A sermon by Steve Cooper
Today is Father’s Day – so if you’re a father, as I am, let me wish you a happy Father’s Day. I’m including, too, father-figures like step-fathers, foster fathers, and male carers of children.
One of life’s great privileges is to be a father. My own children are now adults, and one of my daughters is married with two children of her own. I’m still the father of my four children, but the way I relate to them now is different from when they were young. But it’s still a joy and delight to be their father.
Fatherhood is not only a privilege, but also a responsibility. Today I want to explore those responsibilities that come with being a father. Whether you’re a father or not, it’s important for us all to consider God’s plan for fathers – the Creator’s pattern shown in Genesis.
Today on Father’s Day I want to talk about God’s creation order for fathers. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we learn how God the Creator made the universe, created planet Earth, and brought into being plants, trees and animals. The Lord God made everything to be good, orderly, fruitful, and beautiful. Finally, God made the first man and woman. God had a plan for the man and for the woman. They were made in the image and likeness of God, to rule over the creation (Gen 1:26-27). The first man and woman were to produce babies to populate the world, and eat the food which God had generously provided (Gen 1:28-30). The man was to work in cultivating the Garden of Eden, and take care of God’s creation (Gen 2:15). The Lord made the first woman from the man, and designed her to be his helper in serving God by looking after the Garden and ruling the world.
Already we can see indications of the role of men, including fathers. The Lord God has a pattern for men to follow. We men have a God-given task to work, care for God’s world, and produce the food and necessities for life and human flourishing. God designed men to become connected to a woman, to commit to her in marriage, and to raise children together. So if you’re a father, it’s encouraging that you are fitting in with the purpose for which you were made. Of course, not every man will marry, and not every man will have children. Men who are not fathers can fit in with God’s design and plans in many other ways.
Not only does Genesis describe the tasks of men and fathers, but also their relationships. In Genesis 2:7 we read: ‘Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’ There is a beautiful intimacy in this portrayal. Man was made to be in relationship with God, to depend on God, and be thankful for God’s generous provision. Genesis also shows that God’s creation order includes relationships between people. In particular, the man is to relate to his wife, to see her as created in the image of God as he is, to be united to her in a committed, life-long bond of marriage. As Genesis 2:24 says, ‘That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.’
An important fact which all fathers should notice in this creation account is that the Lord God gives the man a role of responsibility and overall leadership over his wife and family. It is to him, in the first instance, that the responsibility is given for keeping the command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:16). When the woman and man rebel against God’s command, God holds the man ultimately responsible for what happened (Gen 3:17).
The New Testament picks this up as the basis of its teaching that in marriage and family, the ultimate responsibility rests with the husband. Here is God’s pattern and plan for fathers – overall leadership responsibility over his wife and children rests with him. I know this is controversial, and maybe you’re annoyed about what I’m saying. So let’s discuss the father’s role as leader in his marriage and family after this song.
What does it mean to be a father? Fathers have wonderful privileges, and also challenging responsibilities. We’ve been thinking about Genesis chapters one and two, and reflecting on God’s pattern and design for men and fathers.
Genesis makes it clear that the man is to take leadership responsibility in his marriage and family. If you’re a father, that means you need to take responsibility in your family. Many wives would love to see their husbands taking more of a lead, including in the spiritual life of the home. Sadly, in Genesis 3 we see that Adam was the first of a long line of men who have abdicated their role of leadership responsibility.
In practical terms, that means the father should grow in his relationship with God, trusting in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, and obeying God’s commands. He should meditate on his Bible, pray, and be part of a local church. He should encourage his wife and children to follow the Lord Jesus with him. He should love his wife and be committed to her welfare and flourishing. He is to take a keen interest in each of his children, praying for them, knowing each of them personally, and encouraging each one to grow in character.
Having said this about God’s creation order for fathers, I’m aware that this is a painful and emotive issue for many. We live in a world where we experience, again and again, the ugliness of male mistreatment of women and children. We look around our world and see the dreadful subjugation of women and children in some religions. We think of the damage that could be done to a sense of self-worth by any suggestion that a woman or child is somehow inferior. Does Genesis open the door to fathers treating women and children in ugly and abusive ways?
The answer is: not at all. Genesis is not saying that women and children are worth less than men. The wife is described as the husband’s helper – but remember the term is used in the Old Testament a number of times to refer to God himself, the ‘helper’ of Israel (e.g. Ps 10:14). The difference in Genesis between men and women is emphatically one of role, not worth.
Nor does Genesis imply that (as in some cultures) the men can laze about while their women and children do all the menial chores. Nor does it suggest for a moment that men can ignore their families. Rather, what Genesis does give us is God’s beautiful creation design; the husband and wife work in equal partnership to provide for the flourishing of their children. At the same time, God gives the man the final responsibility in the marriage and family – this is God’s creation pattern.
Along with God’s call to lead his family, the husband and father is to love his wife and children, to serve them, sacrifice himself for their good, and consider their needs and interests (see e.g. Col 3:19, 21). He is to recall that they can be vulnerable and hurt, so he must treat them with respect and consideration (see 1 Pet 3:7).
Today on Father’s Day we’re looking at the first chapters of the Bible, Genesis 1-2, and reflecting on the pattern the Lord has given for fathers. These chapters have enormous implications for men who are husbands and fathers. The Genesis account reminds us that God is the Creator and the great giver of all we have. For fathers, those good gifts include our wives and children. Genesis also tells us that every human being is made in the image of God, which gives every person worth and value. For fathers, that means our wives and children are a precious gift, and must be cared for and treated with respect.
The problem is: many Australian men have lost sight of God as the great giver of all we have, and fail to see their wives and children as made in the image of God. One consequence of this losing sight of God is self-centredness and exploitation of wives and children. It’s very sad to hear so many reports in the media these days about men who abuse their wives (or partners) and children. Domestic violence is a real problem. I’m a chaplain to police in our local district, and I often hear stories from my police friends about the trauma of domestic violence and mistreatment in the home.
Sadly, abuse of wives and children can happen in Christian homes. There are some men who justify violence and exploitation of their family by quoting from the Bible about their role as leader. These men feel they have a right to abuse their wives and children because that’s part of their God-given role. That’s a terrible misunderstanding of what the Bible says. Yes, the Bible does talk about the husband being the head and taking leadership responsibility over his wife and children. But his leadership is to be a serving leadership, with respect, humility, care and consideration for their needs.
The leadership model is the Lord Jesus himself, who came to serve and sacrifice his own interests for us (Mk 10:45). The husband and father is to sacrifice himself so his wife and children will flourish and enjoy all the blessings God has for them. If you are a husband who dominates and abuses your wife, or a father who is aggressive and selfish to your children, it’s time for you to stop. If you find this area difficult to control, please contact your local church, a pastor, or a counsellor, to get some help.
I’m very grateful for my own father in this regard. He was a Christian. He was profoundly influenced by God’s pattern for husbands and fathers shown in Genesis 1-2. He treated everyone with respect – as created in the image of God – including the way he treated his children. He took seriously his role of leading his family, working hard to provide for us, and sacrificing himself for our needs.
I never felt my father exploited me or abused me. The example of his Saviour, the Lord Jesus, shaped his leadership to be one of service, care and warm interest. I recall when I was at university, and I felt bad that I was doing a course which I would probably never use in my future career. I was troubled that my parents were paying so many of my expenses. My father assured me that he would support me in my studies whatever I chose to do. It meant a lot to me. My father died 5 years ago, so I can’t thank him today, but I’m grateful that he loved me and sacrificed for my good.
Father’s Day is a good opportunity for us to express appreciation to fathers and father-figures. If you’re a father, I hope today you will feel affirmed and appreciated by your children. You can be thankful for the privileges of being a father. You can also reflect on the responsibilities. In Genesis 1-2, we’re reminded that God has a pattern for fathers – to be a leader in their family, to love their wife and children, provide for them, serve, respect, and sacrifice for their family.
Let me offer a prayer: ‘Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, thank you for the beautiful pattern you set up when you created men and women. We fathers know how often we fail to follow your creation order. We easily become lazy, selfish and exploitative. Please forgive us. Inspire us with your vision of fatherhood: leading, loving, caring and serving. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.’
Acknowledgment: Several points in this message come from Alasdair Paine’s book, The first chapters of everything: how Genesis 1-4 explains our world (Fearn: Christian Focus Publications, 2014).