In our last article we considered the admonition of Ephesians 6:4, “And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” A father through his own sin and wickedness can do great damage to his children. On the other hand, a God-fearing father who truly loves his children and loves the God of His covenant children is in a position to do great good for his children by the grace of God. As Noah of old was, a faithful father can be the instrument of God for the saving of his house. The book of Proverbs speaks of the joy that a father has in a wise son. The covenant home has great joy when children grow up confessing the name of the God and living for His glory by walking in His truth. This great joy is usually the reward of the diligent and faithful labors of a God-fearing father (together of course with godly mothers).
There are several ways fathers show godly concern for their covenant children. Fathers do this by showing genuine personal interest in the children and giving them their loving attention. These children are dear and precious to him above almost all good on this earth. Fathers show their interest by giving of their time and energy to guide them, to help them in their troubles, and to instruct and encourage them in their ways. This takes personal sacrifices on the part of the fathers. Fathers must know that is it only for a short time that these children are with them in the covenant home. Fathers show their interest by having meaningful conversation with their children and listening to what they have to say.
Every father should give a measure of formal instruction to his children. He not only reads the Bible regularly in family devotions, but he takes the time to explain the true meaning of the Scriptures in a way that his children can understand. He takes the time to make practical application of the Word of God to the lives of his children. In their youthfulness they are not always able to do this for themselves. The Reformed faith has a doctrinal basis. This doctrine is derived from the infallible Scriptures. This doctrine is the important foundation for the whole of true Christianity. This foundation must be laid for the children in the days of their youth. This doctrine is summarized by the confessions of the church. The children must also be taught this. Godly fathers send their children to catechism classes realizing the need of the church’s help and her official ministry in this spiritual training. Fathers must be sure that the children are well prepared for the catechism classes. They must inquire about the behavior of their children, teaching them respect for the authority of the church.
Fathers must teach with conviction and sincerity the doctrine that they themselves have learned through their own personal and careful study of the Word of God. Good fathers are men who regularly read solid Reformed doctrinal books to equip themselves together with the church to defend and maintain God’s truth. They are up to date on current discussion on and popular false teachings of the time. These can teach their children and bring them to maturity so that they take their own place in the church. Fathers must warn their children regarding the many false teachers that are in the world, and warn children so that they are not deceived, tossed to and fro by the winds of doctrine of the time. In this way, when these children grow up, they do not easily leave the church in which they were raised from their youth in the providence of God. They do not imagine that in this modern-day world all churches are very closely in agreement in what they teach and practice.
Most of the instruction of fathers is conveyed to the children through their daily conversation in the home when the children are listening and when everyone is facing the challenges of life in many areas. Fathers will reveal their convictions and perspectives on the many issues of life by the way they behave in their own daily occupations and businesses and by reading what is the greatest interest in their own lives. Children will learn from this how important honesty, righteousness, and sincerity really is. Watching and listening to their fathers, children will develop their own opinions, convictions, and perspectives on life. Of greatest importance, of course, is that the confession of the truth we make before our children in our homes is supported by our own daily Christian living. Children are able to detect hypocrisy in the lives of their fathers perhaps better than anyone else. There are few things more destructive to nurturing the true godliness of our children than hypocrisy on the part of fathers.
The personal prayer life of fathers in the covenant home is of great importance for the nurturing of the children. What are we praying for? Do we pray above all for subjects like the glory of the name of God, the coming of the kingdom of God, and submission to His will in all of life? These are the great subjects that our Lord taught us always to make prominent in prayer. A superficial Christianity will be instilled in the minds and hearts of the children if fathers’ prayers never rise above earthly and carnal concerns. The regularity, sincerity, and earnestness of fathers’ prayers will teach the children by example the need for and reality of dependence of God. Such prayers will teach children the truth of God’s sovereignty in practical spiritual perspective. Clichés and stock phrases will teach children that prayer is merely cold, religious formalism.
Fathers’ attitudes regarding church and the preaching of the gospel by her is so important. Sinful criticism of the church, potshots at her ministers, and mockery of the truth she preaches and defends will breed in children the same sinful, critical, and mocking spirit. Positively, support and thankfulness for the church and the truth she maintains and preaches will by God’s grace have a godly effect on the spiritual attitude of the children. Respect for the church’s offices and the sanctity of her worship services must be learned by children from their fathers. Fathers will teach their children by their own example the importance of zealous support for and active involvement in the life and ministry of the church.
God has given especially to fathers the responsibility of exercising consistent, firm, and loving discipline over their children. Contrary to the foolish imagination of men, permissiveness will usually have a negative effect on the behavior of children, continuing also in their later life. Children must learn the seriousness of sin in their lives and the urgency of daily repentance. Sin not repented of will cause hardness of heart and complicated involvement with many sinful behavior patterns. But this discipline must be administered in love. Few things nurture deep-seated bitterness and anger in children more than a cruel and harsh discipline that reveals the pride and grievous lack of self-control on the part of fathers. Discipline must have the purpose of correction unto godliness. The loving discipline of fathers must reveal God the Father’s love for His children. This love sometimes requires chastening to correct and sanctify the children and to instruct them in righteousness. Such loving discipline will have the fruit of peace and order in the home and in the lives of the children. Discipline by fathers must be consistent and measured. It must teach the children the difference between right and wrong. Discipline must not breed legalism and pharisaism in children. It must direct children in a life of thankfulness to God and the serious practice of holiness. The father’s discipline in the covenant home must be accompanied by constant words of encouragement and praise for children who show themselves to be obedient. If fathers speak to their children only to criticize and judge them harshly and even belittle them, these fathers can only expect discouragement and even rebellion in the later lives of their children.
A vital part of the influence of the godly fathers in the covenant home is their attitude and behavior towards their wives. The wife is the mother of our covenant children. When things are as they should be in the home of the family blessed by the Lord, mothers are highly regarded and deeply loved by the covenant children in the home. They have experienced their mother’s daily self-sacrificing, loving service and care of the family. If then fathers abuse and dishonor their godly wives by callous behavior and constant, sinful words of anger and disappointment toward them, this will have a serious negative effect. Sometimes this negative effect will result in hatred and bitterness on the part of the children towards their fathers. Spousal abuse has terrible consequences in the home and the family.
Fathers must take the time to give their covenant children godly counsel in regards to the important issues effecting the future stability and happiness of the children and the whole way of their life later as adults, including the marriages and homes they themselves will go on to build. Most fathers enjoy seeing the children follow in their own occupation in later life. Often this will result in great financial advantage and the opportunity for fathers to teach their own skills and expertise to their children. This can be a great good. But not all children will choose the same occupations as their fathers. Fathers should not be overly and unnecessarily disappointed in this. Children need guidance in choosing the right occupation, one that will not involve compromise in Christian principles or in the need for moving away from the true church. Children need wise counsel and encouragement to choose occupations matching their God-given talents and interests. Fathers have good opportunity to instill discipline and a good work ethic in their children. We all have the calling to work hard in life. Laziness is a sin. This has important spiritual implications. Our children must be taught by fathers the importance of hard work in life so that they grow up having the potential for occupations that will help them in later life to be able to support Christian families and give good stability to their homes. Good occupations with sufficient incomes are necessary to support the ministry of the church and pay for Christian school tuition. Fathers must be sure that children do not fritter away the time of their youth or engage in little else than entertainment and useless activities. Children must be taught by fathers to work hard at preparing themselves for later life through careful study and necessary training of themselves.
Fathers must certainly counsel their children regarding the choice of future marriage partners. A father is utterly foolish if he allows young people to make the choice of lifelong partners entirely on their own. Few things will have as great of an impact on the future for our children than the lifelong marriage partners they usually chose in the days of youth. Sometimes when young people are still immature choices are made on the basis of mere outward appearances and superficial romantic attractions. Serious consequences can follow bad choices in the days of youth. These can result in trouble soon after marriages begin, including the disaster of divorce and all of its evil effects.
As fathers, we must convey to our children the great joy of Christian living. Fathers must be daily examples and inspirations of the true joy and happiness of Christian living in their homes. This joy and happiness can only be found in the way of fearing God in the home and keeping His commandments. This joy will never be full even in the home most blessed of the Lord. Our homes are still in a world under the curse of the Fall and sometimes full of sorrow and misery. Christian joy will always be mixed with a measure of sorrow, even sometimes with great trials and suffering. Fathers must prepare their children to endure these, leaning on the grace of God and trusting His goodness even in severe trials. Children must be taught not to become bitter and angry with the Lord’s providence. The godly examples of fathers are so important in regard to these realities. Fathers who are constantly murmuring and complaining about hardships and trials in their own lives will not teach their children the way of godliness and patient trust in God in times of great trials. Nevertheless, the joy of the Lord must be known and experienced in the covenant home. Otherwise children will develop an attitude of negativism and pessimism dishonoring to the Lord. Fathers have a great opportunity through the perspective of their own lives and godly attitude to maintain the true joy and blessedness of their home. May God help all those who are fathers in covenant homes to be a good influence for the sake of our God-given children.