exact. June is that month: when fathers are appreciated, when some are reprimanded, when others are encouraged to start equipping themselves for this role early and when some get the opportunity to imagine themselves as fathers and to desire it. In June, it’s in the air. Once it’s passed, it’s back to reality, the norm as we wait for the next June to start the cycle again. It’s like February with love, December with Christmas or Easter with the death and resurrection of Christ. So, two months down the line, it’s an unusual topic to pursue. It’s not hype. It’s not currently staring us in our faces. Plus, what would I know about fatherhood? After all, I am a woman.
The truth is that it took some personal experiences and introspection to get me thinking about fatherhood beyond clichés and societal standards. It took some friends sharing their stories to leave me gasping in shock and wondering why this fatherhood thing is suddenly tugging on heartstrings and stirring up a holy storm of discontentment in my spirit. Yet it took Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus to help me see fatherhood in a certain (different? Interesting? Peculiar?) light. At least, this ‘thing’ does not have to be groping in the dark and ‘winging’ it. There is direction. There is a biblical example, guide, something.
I had never seen Paul as a father before Timothy and Titus. Rather, I had never thought of Paul as a father before my recent study of these books. It was refreshing to see Paul as less of a ‘superhero’ apostle and as a man who formed relationships with other people; young men and discipled them beyond the ‘crowd’ and into sonship. To say that these three books of the bible are rich is to understate just how much weight they carry. So, what are some of the things that I picked?
1. The Critical Role of Prayer
In 2nd Timothy 1:3 Paul tells Timothy that he (Paul) constantly remembers (Timothy) in prayer. This is after referring to Timothy in verse 2 as his ‘dear son’. Paul starts off telling/ reminding Timothy that he thanks God for him and that he always has someone praying for him.
How transformed would the world be if our fathers prayed, constantly and fervently, for their children and in general?
We constantly hear, “It’s my mother’s prayers that kept me,” “When mothers pray…” but what about our fathers? What if those who are called to be priests and leaders in the home did not neglect the role of prayer?
2. A Father’s Role to Instruct
In Swahili we have a proverb that loosely translates to – One who is not taught by his mother will be taught by the world. It might sound farfetched, but once again, the mother’s role is underlined. What about the father’s?
Paul shows us that a father has the mandate to instruct in all areas of life. Paul gives instruction in:
For both Timothy and Titus, Paul emphasizes on the individual need to lead a godly life. (1st Timothy 1:19, 4:7, 6:11&12; 2nd Timothy 2:22; Titus 2:1, 11) He urges his sons to sling to the faith and the truth which they were taught. He asks them to stay on the right track for the sake of salvation and the high calling.
He then asks them to guard the truth for the sake of those who listen to them and follow them as well. He reminds them, in many and not-so-many words, that they are an example to others. (1st Timothy 1:12, 4:16)
Paul addresses Timothy’s physical health (1st Timothy 5:23) as he speaks about his stomach and how he is often sick. He also references physical training (1st Timothy 4:8), which he notes is good and uses to build up to spiritual training.
He addresses Timothy (1st Timothy 5:1&2, 19-22) and Titus (Titus 2:15) about some of their roles as leaders. He calls them to boldness (2nd Timothy 1:7 and Titus 1:3) He encourages them to do what is right, to lead the people properly by teaching them what is right. He asks Timothy not to show favouritism to anyone in following the instructions given for his role.
Paul then speaks to both about false teachers. He urges Timothy and Titus to keep the ‘main thing’ main: to preach the gospel in all truth and not get caught up in discussions about spiritual genealogies/ pedigrees, a thing that was common at that time. He asks to gently instruct those who oppose the truth (2nd Timothy 2:25) and call out the wrong (Titus 3:10). As their spiritual father and for them as leaders, he instructs them extensively.
In instructing them, Paul does not leave them high and dry to figure out things for themselves. Not only has Paul received revelation and wisdom, but he also has valuable experience that serves as a roadmap for these young men.
3. A Father’s Role to Pass on the Mantle
It does not necessarily have to be in the same field, profession or for an undertaking, but a father has to be willing to pass on the mantle. He needs to let the children leave the ‘coop’ and go forth. It is not for a father to hinder their child’s progress or hold back responsibility from them.
Paul left Timothy in Ephesus (1st Timothy 1:3) and Titus in Crete (Titus 1:5). Both areas needed leadership, sound teaching to counter the false teachers and false doctrine that was spreading. Both also needed to appoint leaders in these churches. Paul, at some point, is in prison or travelling between his roman imprisonments. He cannot be in Ephesus and Crete physically and there is need in those churches. He lets Timothy and Titus take the reins (under the leading of the Holy Spirit). He does not rain on their parade but instead encourages them in their mandate by praying, by instructing and by letting them lead.
There is a lot for our men to learn from Paul, not just as an apostle but also as a father; not just in the quoted verses, but in these three letters in their entirety. He did not have sire either Timothy or Titus from his loins to be a father to them. He played a role in their salvation by preaching and discipling them; that’s where his role begun and that’s where it grew, but it did not stop at that.
Paul also, did not operate in isolation. He speaks of Lois and Eunice, Timothy’s grandmother and mother and their faith (2nd Timothy 1:5). These women notably played a role in Timothy’s life, enough for Paul to draw a parallel to their and his (Timothy’s) faith. Fathers cannot work in isolation; the mothers also have a role to play in support. But that’s a topic for another day. For today, I can only hope that a father or future father somewhere has seen a thing or two that lights their path in their journey. After all, Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light for my path (Psalms 19:105).