The Duties of Christian Fathers
“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 closing two chapters of Ephesians give divine counsel to wives and husbands (5:22-33), to children (6:1-3), to servants or employees (6:5-8), to masters or employers (6:9), and also to fathers (6:4). Since Father’s Day is June 19, it is very fitting to review the duties of fathers. And because Christian fathers, according to their New Man, want the Word of God to teach and lead them, this article will be welcomed by them (Ephesians 4:24; Psalm 25:4-5; 119:105).
All Christian fathers are addressed in Ephesians 6:4, as well as in its parallel passage, Colossians 3:21. No father is left out in these two verses. Whether a father has only one child or more than one, whether a father had the children legitimately within the God-ordained state of marriage, or sinfully outside of marriage as a result of rape, incest, prostitution, adultery, or any other fornication, he is and remains the father. If the father is an unbeliever, he will, of course, look upon the instruction of God the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures as “foolishness” (I Corinthians 2:14). On the other hand, if he is a Christian father, he will view the instruction of Scripture as vital and necessary in his important office. Jesus stressed this as the proper attitude of a Christian father when He said: “He that is of God heareth God’s words” (John 8:47a).
Christian fathers are instructed, first of all, as to what not to do, what to abhor (Romans 12:9) in their work as fathers. What is that instruction from the Holy Ghost (II Peter 1:21)? “Provoke not your children to wrath.” Fathers are not to sin against their children. The provocation spoken of in Ephesians 6 (v. 4) is persistent, evil behavior by fathers in irritating, exasperating, and offending their children. We have an illustration of such evil behavior on the part of a father in I Samuel 20, where King Saul wanted his son, Jonathan, to go and “fetch him [David] unto me, for he shall surely die” (v. 31). Had David committed some terrible crime which made him deserving of death? Oh, no; but David was the God-appointed new king to replace disobedient, rebellious Saul (I Samuel 15:10-11, 17-19, 22-23, 26). After Saul commanded his son to be an accomplice in the murder of David, Jonathan said to his father: “Wherefore shall he be slain? What hath he done?” (v. 32). Following this very appropriate questioning of the father by his son, did Saul confess the wickedness of his plot against David? Sadly, no; but, rather, he “cast a javelin at him [Jonothan] to smite him; whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David” (v. 33). How did Jonathan respond to the offensive and impenitent conduct of his father? Verse 34 of I Samuel 20 gives us the answer to that question: “So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no meat the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David because his father had done him shame.” Was the response of Jonathan to his father’s provocation a violation and transgression of the Fourth Commandment? Absolutely not! Rather, it was evidence of Jonathan’s genuine love for his father (Galatians 5:13c) in refusing to be a partaker of his father’s wickedness (I Timothy 5:22b). Furthermore, it was an evidence of Jonathan’s saving faith in the Messiah, his respect and submission to God’s words, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13), more than his respect and submission to his father’s wicked words. When those who have authority over us in the civil government, in the home, in the church, at school, and on the job provoke and offend us by their ungodly behavior, especially when they command us to do what God in His Word forbids, or forbid us to do what God in His Word commands, then we must disobey them; for “we ought to God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
What are some ways in which fathers may sinfully provoke and offend their children? Some examples would be the following: 1) Unjust anger against children who object to the sinful behavior of their father; 2) Sins of the tongue, such as profanity, cursing, unjust accusations, or hateful comments, causing the children to become discouraged or despondent (Colossians 3:21); 3) Stirring up strife and discord in the home, disregarding the instruction of Romans 12:18, Ephesians 4:31-32; 5:25, 28-29, 33a, and Proverbs 6:16, 18-19; 4) Holding against his children past sins which have already been confessed, repented of, and forgiven by the father. What an abuse of the Gospel of forgiveness, where God, for Christ’s sake, says: “I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34c)! These are some fleshly (Romans 7:18) ways in which fathers, even Christian fathers, can sinfully provoke and offend their children.
Both the prohibition and the instruction of Ephesians 6:4a apply specifically to Christian fathers, as the apostle states. However, since Christian mothers have a special helping office to their own husbands (Genesis 2:18; Proverbs 30:17), also in bringing up their children, they are to let the light and lamp of God’s Word of truth direct them in their parenting. If, however, the father dies and the mother is left alone to do the parenting, the instruction of Ephesians 6:4 is her light and lamp as the surviving parent. And if the father abandons the children and their mother, and thus deserts his office as father, the mother need not despair, for she, as the remaining parent, has the infallible, unchanging truths of Ephesians 6:4 to serve as her solid rock and sure anchor in her parenting. Furthermore, as she carries out her important labor of parenting according to Ephesians 6:4, she has encouraging and reassuring words (and promises) from her God: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness. …For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee: Fear not; I will help thee” (Isaiah 41:10, 13).
Secondly, Christian fathers are instructed what to do in the training of their children. What are they told by the Holy Ghost through the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:4? “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” While their children are still at home under their authority, and have not yet left their parents’ home and gone out to establish their own home (Genesis 2:24), Christian fathers are to keep on educating, bringing up, and providing spiritual nourishment for their children in the nurture, instruction, revelation, discipline, admonition, warning, thinking, attitude, and mind of the Lord, as made known in His written words and writings, the Holy Scriptures. This includes both the Law of God, which, as a mirror, shows children their sins (Romans 3:20), as well as its function as a rule to show them what pleases and does not please God, and the Gospel of Christ, which is the most amazing, astounding, marvelous, and undeserved message in the whole world for children (and adults), that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (II Corinthians 5:19), and that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned” (John 3:16-18a). What precious and powerful tools God has given to Christian fathers for their work with their children – the Law, setting forth God’s perfect standard for children and parents, and the Gospel, which provides real comfort and relief when the Law of God is transgressed and condemns us (Matthew 9:2b Isaiah 1:18b; etc.), as well as providing real strength and gratitude more and more to live for Him who lived, suffered, died, and rose again in our place, as our Substitute (II Corinthians 5:14-15; I John 4:19; Titus 2:11-14).
Have Christian fathers always used these tools (Law and Gospel) faithfully and properly in the training and education of their children? Oh, how they all have fallen short in the past, and are still falling short yet today! “BUT THERE IS FORGIVENESS WITH THEE [in and through Christ Jesus], that Thou mayest be feared [respected and revered more and more]” (Psalm 130:4). Christian fathers, do not hesitate to confess your faults (James 5:16a) to your children (James 5:16a), so that they may assure you of God’s finished, free, and full forgiveness in Christ (Ephesians 4:32; John 19:30), just as you should encourage your children to confess their trespasses, and then assure them of that same marvelous, precious, and priceless pardon from God through the active and passive obedience of His Son, our only Savior (Acts 4:12).
And, finally, Christian fathers, when you see and recognize that one or more of your sons has God-given talents to be a faithful pastor, encourage him to pray often the prayer of Psalm 25: “Show me Thy ways, O Lord; teach me Thy paths; lead me in Thy truth, and teach me, for Thou art the God of my salvation; on Thee do I wait all the day” (vv. 4-5). My father who, as a young boy, wanted to be a pastor, was discouraged by his parents because they said that they did not have the money to send him to school to be trained for this important calling. Therefore, when I told him of my interest in being a pastor, he strongly encouraged me to pursue the needed training, even though that would entail considerable time and money. Today, the need is great in our Conference for faithful pastors to replace our current pastors when they need relief due to failing health and the infirmities of old age, but also as shepherds of newly-formed congregations. How true and timely are the words of our Savior in Matthew 9: “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest” (vv. 37-38). As our Savior, our Immanuel, willingly came down from heaven to earth to serve us, may His service for our salvation move qualified men in our Conference gladly and willingly, yes, eagerly to repeat the response of Isaiah: “Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:8b).
–R. J. L.