Spiritual Fathers — Spiritual Sons

Paul wrote the book of 1 Timothy to encourage the believers at Ephesus, then instruct them about the structure of the church so they could make spiritual progress. First he had to encourage their leader, his "true son in the faith," Pastor Timothy. Paul was Timothy's spiritual father. He had mentored Timothy in personal growth and in ministry. What fruits did Paul desire to see in his spiritual son -- and what should we pray to see in our spiritual children?


A Christian parent's first desire is that their children be saved. Timothy's biological parents named him with intention: Timothy means "one who honors God." Paul also wanted Timothy to live up to his name. In 1 Timothy 1:2, he calls Timothy his "true son in the faith." The word "my" is added by translators to highlight the 15-year mentoring relationship between the two men.

The word translated "true" has multiple shades of meaning. The Greek word is a combination of "beginning" and "son" and can also mean beloved, genuine, or legitimate. Paul reminded Timothy that he was born again of the pure and true Gospel of Christ.

Spiritual Growth

There are several Greek words Paul could have used to describe Timothy -- one was used for infants, one for older children, and one for children in general. When he says "son," Paul uses the term describing later adolescence. He encourages Timothy by telling him he has grown in the Lord. He is strong enough to stand against false teaching.

Timothy was with Paul when he wrote several other letters to churches. He would remember Paul's words from Philippians 3:10-16, that we are all growing. No one has arrived at Christ-like character. Not one Christian has it all together, no matter how they may look to outside observers. Growth is always moving forward and upward.

The church must look to older believers with a history of faithfulness to the Lord as our examples. Genius for the church does not come from the young but from those who have been faithful for decades.


Many events give us a vivid picture of what it means to be united as a group. Cleveland's recent "All In" campaign united the city around cheering on the Cavs competing in the NBA finals. Individuals who go on a missions trip become a team that has to work together. When you are born again, you are made part of God's family and put on God's spiritual team. You are intended to work together with other Christians in service to God's mission.

Service leads to spiritual transparency. We learn a lot about each other from serving together. This builds the church and knits us closer together.

Service is not just about being busy. A genuine child of God has a lot to offer the flock of God. God gives every believer at least one spiritual gift when they are born again. We exercise these gifts for mutual encouragement and learning, all to bring glory to the One who brought us into the family.

Spiritually Satisfied

Paul greets Timothy and the Ephesian church with the words "grace, mercy, and peace." These three gifts of God appear all together only in the pastoral epistles. Paul often writes "grace and peace," but he adds "mercy" to this list to settle hearts.

These words are put in a specific order by divine design. Grace is what restores us to God and gives us the ability to persevere (Ephesians 2:8-9). One commentator said, "pardoning grace operates in the spiritual dynamic of a Christian's life." Grace both saves and sustains.

Mercy speaks of God's compassion and loyalty. One author summarized mercy as "divine lovingkindness in our present difficulties and in every situation in life." Our Lord is an unchanging friend who always keeps His promises. In times of affliction, there is no better one we can turn to.

Peace is the fruit of understanding grace and mercy. Peace binds up hurting hearts, joins people together, and settles down God's people. It is the result of being ministered to in the midst of affliction.

Paul ends the verse by reemphasizing Christ's deity.

Application Points

  • Do you have spiritual children? You are a spiritual parent if you have children in your home or are mentoring or discipling another person. Use the points above to pray for your spiritual children.
  • Many people know a lot about Jesus but do not know Him personally. Have you taken the next step and submitted your will to Christ? Knowing Christ as your Lord and Savior results in a changed life. God's miraculous grace transforms your character and lifestyle. It becomes your new DNA -- you can't help but become more like Him!
  • We can look around the church and be tempted to think other Christians have it all together. Don't be discouraged -- just keep growing! Who are some faithful, sweet older believers who you can look to for an example?

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • Hebrews 10:24, 1 Peter 4:9-11 - Every Christian is given a spiritual gift to serve others and glorify God.
  • Proverbs 18:24, John 15:14-15 - Jesus is a friend who sticks close at all times.
  • Isaiah 9:6, Romans 5:1 - Our God of peace.
A Hymn to Encourage: "Come, All Christians, Be Committed"

Come, all Christians, be committed
To the service of the Lord;
Make your lives for Him more fitted,
Tune your hearts with one accord.
Come into His courts with gladness,
Each his sacred vows renew,
Turn away from sin and sadness,
Be transformed with life anew.

Of your time and talents give ye,
They are gifts from God above;
To be used by Christians freely
To proclaim His wondrous love.
Come again to serve the Savior,
Tithes and off'rings with you bring.
In your work, with Him find favor,
And with joy His praises sing.

God's command to love each other
Is required of every one;
Showing mercy to one another
Mirrors His redemptive plan.
In compassion He has given
Of His love that is divine;
On the cross sins were forgiven;
Joy and peace are fully thine.

Come in praise and adoration,
All who in Christ's name believe;
Worship Him with consecration,
Grace and love you will receive.
For His grace give Him the glory,
For the Spirit and the Word,
And repeat the gospel story
Till all men His name have heard.

Quotes to Ponder

"The guys who fear becoming fathers don't understand that fathering is not something perfect men do, but something that perfects the man. The end product of child-raising is not the child but the parent."

— Frank Pittman