For those readers who grew up with the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, or who use it regularly today, you will be familiar with a well-known command to fathers from the Apostle Paul:
“And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
The Bible often directly addresses fathers as the spiritual heads of their households. As we celebrate Father’s Day this month, let’s see what Scripture says to fathers.
Lead Your Children Spiritually
In the verse quoted above by Paul, he addresses fathers about bringing up their children. Fathers have a particular call to this task. This does not imply that mothers shouldn’t also train up their children in righteousness, or that other spiritual leaders might not have an impact. But ultimately, fathers are held accountable for raising their children in a godly manner
Lead Your Children Responsibly
There is both a positive and negative command in Ephesians 6:4. Negatively, fathers shouldn’t “provoke [their] children to wrath.” Some fathers create unreasonable expectations and rules for their children as a form of raising “right behavior” kids. This discourages children instead of raising them to know and honor a Father God who loves them.
Positively, as parents, we don’t hesitate to spend time and money growing academic, athletic and musical skills in our children—why not more on our children’s spiritual health? This is what God says to the people of Israel after giving them his law:
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates (Deuteronomy 6:6-9; God repeats these instructions again in Deuteronomy 11:18-20).
In other words, the spiritual upbringing of our children must be active, thorough, constant and persistent.
Lead Your Children in Kindness and Discipline
Loving fathers discipline their children. The author of Hebrews relays this truth to us about God as well as earthly fathers (Hebrews 12:7-12), echoing similar Old Testament truth: “For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth” (Proverbs 3:12).
Good fathers discipline their children, respectfully, consistently, and in love and kindness. They teach them right from wrong. They point children to dependency on Jesus and his grace to bear the fruits of the Spirit in their lives.
This kind of discipline combined with spiritual discipleship cultivates the respect of children, and a willingness to obey. This kind of respect for authority begins at home. Children who don’t respect their parents won’t respect any wider authority, whether teachers, law enforcement, pastors, or God himself.
If you love your children, you will create clear boundaries for them and discipline fairly. For those men navigating the difficult waters of parenthood, there is perhaps no more important directive than this.
Leading Your Children Pays Dividends
The Atlantic published an article a decade ago that highlights the importance of fathers. “The Distinct, Positive Impact of a Good Dad” noted that children raised in a household with an engaged father are much less likely to perform poorly in school, experience an unwanted pregnancy, suffer depression, and have run-ins with authorities.
God’s design for the family and fathers mitigates many of these negative outcomes. An intentional, engaged Dad bestows benefits to a child’s character development that continue through adulthood.
God himself chose the self-designation of “Father” in speaking to believers in Jesus, offering a perfect example of what this Father-child relationship means.
Love Your Children
Followers of Jesus Christ are the only people on the planet who can call God “Father.” The same can be said for any man’s children who call him Dad. It is a title of intimacy and special relationship.
Scripture teaches that fatherhood is something to be cherished. Children are a blessing from the Lord and should be treated as such. See what Psalm 27 says:
Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
A man who has his household oriented toward God is someone who nourishes and builds and guides those under his care. Conversely, if you are raising your children without godly wisdom and direction, the psalmist says you are working in vain.
Give Thanks For God’s Blessing
Our children are God’s blessing to us; this heritage is a “reward” from God. As we cherish our children, we consistently let them know—verbally as well as practically—that we love them. Shower your children with praise. Encourage them when they do well; make it short and to the point when they stumble, then move on. Successes should far outweigh failures when we speak with our kids. And let them know you thank God for them.
Pray for Your Children
We glean other principles from godly fathers in the Bible. For example, Job regularly offered sacrifices for his children in case they sinned against the Lord (Job 1:5), and King David prayed for his son, Solomon (1 Chronicles 29:19). In other words, godly fathers intercede before God on behalf of their children.
Even If You Aren’t a Father
The New Testament writers often portrayed themselves as “fathers” to those under their spiritual care, even if they were not fathers themselves. For example, in writing to Thessalonian believers, Paul says: “As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children” (1 Thessalonians 2:11). Similarly, the Apostle John writes, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4). For these men, there was nothing greater than knowing that those who fell under their spiritual care were walking “worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:12).
Much more can be said about the responsibilities of fathers than space permits. For example, how a father treats his wife will carry powerful lessons for his children when it comes time for them to marry. Elders are called to manage their households well and raise God-fearing children. (1 Timothy 3:4-5; also Titus 1:6). And fathers are to be compassionate (Psalm 103:13) and generous with their children (Matthew 7:9-11).
The Bible is a handbook of godly fatherhood and manhood. In raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, there is great, God-given blessing.
“The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him” (Proverbs 23:24).
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