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This week I released a series of podcast episodes called A Record of Manhood. My friend Mike and I are asking some good men from different backgrounds what made them a man. How did they know they were a man? What did it take to reach manhood? These are basic questions that our society does not answer well.

One of the common denominators we have seen so far is how no boy enters manhood alone. He is dependent upon other men. Our fathers are at the top of that list of influential men, for better or worse, who hold significant weight in shaping the nature of human beings we become in life. (See my article from yesterday, The Father’s Blessing.)

What about those boys and girls whose fathers are absent or better off absent? I have heard many good single moms ask this question. Are their children at a disadvantage because of their father’s status? Can mom fill the role of dad?

A mom has a unique and essential grace all her own, which is very instrumental in a child’s development – but it is not the same as a dad. They are two distinct resources in a child’s life. Sorry, I didn’t design the rules for how human life works; the Creator did.

The good news, biology is not the qualification for fatherhood. Just as a natural biological dad can be a horrible father figure, an unrelated man can fill the void of fatherhood in a child’s life. The Bible calls such men spiritual fathers.

spiritual fathers

Many of us remember specific men beyond our fathers who influenced our lives positively. Teachers, coaches, uncles, or grandparents who were not our biological dads, but often filled the father figure void in our lives.

In the Bible, Elijah was a spiritual father to Elisha, Samuel to David, Abraham to Lot, and the list goes on. Timothy’s mother and grandmother were godly women who led him to the gospel, but his father was not a believer. In the absence of a good spiritual father figure Paul identified himself as Timothy’s spiritual father.

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope, To Timothy, a true son in the faith: 1 Timothy 1:1-2 (NKJV) 

But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. Philippians 2:19-22 (NKJV) 

Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. 1 Corinthians 4:16-17 (NKJV)

The predicament of fatherless children is not something unique to this generation. The early church dealt with that reality and found a solution. God-fearing men could step into the role of spiritual fatherhood and fill the gaps in the lives of others.

For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you. So I urge you to imitate me. 1 Corinthians 4:15-16 (NLT)

spiritual fathers

I can recall a handful of good men in my life who operated as spiritual fathers in various ways. Some were deliberate in their roles to father me, and others did so unintentionally. The part of the father figure in a young person’s life is so large that it is easy for good men to step into the gap and emit massive influence. That is the nature of spiritual grace. It is a reminder for men, young and old alike, to recognize the impact of their lives on the young people around them.

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—

this is God, whose dwelling is holy.

God places the lonely in families;

Psalms 68:5-6 (NLT)

Our God is a Creator who does not wish anyone to be fatherless. As parents, we can direct the hearts of our children to learn from good men around them. As good men, we should soberly carry the call to spiritual fatherhood in the lives of those around us.

svg6 min read

JB Shreve

JB Shreve is the host of the JB Shreve podcast and the End of History podcast channels. He is the author of multiple books.

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