The Blessing of Godly Fatherhood
Back when I was a teenager, we were at youth group one night, and the band had just finished a rousing rendition of “Romans 16:19.” Our youth pastor was in a bit of a goofy mood, and he had the crazy idea of flipping open the Bible at random and singing various Bible verses to the tune of “Romans 16:19.”
I think we had a few misfires, but he had us all belly laughing when he pointed, at random, to Proverbs 21:9, and started singing, “Better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (Proverbs 21:9, NIV).
We laughed, because we thought it was silly, but I think that moment also illustrated how I, and perhaps many other Christians, looked at the book of Proverbs. I saw it as a puzzling collection of random sayings that were just as curious as they were edifying. For years, Proverbs 1-9 made sense to me. But from chapter 10 onwards, we find one short little statements after the other, and they don’t really seem to fit together. Consider the first few verses of Proverbs 10: “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother. Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:1–4).
How do you make sense of that?
Well, today we pick up our summer series in Proverbs, and we’re going to do our best to make sense of that. So I’m going to start by saying a few things at the beginning about how we should understand these proverbs, and second, how we’re going to approach this sermon series through it, and then finally, we’re going to look at one group of proverbs today grouped around one theme.
How the Proverbs Work
Let’s start by talking about how the Proverbs work. Look again at the beginning of chapter 10 and those four statements we just read together. Each of those verses is a proverb, which is where the book gets its name from. And what we notice right away is that they all have a very similar structure. They say one thing, and then there’s the word “but,” and then they say something else. Many of the proverbs follow this pattern.
Look at verse 2 and 3 for example: “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked” (Proverbs 10:2–3).
Each of these proverbs paints a contrast between the righteous and the wicked. Many other proverbs contrast the foolish and the wise, the prudent and the shameful, the lazy and the hard-working, and so on.
These proverbs, in other words, give us a way of looking at the world. They help us see the world in black-and-white terms. And, very often, they also present us with a choice: are you going to be wicked or righteous, lazy or hard-working? That’s important for us to understand. The Proverbs aren’t just commenting on life. They are inviting us to live wisely by choosing between these two outcomes.
Another thing we notice about the proverbs is that most of them are short. Even in Hebrew, they are terse, using at few words as possible. That’s one of their distinctive features. As one commentator said, they are like a slideshow that goes “click” at the end instead of a movie that fades out.1Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1–15, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 38.
And that’s on purpose. The proverbs are not designed to say everything that can be said about a particular topic. And that’s by design. We need to take all of the Proverbs together to see a more full picture on any one topic.
So for example, look at verse 3, which says that the Lord “thwarts the craving of the wicked.” The wicked want something, and God thwarts or stops that craving. Sounds simple enough, right? If you’re wicked, and you want something, God isn’t going to let you get it.
But… is that the whole truth? We know it’s not because verse 2 says, “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit.” So right there we see that the wicked do gain treasures. So sometimes, the wicked do get what they crave.
But verse 2 says that “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit.” When the wicked get rich by wickedness, it’s not going to turn out well for them in the end. And so that helps us understand verse 3. The wicked might get what they crave today. But long-term, their cravings will be thwarted. Long-term, things aren’t going to work out well for them.
That’s just a little example of how we need to understand the proverbs. They are short snapshots of a particular truth from a particular angle. They don’t say everything that there is to say. We need to take them all together, and take them with the rest of Scripture, in order to build a well-rounded understanding.
So in other words, we should be cautious of taking a single proverb and turning it into a promise that we base a whole philosophy on. Many parents have done that with Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Sounds simple, right? If you do your part to train up your child in the right way, they’re going to follow the truth. Guaranteed.
But let’s just ask: if it were that simple, then why was the whole book of Proverbs even written? Think of the first 9 chapters, written to a son on the verge of adulthood, urging him to please listen and choose wisdom as he becomes a man. He’s warned over and over again about the dangers lurking out there in the wide world, and he’s threatened with what might happen to him if he doesn’t listen.
Clearly, Solomon knew that his son could stray from the straight path. He didn’t think, “I trained him up in the way he should go, so now I’ve got nothing to worry about.” Solomon understood that parental training is just one part of the equation, and that children still have a choice in the matter as they grow older. And that’s why he wrote what he did.
So in other words, Proverbs 22:6 isn’t an airtight promise that describes all angles of parenting. It’s a simple snapshot that helps us see one important aspect of the truth, which is: how we raise our children matters. It makes a difference. Often, God uses godly parenting to set a child’s trajectory for life.
But, we take that together with other proverbs which show us that children can still choose to reject what they were taught. And together, the Proverbs give us a well-rounded view of life that, with the rest of Scripture, shows us the way of wisdom.
So that’s how the Proverbs work. They are screen grabs, not the whole movie. And they invite us not just to reflect, but to respond and to act.
Will It Preach?
Now, the next question is, “How do you preach on the Proverbs?” It would be very hard to preach, verse by verse, in order, through these next chapters.
So here’s the plan: for the last few weeks, Tim has been going through the book of Proverbs and has grouped them together according to topic. We’ve identified fourteen different themes or topics. And, between now and September, we’re going to take up each of those topics, and preach a sermon that touches on each of the proverbs related to that topic.
So by the end of the series, we will have preached on the whole book, but we’re just grouping them by subject. Each week we’ll print off a sheet that will have that week’s proverbs printed on it, so you can grab one on your way in and see them all in one spot.
So today I had to choose which topic I would begin with. And I chose parenting and fatherhood. I did that because we’ve already spent time in Proverbs 22:6, and also because it’s fitting for Father’s Day. And then for the next few weeks, while I’m on vacation and even after I’m back, we’ll hear from Josh and Jordan and Brad and Tim and Jason who will take up themes like money and friends and neighbours and true justice as we look at the different proverbs which speak to those different topics.
Fatherhood is Primary
So now that we’ve had an introduction to the series, we’re going to look to the Proverbs to see what they have to say to us about parenting and fatherhood. And you might ask why I am saying parenting and fatherhood instead of parenting and motherhood? And the answer is that while the Proverbs speak to both mothers and fathers, they repeatedly assume that the parent with the primary responsibility for the children is the father.
Isn’t that interesting? In our world today we assume the opposite. We assume that the mom is the main parent, and the dad just tags along, if he’s even there at all. And it’s not really a joke. Fatherlessness is a major problem in our world today. Whether it’s dads who actually abandon their families, or dads who stick around but aren’t engaged—dads who spend all of their time at work or on their hobbies or their phones and never develop a real relationship with their kids, dads who never lead, dads who are passive push-overs—so much of our modern world is plagued with father hunger.
But in Scripture, dads are addressed as the parent with primary responsibility for their children. Think of Ephesians 6:4, which says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Dads, bringing up your kids is primarily your job.
Now, moms might be the ones spending the most time with their children. Throughout most of human culture, moms have been the primary nurturers. Ephesians 6:4 is not advocating for stay-at-home dads, and I’m certainly not either.
But what we do see here is that a father has primary responsibility for his children. He is the one who gave them life, and he is the one responsible for them. What a mom does to care for the children, she does in her role as her husband’s helper.
And so, in those three proverbs which we read together earlier, we can see that the primary parent addressed is the father. “His children will have a refuge” (Proverbs 14:26). “The glory of children is their fathers” (Proverbs 17:6). “Blessed are his children after him!” (Proverbs 20:7).
So that’s the first point here on this topic. Fathers have primary responsibility for their children.
The Blessing of Fatherhood: Joy and Security
The next three points we’ll look at have to do with the blessing that godly fathers provide to their children. And we’ll start by staying with those three proverbs we’ve seen already, where we find that a godly father can be a great blessing to his children as a source of joy and security.
14:26 says, “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.” When a man fears God, he can walk in confidence. Those who fear God need fear nothing else. They know how big God is, and how great He is, and how small everything else is by comparison, and so they walk in strong confidence.
And their children benefit. “His children will have a refuge.” A godly man brings the blessing of confidence and safety to those whom he cares for. He creates a safe harbour for his children to flourish.
Proverbs 17:6 speaks about the way that a godly man is a “glory” to his children. “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,” that proverb begins, and those of you who have grandchildren don’t need that one explained to you at all. Having your grandkids all around you feels like having a gold crown on your head. And this was especially true in the Old Covenant, where having physical children was a particular sign of God’s blessing, as you shared in the promise to Abraham.
But look at the second half of the verse—“and the glory of children is their fathers” (Proverbs 17:6). A godly dad is a glory to his children. His children should be able to rejoice to say, “That’s my dad.” Not because their dad is trying to be cool and complete with all of their high school friends. But because their dad is a man of rock-solid character, a man who cares for and protects and provides for and leads them. A godly dad is his children’s glory.
Finally, for this point, Proverbs 20:7 says, “The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him!” (Proverbs 20:7). Again, there’s some big Old Covenant points here. A godly man in the Old Covenant would leave his children with material blessing and an inheritance. But even here in the New Covenant, this proverb is still true. Those of you who have had godly dads know that you are truly blessed in so many ways because your father was a righteous man who walked in his integrity. And those of you who are fathers today have the chance to be this kind of a father to your children.
The Blessing of Fatherhood: Discipline
So we’ve seen the perspective that fathers have primary responsibility for their children. We’ve seen the blessing of fatherhood in providing joy and security to his children. Next, we see the blessing of fatherhood in discipline.
There are many proverbs about discipline. We’ll spend a whole morning later on this summer considering the blessing of discipline. But for this morning, consider these five statements about the absolute importance of a father disciplining his children:
- “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24).
- “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death” (Proverbs 19:18).
- “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).
- “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol” (Proverbs 23:13–14).
- “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Proverbs 29:15).
These verses extoll the value of discipline, particularly the importance of physical discipline. And some of you might be thinking, “Yikes. I liked all that stuff a few moments ago about being a blessing to my kids, but I’m not sure how I feel about this discipline business.” And yet, from the perspective of the book of Proverbs, disciplining your children is one of the main ways that you are a blessing to them.
Notice how 13:24 says that those who don’t discipline their children hate them. Loving parents, loving fathers, are diligent to discipline them. 19:18 says that those who don’t discipline their children have set their heart on putting them to death. In other words, by allowing their children to do whatever they want, they are preparing their children for death. And that’s why 23:14 says, “If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol” (Proverbs 23:14). From the grave.
And why is this? Why is discipline so important? 22:15 explains for us: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” No child is born naturally wise. Children have hearts full of folly. Children are naturally selfish and disobedient and rebellious. They don’t need any help thinking of themselves before others. They don’t need any help being foolish.
And if parents let them go the way that they want to go, they are going to walk straight into a life of behaviours that harm them and others.
And the perspective of Proverbs is that, especially when the children are young, it takes more than words to get the foolishness out of their hearts. It takes the strong hand of discipline—which often means physical discipline. Bruce Waltke, in his masterful commentary on Proverbs, wrote this:
The English proverb, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” is biblical and has stood the test of history. The biblical method of rearing is loving the child, which entails strict discipline and valuing him or her as a gift from God (4:3; 31:2). The New Testament teaching does not abrogate or supersede it and should not be abandoned in the church as unfashionable (cf. Eph. 6:4; Heb. 12:5–11) or explained away as culturally conditioned. “A hard way to wisdom is better than a soft way to death.” The failure of the apostate Western world to continue the biblical practice has left its civilization in moral chaos…2Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1–15, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 574–575.
There are parents who think that they can just talk to their kids instead of using physical discipline, but according to Proverbs, that is foolishness, pure and simple. There are parents who stand by and plead with their children as if their children were the ones in authority. And the question that these proverbs ask is, “How much do you need to hate your child to not step in and discipline them physically?”
I want to make two important comments here. First, I don’t think that these proverbs are telling us exactly how we must discipline. In other words, they are not telling us we must use a “rod.” When these verses talk about “rod of discipline,” the emphasis is on the discipline, not on the rod.
In the ancient world, a rod on the back was the default form of physical discipline. Some of you are old enough to remember the metre stick in elementary school. Today in Canada it’s actually illegal for a parent to use anything other than their hand to discipline their child, and I don’t think that this is in conflict with these passages. What matters is that physical discipline is used when it’s needed.
Second, we should recognize that there’s a huge difference between a corrective spanking, and just hitting your kid because you’re mad at them. Hitting your child because you’re angry is abuse, even if you aren’t hitting them hard. Its abuse because you are abusing your authority over them, and you’re using their body as an object upon which to vent your anger. And it’s not okay.
Godly discipline doesn’t just react when you’re angry, but when the child has clearly disobeyed something that God says is wrong. Godly discipline is controlled and thought-out and deliberate. A godly parent knows to give themselves time to calm down if they are angry, and to only use physical discipline when it’s appropriate, and in a way that’s fitting to the situation.
And godly parents—and today, specifically godly fathers—know the blessing that proper discipline will bring not only to the children but also to themselves: “Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart” (Proverbs 29:17).
The Blessing of Fatherhood: Positive Instruction
Now there’s one more important stop for us this morning, and it’s considering the blessing of fatherhood in positive instruction. And here’s what I mean by this: being a godly parent, a godly father, is not just a matter of disciplining our children when they disobey. It’s just as much, if not more so, a matter of positively, proactively instructing and teaching them throughout all of life.
We’ve already considered 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Training involves correction but is so much more than this. And we know that because, again, the whole book of Proverbs exists. Particularly in the first 9 chapters we see a father proactively seeking to teach his son the right way to live. “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments” (Proverbs 3:1).
We see this elsewhere in Scripture. “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7). “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Dads, do you teach your kids? Are you teaching them how to live wisely? So many dads are narrowly focused on helping their kids learn how to be good at sports or making money. And while that might not be bad, dad, its your job to be instruction your kids in the way of life.
Bruce Waltke, again commenting on Proverbs 13:24, explains that this proverbs assumes that “the home is the basic social unit for transmitting values.”3Waltke, 574 The home is where your kids should learn how to live wisely. And while we praise God for the many godly mothers who invest so much of their life into raising their children in a godly way, dads, do you know that the buck stops with you? Do you know how important your role is?
“My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways” says Proverbs 23:26.
Do you talk that way with your kids? Could you?
You can tell that we’re moving pretty clearly into application mode here, and as we do that, I just want to encourage you dads to own the responsibility that you have for your children. You can’t blame how they are raised on anybody else. You brought them into this world, and they are not a distraction from your responsibilities. They are your responsibility.
Are you training them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord?
If you’re not doing this already, could I encourage you dads to read the Bible with your kids? Whether it’s in the mornings or at the supper table or before they go to bed, I don’t think there’s anything more important a dad could do with his kids than to read them the Bible and tell them what it means.
We’ve got a little book in the library called “Bible Reading With Your Kids” that’s designed specifically to help fathers do this. Young dads, why not start them young? Why not get in the habit even before they are old enough?
Dads, especially young dads, you might also wonder what else is involved. Maybe you’re clueless as to what these things look like in real life. I encourage you to find an older dad who, as far as you can tell, has done this well, and take him out for coffee. Ask him questions. Ask him about what he did, and what he wouldn’t do if he could go back and do it again.
I don’t pretend to be the world’s best dad, but pretty much anything good that I have done, I’ve learned from other good dads who have passed that on to me. Be a student of fatherhood and learn what it means to be an intentional father, knowing your children, drawing out their hearts, and bringing up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. And as you do that, you will be a blessing and a glory to your children.
What About the Rest of Us?
Now, I know that some of you this morning, as you’re listening to these words, are realizing again what a good dad the Lord gave you. He wasn’t perfect, but he did his best, and the way that you can apply this passage today is by telling him how thankful you are to God for him. Use your words and actions today to bless and honour him. Or, if he’s with the Lord already, you can praise God for the blessing of a godly father.
But what if that’s not you? That’s one of the tough aspects of days like Father’s Day and sermons like this. What if you don’t have a good dad? What if your dad didn’t even try?
Passages like this, sermons like this, can be really painful, can’t they be?
And here’s where we need to understand what fatherhood is all about. Human fatherhood was never an end unto itself. Human fatherhood was always meant to be an arrow, orienting us to the real Father, our Heavenly Father, who blesses and disciplines and instructs us.
If you had a good dad, all you had was a pale reflection of the real thing. And if you didn’t have a good dad, or a dad who was around at all, you can still know the real thing.
Consider this for a moment that pretty much all of the gentiles in the New Testament didn’t have godly dads. They were all first-generation Christians. And Roman dads could be pretty brutal. Much of the New Testament law written to a people who had no context for Christian fatherhood.
And so what the New Testament does over and over again is orient us to the fatherhood of God. Like Romans 8, which we read from earlier. Or the book of Ephesians, which points us to the Father again and again, or Hebrews 12 which helps us to see the difficulty in our lives as evidence of our loving Father’s discipline.
I spent most of my life not knowing my dad, and you’d better believe it was hard. But that experience caused me to press in to my Heavenly Father in ways that I might not have otherwise. And I remind my own kids all the time that I’m not their ultimate father. I have a limited role in their lives for a limited time to point them to their real Father.
So dads, that’s your job. Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, their real Father. And people, whether you have a good dad on earth or not, look to and celebrate your Heavenly Father who so faithfully takes care of you, like we’re going to sing in this last song.
And as you go through this upcoming week, don’t forget who your real Father is. Take some time, maybe when you first wake up or before you go to bed, to talk to your Father. Tell Him what’s on your heart. Ask Him to lead you. Thank Him for His love. Surrender to His discipline.
You have a faithful father. A father who gave up His son to the horrors of the cross so that He could adopt you as His child. Let’s praise Him together now.