Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 79: Encouraging Fathers
June 17, 2012
Last night, I played poker with my dad and some other guys. The first time we did it, it was fun to see our dads just as giddy to play poker as we were. That experience helped me see not only that our dads are just like us, but that we are just like them.
Q Do you know that feeling of realizing that your dad didn’t know what he was doing any more than you do?
Being a dad is hard; we are trying our best to figure it out. I can’t say that I am any further ahead than any of you, but I want to talk from what Scripture says about being a dad.
At the same time, not all of us are dads, but this still applies to all you – parenting is a group effort, especially as a community that encourages each other.
* This is also a good reminder both of what God is like.
Today we are in Colossians, which is yet another favorite book of mine. I studied it a lot in my undergrad program.
* Towards the end is what is called the “Household Codes,” which explains how the Christian home is supposed to operate.
The home played a much bigger role the ancient life than today. When I explain civics to my daughters, I say that we are all one country, made up different state, then counties and cities. In the ancient world you would add “household” to that.
* The home was a recognized political entity that had specific rights, responsibilities and authorities.
The household include not just the husband and wife and kids, but also the slaves and servants.
Ancient ethicists would frequently write household codes to explain how the home should run, so Paul’s work here is not completely unusual.
Yet in some ways it was very different – the ancient instructions were written to the wife, the children, and the slaves. Paul also addresses the husbands, parents, and masters.
* While some of the things Paul says seems a little old-fashioned to our ears, it was revolutionary in his day.
NIV Colossians 3:18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
The ideal home
Initially my emphasis was going to be just on verse 21, but the more time I spent on it, the more I see you can’t pull it apart like that – the home is one unit.
Q How many of you remember flying before smoking was banned?
I remember sitting in the non-smoking section of the plane, which was an absolute joke. It was like swimming in the non-peeing side of the pool. There ain’t no such thing.
In the same way, what happens between the husband and wife cannot be separated from what happens between the parents and kids. They spill over into each other freely.
* The first step to healthy parenting is a healthy marriage.
Parenting well with an ex-spouse is really tricky because it requires you to work with your ex almost as if you were married. I hope that you can apply some of these principles.
To the wife
NIV Colossians 3:18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
* If Paul were alive today, he would be shocked that he is accused of being misogynistic; he we ahead of this time.
It’s like accusing Abraham Lincoln of hating blacks. When is judged our standards, he would certainly be considered a racist, but not when judged in his context.
But this is one of those really controversial passages. It’s kind of like passages on Hell – half of the church ignores it and shouldn’t, and half preach on it, and probably shouldn’t.
The churches who preach on it usually are unbalanced (cf. denomination that issued a statement reaffirming this verse, but not the next one).
* I don’t mind being counter-cultural, but I want to it to be for the right reasons.
Many people miss what this passage is saying. We need to start by understanding what “submit” means:
1 Corinthians 15:27-28 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
Q Do you catch what is being said here? Christ submitted to God.
The Biblical idea of submission is no more demeaning than Christ is demeaned by God. It is not about value, worth, dignity or any of that. It is about roles, the part each person has to play.
* We’ll talk more about how family mirrors Trinity shortly.
There is a lot more that can be said about this, but I want to focus on how this applies to parenting.
Calming the Chaos
I am interested in ADHD, largely because I have it. A lot of studies are suggesting a tie between our chaotic, stimulation rich society and ADHD.
* I have learned how to create order to help me focus; one guy at Starbucks used to make that very hard for me.
Studies have shown how detrimental chaos is to all children. They need order and consistency in order to have peace and learn. Clean rooms, regular bedtimes are all huge.
* More than that is emotional order between you and your spouse.
Q Do your children see order in your marriage?
Kids are smart, they know when you are not on the same team and they will exploit that weakness.
Cake for breakfast
Look, I know we do dumb things as husbands. EG: Bill Cosby “chocolate cake for breakfast.”
Submission doesn’t mean that you let your husband feed your kids chocolate cake for breakfast, it means that you calmly ask to talk to your husband and then privately tell him how dumb that was. Then you can come back as one team and take away the cake.
I am not saying never let them see you fight – it can go too far that way as well. My parents were honest about the struggle of marriage, which helped prepare me for it.
* But (as I say in weddings), never forget that you are on the same team; show your kids that you are on the same team.
Conflict done right is part of being on the same team.
Q Do you want your future daughter-in-law talking that way to your son?
To the husband
NIV Colossians 3:19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
I firmly believe that husbands have the harder job. I am not saying your wife is that hard to love, but that love is a lot harder than we think. The longer version is given in Ephesians:
Ephesians 5:25-30 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body.
* Twice Paul pulls it back to Christ’s love for the church.
Notice how this all works – at the very top is the Trinity: Perfect love and community, Christ submitting to the Father though equal to him.
This relationship is then mirrored by the church’s relationship to Christ – we submit to him, but he has given himself for us and loves us.
* This is mirrored by the husband-wife relationship. She submits to him as his equal and he loves and sacrifices to for her.
Tribute to My dad
This is another place where Paul’s Household Codes is so different than the pagan ones – the head of the house was to be like Jesus, the servant of all.
* To lead for your benefit is an abuse of power; to lead for the benefit of the others is Biblical leadership.
This is what I watched my dad do – I don’t think I ever heard him demand to be served. My memory is of him freely giving of whatever he had to us.
Perhaps that is why Lewis’ description of leadership in “Horse and His Boy” resounded so much to me. Lewis contrasts the Calormens and Narnians:
For in Tashbaan there is only one traffic regulation, which is that everyone who is less important has to get out of the way for everyone who is more important; unless you want a cut from a whip or a punch from the butt end of a spear....
For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.
When you think back on your childhood, were your father’s rules for your benefit or his? Like the “who can be quiet the longest” game.
Q Do your rules help them grow into responsible adults and bring greater joy or are they meant to keep them out of your hair?
Leading your family this way honors God, and it also models God to them.
Love their mother
Something else that marks Paul’s Household Code is his command to love, that is nowhere in ancient codes.
I firmly agree with those who say that the best thing you can do for your children is to love their mother. Keeping your marriage together is priority #1.
* Not only is preserving the marriage vital, but loving your wife is your part in bringing peace into the home.
When the wife submits as an equal to her husband’s loving and sacrificial leadership, you show your kids a strong team.
A Living Example
You are also preparing them for marriage, showing them what it should look like. Demonstrate to your children love for your wife and respect for her. Defend her to them.
* I appreciated “Love and Respect,” but it undervalues that need your wife has for respect.
Q Do you want your future son-in-law talking to your daughter the way you talk to your wife?
Or if you have sons, it may be that one of my daughters could marry your son. Based on how you are teaching your son to speak to their wife, will you and I still be friends?
To the Children
NIV Colossians 3:20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Not many kids are in here, but there are two key points here:
1. Obedience is expected.
On one hand, you are not their friend, you are their parents. It is you job to mold their habits while teaching their spirit.
* Deadly silliness of not teaching your children Truth.
On the other hand, there is the opposite extreme of dictatorial parenting. E.G. Pastor telling kids “No” just for the sake of keeping them in their place.
* The Bible seldom uses “because I said so,” we should seldom use it either.
2. When we teach our children to obey to obey us, we are teaching them to obey God.
This of course means that you have to obey. It is hypocritical to tell your kids to obey, then break the law, from seat belts to taxes, or disobey God’s laws.
To the Fathers
The climate of the day was harsher than it is today. More was expected, punishment more severe. The Bible says plenty about disciplining your children, so Paul didn’t need to repeat that.
Rather he focused on two things that would have been very unusual in his day:
1. Our children are our equals in Christ – different roles, same value.
In Ephesians, the Household Code starts with the command to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21).
In 1 Peter, we are told our wives our fellow heirs (3:7), so are our children. We will stand side by side with them in Heaven.
2. Discipline must be balanced with hope.
NIV Colossians 3:21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Similarly, he says in Ephesians:
NIV Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Yes, it is our job to bring them up in God’s ways. But be careful, don’t discourage them. Don’t make them feel like they can never measure up.
* We want them to do well, so we push them, but we must be careful.
Look at our example – God has extremely high expectations of us (perfection), yet he is loving and very patient. Typically he is more patient than we are with ourselves!
* Please text “Sunday School Teacher” ; service is almost over
PURVEYORS of hope
Another ways of saying what Paul is saying by “don’t embitter them lest they become discouraged,” is “give them hope.
* One of my main jobs as the leader of this church is to give hope (EG: last week’s sermon).
Give your kids the same hope God gives you – yes you have a long way to go, but I believe in you, you can get there. I love you regardless of it all.
The “curse” of a good home
I’ve heard it said that a good childhood can be a lousy preparation for success. And I can see a certain amount of truth in that – many very successful people are driven by the demons of their childhood – an unloving, impossible to please father.
The problem with that thought is the definition of success. These people frequently sacrifice marriages, family, and relationships to get success.
I know there is a lot my parents could have done differently. They could have pushed me harder, etc. But I know that I never felt hopeless, I never felt like dad was disappointed in me.
If I was still struggling to gain my dad’s approval, would I have been more ambitious? Would I have already written my first and second book by now? Perhaps.
* But it would have been for the wrong reasons. I now strive to for success out of a bounty of acceptance, not thirst for it.
I say all that to say – love your kids, encourage them. Yes make them obey, yes teach them. Yes teach them to work hard. But know when to ease off and encourage them.
* And make sure, time and time again, that your love is not based on what they do.
Teach them that God’s love is based on grace not works by showing them that your acceptance is not based on “works.”
Our Heavenly Father
This is a good place to stop, with the reminder that no matter how bad your father was, God’s love and acceptance is perfect.
All of our parents failed in many ways. Some of them failed spectacularly. God’s love is represented by their greatest successes, not worst failures.
* And God now longs to give you that love and acceptance your parents lacked.
Q & A