This morning, I want to take a break from our series “Our Journey With Jesus” because as I’m sure you’re all aware, today is Father’s Day. I heard about one little boy who was asked to define Father’s Day and he said, “It’s just like Mother’s Day except you don’t spend as much on the present.”
And let’s be honest. Father’s Day is just not as big as Mother’s Day. That’s not sour grapes, it’s the truth. On Mother’s Day, there’s a higher attendance at church, mothers have corsages on, emotions run high, restaurants do a booming business.
Father’s Day tends to be a little more low-key. But today, I do want to take a few minutes to honor our fathers in a special way. First, though, let me share this video with you.
I’m grateful for the chance to speak on Father’s Day because I know that for thirty minutes or so I get to create a much different picture of Dads than you will ever see on TV. I get to challenge men to be real men, challenge husbands to be the leaders in their homes, challenge dads to be the hero their kids can look up to.
Father’s Day presents us with an opportunity not only to honor the concept of fatherhood, but also the concepts of manhood and masculinity. Now I’m not talking about the Rambo type who walks around with a swagger and cusses like a sailor. And I’m not talking about the Archie Bunker type who sits in his chair like a king on a throne, expecting the whole world to revolve around him.
I’m talking about a man who knows he’s a man and is proud of it. But at the same time, he has a soft and tender heart that is sensitive to others and to the Spirit of God. I’m talking about a man of God. I’m talking about fatherhood the way it ought to be.
And I want us to look at a picture of this kind of man from I Thessalonians chapter 2.
Beginning in verse 7, Paul says, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
“For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (I Thessalonians 2:7-12)
In these verses, I think we get a beautiful picture of what fatherhood should look like. And as we look at this picture, I want to point out four traits of a godly father.
1. Being a Godly Father Means Loving Your Children Dearly
Notice what Paul says in verse 8, “[We were] affectionately desirous of you…because you had become very dear to us.” That word which is translated “affectionately desirous” is significant. There are a lot of Greek words that Paul could have used here to describe how he felt, but he chose this word which is a term of endearment. Some of the other translations translate it “we loved you so much”, “we cared so much for you”, “we felt so strongly about you”.
It’s a term that would have been used to describe a father holding his baby child. Fathers, do you remember the first time you held your first child? Back when our children were born, fathers were considered unclean and were kept as far away from the baby in the hospital as possible. We were only permitted to look at our children through the nursery window. We were never allowed to touch them without putting on a gown and gloves and a mask, because we might infect them with something. So it was really wasn’t until after we took them home from the hospital that we even had a chance to hold them.
And I don’t know how many of you fathers had a wife as nervous as I did. Sueanne was very careful to tell me just how to hold the baby – that the head was always to be supported, and that I needed to be sure to cradle the baby’s body in my arms just right. It was kind of rare back then for a man to be seen as a loving, cuddling parent.
And so, when we first held that baby, at least for many of us, it was an awkward experience. But it didn’t take long before we got to the place where even if we weren’t so good at it, we enjoyed it. We enjoyed holding our children and expressing love. We enjoyed playing with them, watching them laugh, and comforting them when they were hurt.
But, then what happens? They grow up, and just about the time you get good at it, it all changes.
Several years ago, the cartoon strip, “For Better or For Worse,” showed Dad coming into the room where his teenage daughter was sitting on the couch watching TV and eating popcorn. So, he decides to sit down next to her.
As he’s sitting there, a little thought balloon appears over his head. He’s thinking, “I remember when she was so young. I held her in my arms and loved her, and it was wonderful. Now look at her. She’s all grown up…I wonder what she would think if I held her like I used to and told her again that I love her?” But he concludes that she would be uncomfortable if he did that.
While he’s thinking that, his daughter is thinking, “I wonder why Dad never hugs me anymore?”
Fathers, don’t ever be afraid to hug your children and tell you love them. Let me share something with you that may surprise you a bit. I know that we as parents are concerned about how our kids are going to make it in this sex-obsessed world. Psychologists tell us that the one of the biggest factors in how children view sex comes from their father. More specifically, it is related to the amount of physical affection that children, both boys and girls, receive from their father.
Those children who choose abstinence and go on to have the healthiest physical relationship in marriage tend to be those who get a lot of responsible physical affection from their fathers. Every hug that little girl gets from her Daddy is stored up in a mental savings account, and she doesn’t have to go find it from someone else.
The point of all this is to say, fathers, don’t be afraid to show affection. Our best example of fatherhood, of course, is our Father in heaven. And the best story to show our Father’s love is the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. The reason that everyone can relate to this story is that almost everybody experiences as a teenager what the prodigal son experienced, where we come to the point where we think we know more than our parents do. We’ve got it all figured out.
And you know the story. The son goes off into a far country and squanders all his money. And when he runs out of money, he runs out of friends and he ends up in a pigpen, eating the slop that’s being fed to the pigs. This is the most humiliating place that a Jewish boy could possibly be.
As he sits there, Jesus said, “He came to himself.” And he starts thinking, “How many of my father’s servants have plenty of food? And here I am, starving to death. I will get up and go back to my father.”
But notice something important. The prodigal son felt that he could go back to his father. The relationship might never be the same again, but he knew the door was open.
How did he know that? It’s obvious that all through the time of raising his son, this father had communicated his love. He had conveyed to him the message, “No matter how far you go, you can always come back home again.” That kind of love is a vital thing to communicate to our children.
So the prodigal son said, “I will say to my father, ‘I have sinned against heaven and against you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” I think this was a speech he practiced every step of his way back home. He had it down pat.
But before he could get the first words out, his father ran out to him and threw his arms around him and hugged him and kissed him. He wasn’t afraid to express his love.
As fathers, we need to make sure that we communicate to our children that no matter what happens, there will always be a father waiting to throw his arms around them, and to assure them of our constant love. They need to know that we love them dearly.
2. Being a Godly Father Means Being a Hard Worker
Paul said, “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves…” (I Thessalonians 2:8)
Paul says, “When we worked in Thessalonica, we didn’t just stand up and preach. That would be easy. We did far more than that. We poured our hearts and our lives into taking care of your needs.”
In Ephesians 5:25, there’s an admonition to men. Now, specifically it’s made to husbands, but I think has application to the role of fatherhood as well. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25).
Somewhere along the line, some men have gotten the impression that being the head of the family means that you’re the one who is served, that everybody does exactly what you want them to do when you want them to do it. Paul says, though, that being the head means you’re like Christ, who used his headship to serve in any way that was needed. If someone needed their feet washed, then Jesus was willing to get down and wash those dirty, nasty feet.
And the apostle Paul was also willing to go to great lengths to provide for these Christians whom he considered his children in the faith. He goes on to say in verse 9,
“For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” (I Thessalonians 2:9).
Paul said, “We were willing to make sacrifices to make things easier on you. We could have had you support us, but we chose not to do that. We worked extra hard so that there would be no burden on you.” What a beautiful spirit of sacrifice that ought to be a trait of every Christian father.
One of my most vivid memories of my father is of a man who didn’t have a lazy bone in his body. He was never afraid of hard work. It was a great example to have from a father, and I’m thankful for that.
Fathers, don’t misunderstand me. Your children don’t need material things in place of your time. They don’t need to see the fruit of their father’s labor instead of seeing their father. But they do need to see a father who does a day’s work for a day’s pay. If our kids don’t see a father who is a hard worker and who has a good work ethic, chances are they’ll never learn it for themselves.
James Dobson has written, “We’re so concerned about giving children what we didn’t have when growing up that we neglect to give them what we did have. Maybe we didn’t have material things but we did have appreciation of the value of things and the willingness to work for it.”
As fathers, we have a responsibility to teach a good work ethic to our children, to provide for their needs, and to be willing to sacrifice for them when necessary.
3. Being a Godly Father Means Living Out Your Faith
In verse 10, Paul said, “You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.” (I Thessalonians 2:10)
Paul says, “When we were with you, we lived holy lives, we were righteous, we lived out our faith. And we were blameless. You couldn’t point at anything we did and say that it was wrong, or that we didn’t do what we should have done.” Paul says, “You know how we lived. You saw how we lived. Christianity wasn’t just something we talked about. It was something we put into practice in our lives.”
I love the comments of Stu Weber in his book Tender Warrior. He comments on the fact that men are to provide for their families and he says, “The physical necessities of life are the simplest, easiest duties of the provisionary. A little food, a little shelter, and physical provision is a done deal. But that isn’t real provision…..
“As men, we so often misplace our vision. We focus…on houses and cars and stock portfolios and bank accounts and piling up stuff… We…say, ‘ If I have a financial plan, if I’ve tucked away some money for college, if I have a good life insurance policy, I’m being a good provider.’
“We revert to the things we can see, when in fact it is the unseen world, the world of the spirit, the world of relationships, where we ought to be majoring in our provision. Matters of character, heart, spirit, integrity, justice, humility – the kinds of things that last. The character traits that outlive a man.”
Fathers, you may be concerned about what kind of inheritance you’re going to leave your children. God is more concerned with what sort of legacy you’re going to leave them.
I’m sure you fathers realize that God has given to you the responsibility of being the spiritual leader in your home. And you’re the spiritual leader of your home whether you realize it or not, and whether you want to be or not. And furthermore, as the leader of your home, you will either lead your family closer to God or you will lead them further away.
As spiritual leaders, it is our responsibility as fathers to show where the focus of our life is, that our Christianity is not just something for Sunday mornings, but something that we live out all week long.
Fathers, it’s essential that your children hear the story of the gospel, and it’s even better if it comes from your lips. But they need more than that. They need to be able to see you live it out. They need to see how you handle your finances, how you make decisions, what your values are, and what makes you laugh. They need to hear you admit when you’re wrong, and they need to see you stand up for your faith.
And if you come to church and carry your Bible and look pious on Sunday, but you never open that Bible through the week, your kids will know. They’re watching you and they know. If you pray here on Sunday mornings when everybody else is praying, but you never pray at home, your kids will know that, too. If you never worship God through the week, or if you aren’t a very good steward of what God has blessed you with, your children will see that, too.
Erma Bombeck in her usual humorous way wrote the following about fathers, “When I was kid, a father was like a light in the refrigerator. Everybody’s house had one, but no one really knew what either did when the door was shut.”
But our kids do know what we do when the doors are shut. You can be one person when you go to work, and another person when you come to church, and another person out in society. But when you go home and kick off your shoes, you become who you really are inside. And I wonder, what do our kids see when Dad does that?
So, it is absolutely essential that we be genuine, and that our children see that we not only worship God here but that we worship at home. We not only read the Word of God here, but we read it at home. We not only pray here, but we pray every day of our lives. And they see the genuineness of our faith. They see how being a Christian affects the decisions we make every day.
After the funeral of an elderly man, a couple of his friends from church were sitting around the kitchen table, visiting with his four grown children. One of them asked, “What do you children remember most about your dad?”
All four of them began telling some of their memories, but the first thing they all mentioned was — they remembered their mom and dad kneeling beside the bed and praying together every night. That was memory #1.
One of the men said, “Do you realize how special that is? There are so many children who never, ever, see their parents kneel and pray together.” What they saw in their father was a man who not only talked about God, but who walked with God, a man who left a legacy for his children to pick up, and to adopt in their own lives, that they in turn could pass on to their children as well.
A group of first-graders was asked to draw a picture of God in their Sunday School class. Their pictures contained some interesting theology. One child depicted God in the form of a brightly colored rainbow. Another presented him as an old man coming out of the clouds. One little boy drew God with a remarkable resemblance to Superman. The best picture, though, came from one little girl. She said, “I didn’t know what God looked like, so I just drew a picture of my daddy.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our children were able to see God living in our lives to that extent?
4. Being a Godly Father Means Training Your Children
In verse 11, Paul said, “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (I Thessalonians 2:11-12)
Paul said, “When we were with you, we made an effort to encourage you, and comfort you, and challenge you.” Because that’s what a father does. He encourages and comforts and challenges his children to live lives worthy of God.
Paul gave us this instruction in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” There is perhaps no more awesome responsibility given to anyone in all the scriptures.
And we do it with the hope of having children who grow up to walk “worthy of God”. John wrote in 3 John, verse 4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” I don’t believe John was exaggerating. As a father of three grown children, I can tell you that there is no greater joy in life that watching your children live out their faith.
It is said that Abraham Lincoln never paid more than common courtesy to adults when he passed them on the streets, but whenever he passed a child, he would step out of the way and tip his hat. He said, “These adults I know, but who knows what these children may become?”
The little ones here in this room, squirming, or crying, or crawling around on the floor – they are our most precious possession, our greatest potential for this church. And, fathers, it is our responsibility to shape them and mold in a positive way.
May I encourage you fathers this morning to grow in these four areas – in showing love and affection to your children, in working hard to provide for them and being willing to sacrifice for them, in showing Jesus Christ in the way you live day by day, and in teaching and encouraging your children to grow in their love for God.
I want to close this lesson with an illustration that Leonard Sweet uses in his book Soul Salsa:
“One tribe of native Americans had a unique practice for training young braves. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then he had never been away from the security of his family and tribe. But on this night he was blindfolded and taken miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of thick woods. By himself. All night long.
“Every time a twig snapped, he visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. Every time an animal howled, he imagined a wolf leaping out of the darkness. Every time the wind blew, he wondered what more sinister sound it masked. No doubt it was a terrifying night for many.
“After what seemed like an eternity, the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was the boy’s father. He had been there all night long.”
I think that’s a beautiful picture of the role we play as fathers. We prepare our children to be strong, to be courageous, to stand on their own. But we’re still right there, ready to take care of them in any way that we need to.
And I think that’s a beautiful picture of what God does for us as our Father. He’s always there, ready to meet our every need, even when we’re not aware of his presence.
And what God wants from us is what every father wants from his children. To see that smile, to have those arms wrapped around his neck, to hear those words, “I love you. When I grow up, I want to be just like you.”