M. Russell Thomas, PhD
…For even if you have 10,000 trainers in connection with the Messiah, you do not have many fathers; for in connection with the Messiah Yeshua it was I who became your father by means of the Good News.
I Corinthians 4:15 (Jewish Complete Bible)
I came across this word in my Daily Bread devotional this morning. While maybe fit for a Father's day blog, timing is everything! It still seems incredibly relevant for us today. There are many trainers, but not many fathers. Fatherhood has been under assault for decades, led by an onslaught of TV sitcoms dating back to the 1970’s. They generally project men to be a bunch of bumbling buffoons, narrow-minded, unsure of themselves, irresponsible, emotionally detached and only interested in sex. The common stereotype is a guy who’d rather play golf than to give a piece of his heart to his wife and kids. It’s not that men haven’t deserved the rap to some extent. But instead of making the necessary corrections, many men have either acquiesced and accepted the role as advertised or have reacted to assume despotic roles in both family and society. Others have just thrown in the towel and totally abandoned their post, sometimes literally, sometimes emotionally, sometimes both. The consequences have been severe. Many psychological studies have documented the negative consequences of fathers’ reduction to the role of trainer. One study stands out in my head from the late 90’s. The study focused on violence among teenage males. The major finding of this study: that just one relationship with a father or father figure, buffered against violent acts. It is a finding that has stood through time and has been echoed in various ways and in various studies, including my own doctoral dissertation data.
Paul’s words to the Corinthians demand our attention in today’s world. It’s a world with many trainers but not many fathers. Paul was addressing the Corinthians’ attitudes. In short, it stunk! Their attitudes were defined by arrogance and dipped in self-sufficiency. I’m thinking the impression must have left Paul feeling like he was dealing with a bunch of junior high kids! Paul, who identifies himself as a father in the faith, sees something much more. He has in mind mature, established sons and daughters who are immovable in their faith and understand their place in this world. So, how did Paul formulate the situation? He reduced life to 2 kinds of men in the world: trainers and fathers. What’s the difference?
· Trainers tell you what to do, fathers show you what to do,
· Trainers teach you how to throw a curve ball, a father never misses your game,
· Trainers prepare you to compete and win, while fathers cheer you through the battle,
understanding that its not just about your performance, but your heart that is on the
line and is easily bruised when you come up short,
· Trainers give you the seed, while fathers work with you to grow your garden,
· A trainer seeks to motivate your emotions, fathers seek to help you modulate your
emotions (otherwise known as self-control),
· Trainers are focused on the outcome, fathers are focused on the journey,
· Trainers send the gurney to the field when you are injured, fathers scoop you up and
carry you off the field, assuring you that everything will be ok,
· Trainers impart knowledge, fathers impart their hearts.
There’s a difference. There’s a place for both but Paul was on to something. If you want to grow up (in the faith), you’re going to need fathering. Trainers will teach you while fathers will anchor you with their relationship. Trainers see where you are, while fathers see what you can become. A trainer imparts knowledge and knowledge can be good, but it can also puff up (I Cor 8:1). But a father, now that’s a man who invests everything he has in your life. A good dad teaches as a trainer, but then he cries with you when you’re frustrated and just can’t seem to get it right. A father talks to you about life as you ride around town, provides counsel (whether you want it or not!) and never misses an opportunity to notice the subtle details of your life. He is someone that is at his best when you are at your worst and breaks out in a cold sweat when it’s time to take his hands off the handlebars and let you do it yourself just because he knows it’s your destiny to conquer in spite of the known dangers. The trainer bandages wounded knees…a father bandages wounded hearts!
Some reading this haven’t had a father in their life. You’ve had all the trainers, but not many fathers. But whether you’ve had a father or not, the need is part of the human condition. The word to us today is the same word that the prophet Nathan brought to David in II Samuel 7:14. “Hear what the Lord God says, I will be your father and you will be my son…my love and grace will never be taken away” (a hybrid of translations). This is the heart of our Heavenly Father. He is our steady anchor. Our calling is to be like Him!