“And call no [man] your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, [even] Christ.” Matthew 23:9-10
Many people think it is not scriptural to address men of God as our Fathers in the Faith, but let’s consider a few scriptures so that we can know exactly what the Spirit is saying. Because the term “Father” is used as a sign of respect and honor for one to whom we have a special/close relationship, it behooves us to understand what Jesus is saying in Matthew 23:9-10:
Examples of the Term Father Being Used
- In Gen 45:8 Joseph tells his brothers about a special fatherly relationship God had given him with the king of Egypt: “So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Gen. 45:8).
- Job stated “I was a father to the poor, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know” (Job 29:16).
- God Himself said that He would give a fatherly role to Eliakim, the steward of the house of David: “In that day I will call my servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah . . . and I will clothe him with [a] robe, and will bind [a] girdle on him, and will commit . . . authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah” (Is. 22:20–21).
- As Elijah was being taken up, Elisha cried, “My father, my father!” (2 Kgs. 2:12). Later, Elisha himself is called a father by the king of Israel (2 Kgs. 6:21).
As I consider this scripture (Matthew 23:9-10), I begin to realize that Jesus is not referring to the literal sense of “Father”, for many reasons:
1. We Have Earthly Fathers
If He was referring to the literal sense of “Father”, then it wouldn’t make sense to have earthly Father’s either. “call no [man] your father upon the earth“. We all call the Father who gave birth to us Father and God gave him to us. I believe He is referring to people who begin to put “leaders” on a peddle stool and calling them Father. They call them Father to the point where they don’t see God anymore. When something happens, instead of going to God first, they run to the one they call PAPA or Father. That’s the first person they think of, they bow to them, lick their sandals, they fear them more than they fear God. This is wrong; and it starts with where you have put such people in your heart.
Now, some people may not want you to call them Father or Papa for may reasons, 1. they see where you have put them in your heart, 2. if they don’t correct it, everyone will start doing the same thing and you could mislead some by doing that, 3. they don’t want to be addressed that way, 4. at that very moment their hearts spoke to them about it. Hence, some people can choose to call their spiritual father’s Papa but we must be careful in doing so. Some people do it to honor the man of God that God has set over them but the problem is the ignorant ones end up spoiling it for everyone.
2. We Have Earthly Masters
In that same verse, He said “Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, [even] Christ” But He was the one who also said “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;” (Ephesians 6:5). This tells us that Jesus Christ does recognize that there will always be people above and some under, some training, some serving, some simply under another by reason of authority. Hence, He couldn’t possibly be referring to the literal sense. It is more to do with the start of the heart. There are people who let it get into their head and they begin to Lord over the people. They want to be their God, and sometimes it’s the other way round where the person or persons begin to see or put their hope and trust in the so called “master”. But their hope and trust should be in Christ Jesus. They should see a higher power and authority in Christ who holds the heart of their master in His hands and can turn it in which ever direction He chooses, at any time (Prov. 21:3)
3. We Have Teachers
Although Jesus seems to prohibit the use of the term “teacher,” in Matthew 28:19–20, He appointed certain men to be teachers in his Church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Paul speaks of his commission as a teacher: “For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle . . . a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Tim. 2:7); “For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” (2 Tim. 1:11). AGAIN… “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers” (1 Cor. 12:28); and “his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11).
Paul writes, “Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you; for children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children” (2 Cor. 12:14); and, “My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!” (Gal. 4:19). Peter also said “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark” (1 Pet. 5:13).
John 2:1, John speaking… “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1); Again… “No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth” (3 John 4). In fact, John also addresses men in his congregations as “fathers” (1 John 2:13–14).
Considering the above scriptures/evidence, it is clear that Paul, Peter, and John imply their own roles as spiritual fathers.With that in mind, let’s examine spiritual fatherhood.
In addition to examples from people who gave God praise for giving them a relationship with a spiritual Father, etc (Gen 45:8, Job 29:16, Is. 22:20–21, 2 Kings 6:21, 2 Kgs. 2:12) Paul said “I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:14–15).
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:…” (2 Timothy 3:16) Hence, we cannot pick one and leave the other. We must consider all to understand what is being said. So what exactly is Jesus saying and who is He talking to?
Who is Jesus Talking To?
Jesus was referring to leaders who love “the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called ‘rabbi’ by men” (Matt. 23:6–7). This was in response to the Pharisees’ proud hearts, craving for status and prestige and love to be called “Father, Lord, Master and the likes. You may also find the video below useful