When people described a great man as their ‘father’, they were not simply describing a family relationship. They wanted everyone else to understand that they respected that man greatly. They tried to follow his noble attitudes and his honourable behaviour; they tried to imitate and to learn from that man’s life.
Many people considered Abraham to be their ‘father’ (John 8:39). So, Paul asked whether they really were like Abraham. If so, they would consider the same things important that Abraham did.
Nothing was more important for Abraham than his relationship with God. Abraham received that relationship when he believed God (Romans 4:3; Genesis 15:6). So, people who consider Abraham to be their ‘father’ should do the same. They should believe and trust God.
The Jews were the people who actually came from the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They accepted circumcision (a minor operation on the male sex part) as a mark of their nation’s relationship with God. However, that mark does not show whether, like Abraham, someone has a personal relationship with God. A person can only receive such a relationship by faith (belief and trust in God), as Abraham did.
Abraham received that relationship by faith even before he accepted circumcision. So therefore, other people can also receive a relationship with God by faith, even when they have not accepted circumcision. In their faith, they are behaving like Abraham did. So, although they are not members of Abraham’s physical family, they are right to call him their ‘father’.
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© 2018, Keith Simons.