Dad: God’s Design for Generational Spiritual Influence
“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.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 ESV)
There are a lot of aspects to being a good dad and I can’t touch on all of them here. But here’s the reality: the most important thing a dad can do is to influence his family and children toward following Jesus. You can get them through school, and that’s important. You can give them amazing experiences growing up, and that’s great. You can prepare them to succeed in business and life; that’s wonderful. But if in the end they reject Christ, then what good is their GPA or career success?
Our primary goal as dads has to be the spiritual life and faith of our children. Dads, do you agree? Here’s why this is important: your child is either going to spend eternity in heaven or hell and God has placed you in their life as a primary means of their evangelism and discipleship. It is so easy to get distracted by a thousand good things and miss the most important one. So how do we do this? How does a dad exert fatherly spiritual influence on his children?
- “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21)
- “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
While there is no manual on being a dad in the New Testament, the repetition in these two different letters emphasizes Paul’s main concern. “Do not provoke.” What’s that? It is the negative side of the positive that the rest of the verse provides: “Bring them up.” To provoke is to father your children in a domineering way that creates resentment. It tears them down.
That is not to say fathers shouldn’t discipline. Hear Scripture here as well: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24) Scripture gives examples of absentee discipline, especially Samuel’s sons and famously David’s Son Absalom. Scripture says that David never told him no. A sure way to raise a little terror is to exercise little or no discipline.
But it’s easy to miss it on the other side too and discipline with all law and no grace, making every offense a nuclear one. It’s dominating our kids even into early adulthood and giving them no space or grace. This influences them negatively, away from your faith and gospel.
Ephesians 6 provides the wonderful balance: discipline them, but bring them up. Dads, we need to be nurturers, like a gardener who trims but also waters, pulls weeds but also fertilizes. We seek to remove what is harmful to their character and encourage and cheer what God delights in as well.
Most of this has to do with our words. How are you using the power of your words to inspire spiritual interest and growth? Affirmation is a powerful dad weapon. Angry words can tear down. Affirming words can and will build up. Don’t just say, “Way to go!” but rather “Son, when you did or said or acted in this way, I was so proud of you. I’m proud of the loving son you are becoming. I think you know what I mean. I love you.”
Dad, you are a sinner but God delights to use faithful Christian dads to turn boys into men, men into husbands, and husbands into godly fathers and spiritual heroes to their kids.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2016 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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