Some thoughts on fatherhood

“Fathers…bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” [Ephesians 6:4]. That verse of Scripture controverts anyone who says that it’s just the woman’s responsibility to raise children. When I first read this verse, I thought my Bible had an error. Surely, it should say fathers and mothers, right? The original Greek word used in this verse is pater which means father. It wasn’t a typo. This was a command specifically directed at fathers. Of course, mothers have a role to play, but God makes fathers responsible for raising the children. Consequently, I’ll have to give account to God on Judgement Day for how I raised my kids [Revelation 20:11-15].

With this in mind, isn’t it interesting that society tends to judge fathers on their accomplishments outside the home rather than how they raised their kids? Why is a man’s paycheck more important than his parenting qualities to so many? Why do so many kids yearn for quality time with their dads? How many men find out too late that the size of their paycheck wasn’t as important as their presence at home? Sadly, many men leave the bringing up of their children to their wives and in-laws or outsource the responsibility to schools and churches, and often, society celebrates them. Will God applaud me on judgement day if I gave my kids all the nice things in life but didn’t raise them as He commanded?

As I pondered Ephesians 6:4, I dug into what discipline and instruction meant in this context. I found that discipline encompasses the whole training and education of a child, as it relates to the cultivation of the mind and morals, as well as the training and care of the body through disciplinary correction. Disciplinary correction here includes nurture, instruction and chastening. It also includes the cultivation of the soul through instruction that increases virtue.  And instruction refers to admonishing and exhorting a child with God’s word. In other words, teaching them the commandments and precepts of God. This command was first given to Abraham as part of his covenant with God [Genesis 18:19], and then to Israel as part of the Law [Deuteronomy 6:4-9]. This is the primary responsibility of parents, especially fathers, one which God takes seriously. Even when our kids are grown, we’re to continue to be their watchmen [Ezekiel 3:17].

There are many parent-child relationships recorded in Scripture, but I’d like to contrast two: Abraham and Isaac, and Eli and his sons. In Genesis 22, God tests Abraham’s allegiance to Him by asking Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. I’m amazed that Isaac didn’t resist when his father bound him and laid him on the altar. Isaac was a youth, while Abraham was an old man. Isaac could have fought back and possibly broken free, but the Bible doesn’t record any resistance from Isaac. What did he know about his dad? What did Isaac know about his father’s God that enabled him to respond the way he did? I believe Isaac’s response, at least in part, was a direct consequence of Abraham obeying God’s command in Genesis 18:19.

Contrast Isaac with Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas [1 Samuel 2:12-36]. Eli was a priest and his sons, the original Pastor’s Kids gone bad, were also priests. But Hophni and Phinehas treated the things of God with contempt and drew God’s wrath. Interestingly, God held Eli responsible for his sons’ actions [1 Samuel 12:29]. Could it be that Eli didn’t raise his children as God commanded? They showed incredible irreverence to God. If serving as a priest, who in those days was an intermediary between God and His people, didn’t spare Eli from being held responsible and judged for his son’s actions, what excuse will we give if we fail to fulfil our responsibilities as fathers?

Something I’ve observed, which many sources confirm, is that men are often less interested in the things of God. For instance, you often find more women than men in church services, Bible study groups, etc. How will fathers know how to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord if they don’t know God’s word? Additionally, our kids watch us, and they can tell how seriously we take God and His word. If our talk doesn’t match our walk, they will eventually call us out on our hypocrisy. So, our character and integrity matter. Hence, Ephesians 6:4 begins with an instruction not to exasperate our children. Consequently, the onus is on parents, especially fathers, to be faithful in their Christian walk. We must have an authentic relationship with God before we can teach our kids, by word and example, how to love and serve God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength [Mark 12:30].

I must stress that bringing up your kids in the discipline ad instruction of the Lord doesn’t guarantee that they won’t turn out wayward. Remember God’s first kids, Adam and Eve? God gave them a perfect world and just one command, and they blew it. You can only do your part because your kids have free will. Nevertheless, I’m encouraged because our efforts aren’t in vain [Proverbs 3:1-2, 22:6]. Furthermore, let’s not underestimate the importance of praying and interceding for our kids [James 5:16]. Doing as God has commanded us puts pressure on His integrity to do as He has promised [Isaiah 55:10-11]. Therefore, we do our part and confidently entrust the rest to God.

Honestly, I didn’t know the implications of being a father when I became one. Knowing God’s expectations now makes the task even harder because of the competing priorities I face and the paradigms I have to unlearn. However, I believe God will supply the grace we need to raise godly children and live fulfilling lives if we lean on Him [Hebrews 4:16]. That’s what I intend to keep doing. He promises to make it worthwhile [Psalm 112].

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