When I was a child one of my favorite TV shows was entitled, Father Knows Best. It was a simple format that showed a mom and a dad with three kids, going through usual things that families do, but focusing in on the father who would usually end up solving everybody's problems, and all within 30 minutes. So it was a fantasy show, of course. It wasn't very realistic, but it's virtue was that it erred on the side of idealism, rather than pessimism.
In this show, the dad, he worked, he was faithful to his wife, he loved and respected his children, and always tried to do, and help his family, do the right thing. Unlike today, where many TV dads are alone, they're not more mature than their children, and they have trouble solving their own problems, let alone give information and help to their children.
As a kid without a dad, living in a small apartment, without brothers or sisters, spending a lot of time alone watching TV, I liked the idea of a father who was like Robert Young. He's the one who played the dad in Father Knows Best. And even if it wasn't real, I liked it because I wanted it to be real. I wanted dads to be like that dad.
What I didn't realize was that the appeal of this program was that it portrayed fathers according to the ideal of Fatherhood, the model that worked best, the one that God designed for all men to strive for. Whether the fathers in this world lived up to the ideal or not, this particular show, at least, demonstrated how important father was and what life would be like when father knew best.
Several years ago there was an effort to remove every reference to God as a man in the Bible. The argument was that God is a spirit and could as well be represented by female words and images, as had been done by male references throughout the centuries. What this effort at political correctness did not understand was that the referencing of God as father wasn't something that men had projected unto God, in order to serve themselves, it was a term that God selected in order to reveal three things about what it meant to be a man and to be a father.
First of all, it talked about position. The word for father in the Hebrew is the word Ab. It is the first word in the Hebrew dictionary of the Bible. It meant chief or principal. The first time it appears is in Genesis 2:24, where God says that a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. Interesting God chose this term to describe the male in the marriage relationship. Note that this term was chosen before sin entered the world and so the idea of father as chief or head is the original concept established with the very first family unit, not something that was developed in the middle ages.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see the term father used not only to refer to the male individual in the marriage relationship and family, but also as a synonymous term to designate the position of leadership for cultural identity, like Abraham or nations, like the Israelites even priests and prophets.
There is this thought, in our PC society, that says, because men were stronger, they took charge and they made themselves leaders and developed the male-dominated institutions of family and nations and so on and so forth. This view works if you believe in the evolutionary model of history. We believe that God created the world, created humanity, and that it is God who established the norms and positions that each one of us plays out, whether we are male or female. God is the one who decided those things, not us.
This idea is certainly confirmed by Jesus and His apostles, who were extremely condemning towards men who had abused their roles through the mistreatment of women and family. Jesus rebuked men for their straying from the ideals of faithfulness and love and marriage, but he didn't change the position that they were given. He didn't change the trust that had been given to them by God. He scolded them for violating that trust.
In the New Testament, Paul clarifies and confirms God's original ideal for man's position within the family as husband and father. In 1st Corinthians 11:3 he says, "The man is the head of the woman." In Ephesians 5:22 he says, "Wives be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wives." That's not man talking, that's the spirit of God talking.
A male-dominated society has not grabbed power away from weaker women and children. God has created both man and woman and has given to man the position of leadership in the family. This original position grew to include leadership of tribes and nations. Man has disobeyed God and he has abused this position, but God has not changed the original position that man was required to fulfill.
So then, father, as given by God, means, among other things, leader. So to be a father means to lead.
It also refers to a man's responsibility. In the New Testament the writers confirmed the original role of leadership for fathers, but they add an additional dimension, and this is reflected in the word used in the greek for father. The Greek word for father, pater, means nourisher and provider. The traditional idea has been that men provided income and women provided home care. That was like, a lot of people say, that's, like, traditional. Today, this is no longer true, with over 70 percent of married women working outside the home. Nothing wrong with that, the Bible doesn't condemn that idea, it just is.
The New Testament doesn't say anything about the earning of income being strictly a man's responsibility. As a matter of fact, the only scripture that deals with the need to provide for family is addressed in a very generic sense in 1st Timothy 5:8, and it commands anyone who is responsible for a family to take care of that family, whether you're a male or a female. This is not to say that the New Testament doesn't say that a father doesn't have certain responsibilities, just that earning money isn't the only responsibility or the exclusive responsibility of men.
According to the New Testament, fathers are to, first of all, love their wives, that's the first responsibility of a male of a father, of a husband, Ephesians 5:28. This could include taking care of them, but not just physically, it includes emotional care and spiritual care as well. According to the New Testament, fathers are to train their children, Ephesians 6, verse 4. Fathers are the only ones in the New Testament who are specifically given the responsibility to train their children in spiritual matters. The only time the spirit addresses this issue, He addresses it to men. Isn't it interesting that in most cases it's the mothers who teach. It's the mothers who emphasize going to Sunday school. It's the mothers that promote spiritual things in the home, not always, but in many cases.
According to the New Testament, Fathers are to manage the home. First Timothy chapter three, verse 4. Elders and deacons must prove that they have achieved this basic duty. This is not a responsibility, however, reserved only for elders and deacons, all fathers have to manage the home well. And if you want to be an elder or a deacon, you must prove that you have accomplished this basic task that all fathers have. When it comes to managing the home, we have two false ideas:
- If the man is the sole wage earner, managing the home is the woman's job.
- If the wife works, managing the home is a shared responsibility. But the Bible says that managing the household is the man's responsibility. The housework, of course, can be shared, the income can be shared, but the responsibility for making sure that the household operates properly, according to God's purpose, belongs to the father and he'll be judged for that.
The great strain in many relationships is caused by fathers who want position without responsibility. Men want to be the boss, but they refuse to take on the responsibility of loving their wife and training their children and managing their home. They just want to be the boss. The way to gain the rightful position, described by the Old Testament word for father: leader, chief, is to take on the responsibilities described by the New Testament word for father: nourisher, provider.
The final thing I want to mention that we learn from the father concept in the Bible, is the idea of relationship. The Jews, in the Old Testament, did not refer to God as their father very often, only 15 times in the Old Testament. This may have been because the pagan religions around them taught that their people were the biological or mythical sons of the gods. In the New Testament Jesus added another dimension to the concept of father that helps us round out our image of man as father, and that is, the intimate father.
Until Jesus, no one had ever used the term Abba in referring to God. The more formal father or chief or leader was sometimes used to describe God. Jesus not only personalized this by beginning to say, my father and your father, as a way of drawing a circle around the disciples and Himself and God, He also pushed the imagery to a more intimate level by calling God Abba, in Mark 14:36.
The term Abba was what a child called his dad, daddy. Jesus showed that at heart the relationship with father is not just one of teacher, or leader, or provider, or protector, but also that tender, loving, trusting, intimacy that exists between a small child and his or her dad. Sometimes dads, when words fail, and discipline fails, and bribes fail, perhaps, what is needed is that you become daddy once again; no matter how old your child is. When Jesus was in the garden, at His worst moment of suffering, He didn't want to discuss the theology of the cross and the good that it would do, He cried out, daddy, I need you.
So becoming a father doesn't just mean producing children. I don't know if you've heard, but they can do that in a lab now. Becoming a father is a gift given to a man. It is embodied in the birth of a child and it is expressed by accepting the position of loving and sacrificial leadership, of that mother and that child. It is expressed by accepting the responsibility of loving that mother and training that child and managing the home, that you will live in together as a family. It is expressed in opening yourself up to a new relationship, a new intimacy, a new vulnerability, that you never had before. You see, when you have a child, you can be hurt in ways that no one could hurt you before. And nobody could hurt you as much as your own child can hurt you. It's one of the things that you need to accept when you become a parent.
Today is Father's day, and we celebrate not those who just made babies, but those men who made a difference in those babies lives, by providing love and leadership to those children and their moms. In Proverbs 23:24, Solomon writes, "The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice and he who sires a wise son will be glad in him." Mothers and fathers, they want different things for their sons and daughters. Mothers want their children to be happy and to be safe. Fathers want them to be strong and settled.
Note that the father in Solomon's proverb wants his son to be wise, the ability to apply knowledge successfully, in order to obtain success and peace. Mother's pray for their children. Father's, we wait. We wait until the day that they are convinced that their sons and daughters can stand up by themselves. It's as if fathers cannot be free to give in to old age or death until they know in their hearts that their children can, not only face life and its challenges on their own, but are also able to now be good fathers to their own children and begin the ministry of waiting for the next generation to stand up for and by themselves.
Note that in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) was still in the waiting mode. He was waiting for news of his wandering son's demise, in order to leave off on waiting and begin the process of grieving. I suspect that his great joy when he saw his boy was powered, to a large extent, by his surprise and relief at not only the return of his lost son, but his return as a man, now ready to stand on his own and face the consequences of his bad decisions. The father's waiting was over in more ways than one. And yet, in the exchange with the eldest son, who was resentful and jealous of his younger brother being happily received back, we see that the father still had some waiting to do concerning the first son, because this is what Father's do, they wait.
I tell all fathers and mothers, never stop praying and never stop waiting and hoping for your prodigal child's return, because with God all things are possible, for those who believe and those who wait.
So who do you identify with in this story of a prodigal son or daughter? The Father who waits, or maybe the prodigal who needs to come home, or the elder brother that needs to grow up?
Regardless of who you identify with, how can we minister to you today? What is it that you need? Do you need prayer for you as a father to help you to wait patiently for your child to return? Return to you, return to common sense, return to the Lord. Do you need help as a prodigal, yourself, a prodigal son or daughter, to return to being the person you were raised to be; Or the person you were called to be by God?
And taking the first step of that return journey, through restoration or perhaps baptism. Or perhaps you need encouragement and prayer to enable you to be the father that your earthly and heavenly father are waiting for you to become. You see, sometimes, God is the one who is waiting on us. Whatever your need, I encourage you to come forward now, as we stand and as we sing our song of encouragement.