By Pastor Glenn Pease
Being a father is one of the greatest causes for suffering in the world. Someone said, "Becoming a father is easy enough, but being one can be rough." D. L. Moody, the great evangelist, experiences his greatest suffering as a father. When his son Will neared 18 he rebelled against the Christian faith, and he wrote to his father and told him so. Moody wrote back, "Of course I am sorry you were ever tempted to smoke. I was in hopes it would never be a temptation to you, but the thing that hurts me worse is that you have desire to know Christ. Sometimes my heart is so heavy and sad to think that you such contempt for one that has done so much for your mother and father, all that we are or have has come from Him, and you have been saved from an early grave I think in answer to prayer, and now when you have strength and health given you and are now in a position to do good you turn against the truest and best friend you will ever have. For the life of me I cannot see why you should have taken such a dislike to Christ."
Later in the letter he wrote, "The thing that shames me is that I am preaching to others, and my son does not believe in the Gospel I preach." It was a long hard battle, but eventually Will came back to the faith, and Moody had great joy to balance out his deep grief. It is hard to be a father because you rule over a kingdom just like God does. It is a kingdom where the subjects do not always do your will. Adam did not want his son Cain to kill his son Abel, but he did it. From then on almost every father in the Bible had children who did not do what they wanted them to do. Priests like Levi had sons who were immoral. Kings like David and Solomon had sons who were rebels in the kingdom. Lot had daughters who got him drunk and forced him into incest. Even the New Testament father, who is a picture of God, the father of the Prodigal had two of the rottenest kids on record. Neither of them is anything to be proud of, but he loved them both.
Because it is so hard to control free willed creatures like children there is the constant temptation of fathers to lean toward tyranny. Mothers do not have this temptation like fathers. Paul warns fathers not to irritate and provoke their children. He never warns mothers about this, and so from Paul's perspective we can say that dad is the most irritating member of the family. The Greek word here in Eph. 6 is parorgizo. It means to irritate beyond measure. Some translations have do not vex, do not fret, do not harass, or do not rouse to resentment. Because fathers are the disciplinarians they run the highest risk of being too severe and strict. This was apparently a problem in the early church where Christian fathers came out of pagan living. They were trying to keep their children from the ungodliness all around them. Paul's advice fits our day and culture, and we want to focus on the two points that Paul stresses to fathers. First of all we will focus on the negative.
I. A FATHER'S DANGER.
It is dangerous to be a father for the same reason it is dangerous to hold any position of power. Power can be abused. The father is the authority figure in the home, and just as politicians can abuse their power and exasperate citizens, so fathers can abuse their power and exasperate children. Power abuse is one of the most common causes of suffering because almost everybody has power over somebody else, and so almost everybody has an opportunity to abuse it. Human nature tends toward dictatorship, and fathers have an above average opportunity to play this role over the kingdom, which they rule. They may feel that theirs is a benevolent dictatorship, but in a culture where democracy is highly esteemed, even children expect to be listened to and have some input into their government.
When our government leaders try to pretend that they are all wise and all knowing, and they should have the right to make all of our decisions, we get provoked, and rightly so. Paul's point here is that fathers make the same mistakes with their children when they assume a position of all-knowing infallibility. A father who refuses to admit that he too is a child under God, and that he too is learning, growing, and striving to overcome his weaknesses, will become a father who never admits to his own mistakes. This easily leads to a tyrant of a father who feels he has to rule by force, and never have to admit he could be wrong. He is teaching his children that might is right. He is to be obeyed because he is stronger and not because he is wiser. My father use to joke and say, "I may not always be right, but I am never wrong." Many fathers believe this in all seriousness.
Mark Twain in his typically humorous fashion describes how his father would obstinately insist on his own infallibility and refuse to ever admit he made a mistake. He wrote, "I vividly remember how my father who was one of the most rigid and successful of disciplinarians-quelled the aspiring egotism that prompted me to correct his careless remark (when he was reckoning a problem...) that 5 times 12 was 62 and a half. "So," said he, climbing over his spectacles and surveying me grimly, "ye think ye know more'n yer father, hey?
Come 'ere to me!" His invitation was too pressing to be declined, and for a few excruciating moments I reposed in bitter humiliation across his left knee, with my neck in the embrace of his left arm.
I didn't see him demonstrate his mathematical accuracy, with the palm of his right hand on the largest patch of my trousers, but I felt that the old man was right; and when, after completely eradicating my faith in the multiplication-table, he asked me how much 5 times 12 was, I insisted, with tears in my eyes, that it was 62 and a half. "That's right!" said he; "I'll larn ye to respect yer father, if I have to thrash ye 12 times a day."
The good old days were not all bad, but they didn't do much to enhance the image of dad. The modern approach is to be more intimate, and by this I mean more real, honest, and fallible with your children. Gordon MacDonald in his Action Guide For The Effective Father says that one of the keys to good fathering is to reveal to teenagers one's weaknesses. Smaller children need the security of a strong father, but older children need a father who is not afraid to acknowledge his weaknesses. This makes him more realistic and easier to know. Intimacy is based on sharing weaknesses as well as strengths. MacDonald says to let your children know that you don't know it all, and that you can even learn from them. That is positive weakness. Let them know that you respect their right to privacy, and that you will not burst into their room without first knocking. You will also not to try to squeeze out of them what they do not desire to reveal.
Charlie Shedd got a letter when he wrote a column for a teen magazine that illustrates a father's positive weakness. A doctor and his family had a very strict family rule. The last one going to bed was to lock the garage door. There were many thefts in the community, and they had a lot of power tools in the garage. One morning the doctor got up and went to get the paper, and he found the garage door wide open. The family was quickly assembled and the lecture was about to begin when his daughter Beth stopped him in his tracks with a lecture of her own. She said, "Daddy, you left the garage door open yourself. I know it had to be you because I stayed up late studying and I locked it before I went to bed. You were not home yet, and so it had to be you. Some of us around here are tired of being blamed for things we didn't do!"
Dad could see that the evidence for his guilt was quite substantial, but he still had the power to cut her off. He didn't do it, however, but instead he apologized for assuming that everything that went wrong was the fault of the children. He did not become less in their eyes by the positive weakness of saying, "I am sorry." It is a great fallacy of life to think that children will not respect a father if they know his weaknesses. The opposite is the case. They respect him more when he admits them and does not foolish and cruel things to hide them.
Dr. James Dobson spoke very highly of his father when he gave the eulogy at his funeral, but he concluded with these words: "It would be unfortunate to eulogize him in a way that would embarrass him if he were sitting among us. My father had a generous assortment of flaws, even as you and I. But I loved him. Perhaps as much as any man ever loved a dad." He loved him no less for knowing of his flaws.
It is folly for a father to follow that fallacious feeling that he must never be fallible. Be honest with your children about your flaws. They will love and respect you all the more. What is irritating and exasperating is a father who pretends that he knows it all, and that he can make no mistakes, and so has every right to be a dictator over the lives of his children. It is not easy to avoid this because exasperation is a two way street. When children do not obey, fathers are put to the test.
I was deeply impressed in reading James Carroll's book The Winter Name Of God. His father worked for the FBI. One of his sons refused to go to the war in Viet Nam, and he applied for conscientious objector status. The board turned him down, he appealed, and he was again rejected. He had one last chance. Dennis and his father had fought over this issue for a year, and the whole family was brought to a near breaking point. When Dennis was informed of his last appeal, he asked his father to go with him. His father was a lawyer, and even though he disapproved of his son's choice he went with him. He wore his General's uniform, and he argued for him.
The father was later confronted at a social gathering. The man said, "General, I think it was big of you to support your son, but frankly, I don't think your boys attitude does him much credit." The father responded, "I suppose I should agree with you. I share your instincts. I've spent my whole life defending our point of view. But I don't think you understand my son's position well enough to see the point he has. I don't understand it either, though God knows I tried to. All I know for sure is this: If human beings don't drastically change the way they resolve their conflicts with each other, we won't survive this century." Then after a pause the father went on, "My son Dennis certainly represents a drastic change from the way we were brought up, and that may be just the change we need." Here was a father who did not claim that he had the only possible right perspective.
D. L. Moody had two sons, and sometimes he felt that was just two too many. He had a great deal of pride in keeping his lawn looking like those he saw in England. He had it looking good when Paul and Will let the horses loose from the barn, and they came galloping over the lawn. Moody lost his temper and said things in the heat of his anger that he later regretted. Paul, as an adult, looked back and remembered that they were deeply touched by Moody coming to their bedroom and putting his hand on their heads. He said to them, "I want to forgive me, that wasn't the way Christ taught." Paul loved his father for this admission, and he said his father was a contrast to Mr. Sankey. He was his father's soloist. He had three sons who were always wrong and he was always right. He was saying that a father is easier to honor when he is willing to admit he is a fallible child of the heavenly Father.
R.G. LeTourneau, in his famous book God Runs My Business, tells of how his wife had to go away one evening and he was left alone with the children. They were millionaires, and so that had a maid preparing supper. But the wife forgot to tell her not to serve raw tomatoes. Her husband never ate them, but this night he found a dish of raw tomatoes before him. Here was his dilemma: He had just recently been insisting that his children at least taste things before they refused to eat them. Now he is forced to practice what he has been preaching. The children all knew he did not like raw tomatoes, and they are watching to see what he does. I will let him finish his own story:
"I was in a bad fix. I had to do something and do it quickly.
Do you know what I did? I picked up the knife and fork
and started eating those tomatoes, smacking my lips as if
I really like them. The children didn't know what to think.
Not a word was said. Do you know that from that day I like
raw tomatoes-especially if you'll put a little mayonnaise on
He could have easily made a power play and said, "I'm your dad. I don't have to play by the same rules I impose on you." Instead he played by the rules and avoided the irritation that such a power play would produce. The danger of being a father is simply the danger of abusing the power and adding fuel to the fires of rebellion that already burn in children's hearts. Paul says not to do this, but instead go for the positive role of the father and focus on the second point we want to consider, which is-
II. A FATHER'S DELIGHT.
Force is not always a poor tool, but it has to be used in moderation. The primary tool of good fathering is not to impact the body, but to instruct the mind. The greatest delight of any father is to see his children come to love and follow the Word of God as their authority for life. There is no greater success in fatherhood than a child who is submissive to the Lordship of Christ. The goal of fatherhood is to help your children become independent of you and dependent upon Christ and His Word. They may not be anything like what you expected, but if they are under His authority you have succeeded. This can even happen in spite of your self.
Chuck Swindoll tells about his father and the raising of his brother Orville and his sister Luci and himself. He writes, "Say what you like about the walk of faith, my dad was too functional and practical to get very excited about totally trusting God. Don't get me wrong, he was a Christian, but he didn't buy into any extreme view of Christianity. 'It's okay to talk about faith and depending on the Lord, but God gave you a brain, so use it. He also gave you arms and muscles, so be responsible.' I suppose the statement 'There ain't no free spiritual lunch' says it best. He believed in hard work and taking care of what you own and protecting yourself from nuts and rip-offs."
His older brother was totally different from his father. He had a different perspective on what being a Christian is all about. When he was coming home from the Navy he picked a hitchhiker, and because it was cold and he had no coat he gave him his navy jacket. When he got home and didn't have his jacket his practical father inquired where it was, and when he heard the story he felt his son was a mental case. He said, "You know, Orville, I haven't understood you for a long time." Orville standing about 3 inches from his father's nose said, "No, dad, and I don't think you ever will."
Chuck Swindoll who was there witnessing this tense relationship of father and son said that he learned in that moment that Christians can be radically different. His father was disappointed in his son, but in reality he should have been delighted, for his son was not interested in being conformed to his father, but rather to Christ as he understood Christ. This means he was independent of his father, and he was taking his orders directly from headquarters-the Lord Jesus. The father wanted his son to be like him, but instead he was like Christ. The father succeeded in spite of himself because he raised a son who would follow the instruction of the Lord. This should be a father's greatest delight. An unknown poet put it-
I may never be as clever as my neighbor down the street,
I may never be as wealthy as some other men I meet:
I may never have the glory that some other men have had,
But I've got to be successful as a little fellow's dad.
There are certain dreams I cherish that I'd like to see come true,
There are things I would accomplish ere my working time is through:
But the task my heart is set on is to guide a little lad
And to make myself successful as that little fellow's dad.
If I'd failed to be successful as that little fellows dad,
I may never get earth's glory; I may never gather gold;
Men may count me as failure when my business life is told;
But if he who follows after is a Christian, I'll be glad-
For I'll know I've been successful as a little fellow's dad.
It is a father's folly to feel defied when a child grows to think for themselves and do what they feel God wants them to do. Rejoice that they have found a higher authority and loyalty. That is your job if you truly want a child and not a puppet. If you want God's best, you will be pleased when they develop their individuality under God regardless if it conforms to your hopes. It is their conformity to the Lord that makes you a successful father.
It amazes me as I read the Bible of how people need heroes as example of faith. But then when they lose one they also lose their faith. Every time a great leader of Israel died the people forsook the Lord and went after other gods. As long as a judge ruled in Israel the people would obey the Word of God, but as soon as he died they would fall away. The lesson is clear: It is not enough to be a leader and example for your children. That is important, but it is not enough. You need to bring your children to a place where they will follow Christ even if you die, or go off the deep end of folly yourself.
Christian education is not complete until children look to the heavenly Father and His Word as their ultimate authority for faith and conduct. Anything less than this borders on idolatry, for if their heroes and ideals failed them, they will also fall away. This is not building on the Rock, but on the foothills to the Rock, which can slip and slide and disintegrate. That which made American strong was not just the great heroes and leaders of our land, but their heritage in the faith of their fathers.
George Washington is known as the father of our country. His own father died when he was only 11 years old. But in those 11 years his father instilled in him a love for truth and a desire to know and worship God. This stayed with him the rest of his life. But, of course, his father was a godly man because of his heritage. John Washington was his great grandfather, and he came to America in 1657. He settled in Virginia. In his will he left to the church that he founded a tablet with the Ten Commandments and this record of his faith: "Being heartily sorry from the bottom of my heart for my sins past, most humbly desiring forgiveness of the same from the Almighty God (my Savior) and redeemer, in whom and by the merits of Jesus Christ, I trust and believe assuredly to be saved, and to have full remission and forgiveness of all my sins."
The point is that his father, grandfather, and great grandfather were all committed to Christ. He did not develop his Christian character in a vacuum. He was a product of a long heritage of Christian fathers passing on to their children a sense of loyalty to Christ and His Word. Up to his death at 68 Washington faithfully took his candle to his study and spent from 9 to 10 every night in prayer and the reading of the Scriptures. It is a father's delight, and it is a nations delight to see children and leaders look to God for instruction and guidance. We are a great nation because of fathers who succeeded in this goal.
Nobody, however, has to let a father's failure foul up their future. Ronald Regan as a boy of 11 was so embarrassed that his father was an alcoholic, and that he was passed out on the front porch. He wanted to pretend he was not there. He had to learn to live with this frustration. Nancy Regan despised her father for abandoning her mother. She visited him only a few times in his life, and felt only negative emotions. Here were two people whose fathers failed them, but they still adjusted and succeeded in life. All of life does not depend upon good fathering. Few can escape the negative impact of bad fathering, however. That is why Paul tells dads not to be irritating, and not to worry about whether your kids do what you want. He urges them to be concerned instead that they grow up listening to and obeying God. That is a fathers first priority, and that is to be a father's focus.