First of all I want to tell you about what happened to me at Starbucks the other day. I told the barista that I wanted the mild roast and she looked at me and said, “You have very average ears.” I took a chance with that joke—I’m trusting you guys—to know both meanings of “roast.” Dad jokes.
I’m gonna tell you a story from when I was a kid that might show you more about how I approach life than you need to know. I was about 8 years old and we were on a little family vacation. I think it was the first time we went to the river with my new stepdad and his boys—he was gonna teach me how to water ski. So I’m in the water, I got my orange life jacket on, the giant skis on my feet, I’m trying to keep them pointed straight up. Bob Hart says there’s only two things to remember: hold onto the ski rope with both hands and don’t let go unless a ski falls off. Got it! Let’s do this. He gives the boat a little acceleration and the slack goes out of the rope—I feel it start to pull me forward—here we go! It pulls me all the way forward, now I’m face-down in the water like Superman, skis behind me— I can still see the rocks on the bottom of the river glistening in the sunlight—racing before my eyes. It’s not going the way I imagined but I keep thinking, “Don’t let go unless a ski falls off.” Mom is watching from the riverbank, she stands up and starts screaming—my new step brothers are laughing—Bob Hart keeps going, picking up speed. I didn’t drown. I didn’t ski, either. I may be a bit too literal at following instructions sometimes. Eventually a ski fell off and I let go of the rope. Never did learn to ski, though.
That might be a picture of what fatherhood is like. I think snow skiing is better though. Except it would be the steepest, most dangerous slope on the mountain and you’ve never skied before—and just before you start to make your first run—they hand you a crying baby. Then maybe just when you start to get the hang of it they hand you another one. And it takes 18 to 25 years to get to the bottom—then they hand you a grandchild, it never stops. That’s fatherhood. I think. But I’ve never snow skied either.
Today I want to spend a little time on the subject of fatherhood—it’s pretty important. The way we think about fatherhood has a lot to do with the way we think about God. It’s a really important theme throughout Scripture. God says we’re to think of Him as our Father. Which is great if our dad was good to us, but it’s complicated if he was bad to us, or absent—still, God says we’re supposed to honor our fathers. (And our mothers but this is Father’s Day, so focus people.) We’re supposed to honor our fathers, whether or not they’re honorable—that doesn’t have anything to do with it. We’re just supposed to honor them—we don’t do it for them. It’s for us.
Here’s our text: Ephesians 6:1-4
“Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.”
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”
Prayer: Father in heaven. Father. Many of us here today are dads or will be dads someday. All of us have dads. Help us to hear these words today as Your children—to get a better understanding of how we’re supposed to live these lives You’ve given us. To get a better understanding of what it means to be Your child. How to be a faithful son or daughter. How to be a faithful father and grandfather in this world. Most importantly, what it means to be fully loved and embraced by You because of our brother and Lord Jesus Christ. AMEN.
So, what can we learn about fatherhood from the way our heavenly Father fathers us? There’s probably a thousand different ways I could go with this, but I’m gonna focus on two big ideas. I think they’re the two biggest ways that we tend to get this whole fatherhood thing wrong.
We either crush their kids with rules or we don’t discipline at all. Crush them or ignore them. Smother them or neglect them.
But that’s not how God treats us. Think about it: He put Adam and Eve in a garden paradise with one rule. Doug Wilson says it was a “garden of yes with a tree of no.” Everywhere they looked was freedom and delight and joy—The Father walked with them and enjoyed it with them. It was a garden of yes. Everything was permissible—except for one tree.
Dads, does that sound like your house?
The first time I heard it put this way I was really convicted. My kids were still little and I realized I was raising them in a garden of no. A garden of “stop annoying me.” A garden of “can you just be quiet?” I’d see them coming from across the room to ask me something and before they even opened their mouth, before I even knew what they wanted, my answer was “no.” I had ten thousand rules, all designed to accomplish one thing: keep them from bothering me.
Like in the car. My kids can still tell you these rules today, three rules: No sound effects. No repetition. No counting. Sometimes people wonder why the “no counting” rule—they apparently never had kids that would come up with games like, “Angel, let’s count how many things we see out the window.” Things. Or “Let’s count to 100. One. Two. Three. Four. Wait, let me start over. One. Two. Three…” It’s like psychological torture or mind control.
No counting. No sound effects. No repetition. No exceptions.
Anyway, so the first time I heard about the Garden of yes with a tree of no—I realized I said “no” too much. I had too many rules. I was more like a garden of no with a tree of maybe later. And most of my reasons were pretty selfish. I knew I needed to make some pretty big changes before I crushed my kids and they started resenting me. The rules we have for our kids need to be more like training wheels and less like a straitjacket. They need to teach them to love and appreciate goodness and kindness and beauty—not just to try and force compliance.
God’s Word gives us a standard—and as fathers, we need to teach our kids to love the standard not smash them with it. We only have a few years to make this happen.
So I started saying “yes” a lot more. I’d only say “no” if it was gonna be harmful to them, if it was a sin, if it would be bad for them if I said yes. This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’d be like, “I want to say no, but why do I want to say no? Is it just because it would inconvenience me? Irritate me? Because I think I’m too busy?”
I got good at it though. Too good. I got to where I didn’t say “no” even when I probably should have. The kids stopped going to their mom to get permission all the time, like they did if at all possible when they were little—and they started coming to me. Because they knew I was becoming a pushover.
But I kept the three car rules. To this day. No sound effects. No repetition. No counting. You gotta draw the line somewhere. But outside the car—sometimes I’m a little too lenient.
Which brings me to the second big idea:
Don’t crush your kids with rules but also, don’t give up on them.
Remember what our text said? “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” Don’t crush them with rules that mostly come from selfishness and irritation—that’ll just make them mad and push them away. Push them away from us, away from God, away from the standard that we should be teaching them to love for themselves. But it says, “Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”
The opposite of not provoking our kids to anger and crushing them with petty rules isn’t to give them no rules—to just let them do whatever they want. It’s to nurture them with discipline and instruction—but not just any discipline and instruction—discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. To teach them what God’s standard for them is. By the way—Dad, how are you gonna teach them something you don’t know yourself? How are you gonna teach them to love a standard that you haven’t bothered to become familiar with? You need to be reading the Bible and learning what it says. But you also need to realize that Your heavenly Father hasn’t grabbed you by the back of your neck and forced your nose into the Scriptures—keep that in mind when your kids don’t do what they’re supposed to do.
Do not punish. Fathers are not to punish their children. Ever. All the kids in the room are suddenly paying very close attention. Teenagers are getting excited, parents are getting nervous. I mean it, if you love your children you should never punish them. God doesn’t punish you when you do something wrong.
But He does discipline you.
There’s a big difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline is trying to correct a wrong and get someone back on the right path. God never stops disciplining His children because He loves us.
Punishment isn’t trying to correct anything, it’s retribution. Payback. Punitive. The goal of punishment is to make a person suffer for what they’ve done. Punishment is not grace. Punishment is not trying to restore a person. That’s discipline.
God says that a Father who doesn’t discipline his child, hates his child.
God disciplines His children. Who are God’s children. God’s children are the ones who call Him Father because of Jesus. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, everyone who believes in Jesus will be saved—they will be called the sons of God (which includes daughters). They will inherit the kingdom of God and be granted eternal life. If you stand before God with Jesus as an adopted and beloved child—God will never stop loving you, He will never give up on you. Which means he will never stop disciplining you. This is a good thing.
John 3:16 says
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.”
Then it goes on to say But anyone who does not believe in Him has already been judged—and found to be evil and their sins will be exposed. In other words, if we believe in Jesus, we’ll be treated as a beloved child, disciplined by a loving Father—the reason for that is because Jesus took our punishment for us.
There was punishment. It’s just that on the cross, Jesus took the full weight of the punishment that should have been for us and our sins—our sins, our kid’s sins. That’s why God doesn’t punish us. That’s why we don’t punish our kids—Jesus took our punishment and their punishment on Himself. We either believe that—that He did all that for us—we either believe that with thankful hearts, or the full weight of our sin will crush us and we’ll be condemned for our unthankful unbelief.
We always have to remember the Gospel: Once you were dead in your sin. Your stepfather was the devil and you acted just like him. You walked like him, you talked like him. You were headed for the same punishment he’s headed for—the punishment prepared for the devil and his angels. That’s the bad news.
Here’s the good news: But God is so rich in mercy and loves you so much, that even though you were dead in your sins, He gave you life when He raised Jesus from the dead. A free gift. All grace. Life, forgiveness. You’re a beloved child of God now. Because of Jesus, you can go right up to Him anytime you want, with confidence and boldness—knowing that He wants you there, you are always welcome. That’s the Gospel.
You’re not gonna be punished for your mistakes. For your sins. God will never stop loving you which means He will never stop disciplining you. This is how we should father our kids, too.
These are the two big things I want us to learn about fatherhood from the way God fathers us: He doesn’t crush us with rules but He never gives up on us. He puts us in a garden of yes with a tree of no. What’s the one rule in this new garden of yes? What’s the one rule in the kingdom of God?
It’s love. Be kind to each other. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength—love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” If we get this—if we learn that love is the standard—all the rest of it falls into place. Everything else is just application.
The Ten Commandments are important for sure, but you can obey the Ten Commandments and still be a jerk. This is where the discipline of the Father is gonna come in. He’s gonna teach us to not only submit to His standard but He’s gonna teach us to love it. If we think we understand anything about God the Father that can’t be seen through the lens of love—we’re missing the point. God is love. Everything has to be understood through that. Through love.
Let me end this today with a few practical applications for what fathering should look like if we approach fatherhood like God the Father.
First, and this applies to all of us, God wants us to honor our fathers, even if they’re not honorable—because the truth is, none of them are, not completely. God wants us to obey our fathers—as well as we can. Obviously not if they tell us to sin or if they try to force us to do something evil. But if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t obey your father, you better be sure that what he’s telling you to do is really bad, and not just something that you don’t want to do. You better make sure that you’re being honorable in your refusal to obey—if we want life to go well for us.
Second, if we’re gonna father the way God wants us to father, It’s not selfish. Pursue your kids. Love is never selfish. We don’t make rules just to keep the kids from annoying us. We don’t hide from our family by staying late at work and then being distracted when we’re at home—with TV or hobbies or whatever else. We have to pursue our kids. We include them in our life. We teach them the things we know and we teach them to love what we love.
Dads, we should never stop disciplining our kids. But discipline has one purpose in mind, and one only—to help our kids be faithful to God. To help them love. But we should never discipline when we’re angry. The Bible says “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” Galatians 6:1 We’re not supposed to discipline our kids while we’re still mad about whatever happened. Wait until we’re a bit more spiritual—until we can gently and humbly help them get back on the right path. The anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God—not even for dads.
We have one primary job—to encourage our kids to be faithful to God. To start their week worshiping God in church, to start their day worshiping God by reading the Bible and praying. The best way to encourage these things is to do them with our kids. That’s why we have the YoungOnes in worship for the first half of the service—so they can worship with mom and dad, so they can see what worship looks like. Your kids are probably gonna learn how to worship God the same way you worship God—I don’t know about you, but that feels kinda heavy to me.
Dads, do you want to know the most important thing you can do to change the world? To prepare your kids for a good life? Take them to church. Show them that you love God more than anything else in life by making it a top priority to worship, serve and learn about God’s Word in church. Whether or not our kids grow up to be the kind of adults who teach their kids to love God has a lot to do with whether or not we brought them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. Which among other things means dad takes his family to church.
Look, none of us know what we’re doing. Like I said, it’s like a person who’s never been skiing before—going down the most dangerous slope, holding a baby, and it doesn’t end for 18 years or so. It doesn’t ever really end, but we got about 18 years or so before they really need to start doing it on their own. We got about 18 years to get them ready. That’s not much time. We need to make the most of it. Whatever rules we have for our kids should get more simple every year as they get older. As they get closer to being an adult we have to give them more and more freedom and trust—give them a chance to love and embrace the standard for themselves. When we see that they’re missing the mark, talk to them about it—gently and humbly help get them back on the right path. Make sure they want to come back to you for help—it’s gonna be a lifetime job.
So, let’s not crush our kids with rules but let’s never give up on them, either. That’s fatherhood. That’s parenting. That’s how our heavenly Father fathers us. He never gives up on us. AMEN