Biblical Fatherhood and a Gender Indifferent Culture
The Inverted Perspective of Fatherhood
The things God most wants are the things Satan targets most militantly—one of them being a family held together by the love and leadership of a father.
Therefore, we have cultural trends working to undermine that purpose, and thus there are many passive, disinterested fathers. But if the marital unit was designed by God to express the eternal union of God with his people (Hosea) or Christ with his church (Ephesians), then the people of Christ’s church ought to stand out as an exemplar of this design and purpose. If the husband serves as a model of God and his wife symbolizes the people of God, then the man will (ought to) take his cues from the Father. This will work itself out both in his sacrificial labor for the home and in his spiritual direction for those in the family unit. If he represents God and Christ, then he is to be like God to his family.
So, what is God most interested in on behalf of his people? Provision in the interim and salvation as the supreme achievement. Therefore, fathers must logistically work out how to best meet daily provisional needs in order to achieve the most fundamental need for his family—eternal salvation.
I mentioned a moment ago, however, that Satan works hard to undermine just exactly what God most wants. So, I have a theory that, insofar as Satan has led a people or society, their functions should be the precise inverse of God’s expectancy. Of course, the moment total anarchy is achieved, people’s innate sense of right and wrong goes into high alert. Satan doesn’t want people on any kind of moral alert. So, I think Satan keeps a balance of things that are clearly evil but are worded in ways that sound good to one’s conscience. For example, homosexual activity is perverse, unnatural, and grotesque, and for centuries people knew this. But what if such events are labeled as love?
Love is good, right? Love is a trigger word with all of the right connotations to slip the wool back over society’s dim eyes. This is, in part, how Satan takes despicable things and gets the whole world to go along with him. Another obvious example is abortion. Call it “the murder of a baby human” and you’ve got problems. Call it a “threat to women's choice” or a “medical health issue” and society is back on the bandwagon. Why? Because western culture is founded on the freedom to choose. We get very angry when a choice is stripped away from us. We've simply forgotten, however, that true freedom can only exist when its justice system is morally admirable. Simple freedom to choose whatever the heck you want will end disastrously. But it's these words with their deeply rooted cultural connotations that can most effectively confuse the issues and grant the devil all the power in the world.
So how does this play into fatherhood? Well, again, if God has a model, Satan will flip the model. So, if God wants a highly involved father in terms of provisional sustainability and salvational guidance, we should expect to see just the opposite. And we do. There are either fathers who aren’t involved at all (by way of apathy or divorce) or there are fathers who are involved but are involved in deleterious ways. For this precise reason, the stay-at-home dad is trending, and, historically, we’ve witnessed dads whose only cares were how well the boy could pass a ball.
God wants fathers who are willing to provide and who are actively leading the family to heaven. This is, however, the opposite of what we are seeing in society. Why? Primarily because Satan is at work to invert the plan of God. And in his current tactic, he's being incredibly successful by tacking unsavory words onto the front end of Biblical fatherhood. "Inequality, Oppression, Toxic Masculinity, and Chauvinism" come to mind. Our job is to act accordingly to Biblical fatherhood despite such false words attributed to what we're actually doing and claiming.
Now, the Christian faith is not only to be contrastive with secular society, but it should also be a herald of the way that is right. We ought to have something well thought out when we observe the destructive trends of society. This is important for at least two reasons:
(1) Christian men and women are in the midst of mainstream culture all week long, listening to its music, watching its films, observing its politics, and mingling with its people. If we in the church are silent about the thoughts and understandings of mainstream culture, we will be of no use to the saints who come here to learn, be refreshed, and be granted a word from the Lord for proper living. In essence, if we don’t know the philosophies of the world, then we are no longer relevant.
Martin Luther once said, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.”
(2) If our path is defined as “light,” and theirs is defined as “darkness,” are we not to engage the darkness with the light? In other words, more than simply educating saints on the light of Jesus Christ, we are also to engage the world, having relevant responses to what they’re saying and doing. “You are the light of the world, and [you] cannot be hidden,” said Jesus (Matthew 5:14).
Acutely knowing the world’s thinking is imperative because Paul said, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Competing social and political paradigms would and will damn you.
So on this Father’s Day, I want to direct your attention to Proverbs 4 where we will draw three principles to help us better model Biblical fatherhood. These principles are not toxic, oppressive, or chauvinistic—regardless of what people call them. These words are inspired by Father God, given to David, who gave them to his son, Solomon, who gave them to his sons. And now we are to give them to our sons and daughters.
The Catalyst for Biblical Fatherhood
Let’s begin with a cursory look at Proverbs 4. Hear the kinds of things this father is saying to his boys:
Verse 2 — “I give you good precepts.” Verse 4 — “keep my commandments, and live.” Verse 6 — “love her (that is, wisdom), and she will guard you.” Verse 8 — “Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you.” Verse 9 — “She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” Verse 10 — “Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many.” Verse 12 — “When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble.” Verse 22 — “For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.” Verse 26 — “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.”
So, this father is saying, “I want you to live! I want you to be guarded. I want you to be exalted. I want you to be honored. I want you to be graced. I want you to have long life. I want you to walk without impediment. I want you to have healthy flesh. I want all your ways to be sure!” What would you call that kind of desire for somebody else? Love!
The undergirding principle for everything a father does for his children is love. And the word “love” didn’t appear a single time in the chapter, and it didn’t need to, did it? We know what true love is when we see it. And it’s a million times more powerful than the words “I love you,” because it’s a living definition.
So, by implication, the father must be involved—not just existing in the same living space but actively involved in the child’s social and spiritual development. I say that because Biblical love is the active pursuit of another’s wellbeing. It isn’t based in theory or nebulous feeling—it is real and tangible and observable and functional. Therefore, the sitcom couch potato dad is out. The executive business dad with no time for his kids is out. The young dad pressuring to abort the baby out of fear is out. The apathetic, disinterested, back seat dad is out. Biblical fatherhood is rooted in a deep, deep love for the child, and the role as father is taken with a great deal of sobriety.
This cue is taken from God, and it is foundational before any of the remaining principles can have effect. How, though, is the father’s love manifested?
Biblical Fatherhood is Commanding
Listen to the way a good father speaks to his children—especially his boys. I say “boys” because he’s addressing his sons that way—not his daughters.
[Here let me place a parenthesis: the relationship between fathers and sons is different than fathers and daughters. With sons, the father is saying, “Be like me! Do like me! This is how you be a man.” With daughters, the father is somewhat passively shaping what kind of a man she will marry one day*. So, with boys, he’s calculated in his movements because the boy is an extension of himself. The boy will very likely be very much like his dad. With girls, the father envisions who she’ll marry one day and asks, “Would I be happy if she married somebody like me?” So there is a different focus in raising boys and girls.]
Now, back to the main idea here—listen to how the father speaks to his boys: Verse 1 — “Hear and be attentive to your father!” Verse 2 — “Don’t forsake my teaching.” Verse 4 — “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live.” Verse 10 — “Hear, my son, and accept my words.” Verse 20 — “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to what I’m saying.”
Do you hear the command in the father’s voice? Hear me! Listen to me! Pay attention! There’s no negotiating. There’s no softness when it comes to what’s right. As I read through Proverbs 4 all week long, I was blown away by how many commands there were. So I did a study, and I found that Proverbs 4 has a significantly higher frequency of Hebrew imperatives than any other chapter in the Proverbs. This one chapter has 25 commands. That’s 18 % of all the commands in Proverbs. Nearly 1/5 of the commands of the whole book are found in a father’s explicit instructions to his sons. That’s significant.
I read a fabulous post a little while back from the Witherspoon Institute by a guy named Anthony Esolen. The article was titled, “What Mothers Cannot Give to Their Sons.” The author talked of the lessons that boys must gain from fathers (or fatherly figures). “One of them is to learn how to command and obey,” he said*.
Being able to take orders from a father is the first lesson in becoming a man. You can’t do any job with any degree of success or respect without being able to take an order. What Esolen says here in a social setting is a truth infinitely older than he, though, for the Bible is replete with these kinds of ideas.
Now, remember, the ability to command children and maintain an uncompromising stance on the tough issues must be undergirded by love. Remember the father in this Proverb. Why is he firm with his sons? He’s not abusive. He’s not merely controlling. He’s not fighting for tradition. He’s not aimlessly stubborn. He’s not directing them in some selfish pursuit. He’s commanding them now so they’ll have the discipline to be successful in all matters of life later on—especially spiritual discipline in a relationship with God, where forever we must take orders and submit.
If we grow up throwing fits, never having to obey commands from a firm father, then we will have a very hard time taking commands from our heavenly Father. So good, Biblical fathers must be lovingly commanding in all the areas that matter most.
Fathers Who Distinguish Paths to Destruction and Life
Lastly, after a Father’s love has made him to firmly take a stance in a commanding sort of way, he must train his children to be experts in distinguishing the two paths that exist in the world. Jesus said, “the way (lit. “road”) is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many,” and “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).
There is a path that, if trodden until the bitter end, will result in eternal damnation, the destruction of body and soul—the real death, not the thing we call death which is a passing from one life to the next. There’s another path that, if trodden until the end, results in eternal life in its fullest expression. Fathers are failing if it isn’t priority number 1 to educate children on this.
In verse 11 the father says, “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.” In verse 14 he says, “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil.” Then in verse 26 he says, “Ponder the path of your feet!”
So, I’ve taught you the way of wisdom. I’ve led in the path of uprightness. I’ve warned about the path of the wicked. And after having done all that, he can give one final command, “Ponder the path of your feet!” Notice how the father described these two paths in verses 18-19: “the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.”
Notice the contrast! It’s light and it’s dark! Walk in the light, my child. What a grand mistake if a child grows up to know physics, politics, ethics, language, culture, philosophy, mathematics, art, but doesn’t know how to find the path to life! Fathers, make it your mission to educate your children first about the paths of righteousness and the paths of wickedness.
And don’t think any age is too young to begin. Look at verse 3: “When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me.” The word “tender” means “weak, coddled.” He’s talking about when he was just a little boy. His father took him by the jaw when he was just a little boy and lovingly looked into his eyes and said, “Learn from me about the paths to salvation.”
Now, there’s one thing that will render all of these efforts totally fruitless. If you teach these things but somewhere along the line your children find out that not even you actually follow them—because you are ridden with sin and contradiction—they will blow it off. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a deeply flawed model for fathering children.
Perhaps the most important part of fatherhood is demonstrated in verse 11—because it encapsulates everything we’ve discussed already: “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.” What’s he saying? Not only did he teach his boys, he led them. They grew up not only hearing their dad say these things, but they grew up watching him do these things. Perhaps no other work of the father will have so profound an effect as this.
The current cultural push today is for an egalitarian model in the home, i.e., no distinctions between husbands/wives and fathers/mothers. But throughout Scripture, men are tasked with taking the firm lead in the home for the spiritual development of all. This means that his firm stance is not only obeyed by children but by the whole family.
Fifty years ago the idea of spousal obedience would not have been questioned. The classic marital vow says, “I take thee to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance.”
The male lead is an anthropological and historical fact, and the grand arrogance of millennial western society is to think we know better than God and millennia of human history. However, the culture’s current rhetoric is reactionary and, in many cases, for good reason. I began the message by contrasting the desire of God with the direction of culture. The family unit exists with husbands/fathers representing God in not only his direction and command but firstly his self-sacrificing love and willingness to lay down his own needs for the family’s betterment. The devil, for far too long, has empowered men but ripped that responsibility from its Biblical base of sacrificial love.
Fathers, love your children enough to be firm with them about the things that really matter. Teach them from their earliest years about the way to salvation. Be an example in the things you teach. In so doing, you will be preparing them for a life of integrity and eternal salvation.
Streep, Peg. “Why Your Partner May Be Like Your Parent.” Psychology Today, Sussex
Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tech-support/201405/why-your- partner-may-be-your-parent.
Esolen, Anthony. “What Mothers Cannot Give to Their Sons.” Public Discourse, 3 June 2018, www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2018/06/21528/.
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