“For though you have countless (ten thousand) guides in Christ,
you do not have many fathers.” – 1 Cor. 15 ESV
I realized on Saturday, that I stand in some pretty large shadows. I have been the benefactor of men who have encouraged me, poured what they had into me, and were an endless fountain of love to me (and others). They were advocates on my behalf to others, they prayed for and with me, and they went (and continue to go) out of their way, countless times, to serve me in many different ways. These men have been fathers to me in Christ and that is rare.
What’s not as rare are the teachers of information, about Christ. Go to any church, christian school, or conversation with many people and they’ll tell you something about Jesus. Some of it is good, some of it is bad, some of it is knowledge without wisdom, and some times it is even great. They may even help you out for a time to understand some concepts. These would be the “guides in Christ” that Paul writes about in the above referenced verse. There generally is no shortage of these, as the literal Greek points to with its use of “ten thousand.”
This idea of a teacher or guide is based on the Greek word paidagōgos. This word is defined by Blue Letter Bible as “a tutor i.e. a guardian and guide of boys. Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class.”
There is no shame in this role. I don’t want to disparage our teachers, instructors, or guides at all. In fact, I have been and will continue to live portions of relationships in this role. You most likely are this to some one or many people right now.
But when you understand what a true father is, you understand the deep relationship and investment of time and resources, that is being referred. These are the people that live life with you. These are people that give you access to everything they have. These are the people that are interested in you reaching your potential. These are people that do not consider you beneath them, but consider it a privilege and an honor to be entrusted with your life, and in this case, your soul.
The two best representations of this in my own life are my biological father (directly) and my uncle Phil Batten (both directly and indirectly).
These men cast enormous shadows in their love for others. They cast enormous shadows with their willingness to serve others. They case big shadows with their love of Jesus and dedication to surrender everything and go all out for Him.
My uncle Phil passed away last week. As I reflected on this man of God, I was struck by his humility and love. I remembered fondly staying with him during District Assembly on multiple occasions. He would sit and talk with me and inundate the conversation with encouragement, love, and experiences that he thought might be helpful. He drove over 6 hours to come and do a revival at a church with barely 40 people as a personal favor to me, even with deteriorating health. I always felt he was always advocating for and using his connections to help me out in the world of ministry. He offered to let me preach on Heaventrain. He was always offering what he had, if it would some how help.
Both Phil’s sons, Jamey and Andy, have often been the face of a lot of other things that flow from who Phil was. Jamey was the best man at my wedding and at some darker times, felt like my only friend. It was Jamey who let me hang out at Circleville Bible College with his friends when I wasn’t a Christian. It was Jamey who opened doors for me in getting my degree from Ohio Christian University and beginning the journey towards ordination in the Church of the Nazarene. Andy has introduced me to more friends and pastors in and around Cleveland than I can possibly count. Andy has spoken to people on my behalf and is in large part, responsible for the relationship I have that brought me to my assignment in Painesville. Andy and his wife, Kristen, opened their house and lives to my wife for 2 weeks so she could experience Lighthouse, Inc. and Heaventrain.
I could go on and on… My point is though, these men were fathered well and they shared their father with me and countless others.
Seeing my uncle a few days before he passed and hearing him say how proud he was of me, will be a memory I keep forever. Not because of the feeling that sprang up in my heart, but because even as this man was passing from this world to the next, he poured out, building up and giving love to everyone else.
And it didn’t stop at his passing. I always thought that if I ever were ordained in the Church of the Nazarene it would be such an honor and privilege to ask Phil to pray the ordination prayer over me at the ceremony. That won’t happen now as his passing comes before that part of my journey is accomplished. What did happen though was that Phil requested a Pastor’s Choir at his funeral to sing “And Can it Be?” and “It Is Well.” Usually at denominational gatherings, this is reserved for ordained elders. However, Phil simply requested, that if enough pastors were there, that they would assemble them in a choir. I had the honor and privilege to join the many ordained ministers in attendance in singing in that choir at Phil’s funeral.
I’m not a narcissist so I don’t believe that Phil requested that for me, specifically. But what a joy it was, to stand with others, in honoring the wish of someone who was a father to me. He afforded me that chance and I’ll never forget that, either.
Everything he did and said was all for the glory of God. The Kingdom impact of Phil Batten will be reverberating for years, because he laid down his life to be used by God. He was humbled to be used and loved because he got to (not because he was supposed to), all because of Jesus Christ. He was a father to many and he will be missed.
Who are you fathering? Who are you pouring your life out to? Who are you loving unconditionally? Who are you giving access to your life? Who are you advocating for? Who are you building up? Who is God bringing into your life to move beyond a guide and tutor to?