[Note: Parts One, Two, and Three of this paper can be read through the provided links.]
Having examined representation in the writings of Paul as far as the relationship between husbands and wives and the role of women in the church is concerned, as well as the larger implications that this has for the Church as a whole, it is time to turn our attention to another area where representation mattered a great deal in the writings of Paul, and that is the representation of fathers and mothers. Here again, as was the case with husbands and wives, we find that Paul had specific advice to parents and children in the notable Household codes that we find in His epistles.
First, let us note Ephesians 6:1-4 and the way that Paul points out the obligations of Christians to obey the fifth commandment: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Similarly, in Colossians 3:20-21 we get the much briefer admonition: “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
How does Paul see parents as being representatives of God Himself, though? For one, Paul repeatedly refers to God as the Father who, by implication, sets the example and standard for all other fathers. Let us briefly look at 1 Corinthians 1:3: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Not long after that, Paul says the following in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6: “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” In fact, God is referred to as “the Father” as a regular pattern in all of Paul’s epistles. This is an association that Paul makes over and over again.
Indeed, the fact that Paul so often and so consistently views God as the Father of us as believers has important implications, as it is written in Galatians 4:6-7: “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” Here we see that God being our Father makes us sons rather than slaves, and heirs to His kingdom if we walk in faith and obedience to Him.
Similarly, there are theological implications to the universality of God being the Father of all, as Paul is also at pains to point out. Paul emphasizes the unity of our faith, for example, in Ephesians 4:1-6: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
Likewise, Paul draws some serious implications from Jesus Christ’s role as the Son in Philippians 2:5-11 that has serious implications for us as believers: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Given how much greater Jesus Christ is to us, Jesus’ own humility and obedience leaves us no option but to bow to Him to the glory of God the Father.
In Hebrews 12:3-11, we see an explicit comparison being made between the discipline that parents give their children during their youth and the chastening that God gives us as our Father: “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Similar to the representation of Jesus Christ that takes place in marriage, within the relationship between parents and children parents take the place of God, and serve as representatives of God and setting the example for how God disciplines us with love, but also with chastening and sometimes even scourging, when it is deserved, as it sometimes is for those of us who were born rebellious and stiff-necked and headstrong as was the case for many of us.
Given the consistency of the portrayal of God as our Father, it is noteworthy that Paul also frequently discusses believers as children of Abraham, thus again pointing to Genesis as providing an example of representation. Three times, for example, in Romans 4:1-22, Paul points to Abraham being the father of us all, the father of the faithful, to draw a point about how we are justified in the eyes of God: “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.””
Similarly, just as we receive blessings from God for being counted as His sons, so too we receive blessings for being counted as Abraham’s sons, where Abraham too is viewed as being a representative father just as God is, no mean praise. Galatians 3:29, for example, reads: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Similarly, Hebrews 2:16 reads: “For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.” Indeed, Abraham appears to be represented as a father in the same way that God was, in the sense that those whom God helps are His sons and are faithful to Him, and those who are faithful are also the children of Abraham. What we see here, therefore, is a multi-layered aspect of looking at God and Abraham as representative fathers who are supposed to model the proper behavior for parents today. And, as was the case with Adam and Even in Genesis, Abraham’s role as an ur-father is stated by God Himself in Genesis 18:17-19: “And the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.”” And what parent would not want this said about them?