Is fatherhood still a subject that needs to be addressed today? While children and fathers exist in the world, it is safe to conclude that the subject remains relevant.
Today as I arrived home, I was welcomed by my eldest son as he whizzed around the driveway on his bicycle; he waved and smiled as I parked. As my son greeted me, my heart was warmed. There are very few experiences which satisfy as happy home life does. A family which desires to honor God and each other is tremendously encouraging to those within the home and to those outside the family circle as well. The Apostle John expressed a similar understanding when he stated, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3Jo 4). If we agree with John it behooves us as men of God to encourage and provide for the things which make for wholesome and Godly home life. That is the burden this article seeks to address.
For inspiration, we might first consider John the Baptist. He was the son of Zachariah, a priest after the order of Abia. Zachariah was righteous and respected. He was an honorable father in Israel. By God’s calling, John was a prophet of God, and among the prophets he was worthy of honor. It was Christ who said of John that “among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28). His message was refreshingly simple, “He shall go before him [Jesus] in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Years earlier, Malachi has offered the solemn warning to those who would disregard John’s admonition. Prophetically speaking on God’s behalf, he said, “Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” John helps us to understand that right family priorities must precede spiritual revival.
It is clear that God called and gifted John with a burden for families. That burden is also reflected in the person of Abraham. Born in Ur of the Chaldees, he was chosen of God to leave the land of his nativity to journey to a land of God’s choosing. It was there that God would grant Abraham seed as the stars in heaven for multitude. He was chosen first because of his Godly character and secondly because Abraham was a faithful father. Consider God’s testimony of Abraham found in Genesis 18:19, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment.”
Healthy home life does not happen without effort. It takes Godly direction and a willingness to invest in the spiritual well-being of home life. If we overdraw our bank account, that account will fail. In like manner; the only way to avoid bankruptcy in home life is to secure capital to address the deficit. If our marriages and families are to succeed, we must invest more into them than we take out. God honoring relationships are labor intensive. Healthy families take effort; healthy families do not happen by mistake; healthy families must be cultivated. Good home life reflects itself in expressions such as worship, harmony, security, loyalty, love, truth, patience, and service. None of these will be true in any of our homes if we neglect these God established relationships. Happy and healthy home life imparts many and manifold blessings, yet it is not without challenges. It is a calling which requires carefulness and due diligence.
The patriarch Abraham was a man with many traits like our own. Although he was Godly in his character, he was far from perfect. Dishonesty and the multiplicity of wives and concubines were both sources of dysfunction within Abraham’s home. It was these poor choices which set the stage for the favoritism, dishonesty, and ever larger forms of deceit. These flaws would plague Abraham’s sons and grandsons, literally to their “third and fourth generation” (Ex 20:5). It is generally true that as a pattern begins to form in home life, it usually continues to grow and mature in the next branch of the family tree. This pattern will continue until someone changes course. It is this pattern which is referred to by the phrase “the sins of the fathers” in Exodus 20:5. As these patterns progress they become increasingly ingrained. These tendencies may be for the spiritual benefit or detriment of our families. As Godly fathers, it is our calling to ensure that they are strengths and not weaknesses!
Despite human inexperience, God grants the gift of children to many of our homes. While it is certain that well-meaning parents will make many mistakes, it is also true that we have been equipped with the tools needed to raise our families successfully in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. What we lack in experience, we may gain in faithfully applying scriptural principles consistently. Isaiah 28:10 explains “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line.” As we apply these principles we must make every effort to avoid inconsistency. The “do as I say, not as I do” mentality will ultimately fail in our homes. Only as we model obedience and trust toward God, a love for God’s people, a love for the lost, and a respect for God’s church will our children be encouraged to follow in our steps. This result then comes not only because of our words but also our deeds.
In His own foreknowledge, God knew that Abraham’s children would keep “the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment.” These words bring to mind things like security, fairness, wisdom, thoughtfulness, and righteousness. They capture and explain the twofold blessing that results when fathers turn their hearts toward God and couple right conduct with true wisdom. According to Genesis Chapter 18, we realize that we are not born with these are virtues. On the contrary we enter this life with their counterparts, selfishness and egotism. God’s call is that fathers endeavor to bridge the gulf between that which is natural and that which is spiritual.
Rules alone do not guarantee right responses. A child may obey and yet resist and not understand. In fact, rules without clearly explained reasons often promote the very rebellion we are so carefully trying to avoid. However, it is also true that there is a place for submission. While children may not fully understand a given issue, they are to respectfully submit. God asks the same of parents. As children observe submission in their parents, it will plant good seed in their own hearts.
As faithful fathers, it is our responsibility to bring the Word of God to our children. While the church plays an important role, God has identified fathers as those who are responsible for the well-being of their homes. Therefore, “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2Ti 2:15). As it has been said, Mothers may do much to redeem dysfunctional home-life, but the success or failure of Godly home life largely depends on the leadership of Father.
In his book Christian Family Living, John Coblentz shares a university study seeking to compare the effectiveness of four types or styles of leadership in home life. Four categories were studied: authoritative, authoritarian, neglectful, and permissive. Those conducting the study rated the effectiveness of each category in how well their children were socially adjusted, how well they followed their parents’ ideals and values, etc. Both the authoritative and the authoritarian parents spanked their children; the authoritative parents used the rod in love, whereas the authoritarians used it harshly. The authoritative parents had the best results with their children in every respect. The authoritarian parents, however, had the worst record of the four categories. From this example, we may conclude that it is important that as we teach our children truth, we must follow the Biblical admonition of doing so in love.
A number of years ago I sought counsel on raising my children from a man whom I consider both Godly and wise. He spoke of the importance of making time for my family. He told me fathers must take time to listen to the children in the home. Fathers must take time to sooth the many scrapes and bruises that come when children’s energy and excitement exceed their judgment. Fathers should take time to explain on a child’s level why God made the cat with a long tail and the bunny with a short tail. As fathers spend time and take an interest in the lives of their children, our interest will communicate very clearly that we value them. My mentor further explained the concept that it is important to keep the hearts of our children, because if we do not, they will give their hearts to someone else! If we fail in this area we very well may lose both the battle and the war.
When we as parents fail, we must redeem the situation by asking forgiveness in an open and honest way. If we are to be successful, it is vital that our children clearly feel and understand first of all, that we love them, and secondly that we have their best interest at heart. It is then that we begin to fulfill the message John so boldly preached two thousand years ago, that of turning “the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.”