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It takes a man to be a father

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: 1 Kings 2:1-4

I can prove that fathers need a day like today. Consider some school-age children’s’ answers to the following questions:

What did your mom need to know about your dad before she married him? She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer? Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?

Who’s the boss at your house? I guess mom is, but only because she has a lot more to do than dad.

What’s the difference between moms and dads? Moms work at work and work at home, but dads just go to work at work. Dads are taller and stronger, but moms have all the real power ’cause that’s who you gotta ask if you want to sleep over at your friend’s.

How did your mom meet your dad? Mom was working in a store and dad was shoplifting.

But there’s good news as well.

A priest surveyed the children in his parish, asking them which they would choose if they had to—television or their father. 92% said they’d take their dad.

Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg has published The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting. Here’s number one: “What you do matters.” Research for the last 60 years has drawn this consistent conclusion: parents have a profound effect on our children’s emotional, social and intellectual development.

What do we do with this role, this responsibility, this privilege?

Teach your children

David is about to die, to “go the way of all the earth” (vs. 1-2). So are we all. Every day is another day closer to death. We begin to die from the moment we are born.

What do we do with our approaching death? Leave a legacy of faith for those who will follow us. For fathers, this priority is first and foremost with our children.

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Thus David “gave a charge to Solomon his son.” “Charge” speaks to the significance of these words. This father did not merely suggest or encourage—he challenged, even required, that his son heed these words. This is the word for a general to his soldiers, a president to his cabinet, a CEO to his associates.

This was David’s practice, as he assumed responsibility for his son’s spiritual life and growth. Solomon would later remember, “When I was a boy in my father’s house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said, ‘Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live. Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them” (Proverbs 4:3-5).

We must hand on to our children than which has been given to us, while there is still time. There is urgency in this. What have you “charged” your children to believe and become?

What to teach your children

“Be strong” (v. 2a). The word means to be steadfast mentally, physically and spiritually. This speaks to who our children are—strong spiritually, in the Lord.

Moses to Joshua, his “son” in the faith: “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance” (Deuteronomy 31:7).

We are to say the same to our children in the faith. God expects us to encourage them spiritually, to do all we can to help them grow closer to Jesus. If we provide for them financially, materially, and educationally, but do not help them grow spiritually, we have missed our highest and most eternal calling.

“Show yourself a man” (v. 2b).

“Show yourself”—make public your private faith and commitment.

Show externally the reality of your internal faith. Be sure others see Christ in you, through you. We can measure our success as fathers by the degree to which others see Christ in our children.

How do we encourage such spiritual growth? “Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses” (v. 3). In other words, teach our children to live in the word and will of God.

This is for all people, not just Solomon: “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13, emphasis mine).

For all times, not just Sunday: “Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always” (Deuteronomy 11:1).

Despite the prevailing culture: “Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 18:30).

Are you a man of spiritual strength and maturity? Does your family know it? Are you teaching them the word and will of God? When last did you spend time with your family in prayer and Scripture? When last did they see you make decisions based on prayer and Scripture? When last did you lead them to make such decisions together?

For their prosperity

We all want our children to prosper. Our culture typically measures our success as fathers by the degree to which we provide materially for our children. The house you own, the car they drive, the college they attend, the club you join—these are the measures of a successful father in our secular society.

And we are expected by God to provide materially for our children. But the Father’s definition of prosperity is different from our culture’s. When God promises that our children may “prosper in all you do and wherever you go” (v. 3), he means to discern, gain insight, and then prosper materially. The spiritual comes before the financial. Obedience to God is his definition of prosperity and success.

And such obedience is crucial to such prosperity. All through his word, there is a direct link between our obedience to God and his ability to prosper and bless us.

“Be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your day sin the land that you will possess” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33; cf. 8:6).

“Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do” (Deuteronomy 29:9).

“See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

Why does this link exist? This is not health-and-wealth, but the way we position ourselves to receive what our Father in his infinite wisdom wants to give. Our obedience makes it possible for our Father to give all that his will wants for us. Teach your children to live in the word and will of God, for the sake of their prosperity.

For their posterity

And for the sake of their posterity. Through Solomon, David’s line and rule would continue. The Father would bless the king through his son, and his son, and his son. Solomon’s obedience to God was crucial not only for his own soul, but for all who would follow after him.

God made this fact plain to David’s son: “As for you, if you walk before me as David your father did, and do all I command, and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man to rule over Israel.’ But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot Israel from my land, which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. And though this temple is now so imposing, all who pass by will be appalled and say, “Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this people?” People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why he brought all this disaster on them'” (2 Chronicles 7:17-22).

When Solomon kept his father’s charge to spiritual obedience, he was prospered by God in every way. He became the wisest and also wealthiest man on the planet. This may not be God’s will for your children, but his will is always for their best. Solomon proved that it was so.

But when Solomon turned from his father’s charge to marry godless women and worship their pagan idols, the results were disastrous for the nation. Over time, Israel suffered civil war and permanent division. The Northern Kingdom was lost forever to Assyria; the Southern Kingdom was enslaved by Babylon, and then destroyed by Rome. God kept his promise to David by bringing through Solomon the Messiah, but Solomon’s own nation suffered permanently as a result of his disobedience.

So it is that the generations after us will depend on what we teach our children, the way we lead them by example and precept to follow the Lord. Christianity is always one generation from extinction. Her torch is now in our hands.

Conclusion

When General Douglas MacArthur received the Father of the Year award, he said, “Nothing has touched me more deeply than the act of the National Father’s Day committee. By profession I am a soldier and take great pride in that fact. But I am prouder, infinitely prouder, to be a father. A soldier destroys in order to build. A father only builds, never destroys. . . . It is my hope that my son, when I am gone, will remember me not from the battle, but in the home.”

I can guarantee that he will. What will he remember? Let’s decide, today.