Volume 25, Number 3
Most readers will receive this copy of the WITNESS about a month before Father’s Day, which in 1990 falls on Sunday, June 17. Honoring one’s father means more than buying dad a new shirt on Father’s Day. Honoring parents includes the concepts of showing gratitude and practicing obedience. However, it is not only the duty of the child to honor father and mother (Ephesians 6:2), but it is also the duty of the parent to deserve that respect by bringing children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). The ethics of the New Testament are well balanced. If God lays a duty on one side (to the children), He also commands an equal duty on the other side (to the parents).
John Dresher, in his book, If I Were Starting My Family Again, Abingdon (1979), lists a number of things he would do differently if he had a chance to perform the duties of fatherhood all over again:
1) I would love the mother of my children more.
2) I would listen more.
3) I would seek more opportunities to give my child a sense of belonging.
4) I would express words of appreciation and praise more often.
5) I would spend more time together with the family.
6) I would laugh more.
Dresher amplifies the first point (above) by saying that he would seek to do more little things for his wife–like opening the car door, placing her chair at the table, giving her little gifts on special occasions, and writing her love letters when he’s away from home–because this would help build security and stability in the lives of the children. He also expands the second point (above) by indicating that he would pay more attention when his child shares little hurts and complaints and matters about which he is excited-because the father who listens to his child when the child is small–will more likely have a child who cares what his father says later in life.
The best father is the one who knows God as his Heavenly Father, and only Jesus Christ can provide that relationship (John 14:6). When we place our trust in Christ, and pledge our loyalty to Him, believing the message that Christ died for our sins, we find forgiveness, and we become part of God’s family. At that time we receive new resources for fathering because God the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us (1 Corinthians 6:19). Those who read the essay which follows will find exhortations which can help strengthen homes.
The Responsibilities of a Father
By Allen L. Nell
Brooks Adams kept a diary from his boyhood days and on through the years. One day when he was eight years old he wrote in his diary, “Went fishing with my father; the most glorious day of my life.” Throughout the next forty years of his life, he never forgot that special day when he had gone fishing with his daddy. Repeated references were made in his diary, commenting about the influence that day had on his life.
Brooks’ father was an important man–Charles Francis Adams–the United States Ambassador to Great Britain under the Lincoln administration. Interestingly, he too had made a note in his diary about the fishing trip. He wrote simply, “Went fishing with my son; a day wasted.”
It is obvious that he did not regard his responsibilities as a father to be very important. However, the Bible makes it clear that every home should have a godly father who takes seriously his responsibility. In addition, the spiritual fervency of our churches is dependent to a large degree on how fathers fulfill their God-appointed responsibilities. Looking at God’s Word, we find at least three vital needs in a family that the father has the responsibility to supply. They are — provision, protection, and prayer.
From the beginning, man was given the responsibility of being the family bread-winner. God said to Adam, “in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). From that day on, the male of the human family has been primarily responsible for providing the material needs of his family. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he had denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” A man who is able, and does not do his best to provide the material needs of his family, commits a great sin. In the words of the Scripture, he is worse than an infidel.
Most Christian fathers do not fail in the area of material provision. For many today, a greater danger is that we often tend to provide beyond the real needs of the family, placing greater emphasis on the material welfare of our families than on their spiritual nurture. It is dangerous for fathers to put their emphasis on the material needs of the children and neglect their spiritual needs. Mark 8:36 asks the question, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Applying this truth to the subject at hand, we might ask the question, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses the souls of his children?” How disastrous for fathers to forget that their children are heirs of immortality, that they must some day render an account to God, and must live somewhere forever in the world to come. How tragic for fathers to fail in their duty to promote the highest welfare of their children.
One of the greatest responsibilities of a father is to provide spiritual leadership for his family. We are called to reflect divine values to our children. We are the symbol and representative of God’s authority to our children. Because we speak of God as our Father, our children (especially in their formative years) may well develop their ideas about the Father in Heaven on the basis of the example left by their fathers on earth. Studies show that those who have had fathers who were irresponsible or unfaithful to their duties in the family, often have a great deal of difficulty trusting God. They tend to think of God in light of their father’s example. On the other hand, those who have had fathers who were loving and faithful, tend to find it easier to develop and maintain a close relationship with the Heavenly Father.
Let us consider how a child thinks. If my father is fair, then God must be fair. If my father punishes for wrongdoing, then God must punish for wrongdoing. If my father loves and cares for me, then God must love and care for me. If my father respects and obeys God’s Word, then God must be respected and obeyed by me. If my father means what he says, then God must mean what He says. It is apparent that fathers should diligently seek to provide their children with the right concept of the Heavenly Father by being God-like in their own behavior. This requires living under the Holy Spirit’s control.
It is important that fathers spend time with their children, for in doing so, we are demonstrating our love for them and showing them that they are important to us. If a father neglects his child, spending little or no time with him, think how that affects the child’s concept of the Father above. Let us not be like the father who was a pastor so busily involved in his work that his small daughter checked the box on the church visitor’s card requesting a pastoral call.
As spiritual leaders in the home, it is the responsibility of the father to provide discipline for the children. We need to recognize that our children are born with a sinful human nature. David confessed, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). The act of conception is not sin, but the bias toward evil is transmitted at conception, and thus the normal tendency of the child is to satisfy his own sinful nature. The Word of God makes it clear that it is the great responsibility of the parent, especially the father, to restrain the child from growing up in conformity with his sinful nature. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15). And in Proverbs 29:15, we read that the “rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” The word from the Hebrew (translated “left to himself”) is sometimes used of animals pasturing without fences or restraints. The picture is that of a child who is sent off into adulthood without being restrained. The Old Testament gives us an example of this in 1 Samuel 3:13. About Eli, God says, “For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them.” This verse implies that the father is responsible to control his child’s evil tendencies through discipline.
It is important that fathers set boundaries or guidelines for their children, based on the principles of the Bible. It is not fair to hold our children accountable if we have never taken the time to make clear what we expect from them. When children are disobedient to known standards which have been established, it is important that we are consistent in administering punishment. The benefit of punishment is the establishment of a proper fear of justice, and respect for those in authority. It helps a child understand and believe the reality of God’s judgment. For example, when a well-disciplined child hears the Word of God say, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests on him” (John 3:36/RSV)–he is much more likely to take it seriously than the child who has not received consistent discipline. Richard Fugate, in the book, What the Bible Says About Child Training, claims that “many people have been raised in the last few generations who doubt the reality of God’s eternal punishment. They have been raised by parents who threatened, but did not consistently carry through.” It is easy to be a permissive father. It is the oath of least resistance, but it is costly beyond words. Proverbs 13:24 reminds us, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.”
In addition, fathers are charged with the tremendous responsibility of providing their children with the teaching of God’s Word. God emphasizes the importance of parental instruction in spiritual things when He says, “And these words, which I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). The Apostle Paul affirmed those instructions when he said, “And you, fathers…bring (your children) up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). God commands fathers to diligently teach His Word to their children. And yet in many Christian families, the spiritual instructions of children is limited to one or two hours of a Sunday morning, and if there is spiritual instruction in the home, it is often the mother who assumes the responsibility. But according to God’s Word, the father is to assume the primary responsibility of instructing children in the truths of the Bible. That does not mean that the father will do all the teaching, but the father is to be the child’s primary instructor. Judges 2 tells the sad account of a generation of fathers who knew God, but they failed to take time to bring up their children in the admonition of the Lord, with the result that those children served Baal rather than the Lord.
I cannot think of a more effective method of spiritual instruction in the home than a daily family devotional time, when the entire family gathers to be instructed from God’s Word and to pray. The father, if possible, should be the leader, and the format of instruction should be suited to the child’s age. Younger children like to hear parents read Bible stories, and from those stories practical applications can be made for daily living. For example, when reading the story of Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard, children can be warned of the sin of greed. If other children are playing with a toy that your child wants, and he snatches it away from them, then he is like Ahab. There is no better place for a child to be taught from the Scriptures, than in his own home and from his own father.
The father is not only to provide, but also to protect. Most fathers are quick to provide physical protection for their children. Dr. George Truett told about a man who many years ago was driving his wagon with a team of horses on a country road. Somehow, the horses became frightened, and they rushed on despite all his efforts to restrain them. Eventually, he was thrown from the wagon, but he held on to the lines, as on and on the frightened horses ran. He was dragged over fields and rocks and stones and bushes. His neighbors saw him and called to him to let go (to release the reins), and yet he held on until at last his weight brought the horses to a standstill. When the neighbors came up and found him bleeding and bruised so that in a little while he died, they could not restrain their protest. “Why didn’t you let the horses go; why didn’t you turn them loose?” He whispered in reply, “Look in the wagon.” They looked in the wagon, and there was his two-year-old boy. The father had given his life to save his little boy from tragic death. Such behavior is commendable and is worthy of our applause, and am sure there are many fathers today who would have shown the same commitment, and would have done the same thing.
But are we just as diligent to protect our children from spiritual danger? We want to consider two areas of spiritual danger which are the great responsibility of the father.
First of all, we must set an example of spiritual strength and stability, not allowing Satan to gain a foothold in our lives, nor allowing any evil practice or habit in our own lives, which may influence our children in the wrong way. There is a recurring statement in the Old Testament which emphasizes this principle: “He walked in the ways of his father.” Only on a few occasions do we find where a king reversed the evil practices of his father, and walked in righteousness. In the majority of cases, if a king was evil, then his son who ascended the throne, walked in the same evil way–and often to an even greater extent. Fathers need to realize the power of influence which they have on their children. This truth was very vividly pointed out to me a number of years ago when I used an unkind word about someone with whom I had just completed a business phone call. A few days later my wife informed me that our son used that same word while playing. Any failure on the part of the father leads to Satan’s bringing destructive temptations to those under his authority. The little poem says,
His little arms crept ’round my neck,
and then I heard him say,
Four simple words I can’t forget,
four words that made me pray.
They turned a mirror on my soul,
on secrets no one knew;
they startled me; I hear them yet.
He said, “I’ll be like you!”
Secondly, we can protect our children spiritually by not allowing them to be unnecessarily exposed to evil teaching and influence. Some may argue that this is sheltering the child, but no where in Scripture is there even a hint that children are to be exposed to evil. To the contrary, Romans 16:19/NIV reminds us to be “innocentabout what is evil.” Jeremiah 10:2 warns us that we should “learn not the way of the heathen.” What children are taught is of supreme importance, but what they are not taught is just as serious a matter. For example, consider the effect which television has on a child. Many of the values portrayed on television are opposed to biblical virtues. Fathers need to realize that their children are invested with a soul which shall never die, and that they will live somewhere forever in the world to come, either in Heaven or in Hell.
Fathers are very much responsible for bringing their children to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and thus it behooves us to deliberately refuse to throw dangers in their pathway. Jesus said that it “would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea”-than that he should cause some little one to stumble (Matthew 18:6). Jeroboam was the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. In such a position of authority, he had much influence over the people in his kingdom, either for good or for evil. Because Jeroboam was a wicked king and condoned idolatry, we find this arresting statement in 1 Kings 22:52: “Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” Fathers likewise are invested with authority in the family, and thus have much influence on their children, either for good or for evil. May it never be said of us that we made our children to sin.
It is important that fathers pray for the family. Job was one who recognized the importance of prayer, for in Job 1:5 we read that he made it a habit to pray for his children. Fathers commit a great sin when they fail to pray for their family. One father who lived near the Mississippi River was a man of great wealth. One day his oldest boy met with an accident and was brought home unconscious. Everything the man could humanly do to restore the injured son–was done– but it was all in vain. Time passed, and after a terrible suspense, the son recovered consciousness. “My son,” the father whispered, “the doctor tells me you are dying.” “Oh!” said the boy, “you never prayed for me, father; won’t you pray for my soul now?” The father wept. He had never prayed. He was a stranger to God. He didn’t know how to face a crisis. And in a little while, that soul, unprayed for, passed into eternity. What a tragedy!
God has committed our children to us, and part of our responsibility is to prey for them. The Apostle Paul was a father, perhaps not a physical father, but a spiritual one. Those who were converted to Christ under his preaching were his special children. In his letters to the churches which he had started, it is instructive to see how many times he assures his spiritual children that he does not cease to pray for them. He realized that one of the duties of those in spiritual leadership is to pray for those under that leadership. And he set a good example for all physical fathers to follow.
Perhaps there are fathers who are grieving over children that are walking on the wrong path. Maybe you have done all you could to raise the child in the right way, and have lived a godly life before him. I encourage you to be consistent and diligent in praying for the son or daughter. We are given the biblical promise that the “prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). 1 can testify to the power of prayer in my own life, for if it had not been for the prayers of a father who was concerned about my spiritual well-being, I hesitate even to think of the path which I would have taken.
Fathers–are you providing for your children, not only materially, but more importantly, spiritually? Are you protecting them by not allowing evil practices in your own life, and by not exposing them to evil influences? Are you diligent and consistent in praying for your children? May God help each of us to realize anew the importance of taking the responsibility of a father seriously. It costs much to be a real father.
A mechanic had worked hard all day at the shop. Later in the evening, at his home, a friend saw him catching baseball with his son. Surprised, he called out, “Bill, aren’t you tired after a day’s work?” “Yes,” came the answer, “Of course, I’m tired.” “Why then are you out there catching a ball?” questioned the friend. The wise father answered immediately, “I’d rather have a backache tonight than a heartache later on.”