Question: "What does the Bible say about Christian fathers?"

The greatest commandment in the Scripture is this: "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all they might" (Deuteronomy 6:5) Dropping back to verse 2, we read, "...That thou mightest fear the Lord thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son's son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged." Following verses state, "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (verses 6-7). Hebrew history reveals that the father was to be diligent in instructing his children in the ways and words of the Lord for their own spiritual development and well-being. The father who was obedient to the commands of their Scriptures did just that. The primary importance in this passage is that children might be raised in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord," the responsibility of a father in the home. This brings us to a passage in the Book of Proverbs, 22:6-11; but, primarily verse 6 which reads, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old (as he grows older), he will not depart from it." To train, indicates the first instruction that a father and mother gives to a child; i.e., his early education. The training is designed to open before the child the manner of life for which he is intended. To commence the child's education in this way is of great importance, just as a tree follows the bent of its early years.

A New Testament passage gives us a clear picture of the Lord's instruction to a father in relation to the rearing of his children. Ephesians 6:4 is a summary word of instruction to parents, represented here by the father, stated in a negative and positive way. "And you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath; but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Here, is what the Bible says about a father's responsibility in raising their children. The negative aspect of this verse indicates that a father is not to foster the bad passions of their children by severity, injustice, partiality, or unreasonable exercise of authority. Ill conduct towards a child will only serve to nurture evil in the heart. The positive aspect is expressed in a comprehensive direction; that is, educate them, bring them up, develop their conduct in all of life by the instruction and admonition of the Lord. This is the training (being a definite role model as a father) or education of a child—the whole process of educating and discipline. The word "admonition" carries with it the idea of "putting the child in mind of," which is the act of reminding the child of faults (constructively) or duties (responsibilities according to their level of age and understanding.)

Children are not to be allowed to grow up without care or control. They are to be instructed, disciplined, and admonished, so that they are brought to knowledge, self-control, and obedience. This whole process of education is to be on a spiritual level and Christian (in the true meaning of the word.) It is the "nurture and admonition of the Lord" which is the appointed and the only effectual means of attaining the end of education. Any other substitution or means of educating may very well result in disastrous failure. The moral and spiritual element of our nature is just as essential and as universal as the intellectual. Spirituality therefore is as necessary to the development of the mind as knowledge. Proverbs, again, tells us, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom."

The Christian father is really the instrument in God's hand in this matter of fatherhood. As Christianity is the only true religion, and God in Christ the only true God, the only possible means of profitable education is the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The whole process of instruction and discipline must be that which He (God) prescribes, and which He administers, so that His authority should be brought into constant and immediate contact with the mind, heart, and conscience of the child. The human father should never present himself as the ultimate authority to determine truth and duty. This simply develops the human aspect of "self." It is only by making God, God in Christ, the teacher and ruler, on whose authority everything is to be believed and in obedience to whose will every thing is to be done, that the ends of education can possibly be attained.

The Scriptures instruction to fathers is always God's ideals. We have the tendency at times to bring those ideals down to our human level and experience. Your question, however, is asking what the Bible says about being a father. I have tried to answer accordingly. I have discovered, by experience of being a father to three sons, how much I failed in the biblical ideal. That, however, does not falsify the Scripture and God's truth and wisdom, to say "the Scripture just doesn't work."

Let me summarize what has been said. The word "provoke" means to irritate, exasperate, rub the wrong way, incite, etc. This is done by a wrong spirit and by wrong methods, i.e., severity, unreasonableness, sternness, harshness, cruel demands, needless restrictions, and selfish insistence upon authority. Such provocation would produce adverse reactions, deaden his affection, check his desire for holiness, and make him feel that he can't possibly please his parents. (I know—been there, done that). A wise parent (I wish I had been wiser) seeks to make obedience desirable and attainable by love and gentleness. Parents must not be godless tyrants.

Martin Luther said, "Keep an apple beside the rod to give the child when he does well." Discipline in general education and culture must be exercised with watchful care and constant training with much prayer. Chastening, discipline, and counsel by the Word of God, giving both reproof and encouragement whenever needed, is indicative of "admonition." The instruction given proceeds from the Lord, is learned in the school of Christian experience, and is administered by the parents (the father). Christian discipline is needed to prevent children from growing up without reverence for God, respect for parental authority, knowledge of Christian standards, and habits of self-control.

"All Scripture is given of God, and is profitable for teaching, reproving, correcting, and instruction in righteousness; that the man (or woman) of God may be completely equipped for all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). This is what the Bible says about being a father. The means and methods that fathers may use to teach God's truth will necessarily vary. But those truths should always be able to be applied in any lifetime vocations, in living and lifestyle. As the father is faithful in role modeling, what a child learns about God will stand him/her in good stead throughout their earthly lives, no matter what they do or where they go. They will learn to "love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, and with all their strength" and desire to serve Him in everything they do.