What exactly is a father supposed to do? Ask a dozen people and you’ll get two dozen answers. USA Today just ran an editorial yesterday, which stated that “The most important thing is to make sure of their education – from kindergarten through college.” I thought, “Very well, yes, that’s crucial. It’s a positive, measurable goal.”
As a Christian, I believe that God wants me to walk a certain path that the rest of the world doesn’t follow, and that includes how I should live as a father (or a husband, or teacher, or citizen, etc.). Now, we raised four children, who are now adults, and we thought that we were done. However, to my surprise, we are now raising a four-year-old boy who came to us from an abusive background. So I’m not just interested in this theme in theory, I need to know what to do this afternoon when our foster child comes home!
Here are two methods of figuring out what God wants you to do as a father:
Method #1 is what we’ll name the Key Passage Method. There are roughly 1600 references to the word “father” in the Bible, but most of these don’t give much specific help on how to be a dad. The Key Passage solution is, Let’s focus on the really important verses that deal with the father’s job: e.g., “And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deut 6:6-7). As useful as that plan might prove, it means that we will create a job description based on a very small data set. A variation on this system is what we might call the Reaction Method, which goes like this: Society promotes an unbiblical picture of how the father should be. Therefore, we will counter Political Correctness or Radical Feminism with the biblical message. We’ll take their agenda and put a big bold NOT in front of it and find Bible texts to back us up. Yet once again, the result may be a very short list of verses, with heavy emphasis on Proverbs, Ephesians 5-6 and Colossians 3 or maybe 1 Peter 3. The problem is that we permit the world to set the agenda rather than starting with the Bible and looking over the full range of its teaching.
Method #2 is what we might call the Integrated Method. The underlying assumption here is: We cannot figure out what a Christian father should be, simply by examining a tiny set of verses that have the word “father” in them. Rather, we find our job description scattered throughout the 30 thousand verses that lie between Genesis and Revelation. And what we discover is that, what a Christian father does is first, second and third, that which any and every Christian is supposed to do.
What is the greatest commandment for the Christian father? Not be the head of the family; nor discipline his children; nor be the Family Priest (a notion we disprove in another blog HERE). Rather, it is to “love Jehovah your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength” (Deut 6:5, affirmed by Jesus in Matt 22:37-38). The second commandment for the father is that he must “love his neighbor as himself” (Lev 19:18, Matt 22:39, Gal 5:14 and many other references in the New Testament).
Now please do not give me a benign smile and say, “Oh, yes, of course; but those verses are for everybody. What I want to know is, what is my role as a father?” But I’m serious: most of what you need to do is also contained in the job description of the wife, mother, child, grandparent, single person, but don’t let that get you down. We’re men, okay? So, no pouting allowed.
Still, I’ve noticed that when we have conferences for men or Father’s Day sermons, we seem to gravitate to “the husband is the head of the wife” in Eph 5:23 and add that, “Oh, that means we should love our wives as we do our very selves, as taught in 5:25.” Why don’t we pour ourselves into studying “live as children of light” in 5:8 or “be filled with the Spirit” in 5:18? I can guarantee you that “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church” will turn out to be the punchline of a cruel joke unless you are empowered by the Spirit to love (Gal 5:22), unless “you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other” (1 Thess 4:9). The same goes for your relationship to your children.
So, if you want to be a Christ-like father, you must be a Christ-like person. I happen to think that one of the best passages for a husband is Phil 2:1-4, and you will look in vain to find either “husband” or “father” in the text:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Then in addition, as a small but crucial segment of what God wants for you, there are a number of verses (Method #1 does have its insights!) that specifically define your role as father. I’ll mention just five of the biblical truths:
A dad is a teacher. Paul described his ministry in 1 Thess. 2:11 – “We were exhorting and
encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” Child discipline is one segment of our task of “instruction.” And teaching isn’t just giving facts, but exhorting, encouraging, imploring, explaining and so forth. “Do it because I’m your father and I said so!” may be needed in an emergency situation, but how much better to say at some point, “Okay, now here’s why I said you should do that.”
So much conspires against us having family devotions. Too many distractions, too little family time. But, that means that you can “push back” against our culture, not angrily, but with a positive attitude. If you don’t have an idea of your own, please, don’t reinvent the wheel – I just now googled “family devotion plan” and found a bunch of free advice.
Principally among the father and mother’s teaching duties is to tell the gospel story to our children and to lead them to faith in Christ.
A father prays. I wonder if we suspect, deep down, that “Those who can’t do, pray.” In fact, the Bible says, and my experience backs it up, that those who “do” tend to pray; those who pray, tend to be doers. There is a “Praying for Our Children” calendar free online, and it includes all kinds of prayer requests that we might not think of ourselves.
A dad stays calm. A verse that helps me is about the Lord, not human fathers: “Jehovah is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Ps 103:8). Anger is not a fruit of the Spirit, nor impatience, nor vindictiveness, certainly not physical or name-calling or other verbal abuse. Likewise, in Eph 6:1-4, Paul doesn’t say “punish when they disobey.” He does say: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children”: don’t be irritable, and don’t irritate. The parallel in Col 3:21 has “do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” A bitter, angry father is far from God’s path, and he may reap a bad harvest in time.
A dad is a leader and manager. 1 Tim. 3:4 says that “An overseer…must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity.” Household management is not just the father’s job, because in those same epistles Paul says that women have the same task. A manager is someone who takes the initiative. There is a modern term, “passive-aggressive”, which one dictionary defines as “harbours aggressive emotions while behaving in a calm or detached manner.” If you find yourself saying things like “Keep me out of this!”; “Don’t ask me!”; “You got yourself into this, you figure it out!”, well, you might be passive-aggressive. Snap out of it. Get in the game. Manage your family, with love.
And definitely not least: A dad loves his kids. Ps 103:13 is an excellent verse: “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” Beyond that, the Bible tells us about men who do loving things and holds them up as an example: a Christian father doesn’t just feel love, buried deep down out of sight; he shows love in word and action. Some years ago at a men’s Bible study, we were talking about the father’s role and how to raise kids. One older man was a serious Bible student and had raised several children, and done it well, and so someone asked him, “So, tell us, what’s the key to raising kids?” I’ll never forget how he thought for some long seconds, then looked up and said, “You have to really, really love them.” I think some of the guys were disappointed by this apparently trite answer. Nevertheless, decades later I’m still mulling over his wise counsel after I’ve forgotten dozens of sermons.
Do you want the Bible plan for being a Dad? Then the vast percentage (95%? More?) of what you do to be a good Christian father is to be a worthy disciple of Jesus, period.
“I’m a Dad – what does God want me to do?” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica