“He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:6).
Here we see a clear indication of the blessing of God upon His nation: Fathers who care for and love their children and children who respond to this love from their fathers. Current estimates tell us that well over half of the children today by the time they are age 18 will be in a broken home. Many of these will have little or no relationship with their biological father; some will have no significant relationship with any father figure at all. Tragically, the statistics are not significantly different for the church. We need to pray that God will restore the hearts of fathers to their children.
So what is Biblical Fatherhood, anyway? Books have been and are being written on this subject, but there are several key points that can be made quickly.
It should go without saying, but in today’s society, it must be said anyway. First and foremost, a father is not a mother. God has created us, male and female in His image. There are differences between us… different does not mean better or more valuable; different means different. Different in roles, form, and function.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:14-15, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives its name.”* Paul isn’t teaching us here that God is like a father, or that we refer to Him as Father because we needed some way of representing Him, but, rather, that God is The Father and our earthly fathers are given to us as a reflection of God the Father. Just as God created the seasons to teach us about the spiritual reality of death and new birth, He gave us earthly Fathers to teach us about the Fatherhood of God. So, a father is only a true father and worthy of the name “father” in as much as he reflects the Fatherhood of God.
So what are these biblical characteristics, then? God the Father, and therefore true human fathers who reflect this fatherhood are, among other things, providers, protectors, disciplinarians, and heads. God provides for us, His children. Many times in Scripture, but most plainly in Matthew 6, God commands us to trust Him for our daily provision. He is faithful and gives us what we need. As earthly fathers, then, we must provide for our wives and children in many ways. Most obvious is physically. It is our duty before God as fathers to provide food, clothing, shelter, and any other physical needs for our children. We must also provide for our children emotionally. Many men give their kids everything physical that they could possibly desire and yet never engage them in conversation or get to know their fears, desires, and concerns. As we confide in God our Heavenly Father, we must strive to provide an environment and relationship that will foster emotional security and maturity in our children. We must provide for our children spiritually as well. It is not the job of their mother to instruct them in Scripture and take them to church on Sunday. We must teach God’s law and His word to our children. “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:6-9).
Secondly, as fathers, we are responsible for protecting our children. God provides us with protection as well as provision. Again and again, we see God fighting for His people throughout history. Our families should know beyond a doubt that if someone comes through the door, they would have to go through dad first to reach the rest. We must be vigilant in guarding against those who would harm our children sexually. Unfortunately, this is far too common of an occurrence today.
We must protect our children spiritually as well. Scripture warns us that the devil prowls like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. This certainly applies to our children. We must be aware of those who have influence over them and know our children well enough to know what may seduce them away from following Christ. We are to warn and nurture these eternal souls that God has entrusted to our care.
Next, Scripture teaches us very clearly that God disciplines His children and that as fathers who reflect the Fatherhood of God, we are to do the same. Hebrews 12:7-8 says, “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”
Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Discipline is loving in nature, not retributive. It seeks to bring the child back into communion and a restored relationship with God and the child’s earthly father. Children that are disciplined are loved.
Lastly, God our Father is our head and an earthly father must be the head of his home and his children. He must lead them in godliness, in repentance, in humility, and in submission to God. Fathers are instructed by the Scriptures again and again to lead their families. There are many books that have been written on the outworking of this topic and it is beyond the scope of this short post to engage these different issues.
There are certainly many bad fathers today. However, we should not allow the existence of the bad to taint the good. The improper use of a tool does not negate its proper use. In other words, I can use a hammer for murder, but that does not make a hammer inherently evil. Fatherhood, as all things that God has given us, has often been twisted and corrupted by Satan and the fall. This is why it is so helpful to think of God as the perfect Father! He is The One who is worthy of all trust and confidence. Earthly fathers are only worthy of the name of father when they are reflecting this perfect Fatherhood of God. It is only when we think of this properly that we can have our view of fatherhood restored. May God give us the ability to be worthy of the title of Father, and may He give us the grace to flee to the cross when we fail and cast ourselves upon the blood of His Son, shed to redeem us from sin. And may He restore our hearts to our children!
*Given the variation of the Greek, this verse can be translated different ways. However, many believe this one to be the most accurate. The word for Father in this verse in Greek is pater, the word for fatherhood, above, pateros.
Doug (a brother in Christ, husband, and father of five)