If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1Jo 4:20
God is a God of growth. Let me give you the story line of my life: I was a baby, then a toddler, a teenager, a son, married, became one flesh with my wife, and became a father. Sounds familiar?
Jesus was born a baby. As a toddler he learned to obey his father and mother. As a teenager he started to interact with the world of the grown-ups, was included as a kind of apprentice, but astonished the priests with his knowledge and wisdom already – yet continued to grow in wisdom, knowledge, and favor before God and men.
In the Jordan he was announced a son. Mature, a full representative of the father, walking in the fathers authority. There was an instrumental figure in this: John the baptist. John was sent to straighten the path for Jesus – what a description of a father figure. There needed to be an earthly representative of the father to go through the proclamation of the son, an elder, a mouthpiece of God, a son of a priest and later high priest of Israel.
At the cross, Jesus married his bride. In the Garden of Gethsemane and at the cross he said: I do! Since then he is waiting for our individual response as a part of the bride: I do!
At pentecost, he became one with the church – he in us and we in him. And together with the church, he begets sons (Rom 8:20, Rev 12:1ff). Conclusion: No sons outside of church!
And if you look into nature, you see the same principles. All living things incorporate one common theme: growth with multiplication through relationship.
I so far have established a well known fact: God is a God of growth. Not really spectacular.
But looking at this pattern of growth, it becomes apparent that there is a need for parents, for fathers and mothers.
Naturally, we grow as a function of time. We can’t help growing, it usually just happens to us.
Spiritually, growth is not automatic nor is it a function of time. It is a function of willingness. Am I willing to change, to have a deep intimate relationship with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, to go the extra mile, to take the next step? Am I willing to obey in faith? By the way, the definition of spiritual success: faith and obedience.
In 1Jo 4:20, John tells us that we deceive ourselves if we say we love God, whom we don’t see, and hate our brother, whom we see.
Let me derive from that that the reason God gave us a brother on earth to love is in part to enable us to love Jesus. Learn the easy thing first – love your brother you can touch – and then grow to the harder things – love Jesus.
But loving a brother can only teach me to love the attributes of God portrayed in brotherhood. But God the Father is first and foremost a father – hence his name.
I believe that God gives us fathers – both spiritual and natural – to learn about the fatherly aspects and dimensions of himself. And he uses those fathers as his mouthpieces as it is – again 1Jo 4:20 – easier for us to relate to earthly representations that we see than to him whom we learn to see more clearly. Thus spiritual fathers are two things: representatives of the father in heaven, providing a “natural” communication path to God to speak to us, as well as imperfect but touchable patterns of the father for us to learn to know and love him.