Out of around 12 million children in the UK1, 3.6 million are in separated families2. The father is the non-resident parent in 86% of those cases. With 82% of primary school teachers being female3, a large number of children have no male in their lives to consistently show how a man should behave.
When we come to the Scriptures we understand why this has been such a focus for Satan's attack: fathers are divinely charged with the responsibility of instructing the next generation (Psalm 78:5; Ephesians 6:4). While women can obviously successfully teach children God's Word and ways (cp. 2 Timothy 1:5 with 2 Timothy 3:14,15), God's pattern is for the man to lead in the instruction and modelling of God's word. This instruction should be daily, detailed, and demonstrated; delegation should be done with care, and discipline will be essential.
Daily - "bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).
There is a reason why our children go to school most days of the week; repetition is needed for lessons to stick! The Christian life should impact every area of our lives so the training given should be the environment in which they live, not simply academic lessons to be learned. In Deuteronomy chapter 6 Moses stressed the importance of deliberately creating this kind of environment: they should talk of God’s words while they sit, walk, lie down, rise up; the Word of God should be obvious in their households; their behaviour should conform to the commandments of the Lord. The result? "When your son asks you . . . ‘What is the meaning?’ . . . then you shall say" (vv.20,21). The daily atmosphere naturally caused opportunity to teach. Do we need a review of our homes and lifestyles to see what priority the Word of God has?
Delegation - "Fathers . . . bring them up".
Men, we are the head of the household and God has given us the responsibility of the spiritual welfare of our families. Our wives will share this responsibility as they fulfil their God given-role of "lov[ing] their children" (Titus 2:4), and "manag[ing] the household" (1 Timothy 5:14 ESV), and will have a huge impact upon children. But remember that as fathers, we are the primary representative of God in the family. When our children encounter God described as Father, we will be the first image that comes to their mind. Will they be glad or sad, comforted or disappointed, emboldened to approach or caused to assume He wants nothing to do with them?
Is it the responsibility of the church to teach our children? The church’s teaching has its place, but only as part of an overall education. An hour or two at a group that will likely only have a proportion of its time spent in teaching, is no protection against the hours of teaching our children imbibe from the world through school and the media.
Detailed - "Bring them up in the training".
The aim is maturity, the method is training. Training builds little by little, both by practising that which is helpful and cutting out what will be a hindrance or harmful. What goal do we have for our children? We know that, while only small percentages will go into various professions, 100% will one day face the Lord Jesus4. What impact will that thought have on the way we train?
Psalm 78 verses 1 to 8 are helpful. We learn that:
- Fathers are assumed to be the ones to teach (3).
- God's person, Word, and work form the centre of that teaching (4,5).
- The goal is that:
a) they know them (6);
b) they are able to pass them on (6);
c) they might set their hope in God, not forget His works, keep His commandments, and not make the same mistakes as previous generations (vv.7,8).
Although it may seem daunting, remember that you don't need to know the whole syllabus before you teach the first lesson. Start where you can and then make sure you grow, so they in turn benefit.
Discipline - "In the training and admonition".
Both words have the idea of discipline. Training requires self-control and dedication, and admonition includes verbal correction. The discipline of children as a demonstration of a father's love is clear, for God says that this is the way He works (Proverbs 3:12; Deuteronomy 8:5; Hebrews 12:5-13). Fathers, we represent a God and Father who desires mature, quality fruit. He loves us too much to allow us to go our own destructive way. Headteachers tell me that one of the biggest problems causing poor mental health among primary age children is the lack of boundaries. Children need to feel safe and that means knowing how far they are allowed to go. William Hendrickson said: "Godly parents do not inflict upon their children the cruelty of telling them they should do ‘just as they please’"5. It won't be easy, but remember our goal is their good in the long run, not an easy life for us in the short term (Hebrews 12:11)! This truth should regulate the way we discipline, and we should be careful to "not provoke . . . to wrath". As the study Honor Begins at Home1challenges: are we going to be a CEO dad focused on results so that our children are “fired” when they fail, or shepherds who genuinely care for the sheep and are able to discern as to when care or correction is required?
In 2010, a study was done that indicated that children tend to over-imitate adults7. Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul made the link between being a father and, therefore, being someone to imitate: "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. Therefore I urge you, imitate me" (1 Corinthians 4:15,16). Are we happy for our children to imitate us? If they do, what will their attitude towards God's Word be? How will they view the local church? What will our relationship with our wives teach them about male/female relationships? Would we want our daughters to be married to a man like us? What are our sons learning about how to lead and love? May we get to know God our Father better so that we may have no hesitation in hoping that our children can look to us for an example.
Joshua, as the head of his household, made the bold proclamation that "as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15). May we ask the Lord for help to make – and keep – a similar declaration, and, in the instructing of our families, model what men of God should be.
- Main findings: children’s social care in England 2020 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Separated families statistics: April 2014 to March 2020 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Key UK education statistics - BESA
- Your Kid Has Only a 0.0296% Chance – TravisAgnew.org
- Gathered Gold, compiled by J. BLANCHARD, Evangelical Press, pg. 102.
- Honor Begins at Home, M. CAT, S. KENDRICK, A KENDRICK, Lifeway Press, pg. 92.
- Kids Overimitate Adults, Regardless of Culture | Science | AAAS (sciencemag.org)
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