paul and timothy

Spiritual Mothers and Fathers

I found out I have a hidden talent… I can make little kids laugh. I’ve seen this develop over the last few weeks with our little one, who has been in our recent care. To me, it seems natural – I make a funny face, strange hand gestures, weird sounds, and I start to see a smile emerge, eventually leading to laughter. I have a feeling she’s laughing at me because of how ridiculous I am. Well, I’d have to agree, I can be quite the goofball! 

Through all of my crazy antics to make her laugh, the funniest thing began to happen – she would mimic me. When I made that silly face of scrunching my nose, showing all my teeth, and breathing heavily, she would copy me! I realized that our little one enjoyed the fun so much that she replicated what I was doing as a way to connect; her mirroring of my expressions and gestures was a teaching tool in an amusing and engaging way. 

Little children are not the only ones who should mimic those in front of them. In fact, it’s part of the Spirit-filled life to not only learn from those who have more experience than us but to model ourselves after them. The Apostle Paul said this plainly: 

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 11:1 

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:9

Paul uses his life as an example of how to follow Christ. Whether it is through his actions, words, attitude, or behavior, he is a reflector of Christ’s love. Why have we not heard much about mirroring ourselves after other Godly men and women? Is it because we live in such an independent culture? Perhaps we do not want to bother those who are more mature in the faith because they are busy. Whatever the reason, if we are unwilling to watch and resemble a person’s life of faith, we are not fulfilling the example set by Scripture. 

I first realized the importance of this after a Sunday message I preached on through Acts 16:1-5. Paul had just started his 2nd missionary journey with Silas, which consisted of revisiting the churches he helped plant five years prior. In one of the cities, we see that he meets a man named Timothy: 

“Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” 

What do we know about this young man Timothy? We know that Paul willingly took Timothy under his wing. He saw something in the young man, potential to do work for the Kingdom of God. However, Timothy did not have to opportunity to see how a Godly man talks and walks in the faith. While Timothy’s mother and grandmother were believers (1 Timothy 1:5), his father was not. The struggle to figure out how to be a Christ-follower can be challenging without the example of the same-sex modeling the way. Here comes Paul as a mature believer who can guide the young Timothy to fulfill the calling God has on his life. 

Paul had a special relationship with Timothy. We know this is the case by the endearing and affirming words he used to speak of Timothy: 

1 Timothy 1:2 – “To Timothy, my true son in the faith…” 

1 Cor. 4:17 – “For this cause, I sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful to the Lord.” 

It was Paul who helped Timothy overcome potential hurdles as he pastored a church in Ephesus. Timothy willingly imitated Paul’s life to fulfill the calling on his own life. Paul was more than someone he looked up to or a mentorhe was his spiritual father. 

The truth is, we are at a critical point in time where we need spiritual mothers and fathers. Young people in the last two generations are asking questions about faith to see if it makes sense in the world they live in:

  • “Is the Bible for today?” 
  • “How can I be a Christ-follower in my profession?” 
  • “Does God have a plan for my life?” 

It’s tempting to point to the Bible and have them read it. It’s easy to spout off verse references or to give information about the questions listed above. But that is not what they are looking for. Young people are not looking for information but are seeking a life of transformation. A life that only the Holy Spirit can provide, and the best example is in the life of other spirit-filled believers. 

Yet, we are in an era of fatherlessness. I’m not talking about the ill effects of fathers being absent in the home, yet that can attribute to it (link for fatherlessness statistics on children) but a lack of spiritual fatherhood. A positive relationship is the strongest example of how to live life, especially a life of faith. Look at what Paul had to say to the church in Corinth: 

“Even if you had ten thousand instructors in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 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.” – 1 Corinthians 4:15-17

While instruction is good, it is not as powerful as imitation. Ironically, Timothy imitated Paul, and now Timothy is being sent to Corinth so they can imitate Paul’s way of life. Why? Paul’s life points to Christ, and Paul poured his life into Timothy. Paul doesn’t need to travel to that city, for Timothy is faithful in the Lord. Timothy will model Paul’s way of life in Christ Jesus in Corinth so they can be build up and encouraged in the Lord. 

Teaching gives knowledge, but imitation demonstrates how that knowledge is applied. Think about the command to love one another. We can memorize and learn all the verses on love, but that doesn’t give us a practical way of how to love someone. Love is not just taught, it is caught; you learn how to love best by observing and imitating how a Christ-follower demonstrates that love. 

One thing I have learned in my short time of parenthood is the power of intentionality. I may not have much experience, but what she needs is my attention, love, and presence. It doesn’t matter how much I know but how much I care. The relational connection of fatherhood is what will teach her the best. 

It’s similar to being a spiritual mother or father. Whether you are 30 years old or further up in years, you have something to offer by giving your time, wisdom, or a listening ear. Here’s the best part – you don’t have to have a seminary degree, you don’t need to be in full-time ministry, and you don’t need to be a Pastor. All you have to be is a disciple of Christ who is willing to spend quality time with someone younger in the faith. How much more does your life speak when you can represent Christ as someone who is not in ministry? Modeling faith in this way demonstrates how God meets people in everyone’s life, not just those who work in a church. 

Think about it – who can you be a spiritual mother or father to? The world is full of pain, with young people desperately seeking guidance. You can make a difference by letting the light of Christ shine through your life by spiritually taking someone under your wing. Who knows? Perhaps the way you model your life can be an example for another young Timothy or even a Paul to be raised up in this generation. Lord, let it be! 

Have a blessed week!


  1. Such a great and timely message especially for days when good godly examples seem far and few!
    Thank you for your faithfulness and spiritual example!

    1. Author

      Aw thanks Rose! I’m still learning, doing what I can to live up to the example of who Christ has called me to be in all areas of my life. It’s not always easy, but God is good.
      Thank you for your willingness to be that spiritual mother to many! May the Lord bless you as you reflect the love of Christ in all you do.

  2. Nathan.
    This is one of the most important blogs you have done. As a parent, grandparent and now great-grandparent I see more and more the value of being a Christian who is worthy to be imitated… not just to my own family but for those I meet along life’s way. Thank you for your ministry. May God continue to bless and strengthen you and Valerie as you embark on this adventure…that of parenting. In Christian love, Margie Seevinck

  3. “Love is not just taught, it is caught; you learn how to love best by observing and imitating how a Christ-follower demonstrates that love.” This statement resounded within my heart; yes, observation and imitation point to LOVE IN ACTION—demonstration of love visibly by how we LIVE the LOVE principles we learn from the Bible!

    It is interesting that children become less and less open to receiving parental advice and modeling as they grow older and themselves become parents. At a point in our lives when we, as grandparents, are wiser now because of life lessons through experience and mistakes, very few children take grandparental advice—preferring to make their own mistakes. Perhaps, that is ok, but imagine how much more knowledge and wisdom can be garnered through the mentorship of those who have already learned from mistakes and are willing to share? It is definitely less painful to learn from others’ mistakes….but, perhaps, it is the principle of no pain, no gain?

    This seems to be the common experience of many grandparents.

  4. Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging today.

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