Today is a special day for some of you. You are mothers, and you rejoice at that fact. For some of you, this is the first time you have been a mother and so this day is particularly sweet. One thing I have learned about mothers is that they work hard and are willing to put out a lot of effort, often sacrificial effort for their children. You certainly deserve to be honored.
For others of you this is a difficult day. There are three things needed to have children – the desire to do so, a husband and the biological ability. If you have the desire, but don’t have a husband this can be a very difficult day. Or if you have the desire and a husband but have been unable to conceive this can be a very difficult day. Others have experienced miscarriages or the loss of children and today is a reminder of these painful events.
This puts us as a church in an interesting position. On the one hand, we have a great opportunity to bless and honor mothers and on the other hand we have the opportunity to care for people who are in pain. This reminds me of what is always true in church and that is on any given Sunday we may need to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice as it says in Romans 12:15.
But as I have pondered these things over the years I have often wondered if there is a way in which we can remove at least some of the weeping. It is right for us to have a call to honor our father and mother, but must we have a day in which we cause some in the congregation pain? How can we bring all of this together?
When I was working on the message on singleness, which I preached in March, I came across an article which helped me look at these things in a new way. I would like to share some of these thoughts with you today. I trust that as we think about these things we will with all our hearts honor our biological mothers, but that we will also open our eyes to see another level at which we can honor those who are our spiritual parents.
Perhaps some of the verses about Timothy, in the Bible, will help us to bring all this together in a way that will make this day more of a blessing. Timothy is a unique character. He was the child of a mixed marriage. We do not know the circumstances under which his Jewish mother married a Gentile man. We know that his father must have had significant influence because Timothy had not been circumcised, as was necessary for a Jew. On the other hand, we also know that his mother influenced him by teaching him the Scriptures. In II Timothy 3:15 Paul says to Timothy “from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures.” It must have been his mother who taught him God’s word.
Somewhere along the way, his mother and grandmother became Christians and through their influence Timothy also came to faith. Paul says in II Timothy 1:5, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” Timothy was raised and came to faith through the influence of his mother and grandmother, but there is also another reality. In the book of Timothy, Paul begins by saying, “To Timothy my true son in the faith…” Paul was not Timothy’s biological father, but he was his spiritual father. This teaches us a valuable perspective. You don’t have to be a biological parent in order to be a spiritual parent. As we appropriately honor our biological mothers, we can also honor our spiritual parents.
Let us think a little more about this.
First of all I would like to reaffirm that it is a tremendous blessing to have children. God has given us the blessing of having children. God has called us to procreate. In Genesis 1:28, we read, “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” After God destroyed the earth in the flood we read in Genesis 9:1, “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.”
God has set us in families and has given us the blessing of being in families. It is wonderful to have children and it is also wonderful to have grand children. This is a blessing that comes from God.
In numerous places in the Bible we see that God recognizes this blessing and honors and affirms the family.
There is a touching story in Luke 7:11-15 in which Jesus comes upon a funeral procession. We are told that the person who had died was “the only son of his mother and she was a widow.” We read in verse 13 that Jesus’ “heart went out to her” and so Jesus raised the man from the dead. Then we read in verse 15 that “Jesus gave him back to his mother.” He honored the relationship of mother and son and so affirmed that these biological relationships are a blessing from God.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross we have another story in which we see such compassion. Jesus’ mother was also there and Jesus knew that his death was causing her great pain. In John 19:25-27 we read that he said to his disciple, likely John, “Here is your mother” and that “From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” Once again we see how Jesus valued the human relationship of parents and children and honored his own mother by caring for her even after he died.
Since God has given us this blessing and honors these relationships, we also ought to honor the relationship of parents and children. The Bible repeatedly invites us to such attitudes and actions.
Jesus accused the Pharisees in Mark 7:9-13 because they used the law to dishonor their parents. They had a law that if they dedicated something to God, it could not be used for any other purpose. They appeared very spiritual and dedicated all kinds of things to God, which they should have been using to care for their own parents. Jesus accuses them of hypocrisy and disobedience because they failed to honor their parents.
In Ephesians 6:2, we have a direct command that we should “honor your father and mother.” We quote this to children, but it is not only for young children, but also for all of us who have parents.
We are also familiar with Proverbs 31 where we have a wonderful passage in which a godly woman is honored and praised by her husband and her children. It is an example of what it means to honor our mothers. Thus we see that we must always honor those who have born us physically. It is recognition of their value in our life and it is obedience to Scripture to do so. What are you doing to honor the one who bore you?
I don’t want to take away from that, but affirm it strongly. However, I would also like to invite us to think more broadly and in order to do so, I would like to invite us to think about what is at the core of our faith in Christ.
As Christian parents, what is it we desire for our children? We love it if we have a good relationship with them. We are thankful if, as we get older, they begin to help us in areas where we can no longer help ourselves. It is wonderful to have fun with our children. We often sacrifice in order that our children will be happy. But most deeply, our desire is that they will come to know Jesus Christ and live for Him and be with Him in eternity.
This desire fits with the great commission which Jesus has given to all of us as believers when he said in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
It is our privilege as Christian parents to teach our children the way of the gospel. It is a blessing, when perhaps after telling them a bed time story, they ask us to help them receive Jesus. Many of you, when you have shared your testimony for baptism, have told how your mother or your father was the one who helped you pray to receive Christ. As parents we continue to have a great influence in showing our children the way and helping them form their faith. What a blessing that is!
Earlier I mentioned Timothy who was hugely influenced towards faith by his mother and grandmother, and yet we also read that it was Paul who was his spiritual father. This raises a new thought, which actually is described in many places in Scripture and that is that you don’t have to have biological children to be a spiritual parent.
Jesus pointed to this larger spiritual family in Matthew 12:48-50. He was being told that his mother and brothers wanted to see him, but He responded to his disciples, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” By doing this he affirmed the larger family of brothers and sisters in Christ. He acknowledged the value of this relationship as well.
Paul identified Timothy as his son in the faith, but he also had other spiritual children. In Philemon 10 he speaks about “…Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.”
In III John 4, John writes about a similar passion when he says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
In some cultures and in the Old Testament we hear stories which seem to suggest that people who are not able to have children are of less value than those who have children. Isaiah 54:1, however, makes a wonderful promise when it says, “’Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,’ says the Lord.” I believe that this prophecy is fulfilled in the family of God. It tells us that you don’t have to be a biological parent in order to be a spiritual parent. In saying this, I do not in any way mean to diminish the pain of people who desire children and are not able to have them. Yet if someone is not able to be a biological parent, it is still possible to experience the blessing of being a spiritual parent.
I have seen many examples of how this can happen. I know single people who have given themselves to others in ministry which has allowed them to be parents to new Christians. I know of childless couples who have served faithfully and also find themselves in families where they are blessed and are a blessing. My prayer is that this thought can be an encouragement to those who struggle with not being biological parents, that according to Scripture, you can still have the great privilege of being spiritual parents.
So whether we are biological parents or spiritual parents, we have the same privilege of bringing children to the Lord. Let us take a few moments to think about how we can do the task of being spiritual parents well.
This could of course be the topic of many sermons and is the topic of many books and in a few brief moments we can’t cover all that could possibly be said about this. However, there is one passage which I would like to look at today which gets at one key element.
John 21:15-17, is written in the context of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. He appeared to his disciples three times and on this third occasion, Jesus took Peter aside and had a very specific conversation with him. This conversation has a direct link to the last conversation which they had had. In that conversation, Peter had said, very firmly that he would lay down his life for Jesus. Jesus warned him that he would deny him three times before the rooster crowed. This is what happened and then Jesus died and Peter never had a chance to clear things up with Jesus. Now Jesus came to him to restore relationship and move him to future ministry.
In this process of restoration, Jesus asked Peter three times “do you love me?” There are variations in the way Jesus put the question. The first time Jesus asked, “do you love me more than these.” The question is, what does Jesus mean by “these?” Does he mean, “do you love me more than the rest of these men love me?” There is reason for asking this question because before Peter was tempted to deny Jesus, he had affirmed loudly that he loved Jesus so much that he was willing to die for him. Another way to look at this is that Jesus is asking him “do you love me more than you love these friends.” After the death of Jesus, Peter had gone back to his friends for comfort and support. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, he still was going back to his friends. We often go to friends rather than to Jesus. A third way of looking at this is that Jesus meant “do you love me more than these things,” that is, the boats and the fishing gear. Peter had returned to his old life instead of staying with the invitation Jesus had made earlier that he was to become a fisher of men and not a fisher of fish.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter exactly what Jesus meant, yet each of these ways of looking at this question helps us to think about the core question. When the question is asked three times, it strengthens the question that is really asked. The question is, “do you love me?” Do you love me more than friends? Do you love me more than your position or your job? Do you love me more than comfort? This is the same core question that Jesus asks every one of us.
When Peter had humbly answered this question with an affirmative, Jesus responded to him by commissioning him to “feed my sheep.” Here is an important principle in being spiritual parents. It must arise out of our love for Jesus. Leon Morris writes, “This is the basic qualification for Christian service.”
If as biological parents we are going to bring our children to Jesus, it will be a difficult task if love for Jesus is not the most important priority in our life. Our children will know very quickly whether or not we love Jesus. They will see by all our actions and words what our first priority in life is. God instructed the ancient Israelites to put the word of God on their forehead and on their hands and on the doorposts of their house. This was another way of saying – live in a relationship with God. It does no good to take our children to Sunday School if they do not see us live every day in love with Jesus. However, when they see that genuine love being lived, they will emulate it.
If we are to be spiritual parents, the same principle applies. If we have contact with people who do not know the Lord and show by our lifestyle that we love this world more than God, they will not get it. If we are not filled with the love of God when we proclaim the gospel, we may confuse them. But if we love Jesus in a genuine way with our whole life, people will see Jesus in us and God will give us opportunities to be spiritual parents.
By asking these questions, Jesus helped Peter build the foundation of love for Jesus as the basis for the rest of his ministry. That same foundation must be ours as spiritual parents.
One encouraging thing about this story about Peter is that he was a failure. He had denied Jesus three times in public. How could he be trusted to be a servant of Jesus? Yet Jesus welcomed him back. We may fail him. We may have been poor examples to our children. We may have made no effort to reach the lost. But Jesus asks us a simple question, “do you love me.” If we love Him, then he sends us out, even if we have failed in the past and he invites us to be spiritual parents.
Are you a mother? The Bible teaches that you are worthy of honor. God bless you as you raise your children.
Are you a spiritual parent? The Bible teaches that this is a blessed opportunity. God bless you as you raise your spiritual children.
Do you love Jesus? This morning I would particularly like to encourage all of you who are biological or spiritual parents to minister to the “children” in your care on this foundation of love for Jesus.