“We dealt with each of you as a father deals with
his own children, encouraging, comforting,
urging you to live lives worthy of God.”
(I Thess. 2:11-12)
Father’s Day is always a day to honor our fathers, the men who provided for us, loved us, and protected us. I was very fortunate to have a father who loved the Lord and lived his whole adult life as a local pastor in dedicated service to Him. He did remarkably well in that role even though he struggled with some masculine deficiencies. His natural father died when he was a young boy and his stepfather was an abusive alcoholic.
Dad and I shared a lot of common interests, like a love for animals, exploring the great outdoors, travel, camping and hunting. We were both “collectors” and “fixers” who never threw anything away that we thought we should save, repair and use later! We both shared a love for adventure and travel. While I was a young teenager, we even drifted down the Yadkin River for a week in a homemade raft I had made from six 50-gallon oil drums – Tom Sawyer style!
I also remember how intently he listened to me as I explained why I had been expelled from school for fighting in the ninth grade! His major concern was the reason for the fight…whether I had initiated it…if I had fought fairly – and whether I’d won or lost! His own background growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks” made him sensitive to my situation – in spite of the fact that he was the local preacher!
Thankfully, my Dad had a Christian worldview even before the term was popular. Because of his own year-long-around-the-world-trip after marrying my mother, he kept foreign missions a top priority in our family values. He and mother reared us as “Great Commission Christians,” rather than as parochial ones, and for that I am eternally thankful.
My father died suddenly while I was away at college. It was October of my senior year. In fact, it was the night of my very first date with Patt. I was deeply saddened to no longer have him as a role model, mentor and friend just before I was to graduate from college and enter seminary to prepare to go into “full time Christian work.” While I know God is sovereign and good, I will always have a wishful longing for Dad to have lived long enough to be a part of my life and ministry – especially to see me fight some strategic battles for the Kingdom – rather than with high school bullies! And I will always be grieved that he never lived to meet Patt or our 4 children and now 12 grandchildren – that will have to wait until heaven.
As I said, I am among the fortunate ones who had an every-day-in-the-home-father. He made it easy for me to transfer my understanding of fatherhood from him to my understanding of God as my heavenly Father. I want to encourage those of you that are celebrating this weekend, to intentionally devote yourselves to living as Godly fathers. I am not suggesting that you will attain perfection, but I want to urge you to at least struggle in that direction. As you will see, I have done a study of 6 fatherly roles for you to think and pray over, things that I hope will empower you to be a great Dad to your children.
ROLES OF FATHERHOOD
When you do a comprehensive study in the Bible on the role of human fatherhood as revealed and reflected through heavenly Fatherhood, you see many interconnected roles. Each is really a study unto itself, but in this, The High Calling of Fatherhood, we will examine the important roles of maturity, marriage, messenger, model, mercy and ministry.
1. ROLE OF MATURITY:
The first role of a father is to manifest spiritual and sexual maturity through his masculinity. In the Bible, fatherhood is associated with wisdom in his relationship with God, his spouse and his children. Twice the Apostle John summarizes fatherhood with these words:
“I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning” (I Jn. 2:13, 14).
As this verse reveals, fatherly wisdom comes only from a deep, intimate, mature relationship with God. The more mature the relationship between the human father and Heavenly Father, the wiser will be his relationship with his spouse, his sons and his daughters.
The more intimately the human father knows God as his “Abba, Father,” the more he will reveal and manifest that same intimacy with his children. That means that the human father only experiences this intimacy with God through sonship. Note these insightful words by Paul:
“Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” (Rom. 8:14-17; c.f. Mtt. 6:9; Mk. 14:36).
“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave but a son, and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir”(Gal. 4:6-7).
“Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ” (I Jn. 1:3).
Note how the word “slave” is contrasted with “son” and “sonship.” Also how “fear” is contrasted with “freedom” – the freedom of intimacy with God as “Abba, Father.” There is a certainty that sonship results in eternal security and in an eternal reward as “…heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” That means that everything that Jesus inherited from His Heavenly Father we inherit with Him as His joint heirs! That’s shouting ground!
But just as the words son and heir are manifestations of the Father’s incredible love, they are also descriptions of discipline. That’s because you cannot separate love from discipline. They are two sides of the same relational coin between a father and his son. Jesus said: “The Father loves the Son” (Jn. 3:35; 5:20). But this was not a mushy, sentimental, Pollyanna, painless love. Anything but that! Jesus suffered incredibly in manifesting the Father’s love. “In bringing many sons to glory,” Hebrews said, “it was fitting that God…should make the Author of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10).
That’s why the wise father of Proverbs said to his beloved son: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Prov. 3:11-12).
The writer of Hebrews echoed this principle of love and discipline when he wrote:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined…then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best, but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:5-11).
So, no discipline, no love! That’s why it is one of our greatest instructors to bring us to maturity, and our children as well– which is the goal of fatherhood.
2. ROLE OF MARRIAGE:
The role of fatherhood is to prepare his children for marriage. And the greatest preparation for his children’s successful marriage is to see his father’s successful marriage – close-up and long-range. A wise father always has this long-range goal of marriage in mind. It is the only positive Biblical reason given for a son’s “leaving home.” This foundational principle is found in Genesis, repeated by Jesus in the Gospels and underscored by Paul in the Epistles:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
“Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Mtt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:7-8).
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31-32; c.f. I Cor. 6:16).
The reason Jesus came from heaven to earth was to woo and win a bride for Himself – which is the Church. To do that, He had to leave His Heavenly Father. As Paul reminds us in Philippians 2, “God the Son” could not become incarnate in this world as the “Son of Man” unless He humbled Himself…emptied Himself…laid aside His rights as “God the Son.” Because of agape love, “God the Son” voluntarily laid aside all of His rights and prerogatives as perfect deity in order to clothe Himself in perfect humanity to win a bride for Himself. That same humility is to be demonstrated by human fathers in their spiritual headship and servant leadership with their wives and children through marriage.
3. ROLE OF MESSENGER:
One of the primary callings of a father is to communicate. God is a God of communication. Some of the very first words of the Bible are: “And God said…”(Gen. 1:3). And because He created man in His image and likeness, men and fathers are also called to be communicators. They are to be in life-long communication with their Heavenly Father, their spouse and their children as the God-ordained authority in the home.
Fathers are to be “men with a message.” As the progenitor, priest, prophet and provider of the family, the father is to be “God’s messenger.” He is to communicate God’s message through his life and lips. But because of the “sin of Adam” most of us men are also guilty of the “silence of Adam!” And this lack of clear and consistent communication is especially missing when it comes to the Word of God. While there is a dual teaching role between the father and mother, the father’s role is almost always mentioned first. Note this role and responsibility of fathers in communicating the principles and precepts of God’s Word:
“Listen my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Prov. 1:8).
“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding…then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom” (Prov. 2:1-6).
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity” (Prov. 3:1-2).
“Listen my sons, to a father’s instruction…I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching…Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom and she will protect you; love her and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom…Hold on to instruction, do not let it go, guard it well, for it is your life” (Prov. 4:1-13).
“My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever…For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light and the corrections of discipline are the way to life” (Prov. 6:20-23).
“A wise son heeds his father’s instruction” (Prov. 13:1).
“Listen to your father, who gave you life” (Prov. 23:22; 22:6).
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4)
There are scores of other verses about the responsibility of the parents – especially the father – in communicating God’s Word to the children (Gen. 18:19; Deut. 4:9; 6:1-10, etc). Study and be encouraged by them.
4. ROLE OF MODELING:
Fathers are to set a positive example of spiritual headship and servant-leadership in the home for children to follow…imitate…emulate. Sons especially are to look up to and learn from their fathers in every area of life.
The Lord Jesus left us “…an example that we should follow in His steps” (I Pet. 2L21). In the same way, the Apostle Paul as a good spiritual father urged young Christians, especially his “sons in the faith,” to follow his example:
“I became your father through the Gospel. Therefore, I urge you to imitate me” (I Cor. 4:15-16).
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (I Cor. 11:1).
“You became imitators of us and of the Lord” (I Thess. 1:6).
“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling…in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow” (II Thess. 3:7-9).
“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Phil. 3:7).
As I said earlier, children are by nature imitators. And the first people they naturally imitate are their parents. Little boys imitate their fathers and little girls imitate their mothers. If they do not have clear consistent parental models to imitate, they will grow up with confusion about their own masculinity or femininity. If they are deprived of good parental role models in the home, they will look outside the home. In the process, many will grow up “imitating imitations.” The result will be a life-long insecurity and uncertainty about their true identity.
5. ROLE OF MERCY:
The authority of authentic fathers is never hard or harsh. It is never autocratic or dictatorial. His fatherly leadership is that of a servant to his wife and children. Mercy is one of the most consistent and persistent manifestations of the God of the Bible. Often He is called a “…merciful God” (Deut. 4:31; c.f. II Sam. 24:14; Neh. 9:31; Jer. 3:12; Ps. 25:6; 78:38; Dan. 9:9; Mic. 7:18, etc).
Because the Heavenly Father is merciful, the role of the human father is to manifest mercy. In scores of practical ways, we see God manifesting His fatherly mercy.
Moses reminded the children of Israel that God “…carried you, as a Father carries his son” (Deut. 1:31). The Psalmist told us of God’s mercy by being a “…father to the fatherless, a defender of the widows” (Ps. 68:5). David also reminded us: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:13).
Jesus carried this theme forward in His Sermon on the Mount: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36). Any wonder then, that Christians in general, and fathers in particular, are called to constantly manifest mercy because of the mercy that their Heavenly Father first demonstrated to them (Matt. 9:13; 12:7; Rom. 12:1; Eph. 2:4; Heb. 2:17; Ja. 2:13; I Pet. 1:3; 2:10, etc).
6. ROLE OF MINISTRY:
God called every father to be a “full time minister” – not just the preachers, pastors, evangelists and missionaries. Sadly, these groups of “religious professionals” are the ones who are generally referred to as “ministers” or “full time Christian workers.” More correctly, they should be referred to as “vocational Christian workers” while every Christian, especially fathers, are to be seen and honored as “full time ministers.”
As we saw earlier, the Bible portrays the father’s role as the priest and prophet of the home. While today we see the father as the progenitor, protector and provider in the home, we see the “religious professionals” as the priests and prophets.
However, if the father does not see and embrace his role as the spiritual head of the home and exercise that ministry, his children will not – especially his sons. Scripture tells us that the Jesus was always doing His Father’s work. He was always doing ministry.
“My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (Jn. 5:17).
“As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent Me. Night is coming when no one can work” (Jn. 9:5).
“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me? The words I say to you are not just My own. Rather, it is the Father, living in Me, who is doing His work” (Jn. 14:10).
Any way you slice it, doing the work of the Lord is ministry! But the good news doesn’t stop there. Here is an incredible promise from Jesus about work:
“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask Me for anything in My name and I will do it” (Jn. 14:12-14).
I love the encouragement of those words from the lips of the Lord Jesus – especially the promise about the “…greater things” we will do in His Name for the Father’s glory. That’s why I often told our children growing up that I wanted them to stand on mine and Patt’s shoulders and see farther…have more faith...be more mature…accomplish more for God’s Kingdom and glory, than we had! And they are doing that in their own areas of calling, giftedness and spheres of influence. To God be the glory!
These, then, are some of the major roles of a father as revealed in the Bible. There can be no more high, holy or humbling calling! The restoration of authentic fatherhood is the greatest need in our world today.
As every student of the Bible knows, the Old Testament ends with an exhortation to fathers. It is a prophecy about the “Elijah” who would come as the forerunner of the Messiah. Listen afresh to this ancient exhortation that is incredibly relevant today:
“I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Mal. 4:6; c.f. Matt. 11:13-14; 17:10-11; Lk. 1:16-17).
Those words were followed by 400 years of prophetic silence – until John the Baptist stepped on the scene. Jesus told us that John was that new prophet who had come in the spirit of Elijah.
It is sobering to realize that the very last word of the Old Testament is the word “curse.” That was not only a “wake-up call” to ancient Israel, but it is also a “screaming alarm” to America! Because of our abdication of authentic fatherhood, our country is being struck with a curse! The evidence is all around us – especially in the youth culture that manifests so much confusion and identity crisis.
The only hope for the home, church and world is that we fathers “…turn our hearts to our children” so that “…our children’s hearts will return to their fathers.” Then God will replace the curse with a blessing. That is also my prayer for myself as a father and grandfather. In studying and sharing “The High Calling of Fatherhood” with you, my own heart has been exhorted and encouraged. I pray that it has been the same of each of you as fathers…grandfathers…sons – even fathers-to-be!
There is one more thing I want to add about my Dad. We looked alike. When I was a kid, I took a quick picture of him shaving, left hand on his left hip, right elbow up, with the razor making a path through the shaving lotion over the puffed-out cheek. I shave exactly the same way! Looking like him is great. But whether or not you look like yours, all of us men can look like The Father. Jesus said that anyone who had seen Him had seen the Father. As we imitate Christ, may it be said of us that we look, act, talk and live like Him, who looked just like His Father.
For the glory of God our Father,
PS: This study is an abbreviated version of a much longer study on Fatherhood Leadership. Click here for a pdf file of the full study.
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