Spiritual Leadership “Spiritual Fathers and Mothers”

An excerpt from Revealed in Ephesians: The Mystery of Who I Am in Christ

Click on http://briananei.com to order.

“As we look into the mystery of Christ and the family of God, we need to grasp the concept of humility and servant leadership. In Ephesians Chapter 3, Paul relates to us the weight of the authority and responsibility he carries as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Apostles were required, like the rest of us, to serve God’s family with humility. Jesus was a servant leader and he is our example. In Matthew 23:11 Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” His leaders serve like he did and teach others to walk as servants in Christ.

Being in spiritual leadership is not easy. You commit yourself to serve people who may not always respect your sacrifice—like Jesus did. When you are a servant leader, you can find yourself carrying a lot of the load while other people relax—like Jesus did. It’s not too much different from being a mom. Some days your little tribe makes you cry. Some days they make you smile. But you happily die to your own needs to give your children what they need. In fact, part of our sacred identity as women is being like Christ through our daily “dying.” It is an honor to bring not only physical life, but emotional and spiritual life to the next generation through our sacrifices. Most of those go unnoticed for the time being, especially when the ugly comes out in those we lead. This is normal. Don’t be discouraged. Bear with one another in love while also being honest with those you lead and keeping them accountable. For example, in his first letter to the Corinthians, in Chapter 4, Paul writes to the church using a pretty stern tone compared to the one he uses in the letter he writes to Ephesus. He addresses spiritual cat-fights, division, and general “I’m better than you” attitudes. The Christians in Corinth are not living in the unity that comes from humility and submission to Christ. He uses a bit of spiritual sarcasm and literary wit to call out the Corinthian church on the divisiveness in which they are living and to remind them of the sacrifices he has made in Christ for their spiritual benefit.

Ephesians is such a “feel good” kind of book of the Bible, addressed to people who needed to be encouraged in their place in God’s family. However, it is good to read a contrasting passage of scripture, such as the letter to the Corinthians, written by the same author who understands our need for knowing God’s lavish love, but also our need for humility. The Corinthians needed to be brought back to the reality of their humble place in the body of Christ. Sometimes we need encouragement and sometimes we need tough love. Servant leaders are sensitive to what those in their care need. This is why we dig deep into scripture—to get the full counsel of God’s Word, so we don’t become one-sided (with an incomplete understanding of God or a distorted view of ourselves).

Let’s cross reference this passage to learn a little bit more about humble servanthood and the role of an apostle or “spiritual father” in the church. This time we are going to look for contrasts to see what happens when we don’t walk in humility and unity in the body of Christ that Paul talks about in his letter to the Ephesians. Turn in your Bible to read 1 Corinthians 4. Get ready. When God’s truth clashes with our flesh, it’s brutal.”

1 Corinthians 4 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

The nature of true apostleship

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign – and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honoured, we are dishonoured! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world – right up to this moment.

Paul’s appeal and warning

14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. 15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?

“In his letter, Paul contrasts the self-exalting attitude of the Corinthians with the attitude a trained disciple of Jesus Christ should have. Paul is saying all this in love to the Corinthians. God calls all believers to walk like Jesus in humility. The apostles modeled humility and the servant-like attitude of Christ. Paul prayed that each person he shared Christ with would realize that he or she is not above Christ’s role as servant leader. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. Note Jesus’ use of contrasts in the following passage of scripture:

Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ – Matthew 20:25-28


You make a lot of sacrifices for your friends and family that go unnoticed. Those you are helping may have no idea where they would be if it weren’t for you. Paul wants the Corinthians, Ephesians, (and us) to know the power of a good spiritual father (or mother) as an example. We need to know the sacrifices others have made so that we can know Christ and walk in the power of Christ in their footsteps. Ask God if there are any people in your life who are your spiritual fathers or mothers that you have walked through life not noticing. Thank them for the way they have served you and ask them to pray that you will grow in having their selfless, serving attitude toward those in your spiritual care. Pray for them, too! Ask God for a humble attitude so that you may become more like Christ.

During teachable moments with your children, have real conversations with them about your past and how, through the testimony of God’s work in your life, they now have the opportunity to live in the faith. They need to understand that they only know Christ because someone else sacrificed and shared Jesus—again, this is a grace and sovereignty moment. Paul shows us through the Ephesians and Corinthians that the different approaches of encouragement and rebuke are necessary with our spiritual and physical children, so they can grow up in Christ.

Finally, are you in a church or body of believers where you are being discipled and are accountable to the leadership? Are you in a church where you are serving in your spiritual gifts or in a church where you are a consumer who comes only for what you can get out of it?

If you are interested in leading or facilitating a bible study on Ephesians with my book, Revealed in Ephesians: The Mystery of Who I Am in Christ, email me at briana@briananei.com for more information and free resources!

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