The Dad Talk
When’s the last time that you’ve had a “dad talk”? For some of you, especially those of you who are younger, maybe your last dad talk was not that long ago. For others of you, your last dad talk could have been a while ago. Maybe it’s been decades. Maybe you’ve never even had a dad talk.
What kinds of reaction to you have to the idea of a dad talk? Is it a negative idea for you? If you never had to have another one of those, would you be just fine with that?
Or, on the other hand, would you give anything to get one more chance, or maybe even the first chance, to sit down with your father and have him talk to you as only a dad can?
I’m not sure what all of the experiences are represented here today, but I raise the subject because we are in a series in the first eight chapters of Proverbs, and I wonder if you’ve noticed that the book of Proverbs is a dad talk.
“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching,” said Proverbs 1:8, and twice more in that chapter the author specifically addressed his son. “My son,” began chapter 2 and 3. Chapter 3:21 said, “My son, do not lose sight of these— keep sound wisdom and discretion.”
And today in chapter 4 we find three more “dad talks.” We just read the last of these three sections, each addressed to a son or sons by the father.
This is really important. The fact that Proverbs, the book of wisdom, is given to us in the form of a dad talk is something we really don’t want to miss. This has some huge implications for dads, for sons and daughters, and even for those of you who may never have had a relationship with your father.
And so what we’re going to do today is walk through chapter 4, listening in on these three dad talks and paying attention to what’s being said. And then we’re going to step back and talk about the big picture and what all of this father-son communication means for every single one of us.
Dad Talk #1
So let’s begin at the top of chapter four with the first “dad talk” in our passage here, found in verses 1-9. It begins with a command: “Hear!” In other words, listen! “Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight.” If you remember chapter 3, it talked about how valuable wisdom is, and so now the father tells his sons to listen up that they might get some.
But in case they don’t remember, he tells them again in verse 2 why they should listen up: “For I give you good precepts.” He’s not teaching them bad stuff. He’s giving them the good stuff.
He continues in verse 3 and 4 to remind his sons that he was once a son to his father. His own father—who would have been king David—had once looked him in the eye and had the dad talk with him, and told him to listen to his words and to learn wisdom from him. David told Solomon, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live” (Proverbs 4:4).
And in verses 5 to 9 he repeats the words of grandpa David to his son about the value and importance of finding wisdom. Like we’ve seen before, wisdom is pictured in these verses as a woman. And what’s interesting is that the language used of lady wisdom here is similar to the language you might use to describe a human relationship with a woman. It’s the language of marriage.
“Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you” (Proverbs 4:6). “Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown” (Proverbs 4:8–9).
The reference to a crown could very well point to a specific kind of crown that a bridegroom would wear on his wedding day, and would fit in with this idea of pursing wisdom as if you were pursing a woman in marriage.
In Solomon’s day, it’s safe to say that most young men wanted to find a good woman and get married. Especially in the Israelite covenant, where bearing children was the main way that God was growing His people.
And later on in Proverbs, we do hear about the importance of finding a good wife, and what to look for in a good wife. That’s one of the lessons the father teaches the son. But that comes later. First, in this dad talk, full of the grandfather’s legacy, he tells his son to seek wisdom. In other words, seeking wisdom should be a higher priority than seeking a wife.
Some of you young people might be rolling your eyes right now. You think you know better. When you are young, and your hormones are surging, being in a romantic relationship feels like the most important thing in the world.
But wisdom knows better. Wisdom knows that nothing is more dangerous than a fool in the grip of passion, and that if you seek another person while ignoring wisdom, you set yourself up for lifetime of pain.
I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve talked to who wished that they could go back and pursue wisdom with a greater intensity and a greater priority than they had pursued romance or marriage. Their lives would have been so different, so much happier.
And that’s a lesson from this first dad talk in chapter 4. Soaked in the family legacy of generations past, the father calls his son to make wisdom a priority above all other priorities.
Dad Talk #2
Our second “dad talk” this morning begins in verse 10. And it begins in much the same way as the others: “Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many” (Proverbs 4:10).
The father tells—perhaps even pleads with—his son to listen to him. Why? So that the years of his life may be many. Once again, we can see that he’s not telling him bad stuff! He’s not telling him these things to spoil his fun or steal his independence. He’s telling him this because it’s good for him.
Notice how the first dad talk focused on what the grandfather had done for the father when he was a boy. Now, in verse 11, the father reminds his son of what he has now done for him: “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness” (Proverbs 4:11).
And in verse 12 and 13 he goes on to give him more reasons to pay attention to this teaching and to hang on tight to the wisdom he’s been taught: “When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life” (Proverbs 4:12–13).
And if he doesn’t do this—if he lets go of his instruction, if he doesn’t guard the wisdom he’s been taught—then verses 14-19 may happen to him. Verses 14-19 are a warning of what happens when we don’t listen to wisdom and wander off into the path of wickedness. And they describe someone totally enslaved to sin.
Verse 16 talks about those who “cannot sleep unless they have done wrong,” and this whole section points to the addictive nature of wickedness. You think you can just dip your toe in the current, but soon you’re totally swept away.
I hope you can see the connection there between wisdom and the way we live. Wisdom isn’t about being smart: it’s about knowing how to live, how to apply God’s truth to all of our life. And if we don’t hang on to wisdom, we may well end up like verses 14-19 describe, totally out of control, enslaved to sin.
This section closes off with a powerful contrast about the two roads Solomon is presenting to his son. After speaking about the dark lives of those who reject God’s wisdom, he says, “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble” (Proverbs 4:18–19).
Take your pick. What do you want? Ever-increasing light, or ever-dangerous darkness? That’s the choice he’s offering here. And the path to light is found in the wise instruction he is offering his son.
Dad Talk #3
Finally, we come to the third “dad talk” in verse 20: “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh” (Proverbs 4:20–22).
Once again we hear the father calling his son to listen up, because true life is found in what he’s teaching him.
As I read through chapter 4 this week, I picked up on a sense of progression. The first “dad talk” in this chapter brought in the legacy of the grandfather. The second section reminded the son of what the father had done to pass this legacy on. And now in this third section he tells his son that it’s really up to him now. As a father, he has taught his son wisdom, but he can’t actually make him wise. He can’t do this for him.
And so he tells his son to “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). The father can’t keep the son’s heart for him. It’s up to the son now to take what he’s learned and use it to protect his heart.
This language of the “heart” is really important. It points us to the Bible’s teaching that who we are and what we do starts on the inside, in our hearts. Ever since Adam and Eve, we tend to blame our sin on those around us, on things outside of us, but the truth is that sin—and righteousness—start inside.
Listen to Jesus in Matthew 12:34-35: “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34–35).
The stuff that comes out of you—your words, your actions, your reactions—is not the fault of the people around you. All they can do is poke and provoke you, but what comes out of you has always been inside of you.
Parents, when your kids push your buttons and you say things you regret, they didn’t make you say those things. Those things had been at the bottom of the pot all along. All they did was stir the pot.
That’s what Solomon is pointing to when he says that from the heart flow the springs of life. And so he tells his son to keep his heart carefully, to protect his inner self from corruption at all costs. And after that, he goes on in verse 24 and 25 to talk about his speech and his eyes and how he needs to pay attention and think carefully about the direction of his life. That’s all important, and it all starts with the heart.
Now here’s something we need to see, to tie this all together: when Solomon tells his son to keep his heart, he’s not changing the subject from all this talk about wisdom. Not at all. Rather, what he’s saying is that listening to instruction and hanging on to wisdom is the way that we keep our heart. Listening to instruction, listening to wisdom is how you protect your heart from poison and set yourself up for a full and a rich and a righteous and a wise life.
So that’s the gist of these three “dad talks.” As he passes on what he’s learned from previous generations, Solomon works to help his son understand how important wisdom is, how much of a priority it needs to be in his life, the dangers in store if he’s not careful with it, and the responsibility he now has to pay careful attention to his heart and his life as he walks in the path of wisdom.
As we look at this whole chapter, there’s a lot there we could zero in on and unpack in terms of application, and I’ve made some comments about those things along the way. But for our purposes today, we’re going to focus in on the father/son relationship which this whole chapter, and really this whole book, is based on.
A Word to Fathers
And I’m going to start by talking directly to the dads who are listening. Dads, I hope you haven’t missed that Proverbs—the book of wisdom—comes to us in the form of a series of dad talks. Wisdom being passed down from father to child. Don’t miss that.
Dads, when is the last time that you’ve had a “dad talk” like this with your children? When you’ve sat them down and spoke wisdom to them?
Do you know that this is your job? This wasn’t just Solomon’s thing. In Ephesians 6:4, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
That’s the one thing he tells dads to do. He doesn’t say “Fathers, give your kids lots of opportunities in life. Fathers, help your kids achieve their dreams. Fathers, provide for your children.” Some of those things may be important, but the number one thing is that fathers bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
And in the original language, if you compare the Greek New Testament with the Greek Old Testament, that word for “discipline” that Paul uses is the exact same word as the word “instruction” that’s used all over the place in Proverbs.
So dads, it’s your job to do with your children what Solomon does here with his son. You have a God-given responsibility to teach God’s wisdom to your kids. And if you drop that ball, who else is going to pick it up? Where else do you think your kids are going to learn wisdom?
At school? You really think your children are going to learn real wisdom, real righteousness, a Christ-centred view of reality, at public (government) school?
What about here at church? It’s true that we do our best here with children’s ministries, but I’ve seen over and over again that what we do here can be so limited if it’s not being reinforced at home.
And dads, at the end of the day, it’s not the responsibility of our Sunday school teachers or Awana leaders to bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. It’s yours. In other words, according to Scripture, who is ultimately responsible for children’s ministry in the church? Dads.
This isn’t even your wife’s responsibility. Praise God for godly moms, but dads, at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. God has given you this job. You’re the one God is going to hold accountable for this when He looks you in the eyes some day.
And this isn’t just when your children are young. Dads of teenagers and adult children, your role in your children’s life obviously matures as they take more and more responsibility for themselves, just like we saw Solomon teaching his son to do in our chapter today. But nobody ever outgrows a wise father. You should be the one they come to when they have tough questions. And maybe there’s even times for you to speak up. Solomon’s son was no toddler.
So fathers, teach wisdom. And that means that you yourselves need to get wisdom. And that means that you might need to watch less TV and perhaps read a few more books each year. And that’s no stretch if we believe that wisdom is really as valuable as Proverbs has been telling us it is.
Dads of younger children, there’s a book in our church library called “Bible Reading with your Kids: A Simple Guide for Every Father.” It’s short and really helpful. If you don’t know where to start, start there. Learn how to lead your children to the very source of wisdom itself.
We have another book in our library called “Everyday Talk,” which is a guide for parents of children of any age to help you talk freely and naturally to your kids about God. Another one called “Age of Opportunity” is specifically designed to help parents of teenagers. A book called “Time Out” can help you help your kids think biblically about sports. Maybe you could listen to the “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” podcast while you work. These are just some examples of tools that are within your reach to help you be a source of wisdom for your children.
Dads, learn wisdom, and teach wisdom. God gave you your kids, and He gave you this responsibility, and with His help this is not impossible.
But it is hard. And I want to encourage you before we move on. Did you notice how each of these “dad talks” in Proverbs begins with the father telling his sons to listen to him? Over and over. “Hear, my son. Be attentive to my words.” “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways” says Proverbs 23:26.
Solomon was the world’s wisest man. And yet it sounds like his sons did not naturally listen to him. He really had to work to get their ear. So if you find yourself in the same spot, that’s just normal. Don’t get discouraged, and don’t give up. You’re in good company.
And maybe there will be times where you need to follow Solomon’s example even more literally. I know of some fathers who have found writing to their children can be quite a powerful practice. Some of their most important “dad talks,” like Solomon, came in writing, where they could be hung on to and read more than once by their children.
Nobody said this was easy. But it’s still your job. So lead your families in the path of God’s truth and wisdom.
A Word to Sons and Daughters
Now I want to make a shift and speak now to the sons and daughters listening today. Especially children and teenagers who are still living at home, although there’s application here for anybody with a living parent.
If your parents, and especially your dad, is making any effort to teach you wisdom, any effort to teach you how to apply God’s truth to your life, then don’t be a fool by ignoring them. Be wise, and listen. Hear, O sons and daughters, your father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight! (Proverbs 4:1.)
This is something we really struggle with in Western, especially white, culture. We just sort of assume—don’t we?—that when kids hit their teens, they stop paying attention to their parents. Mom and dad are embarrassing. We ask to get dropped off around the corner so that we look independent, like we got there ourselves. And especially for teenagers and young adults, parents are often the last people in the world they will listen to and seek wisdom from.
This comes out all the time in in youth ministry, where we just assume that if someone is hearing something from their parents, they need to hear it from someone else before they’ll really pay attention.
And this is all bonkers. It’s foolishness, to use a Proverbs word. Children, teenagers, even adults: if your parents, especially your father, is even trying to teach you wisdom, you are literally a fool to ignore them.
If your parents, especially your dad, is even trying to teach you the path of wisdom, trying to show you how God’s word applies to your life, then his words should not mean less to you than anybody else’s—they should mean way more to you than anybody else’s.
That’s your dad and mom. You literally owe your existence to them. Nobody knows you better and has worked harder for you and poured more into you and loved you more without getting anything in return. And if they are learning wisdom from the Bible, and are trying to instruct you in God’s wisdom, then there is nobody else on planet earth you should be listening to more.
And that’s why, later on in Proverbs, we read these words: “Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old” (23:22).
So children, teenagers, young adults, don’t assume that you know better than your dad and your mom. Don’t let Satan trick you the way he did Adam and Eve in the garden. “Did your parents really just say that? They know that if you do that, you’ll really enjoy it, and they don’t really want you to be happy. They’re stuck in the 90s. They don’t understand what it’s like to be in your shoes. Obeying them will ruin your life. Looking cool in front of your friends is way more important than being godly. Making your own decisions is way more important than making wise decisions.”
Those are the kinds of lies that Satan tells us. And children and teenagers, if you have godly parents who are trying to teach you God’s wisdom, don’t be a sucker for Satan’s lies.
What does verse 22 of our chapter say about the father’s instructions? “For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh” (Proverbs 4:22). If your parents are teaching you God’s truth, listening and obeying will the best thing for you. That’s where real life is found.
And even for us adults, as we go through life and make decisions, if our parents are godly and wise, why wouldn’t we want to keep learning from them, or others who are older and wiser than us?
So if your parents are teaching you wisdom, don’t be a fool. Listen up.
A Word to All of Us
But let’s shift one more time by acknowledging a painful reality. While many of us today can look to our fathers and our mothers as sources of wisdom, not all of us can. Some of you may no longer have a father at all. Or if you do, he is not a man known to be wise and righteous. He’s not someone who is even trying to be a source of wisdom for you. He’s not someone you can learn wisdom from.
I get that. From the time I was eight years old onwards, I grew up without a dad. For many years, a sermon like this could have felt like salt on the wound.
And so that’s why I want to end this morning by reminding us all of us—but especially those without godly parents—that God is enough for us.
We can see that right in the book of Proverbs itself. If you remember chapter 1, we were told that Solomon wrote this book. But it was never addressed to anyone. It didn’t say “To Rehoboam,” or one of his other sons.
And that means that this book is for all of us. King Solomon, stepping in to the role of our father figure, is giving each one of us the dad talk that we need, and maybe never got from our own dads.
God gave us Proverbs—and beyond that, the whole Bible—so that none of us would need to be without wisdom.
This makes me think about Timothy in the New Testament. His dad was not a believer (Acts 16:1) and didn’t seem to have had much of a role in Timothy’s life. And yet what does Paul write to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14-16?
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14–17).
Timothy, who did not have a godly dad, nevertheless became a man of God who was equipped for every good work. Yes, his mom and grandmother had a role in this (2 Timothy 1:5), but the real source of equipping was the Scriptures.
Dads listening today, this is no excuse to neglect the responsibility God gave you. But those of you without godly dads, you have no excuse to live like a fool and blame it on your dad or lack thereof.
God has given us everything we need. And this ultimately comes from the fact that through Christ, God Himself is our Father. Like Wes read for us at the beginning of the service, through Christ and His work on the cross, we’ve been adopted as sons and daughters. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:6–7).
This is what Jesus died on the cross to purchase for us. And I can testify in my own life that this is more than just ideas. I’ve told you that I didn’t have a dad from eight years old onwards. But the truth is that for most of my life I have never felt like a fatherless kid. That’s not a part of my identity, that’s not how I think about myself. And I can’t make sense of that on a human level, other than that the Spirit of God in my heart has caused me to know that I am a son.
And God has taken really good care of me—sometimes in very direct ways, sometimes through other godly men who took time to care for me and show me the path of wisdom. He’s given me His word and through it I do feel well-equipped for whatever good work He’s asked of me or will ask of me.
So this is real, folks. And so to bring it back to you dads, know this: you are not replacement for God in your children’s life. Your kids belong to Him. You are simply His agent, working for Him to raise your children according to His standards and to follow in His footsteps, not yours.
For all of us, let’s resolve to pay careful attention to God’s word, the source of all wisdom. Let’s praise God that He has given each one of us these “dad talks” through King Solomon. And let’s walk out of here today as sons and daughters of the king, paying careful attention to the path in front of us (Proverbs 4:26), asking God to help us walk wisely into the good works that He’s prepared for us this week.