A sermon by Steve Cooper
Good morning! To all fathers, Happy Father’s Day! Today is an occasion for all of us to celebrate, whether we are men or women, young, middle-aged or old. After all, we all have a father who contributed to our conception and birth. That’s something we can all be grateful for. Maybe you never knew your father, or he wasn’t a good father to you – but at least today you can give thanks to God that God used your father to bring you into being.
This morning I want to speak specially to fathers, and father figures like step-dads, carers, and foster fathers. Being a father is a life-long commitment. It’s obviously a big responsibility when our children are young, but being a father continues when our children leave home, though in different ways.
I want to explore with you some passages in the Bible that provide encouragement and direction for fathers and father-figures. I hope you’ll listen, too, if you’re a woman, or a man who’s not a father. There’s a role for all of us in supporting those who are fathers. Stay tuned!
Today on Father’s Day it’s a good opportunity for each of us to express gratitude for our fathers. My father died two years ago, so on Father’s Day I can’t communicate my appreciation to him anymore, but I can still pause to reflect on his positive impact on my life. I’m thankful to God for giving me a father who cared for me and was a consistent model of loving God, loving his wife, loving his family, and loving the many people he knew in our suburb, where he lived all his life.
My father wasn’t perfect, of course, just like all fathers. It’s that aspect I want to speak about first. Those of us who are fathers know that we have many imperfections. We often feel inadequate for the task of being a father. It might be that your father was abusive, self-centred, distracted by his work or his hobbies, or uninterested in spending time with his children. Perhaps you still bear deep psychological and emotional wounds that were caused by your father.
I wonder if you saw that insightful movie, The King’s Speech? It tells the story of Prince Albert, the Duke of York, who would become King George VI, King of England. He had a terrible problem with his stutter. His public speaking was awkward and embarrassing, for him and for his audience. The movie shows that one of the major reasons for his speaking problem was his father, George V. His father was a confident public speaker, who forced his diffident son to speak in public. In one scene of the movie the father mocks his son for his inability to present a speech. We learn that even as a young boy the stern expectations of his father caused Albert to lose confidence and feel insecure. It’s terrible to see the depth of impact that harsh, loveless words and attitudes can have on the vulnerable heart of a child.
Your own childhood may be quite different, but perhaps you still bear the scars and wounds from the way your father treated you. If your father was over-critical toward you, or belittled you, or had unfair expectations of you, you may today still battle with inferiority or insecurity. Worse, you may be treating your own children in the way your father mistreated you. It’s amazing how we fathers can find ourselves reproducing the same behaviour of our fathers without even being conscious of it!
If what I’m saying is true for you, let me urge you to find healing for your damaged heart. You could begin by committing your life to Jesus Christ. Jesus died on the cross to deal with your sin and hurts, and he rose from the dead to offer you new life. When you develop a relationship with God you come to know him as your loving Heavenly Father, who loves you unconditionally. Jesus can take your bruises and wounds, and give you his peace and healing. He will help you forgive your father for his failures. Jesus will help you move on from your hurtful past, and he’ll give you confidence for the future. It’s important also to have some good friends you can be honest with, friends who will support you in dealing with your wounds. Find a local church. The Christians there and the Pastor will support you in this journey too.
Today on Father’s Day we’re thinking about what it means to be a father. It’s not easy being a father these days. Life has become so pressured and busy. If you have a full-time job, with a long commute, you become tired and find it hard to have the energy to spend the time your children need with you. The changes in the role and status of women in our Australian society have made many fathers feel insecure and uncertain about what it means to be a father.
God’s Word provides us with clear guidelines about becoming an effective father. The apostle Paul gives us great direction in one short sentence. He says, In Ephesians 6:4, ‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’ This guideline is easiest remembered as a ‘do not’ and a ‘do.’ The ‘do not’ is: ‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children’; the ‘do’ is: ‘instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’
Let’s look first at the ‘do not.’ Paul is saying: ‘do not provoke your children to anger so they begin to seethe with resentment and irritation.’ Let’s be honest, dads, there are many ways in which we can make our children angry at us. We can criticise them too much. Many fathers have expectations of their children, and they dishearten them with words or behaviour. Winston Churchill had such a father in Lord Randolph Churchill. He didn’t like the looks of Winston, he didn’t like his voice, he didn’t like to be in the same room with his son. He never complimented Winston – only criticised him. The sadness was that young Winston was desperate for his father’s attention.
Another way we father’s can make our children angry is when we are irritable with them. Many fathers mask their irritability in the work place or in public, but can’t restrain themselves in the heat of domestic relationships. I know what it’s like – we walk through the door after a pressured day, preoccupied, and our little child comes running to receive some attention. Instead of responding to this child with focussed attention, we ignore them, or explode with irritability. The fragile heart of a child can be wounded so easily if they don’t feel loved by their father. Their anger may grow, so that when they reach teenage years or adulthood they are bitter and hostile toward their father and toward other authority figures.
Let’s move on from the ‘do not’ of fatherhood to the ‘do’s’ that the apostle Paul encourages. He writes, ‘instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’ This guideline from Paul for fathers requires three ‘do’s’: tenderness, discipline, and instruction.
First, tenderness. The words ‘bring them up’ mean to nourish, to provide for with tender care. Men, it’s possible to be a real man and be gentle and affectionate with children. In fact, men are never manlier than when they are tender with their wife and kids – whether holding a baby in their arms, hanging out with their primary school kids, or hugging their teenager or adult children. We’ll consider discipline and instruction after the next song.
On Father’s Day it’s important to consider what it means to be a faithful father in the 21st century. We’ve seen that the apostle Paul encourages fathers to be tender toward their children.
Second, writes Paul, fathers are to discipline their children. This means we must make clear to our children what we expect, and correct them when they don’t fulfil those expectations. It takes time to patiently explain what we expect, to provide a good example of doing it ourselves, and to follow through with appropriate consequences if they disobey. The tragedy is that so many Australian fathers leave the training and discipline to the mothers. This is unfair to the mother, and it robs the child of the security and self-esteem which come from being disciplined by the father.
Third, fathers are to instruct their children. Paul writes: ‘bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’ Men, we need to take the initiative to verbally instruct our kids. That means leading them in family devotions and prayer. It means being responsible along with your wife for the input that enters their impressionable minds. Take the kids to church, and make sure church is a meaningful experience. Above all, make sure your own life is a good model of how you want them to live. In watching you your children will learn the most.
All of this – the ‘do’s’ of fathering – tenderness, discipline and instruction – together demand time. I know that giving adequate time to your children is not easy. It means being decisive about your time. Don’t let yourself become too busy. Don’t pack your schedule by saying ‘yes’ to things which mean ‘no’ to your family. Fathering means you have to abandon your own independence for a season. When they are young, for example, you’ve got to read to them and read to them – otherwise they won’t develop intellectually. You must get to know each of your children personally and individually, enjoying them and delighting in them. And then there’s dressing, bathing, feeding, and teaching them to do these things for themselves. Unless you sacrifice your freedom and a good bit of your time, your children will not grow up healthy and equipped to function. Now is the time to take time. Will you do it?
The rewards and fulfilment from pouring yourself into your children are great. You’ll have the joy of watching them grow up as healthy, stable, loving and independent people. When they leave home you’ll be able to maintain a close relationship with them and continue to provide the care and love a father can give. Perhaps all your children will become devoted Christians and want to make their lives count for Christ. It’s worth the sacrifice. But of course we can’t control the way our children turn out. You can provide them with a great example and be a faithful father, but they may end up turning against all you stand for. The best thing you can do then is to pray constantly for them, that the Lord will turn them back to his ways.
What a privilege it is to be a father! To be entrusted with children who need your love and care, and to provide what they need, is one of the most important tasks of life. That’s the way God has designed families. I hope you can take time today to be thankful for your father. Dads, I hope today is a day of celebration for you, where you enjoy time with your children. Let’s hear again this wise counsel God’s Word gives us in Ephesians 6:4 – ‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’
‘Heavenly Father, we thank you for the example you give us of fathering. You are always good, wise, loving and strong. Strengthen all fathers and father-figures today, that they may be encouraged and affirmed in their important role in parenting. Give fathers grace to be faithful in their task. We ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’
Acknowledgment: Some of the material for this talk comes from R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man (Crossway, revised edition 2001) – chapter 4, ‘The Discipline of Fatherhood.’