Children are a gift from God. As fathers, we are stewards and God entrusts us with these living treasures. The psalmist writes, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5 ESV).
Children are a blessing. Parents should embrace the incomparable joy a child brings to their life. But, we, as fathers, must also acknowledge and embrace the responsibility that comes with the blessing of parenthood. We have a responsibility to our children. Being a parent is more than the product of procreation. Parenting demands taking responsibility for the welfare of the child to see that their needs are met, to ensure that they are fed and protected. The Bible tells us that we are also responsible to teach our children, specifically to teach them about God and what He tells us in His word, the Bible. Moses, a prophet of God, spoke to the people of Israel on behalf of God and explained that, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7 ESV).
The Bible reveals God as our Heavenly Father. So, the Bible also provides insight on characteristics that are found in a good earthly father. For example, Psalm 103:13 says, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.” From this, we can see that it is assumed by the psalmist that a father shows compassion to his children. He uses the compassion of an earthly father to illustrate the compassion of our Heavenly Father. So, a good father should show compassion to his children. But, this is not the only case where we can see the qualities of a good father.
The Apostle Paul, in writing to the church of Thessalonica, gives us three characteristics of a good father.
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 (1 Thessalonians 2:9-12 ESV).
Note that he says, ”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.”
The first characteristic of a good father revealed in this passage is to exhort our children. The word translated exhort comes from a Greek work, parakaleo which shares the same root as the Greek word paraklete (Holy Spirit). Both words represent a “coming along side” to help. We see an example of paraklete, as Jesus told his disciples of the coming Holy Spirit. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16 ESV). So, to exhort our children carries the idea that “we are in this together”. As fathers, we are to do life with our children, to come alongside them and help them.
The first characteristic of a good father is to exhort our children.
The second characteristic is to encourage. Just as the prefix “para-“ in the two previous words meant to “come along side”, so, also, in the word for encourage, para-mythéomai, there is the sense of coming alongside. However, in the word for exhort, there is an aspect of doing … helping. While in this word for encourage, we see para- coming alongside but the other part of the word, -mythéomai, means “soothing speech”. Here we have the idea of coming alongside, not necessarily “to-do” in this case, but to speak, to speak soothing, encouraging words. As fathers, we are to come alongside our children and speak words of truth and encouragement into their lives. This word carries the sense of comforting, sympathy, consoling, cheering someone up with comforting words. As we saw in the earlier passage from Deuteronomy, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise”. In order to do this, we, as fathers, must come alongside our children and know them, know their strengths and weaknesses, know their victories and defeats. We cannot just sit on the sidelines and encourage them. We must come alongside them and speak words to them that will encourage and inspire them to live a life of bold devotion to God.
This brings us to the third characteristic of a good father. That is to charge or challenge our children to walk in a manner worthy of God.
The Greek word for “charged” here is marturomai, meaning to witness, to testify, or affirm. It shares the Greek root for the word martyr (a witness). To give a charge, may best be illustrated in the common event of a graduation commencement speech. Often, a celebrity, a politician, or someone of some notoriety will be asked to give a commencement speech at the graduation ceremonies for a high school or college. The speaker will typically give some testimony of their own life’s challenges and accomplishments and then give a charge to the graduates. The purpose of this charge is to challenge, inspire, and motivate the graduates to persevere, to look to the future and do great things. So, here, in this passage, the Apostle Paul, points out that a good father will exhort his children, encourage his children, but he will also instill in his children the desire to live a life worthy of God.
A large part of exhorting, encouraging, and challenging our children to live a godly life is accomplished by our own example. A modern proverb states, “more is caught than taught.” Children, by nature are imitators. They learn to walk and talk by imitating others. The mimicking does not stop there. Children continue to watch us as they grow and mature. “Do as I say, not as I do,” is not the best parenting philosophy. As fathers, we must be ever mindful that our children are watching us and will most likely follow our example for good or for bad. The Apostle Paul points out that children are imitators and uses this to illustrate how Christians should imitate God just as children imitate us. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). The Apostle also makes a bold statement in the same letter, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Can you say that to your children?
What if you haven’t been the father you should have been? Is it too late? Is God now out to get you and make you pay for failing?
God is not anxious to condemn. He is not out to get you – to punish you. “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). God is not anxious to condemn, in fact, he is ready to forgive you. The prophet Nehemiah prayed to God and said, ”you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Nehemiah 9:17). The psalmist echoes this truth in Psalm 86:5, “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.” The key here is found in the phrase, “all who call upon you.” God is good and loving and he wants to forgive us for not being the father we should have been and all the other things we have thought and done wrong. But, his forgiveness is only available to those who call out to him and ask for that forgiveness.
We have all failed countless times and in countless ways. No one is perfect. God knows that and he offers a way for us to admit we have messed up and to be forgiven. That way is through a relationship with Jesus. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). You see, if you have not been the father you should have been, God is not out to condemn you, he wants to redeem you. He wants to forgive you and set you on a new path toward being all that he wants you to be. God can redeem your life, he can restore broken relationships, he can help you to be the father he wants you to be – the father you want to be.
The passage in 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12, gives us three qualities of a good father: exhort, encourage, and charge or challenge our children to live a life worthy of God. We should strive to develop those qualities in our own parenting. But, if you haven’t done such a good job up to this point, just remember that God loves you, he wants to forgive you, he wants to redeem your life. “The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned” (Psalm 34:22).