Philip Shee—Dubai, United Arab Emirates
“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph 6:4)
As a Christian, fatherhood is an important responsibility given by God to nurture and raise children in the Lord. Since the Bible describes children as “a heritage from the Lord” (Ps 127:3), the role of a father cannot be taken lightly.
Fathers must understand that their primary function is not only to provide for their children’s immediate physical needs, but also to support and educate them. While the provision of daily necessities and education are undeniably important, it is paramount that fathers raise their children with the word of God, instilling proper Christian values.
Going Beyond Instructions
“For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” (1 Cor 4:15)
Paul had no children of his own. Yet, in his ministry, he regarded himself not as an instructor, but a father. Paul’s reference to fatherhood in his ministry highlights a common understanding: that a father must take a stronger interest in the cultivation of his children’s faith than any instructor would.
Although education involves informing and instructing students, a father should go beyond that and also serve as a role model. Paul urged the Corinthians to “imitate me” (1 Cor 4:16) and further added, “imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). This reminds us that a father’s conduct should exemplify Christian values.
One can never overstate children’s ability to observe others in their daily lives and their natural tendency to imitate those around them. We can, therefore, imagine the irony of a father teaching his children to be humble, but is then seen by his children bragging about his own or his children’s achievements to relatives. Or, if a father tells his children about the importance of paying attention during church services, but dozes off next to them during sermons. Such situations are not uncommon and reflect the inconsistencies of our instruction and conduct.
When was the last time our children witnessed us losing our patience when driving? Do they hear us complaining against God when our lives enter turbulent times? The inconsistencies of our conduct and our instruction may cause confusion, send conflicting signals, and even “provoke our children to wrath” when we then try to give them instructions to do the right thing.
As fathers, we therefore need to constantly build upon our own spiritual cultivation, and be conscious of our conduct, especially before our children. Isaac must have observed Abraham’s own faith and life of worship as he grew up. This was evident in his ability to ask Abraham about the rites in offering: “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Gen 22:7).
Do our children wake up in the morning to the sound of our prayer? Do they see us buried in our Bible when they come and bid us goodnight before they turn in? Are they familiar with our habit of quiet reflection and devotion to hymns, Bible reading and prayer every day? Do they experience the joy and peace that comes from putting our trust in God as a family? Will these impressions surface in their minds as they themselves go through life’s various challenges?
All these questions should go through a Christian father’s mind consistently as he strives to improve himself before God.
Start Early BY BUILDING A FAMILY ALTAR
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov 22:6)
Fathers should grasp the opportunity to strengthen the spirituality of their children from the time they are born. Young children begin understanding things and events much earlier than they can actually express their knowledge. When asked to pray, even pre-toddlers can respond by clasping their hands and shutting their eyes.
Fathers can start early by praying with their children before meals and before bedtime. Arrive early to church so they are familiar with singing praises and offering prayers to God. Expose them to Christian hymns at home. This mindset and lifestyle will help develop good habits. When our children grow older, we can share Bible stories with them and send them to Religious Education classes in church. As our children mature, they can even lead family prayers or worship.
When our family altar is established, our faith becomes the center of our family life. Such practices are consistent with the principles of the Bible:
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
A Varied Teaching Style
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16)
When we use the word of God as the basis to educate our children, we must use a balanced approach, appropriately adjusting the method and tone as necessary. Our children should be patiently taught when ignorant, lovingly encouraged when down, promptly admonished when disobedient, firmly rebuked when rebellious and strictly chastised when stubborn. We must learn and be willing to employ each technique as required.
The following passages provide guidance to the balance we need to strike between being overly harsh, or overly lenient:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (Col 3:21)
“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” (Prov 13:24)
We need to avoid being overly harsh, for that discourages or even provokes our children, and may even shatter their self-esteem. At the same time, we must not be like Eli, who was rejected by God along with his house because he did not do enough to restrain his sons’ wickedness and “honored [them] more than God” (1 Sam 2:29–34). Such balance requires wisdom and understanding from the Lord. Fathers should pray for guidance from the Lord to properly instruct, correct, and discipline their children.
Securing Their Future
As parents, we should strive to provide a good environment for our children and become their mentor. When Abraham was old and advanced in age, he arranged for Isaac’s marriage by making his old servant swear by the Lord that he would not take a wife for Isaac from the daughters of the Canaanites (Gen 24:1–4). This was to ensure that Isaac’s faith would not be corrupted or compromised by the practices of the land.
When David knew that his time was up, he urged Solomon to walk in the ways of God and to keep His commandments. He warned Solomon about Joab and Shimei, and instructed him to show kindness to Barzillai (1 Kgs 2:1–10). This heightened the vigilance of Solomon and allowed him to see and prepare for the danger ahead.
We must do our part to create a good spiritual environment for our children. Preparation for our children’s future must be accompanied by our daily intercession for them:
So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘it may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did regularly.
Job rose up morning after morning to make burnt offerings on behalf of his children. Doing so exemplified his self-discipline, devotion and dedication towards his sons and daughters. Like Job, we must constantly be concerned about our children’s standing before God, a matter we can bring to God on their behalf.
Fatherhood is a rewarding experience. For some, the reward may be the pride of witnessing their children’s success and achievements in the world or watching their children lead happy lives starting a family of their own. For others, it may be receiving their children’s love and gratitude in return.
As for me, the ultimate reward of fatherhood is summed up in these words: “ I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth” (3 Jn 4).