A BIBLICAL VIEW OF FATHERHOOD
SCRIPTURE TEXT: Ephesians 6:1-4; Colossians 3:20-21
Fatherhood is not doing well in our modern society. Consider these facts from a man who wrote a book on the subject in 1995 entitled Fatherless America. Here is some of what he said:
1. Tonight, 40% of all American children will go to sleep in a house in which their fathers do not live.
2. Before the age of eighteen, more than 50% of our children will spend a significant portion of their childhood living apart from their fathers.
3. A generation ago, an American child could reasonably expect to grow up with a dad. Today, an American child can reasonably expect not to.
4. Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend in this generation.1
The Bible does not have a lot to say specifically about fathers and their role in family life. We have read the only two passages in the New Testament that deal specifically with fathers, and in those two brief passages, it would probably be better to translate the word as “parents” rather than “fathers”. I suppose that the Bible assumes that, if God is our Father, then fathers ought to be towards their children like their heavenly Father is towards His children. That seems to be rather obvious, doesn’t it?
The two passages are quite similar in content. Both of them present a negative command. Ephesians adds a positive admonition to the negative. The double emphasis on the negative side may tell us that we fathers face more problems from our negatives than we do our positives. In other words, we may need more help with the wrong things we do in relation to our children than with the right things we fail to do.
Children are commanded of the Lord to obey their parents for it is the right thing to do. However, there is the other side of the coin.
I. Fathers must constantly guard against a heavy-handed, overbearing attitude towards their children. Our children are fragile, vulnerable creatures. A man comes home from his work where he has been dealing with people in a hard-fisted, tough, sometimes cruel world. His language and his attitude is geared to dealing with the harsh realities of that tough world out there. Suddenly, he is home, in a different setting. If he is not careful, his children will often get the same treatment others got in the rough-and-tumble work place. In their sensitive and tender hearts, our words come across as harsh, insensitive, and uncaring. They feel that we have not understood or cared about their feelings. We haven’t listened well enough before we spoke.
In the movie, "Dead Poets Society," Neil Perry was a boy from a wealthy family studying in a very exclusive New England prep school. He wanted very much to become an actor when he grew up. But his father wanted him to be a medical doctor. The school produced a play in which Neil had the lead role. His father reluctantly attended. Neil was the star of the play. His performance received a standing ovation at the end. After the play was over the father took his son home and laid the law down: "Son,” he said, “I’m not going to let you waste your life being an actor. I’m going to take you out of this school tomorrow and send you to a military academy." That night, tragically, the young man committed suicide. He couldn’t take the frustration of being denied his dream of being an actor. The father’s heavy-handed overbearing attitude was more than he could take.
“Fathers," Paul admonishes, “Do not aggravate your children. Do not provoke them to anger. Do not deal severely with them to the point they become desperate and frustrated and dispirited.” You may deal with them decisively when you have to, but soften your words with love and consideration for their point of view.
II. Now for the positive side: the Scripture says that we are to bring our children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
The two sides of this admonition mean to “educate by discipline” and to “educate by instruction.” He went on to say that the best way to achieve this twofold admonition is simply to teach and model for your children what it means to live the Christian life.. If you want to be a good father to your children, if you want to obey the Lord’s command to you as a father, just be a Christian before them. Talk about what it means to be a Christian. Demonstrate it to them in your personal life. Let them see what the Christian life looks like when it is lived out day by day.
Two suggestions about living out the Christian life before your children:
1. Be sure they know you love them. Jesus said that the greatest of all the commandments is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and the second is like unto it: love your neighbor as yourself. This is the very foundation of what it means to be a Christian: love God and love your fellow man. You may know that you love your children, but they need to know. They need to hear you say you love them.
Woodson Armes was pastor of Polytechnic Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas during my seminary years. At a seminary chapel service he told this story from his growing up as a teenager in rural Texas.
“As a teenager growing up I really gave my parents a lot of grief. On one particular occasion I had really messed up pretty bad. Dad called me in and told me that, in the light of my bad behavior, he and mom had decided to ground me which meant missing the big high-school Jr.-Sr. banquet.
I said, “OK, Dad, if that’s the way it is, I guess I’ll just leave home. Dad’s response was: “Well, go if you must, but wait until Saturday.”
Armes said, “It was hard to find something to do to make the time pass. Saturday morning I went out and got on the tractor and did some plowing in the field across from the road. As I plowed back and forth in front of the house, I couldn’t help but see my mother out on the front porch with her broom, sweeping the same spot over and over, as she glanced up to watch me as I plowed. And then I noticed that Dad had decided to do some pruning on a tree out back that really didn’t need pruning, glancing my direction as he appeared to be totally occupied with his pruning.
He said, “That afternoon I went out to the barn and began greasing the tractor, just to get out of a very quiet house. Then I looked up and a crack appeared in the barn door. It was Dad. He came to me, put his arm on my shoulder and said, ‘I just want you to know son, in every set of circumstances, wherever you go, or whatever you do, I will still be your father, and I will still love you.’
“From that day forward,” Armes said, “there was never another cross word or misunderstanding between me and my father.”2 From then on he knew that whatever happened in life his father’s love would always be there for him and it made all the difference.
2. Determine in your heart right now if you haven’t already, that after Jesus Christ, your family will have first priority in your life. Does your family have that place? You may not have thought about it consciously. If you don’t know what your priorities are, chances are your family is probably not in the place they need to be in your life.
“Bring your children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” In other words, live out before them what it means to really be a Christian in this world. Teach them and show them and model it for them and talk them to them about it every day of your life.
At 39, Garth Brooks is probably the world’s most successful singer. He has sold more records than Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Elvis Presley, or any other solo act in history and he has done it in only 12 years. . . . He has won every prize in the recording business. . . . A few months ago he announced his retirement. Here is what he said about his decision to call it quits:
“Music is a gift from God. It just comes naturally. It’s easy and I love it. But now I’m finding that it’s not the most important thing in my life. When I look in the mirror, I see a guy full of flaws. I see the promises he made that he hasn’t kept, and I know it’s time to keep them. What I wanted when I started was to communicate to the world, and music was how I tried to do it. I can’t read or write music, but it’s what I knew, and when people respond to your music, you’ve got to look in the mirror and ask, ‘Is this what God put me here to do?”3
Evidently, Garth Brooks might have looked in the mirror one morning and asked God, “God, is this what you put me here to do?” And God might have answered back, “Well, until today, it was. But today, I want you to do something else. I want you to start being a father to your children. There are promises you have made and haven’t kept, and now it’s time to keep them.”
1 David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America: Confronting our Most Urgent Social Problem (New York, New York: BasicBooks, 1995, pp. 1,2).
2 Seminary chapel service, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, date unknown.
3 Dotson Rader, “Why He’s Coming Home”, Parade Magazine, December 16, 2001.