For fathers on Father's Day: You're the man!

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For whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:12

For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him. – Genesis 18:19

On this Father’s Day, 2016, let us examine the duty of fatherhood that is most despised today. Fatherhood is love. Fatherhood is also responsibility, and the authority and discipline flowing from that responsibility.

There is no way to fulfill a father’s responsibility without exercising authority and discipline. So hating authority and discipline (unless it makes us better at some sport), we hate responsibility, also.

Look at the child’s petulant declaration of independence: “Leave me alone! I can do it myself!” This little one is bearing witness to the Fall’s corruption as he demands that his father not intervene in his life. He wants to be left to his own devices (which aren’t much at this point in his life).

Adam and Eve hid in the Garden of Eden and hoped God would leave them alone. But God did not leave them alone...

Adam had rebelled against God so God sought him out. Adam was the head of Eve; God created the man the head of the woman; so God called Adam, the man, to account. Adam was responsible for himself and his wife, and he was responsible to God.

Watch those prepositions—there’s a world of truth in them.

Responsible To and For

Responsibility always flows in two directions. Adam was responsible to God for his wife. And if you think about it, this is the basis for authority. There’s never any responsibility without authority. Where there is no authority, there can’t be any responsibility.

Yet this is a truth the world today is desperate to deny. All around us are souls who feel responsible or have others holding them responsible for things or situations over which they have no authority.

This was not Adam’s position. Adam had responsibility for Eve, and therefore authority to fulfill that responsibility.

Let me tell a little story.

Responsibility Without Authority

They say the second church a pastor serves is the one he’s most likely to have conflict in, and so it was with me. The elders were a fractious bunch and the previous senior pastors (two of them) had suffered at their hands. Half the elders were older and had preferred the first pastor of the church. He was a lover of people and excelled at telling stories and making people feel at home. Many had come to Christian faith under his ministry, but after twenty or so years it was time to leave and he’d taken a position with a non-profit. The other elders were younger and preferred their second pastor. He was a lover of words and truth, but wasn’t as gifted in spending time with the souls of the church. After four years of difficulties, he’d left to take a staff position at a mega church. Then I was called to serve as the congregation’s third senior pastor.

Soon after I arrived, I called both men to ask if they’d be willing to come back and preach. My purpose was to try to heal the gaping wounds of the congregation. Both sides were grieved over the departure of the shepherd they had preferred, so I challenged the elders to bury the hatchet among themselves and love these former shepherds when and if they agreed to return for a weekend.

The first pastor agreed to come but the second declined. He told me he was too wounded to countenance a return.

Wanting to gather as much wisdom as I could, I asked both men for their counsel. How ought I to lead? Where were the minefields? What cautions did they have?

The first pastor spent an afternoon generously giving me the church’s history and what he thought were the areas I should focus on in my own work. It was a very helpful time and I was grateful for his counsel.

The second pastor declined the invitation to return, so during the phone call I explained that I’d like his counsel. “What advice do you have for me?” I asked.

He responded, “Tim, I had all the responsibility and none of the authority.” How helpful this statement was over the course of the next four years! “All of the responsibility and none of the authority” became the touchstone of my work for that congregation.

After preaching the first sermon as the installed pastor, I got a call from the moderator of the elders board. A tenured professor at the university, he had opposed my call and the phone call was to ask whether I had any objection to each week’s elders meetings beginning with a critique of my worship leadership and sermon the previous Lord’s Day?

Magnanimous in my pride, I figured there was no better way to win academics over so I said I had no problem at all with the elders critiquing my Lord’s Day work. “That’s fine,” I responded.

The elders meeting the next day was memorable, ending with my admission to a hospital for the only time in my life.

The meeting began with the critique and the first question came from our moderator himself: “Why did you preach on the authority of Scripture your first Sunday here?” he asked.

“Because I wanted the congregation to know the authority of God’s Word would be the benchmark of my ministry of the Word,” I responded.

He went on: “But don’t you realize there are people in the congregation who come from a different presuppositional basis concerning Scripture?”

“Yes, that’s why I preached what I did,” I answered.

Suddenly—I tell you the truth—my abdomen exploded! It came out of nowhere and immediately I was in such pain I could not conceive of staying for the rest of the meeting, yet I knew if I excused myself three days into my work and half an hour into my first elders meeting, the elders might well write me off as a malingerer. I tried to gut it out but it was no use. The pain was unbearable and I realized I had to leave immediately—my reputation would be in the hands of God.

As I excused myself, I was certain I could drive home, but after exiting the room it became clear I wouldn’t be able to drive. I called my wife, asking her to come pick me up. Within an hour I was admitted to the hospital where I had my appendix removed the next day. It was a fitting beginning to the most painful four years of my life.

Some time later, the relationship between the church’s officers had not improved. The congregation did not respect the board of elders, the board of elders fought among themselves, the other boards and committees of the church caused problems for the board of elders, and the staff members were inclined to do as they pleased. And there I was, the pastor.

One day I arrived home for dinner and found the living room cluttered with children’s books and toys. This had been a point of friction for some time between my dear Mary Lee and me, but that day God gave me the wisdom to explain myself to her.

“Lover,” I said, “every day at church I am utterly impotent. It doesn’t matter what I think or believe about the needs of the souls of the church. The elders are unhelpful, yet they hold me responsible for every conflict or failure anywhere in the church. It doesn’t matter what I think or believe. It doesn’t matter how obvious the solution is. I have no ability to lead the other members of the staff or the officers of the church, so when I come home I’m desperate to see that there’s somewhere my desires matter to someone! Would you please be that someone? Would you please clean up the books and toys before I come home? You wouldn’t believe how important it is to me!”

Purity and Peace

What joy it is to live in harmony! Remember the Psalm:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever.[1]

Why stop to meditate on the beauty of brothers dwelling together in unity? The point should be obvious.

There is no purity, no peace and unity without authority. Whether in a family or the household of Faith, if brothers are going to dwell together in holiness and unity, there must be a father who is responsible and is given the authority to fulfill his responsibility. Where fathers abdicate their responsibility and authority, every form of evil will reign and the unity of the body will be destroyed. Where sons rebel against the father’s authority, he will not be able to fulfill his responsibility. Thus evil will reign and the unity of the household will be destroyed.

You remember how, after they left Egypt and began their trek in the wilderness, the sons of Israel kept Moses busy day and night mediating their disputes? The work was so heavy upon him that his father-in-law, Jethro, told him to appoint elders to help him in the work—men who would settle the disputes of groups of ten, fifty, a hundred, and a thousand with only the most difficult cases rising to Moses himself.[2]

Since the Fall, there has never been unity without governance and rule, there has never been shalom without authority. This is the reason the Apostle Paul directed Titus to “appoint elders in every city.”[3]

Adam’s Failure and Its Fruit

When Adam sinned, he lost his unity with God and with his beloved wife.

Adam had been delegated the responsibility to see to it he and his wife did not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, so when Adam refused to protect Eve, listening to her and eating the fruit she offered him, he failed to bear the responsibility and exercise the authority God had delegated to him. Thus the purity and peace of Eden vanished.

In seminary I remember my Old Testament Hermeneutics[4] professor, Meredith Kline, making the simple observation that Adam should have rebuked Eve for eating the forbidden fruit. I’d never thought about it, but I haven’t forgotten it. We don’t know what would have happened if Adam had rebuked Eve, but from what Scripture declares concerning Adam’s sole responsibility for the Fall, it seems likely a rebuke and turning away from the fruit Eve offered him would have made all the difference.

Why didn’t Adam rebuke his wife? Why didn’t he refuse to eat the fruit she gave him?

Adam wanted to listen to Eve, to go along with her. You know the old saying:

“If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

No man wants to bear his responsibility because bearing responsibility requires the exercise of authority and the exercise of authority requires a willingness to suffer at the hands of sinful men and women who despise anyone telling them what to do. All of us are little children exclaiming, “Leave me alone—I can do it myself!”

When it’s our wife and children who are rebelling against our authority, the challenge seems insurmountable. We can’t bear the thought of our children being angry with us or our wife giving us the cold shoulder or evil eye.

The Authority of Fathers

But God the Father has ordained that the buck stops with Father. He is responsible for his wife. He is responsible for his children. He is responsible for his household and his responsibility is not something he made up himself. He’s not responsible because he likes to think of himself this way. He’s not responsible because he’s the dominant personality with the loudest voice in the family. He’s not responsible because his father taught him to be responsible. He’s not responsible because his wife wants him to be responsible. He’s not responsible because he’s better at exercising authority than his wife or mother-in-law.

He’s responsible because God made Adam first, then Eve.

He’s responsible because God made fathers responsible. And he is able to follow the example of our Heavenly Father Who Himself takes responsibility for His loved ones:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.[5]

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.[6]

Seeing our Heavenly Father’s care for us, how can we refuse to bear the responsibility He has placed on us? Such ingratitude! If taking responsibility for sinful man led our Father to command His Son to the Cross, what’s our excuse for refusing to bear the cross of responsibility and authority God has delegated to us for our households?

Not Unilateral Authority

Now of course I am not saying that other members of the household are without authority or responsibility themselves. To speak of the husband and father’s final authority is not to minimize a mother’s responsibility for her children or a son’s responsibility for his brothers and sisters. Indeed, Scripture tells us the wife has authority over her husband’s body,[7] so this is no one-way street. Too, the other members of the household also bear responsibility for one another. After all, Cain most certainly was his “brother’s keeper.”

Nor am I saying the father’s authority is unequivocal; that he answers to nothing and no one as he sits on his throne. There is no human authority that is not from God and no man or woman exercising authority anywhere over anyone will fail to answer to God for that authority—whether they abdicate, lose, or abuse it, or use it sacrificially and wisely for the purity and peace of those God has placed under them. Thus, for instance, after commanding slaves to “be obedient,” note what is said to their masters:

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.[8]

Yes, slaves are to obey their masters. But then immediately, masters are warned not to threaten their slaves because their Master, God, is in Heaven and He will judge the master without partiality.

In one form or another, almost all men and women will be responsible for others and it’s imperative that each of us remember God will judge our stewardship of that responsibility. The husband is not a dictator. He is a husband and the husband who doesn’t love his wife is almost a monster, says Calvin.

So you see there are other responsibilities and authority under the husband and father. You see also that warnings and exhortations must be given to husbands and fathers, not only to keep us from losing or abdicating our authority, but also to keep us from abusing it in service to our own selfish desires.

After these qualifications and caveats are dealt with, though, the father remains the head of the household and the buck stops with him. In the end, he is the one who is accountable to God for the welfare of his wife, children, and household.

The Authority of Husbands

Blinded in the midst of the great wickedness of our generation, many argue vehemently that the husband has no responsibility for his wife. They say the husband and wife are equally responsible for each other and that the husband and wife should submit to one another equally.

Pagans may think this way, but not Christians. To deny the responsibility of the husband for his wife is contrary to the entire witness of Scripture and two thousand years of church fathers and mothers in Israel. The responsibility and authority of the husband and father points back to Adam being created first, then Eve. In turn, Adam’s responsibility and authority over Eve point to God the Father Almighty.

He has been pleased to dignify Adam and adam[9] with His Name “father,” and so there is no ambiguity concerning the proper relationship of man and woman, husband and wife:

But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.[10]

Wives are to be subject to their husbands “in everything.” Why?

Because the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the Head of His Bride, the Church. Following the example of His Savior, the husband is to love his wife by bearing responsibility for her in the way and with the love that Christ bore responsibility for His Bride. He gave Himself up for His Bride that He might sanctify Her.

Certainly there are cosmic differences in the degree and kind of responsibility that the husband has for his wife from the degree and kind of responsibility that Christ has for the Church, but we’re concerned here to make clear the similarities revealed by the Holy Spirit in the pages of Scripture. It’s always good to learn the rule before trying to define the exceptions to the rule.

At a minimum those similarities must include the husband’s responsibility and authority in his relationship with his wife. There’s simply no way to honor the above passage as well as many, many other texts of Scripture concerning husbands and wives without acknowledging the husband’s responsibility and authority.

The Authority of Pastors and Elders

As we’ve faced by the rebellion against God’s design for marriage, we’re also facing rebellion within the home and church. Fathers rebel by abdicating the authority God delegated to them and sons rebel against any exercise of authority by their fathers. Fathers rebel against the Father Almighty by not exercising the authority necessary to prepare their sons to face the Judgment Seat of God and sons rebel against their fathers whenever their fathers do summon the faith to exercise their authority.

The fathers of the household of faith, the Church of the Living God, join in the rebellion. Pastors and elders are fathers of the Church and we abdicate our responsibility. Then, having bad consciences because of our abdication, we do our best not to notice the abdication of the fathers of our congregations or the rebellion of their sons.

Almost everyone today is a rebel against God-ordained authority—not simply God’s Order of Creation making Adam first, then Eve. But certainly those of us called by God as pastors and elders do our best to avoid any confrontation with the feminist rebellion, especially. You don’t build your numbers and budget by preaching and teaching and admonishing and rebuking the feminist rebellion. If church growth is our goal, exposing feminist rebellion is about as helpful as preaching against racism in the deep south or greed in DuPage County, Illinois. So pastors have developed a host of evasive maneuvers.

We prattle on about how wives are justified in their rebellion because their husbands don’t love them the way God commanded. As if we love our own wives as God commanded. As if we would do a better job of loving the woman if we were her husband.

Pastors and elders excuse the rebellion of the women of our congregations by pointing out what failures their husbands are at being the servant-leaders Jesus was. As if we are servant-leaders of our own wives.

But stop a moment and think about it: where did we ever learn that the rebellion of wives is excused if their husbands don’t love them as Christ loved the Church, if their husbands aren’t servant-leaders as Christ was a servant-leader of His disciples?

Does God only require submission of those who have been blessed by being under the authority of a sinless man? And if so, where in Scripture are those sinless fathers and husbands? Was King David a sinless father and husband? Was Solomon sinless? Abraham? Think of Abraham passing his wife off as his sister. Twice!

And yet the Apostle Peter exhorts women to submit to their husbands as Sarah submitted to her husband, Abraham, calling him “Lord.”[11]

The Sins of Abdication and Rebellion

Since the Fall, two sins melded together have been the death of fatherly authority. They’ve been mentioned before, but now let’s pull them kicking and screaming into the open so we can take their measure and become more adept at fighting them.

These sins, the Scylla and Charybdis upon which so much fatherhood is wrecked, are the twin sins of abdication and rebellion. Between them exists a parasitic symbiosis—they feed on each other.

Abdication feeds rebellion, rebellion confirms abdication, and between the two of them fatherhood shrivels and dies.

What is abdication?

It is to cast off an office and to evade a responsibility. This is characteristic of fathers today. We deny that fatherhood is an office and this allows us to evade our office’s heavy responsibilities. Pastors have removed the bride’s vow to “obey” her husband, making the husband just one of a pair of “spouses” and rendering his obligation to “husband” his wife moot. So the wife is not called to submit, the husband denies his office, and responsibility is evaded.

Why do pastors remove the word ‘obey’ from the bride’s vows in their wedding liturgies?

Because pastors’ own wives hate the word. Or maybe it’s because the pastor once tried to use it and the mother of the bride threw a fit. Or maybe it was the bride, herself? Then again, maybe it was the father of the bride and all the relatives who threw a fit—he can’t really remember, now.

Anyhow someone threw a fit and he hasn’t put that word ‘obey’ back into his wedding liturgy again. Same with his mini-sermon at the weddings: he chooses his words with exquisite care so that his wedding ceremonies are entirely inoffensive. Even the most hardened rebel gets warm vibes at his weddings, and if you listen closely, you will note that nothing is said directly to one sex or the other. Matched to an androgynous age, his weddings are neutered and the people love it that way.

So it goes across our lives.

Those under authority rebel, and those in authority abdicate their office and responsibilities. Both sins are locked in a death grip and we must open our eyes to both, seeing how prevalent they are everywhere among everyone God has placed in authority. We must become expert at recognizing the devious rhetorical ploys enabling these rebellions and abdications—especially those employed by Christians and especially those employed to hide abdication.

One of the most devious ploys is to pit authority against love claiming that the God of the Old Testament was a god of wrath and justice whereas the God of the New Testament is a god of grace and love. This leaves us free to side with the angels in our rebellion and abdication. We claim God is finally among us in love, and pastors and elders should be as loving as Jesus.

What’s wrong with this?

It’s wrong because all God’s perfections exist within the Godhead in perfect harmony. God is not authority and judgment in opposition to Jesus’s grace and love with the Holy Spirit mediating the conflict. Remember the statement of Scripture that “God so loved the world that He sent His Only Begotten Son?” The Son was sent from the love of the Father!

Further, in Christ justice and mercy kiss. They embrace. Which is to say once again that all God’s attributes are perfections and every perfection exists in perfect harmony with every other perfection in the Godhead—from eternity past to eternity future.

Let’s get specific. God disciplines His adopted sons today just as He disciplined the Sons of Israel while they wandered in the wilderness. Discipline is not Old Testament and love New Testament. Discipline and love exist in perfect harmony in both Testaments, and only where there is fatherly discipline is there fatherly love. In fact, only where there is fatherly discipline is there any true sonship.

Tell this to the young men and women of your life; explain that their father-hunger is crying out for a father’s love that is most clearly demonstrated by their father’s authority and discipline, and you’ll be met with disbelief.

Yet it’s true. We don’t begin to understand the aching void of father-hunger until we understand that fatherhood without authority is fatherhood without love. Hebrews makes this clear: the son who is not disciplined is an illegitimate child. He is no son owned and loved by his father:

But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.[12]

In other words, no attempt at restoring loving fatherhood that does not at the same time restore the father’s disciplinary authority can ever be faithful to God or fruitful in His blessing. In fact, those searching for a father’s love will never know love until they’re disciplined. Let me take that a bit further: those wanting to be loved will never feel loved until they’re disciplined.

Parents see this in their children all the time. Loving discipline often produces the most tender moments between father and child. Countless fathers and mothers have seen children in Walmart who are obvious in their pleadings for boundaries. It’s as if they escalate their actions seeing how much they can get away with while at the same time desperately hoping they won’t get away with it. Desperately hoping to be loved.

Fathers, do we want our sons to feel loved? Sons, do we want to feel the love of our fathers?

If so, we must recognize it is the discipline that flows from their authority and responsibility for us that proves their love. They keep watch over our souls as men who must give an account to God. The officers—elders and pastors and deacons—of the church are fathers of God’s Household of Faith and this is the command given by God to the sons of His Household:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.[13]

Fatherhood in the church, society, and the home is heavy with responsibility to God Who Himself made us responsible for these loved ones. God has delegated responsibility for others to us and every man is accountable to God to use this responsibility and authority for the good of the souls under his watch-care.

Every father will give an account for those he’s responsible for, and those he is responsible for will give an account for the way they have or have not submitted to his authority; they will be held accountable for their rebellion that caused him grief or for their submission that gave him joy in his work. Rebellion is always unprofitable to the rebel as submission is always profitable to him.

The Sin of Perfectionism

Again, we must stop requiring perfection of our authorities and we must stop justifying our rebellion by pointing to the sins of our fathers and husbands.

Every man descended from Adam has been a sinner. Since Adam’s Fall there has never been a perfect man exercising perfect authority. Except for those places where Scripture and our Lord command us to submit to God, every command of submission found in the Word of God is a command to submit to a sinner.

When the Fifth Commandment commands children to obey their parents, this is a command for sons and daughters to obey mothers who are cruel, selfish or manipulative—take your pick. This is a command for sons and daughters to obey fathers who are cold, lazy, and deceitful—take your pick.

We must cultivate our self-knowledge. We know we are sinners and we know our sin has harmed those under our authority. Watching our sons and daughters grow up, we remember that the acorn never falls far from the tree. We see our own sins in our sons and daughters. John Donne speaks for every father when he writes:

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
    Others to sin? and made my sins their door?

Our sins are the doors through which our sons have entered into the sin themselves, but God knew this when He made us fathers responsible for our children. He commands us to teach and lead and discipline our children. He commands our wives to obey their husbands, our children to obey their parents, citizens to obey the civil magistrate, and His sheep to obey their church shepherds.

Despite intimate knowledge of our own sinfulness, we are to go ahead and lead, taking responsibility for those God has placed under our authority. Yes, our wives and children may throw our sins and failures in our faces; and yes, it’s humiliating. But God has delegated to every husband responsibility for his wife, to every father responsibility for his sons and daughters. Our sins and our fears of having our sins thrown in our faces are no excuse for failing to fulfill that responsibility by exercising authority.

Keep in mind that excuses are two-way streets.

If the wife can refuse to obey her husband because he doesn’t love her the way he ought, can’t a husband refuse to love his wife because his wife refuses to submit to him the way she ought?

So let’s man up and fulfill the office of authority God has delegated to us. Every husband is the head of his wife and every wife is to submit to her husband. This is the Law of God for all men, Christian and non-Christian. It was decreed in the Garden of Eden prior to the Fall when God made Adam first, then Eve. So it’s no embarrassment to husbands to exercise this authority. The real embarrassment is the husband and father who refuses to bear the responsibility God has assigned him for his household.

Why would we be ashamed to fulfill the very office God delegated to us? Was God wrong in making Adam first? Was God wrong when He asked Adam, alone, where he was and whether he’d eaten of the tree he had been forbidden to eat? Eve ate the fruit first, so why did God not go to her and ask her whether she had eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Instead God went to Adam and said to him, “where are you” and “have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”[14] Both questions asked by God are questions He asks of Adam, alone—the word ‘you’ is singular.

God made Adam first, then Eve; and for all time in all places among all men, this is foundational to our lives because it delegates from God to us the office of husband who is responsible for his wife. And the wife is responsible to submit to her husband.

I’ve heard plenty of men justifying women’s rebellion by pointing to husbands’ failures and sins, but who’s heard of women justifying man’s failure to love his wife by pointing to wives’ failures and sins? What’s sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose, right?

Restoring Father’s Authority

The Fall corrupted authority—the authority of Adam himself as well as the authority of all the fathers descended from him.

How can that corruption be healed?

The first step is to turn in repentance to God the Father for restoration by the Holy Spirit to our Heavenly Father’s authority. Fathers must submit to the authority of God if they are to recover authority themselves. Only men in true submission to God the Father are free to be fathers themselves: free to love and free to bear the responsibility and authority He has delegated to them.

Since the Fall, man has believed and lived as if rebellion is freedom and submission is bondage. But it’s just the opposite. Rebellion is bondage and submission is freedom.

We’ve pointed out the epidemic of fathers failing to safeguard their homes and sacrifice their lives for their children. The world thinks that the way to rehabilitate men is to make them more feminine: teaching them how to get in touch with their feelings and cry is all that’s needed for fathers to be restored to their families.

We wish it were so, but true fatherly love and tenderness can only exist within the context of authority. Conversations and hugs alone do not make a father. He must command. God has delegated authority to fathers and the exercise of that authority is the necessary precondition to any recovery of fatherly tenderness and love.[Jacob Men1] 

To advance into Godly fatherhood we must first embrace the Gospel of repentance and faith through Jesus Christ. Only then, when we see the depth of God’s love for us, a love so deep that He sent His perfect Son to die for us that through His blood we might become sons of God, will we be ready to become fathers.

We must also forgive our fathers. The point is not to criticize our fathers, but to recognize that we are sinners just as our fathers are sinners, and to have peace with them. Do we remember that most precious promise and that most awful warning of Jesus?

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.[15]

We must forgive our father as our Heavenly Father forgave us:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.[16]

Has not God in Christ Jesus forgiven you? If so, forgive your father. Seventy times seven.[17]

We must embrace the submission of sons to our Heavenly Father so that we may be reconciled to Him, coming to love His authority and day by day obeying Him with joyful hearts that cry out, “Abba! Father!” This is the foundation of true fatherhood.

Authority No Right, but Duty

As we draw this chapter to a close, we must deal with one of the most common tactics of rebels, exposing it and inoculating ourselves against the paralysis it’s intended to produce.

There’s a book I’d like to write sometime. It would be an answer to the many excuses I’ve heard and used myself in elders meetings to escape having to admonish or rebuke a man in the church who has fallen into sin. There are more of these excuses than you can count, but the most popular ones employ Scripture as their getaway car. Let me list a few of them:

            Whoever is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.

            Love believes all things, hopes all things.[18]

            Judge not lest you be judged.

            We shouldn’t lord it over others.

The bottom line of each of these excuses is our desire to escape the pain of exercising authority, so we abuse Scripture in order to weasel our way out of our responsibilities for the souls of the church. We make similar excuses to facilitate the abdication of our responsibility for our wives and children.

Of course, it is true that Jesus gave this warning to His disciples:

Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”[19]

There’s plenty of weasel-room in this command for a husband, father, pastor, or elder who’s a people-pleaser and just wants to be liked. And pity the poor man who has faith to exercise authority! When he admonishes or rebukes a brother, it’s no surprise the brother responds, “Who do you think you are and what right do you have to tell me what to do?”

Stop right there and focus on that word ‘right.’ It’s extremely important.

We all look at the exercise of authority today as a right rather than a duty, and so husbands, fathers, pastors, and elders are susceptible to temptations to abdicate their authority because fools see abdication as quite noble—as servant leadership, even!

Look at me! I could assert my right to rebuke you for adultery, but I won’t. I’m not that kind of a man. I don’t believe it’s right to judge others. I think the man who is without sin should cast the first stone. I feel like it’s best to believe all things and hope all things, so I’m not going to condemn you. What right do I have to Lord it over you? Look at me—aren’t I a great servant leader?

When we remind ourselves that God has delegated authority to us and our exercise of that authority is a duty—not a right—that spiel just above can be seen in an entirely different light:

Dear brother, I have a duty to guard your soul and to protect your wife, children, and the church from the consequences of your adultery. Also I have a duty to use my authority as a church officer to protect the unity of the church and the honor of Jesus Christ. Therefore I must admonish and discipline you for your adultery, calling you to repentance and faith. You took a vow to be faithful to your wife… If I failed to expose this serious sin of yours and call you to repent of it, I would answer to God for my failure because I am accountable to Him for the use of the responsibility and authority He has delegated to me. The duty weighs very heavily on me, but I have no right to flee it. I can’t go AWOL from the battle just because you or others might get mad at me. It would not be magnanimous of me to overlook your sin in the interest of copping a posture of self-effacement or humility. So, painful though it is for you and me, here I am at your home knocking on the door in the middle of the evening to confront you with your sin and call you to repent of it.

You see the difference it makes to understand that the exercise of proper authority is not a right but a duty? The point of discipline is to heal the soul and protect the unity of the family or church and guard the honor of Jesus Christ residing among His people. It’s not to set up the father or elders as big and important men who must be treated deferentially because of their high position.

Thinking about authority in such a way is utterly disastrous for those under the care of fathers and church officers. So again, the exercise of authority is no right, but a duty.

Guard Your Authority

Now as we close this chapter on the father’s duty to bear the responsibility God has delegated to him for his wife and children and household, there’s a final warning we must hear. We live in a time when all authority is sliding from mediating institutions such as the home and church over to the civil magistrate, and from local civil magistrates to the centralized behemoth that has become Washington D.C. Christian pastors, elders, fathers, and husbands must be on guard against this, recognizing it for the rebellion against God it is. Which means we must work hard to defend our authority delegated by God and the only way this will happen is if we are, in fact, convinced that the exercise of authority is not a right, but a duty.

God did not command his Apostles to find a civil magistrate in every city who would administer the Sacraments, receive and dismiss members from the church and adjudicate their disputes, and admonish, discipline, and exhort the souls under the church’s care. Similarly, the first commandment God gave with a promise was not “Honor your governor and president.” Such a duty is implicit in the Fifth Commandment, but only as an extrapolation or secondary application of “honor your father and mother.”

The family is the basic unit of society—not the White House, the city council, the mayor’s office, the public school system, or the Division of Child and Protective Services. So as mayors and governors and presidents and legislatures nullify more and more of the father’s authority, the father must keep in mind that God’s call to submit to the civil magistrate and pay our taxes is no excuse for our giving over to that civil magistrate the raising and discipline of our children or the shepherding of the members of His church.

We must not abdicate the responsibility and authority God has delegated to us no matter how hard the civil authorities push against it and try to legislate it into oblivion.

We all know the time is almost upon us when there will be laws against spanking our children. Yet the command of God is clear:

He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.

Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol.[20]

Similarly, we all know the time is almost upon us when Washington D.C. or our state capital will claim sovereignty over the education of our children. In Germany, it’s already illegal for parents to educate their own children and I have a friend whose parents have had to hide their homeschooling from the German civil magistrates, eventually leaving the country so they could fulfill their responsibility to raise their sons and daughters in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Now this is not to say I believe homeschooling is required of Christians. I do not believe this, although several of our children were homeschooled over the course of several years.

The point I’m making is much larger. God has ordained the authority of fathers and mothers over the children He blesses them with; and God has ordained the authority of pastors, elders, and deacons over the members of their congregation. As authority is centralized and the state’s voracious appetite for exclusive authority leads it more and more to usurp the authority of mediating institutions like the home and church, we must see it coming and prepare to defend our household and churches against this encroachment even to the point of considering moving to other states or countries where we are free to practice our Most Holy Faith.

You say it’s alarmist to put this in terms of guarding our freedom to practice our faith?

Not at all. No pastor will be able to excuse his failure to condemn sodomy in his preaching by explaining to God that the Indiana State Legislature passed legislation making it a hate crime to speak of sodomy as “sin.” And no father will be able to excuse his failure to pull his teenage daughter out of public school classrooms where she’s forced to watch sex educators demonstrate how to use a condom by pulling one on a banana by explaining to God that state law required him to give his minor children over to the state for their education, and that he had no civil right to remove them.

Thinking about nature’s conservation of mass and energy, it helps to think of authority in this way, also. If you will, there is a certain mass of authority in this world that can neither be added to nor diminished—it is only possible to move it from one position or person to another.

So keep your eye on the ball, dear brother. Submit to authority, yes. But also guard your authority from those who would encroach upon it or usurp it, thereby prohibiting you from fulfilling the duties God has given you as a father, mother, or church officer.

Rebellion is such a deep principle of our culture that we can’t see it. And not seeing it, we don’t notice how authority is being transferred from mediating institutions to the government and all government authority is sliding down the whirlpool to Washington D.C.

Which is to say government itself is a force for rebellion. For decades now, our civil magistrates have been killing all the big laws while multiplying the little ones. They use their authority to facilitate their citizens’ rebellion against God.

Government legislates the repeal of God’s Moral Law while putting law enforcement officers there on the curb by the stop sign to look in the windows of your car and make sure your seatbelt is on and your children all have booster seats. Fifty states’ laws against abortion and sodomy have been repealed, and now our tax dollars fund Planned Parenthood and equal housing laws force us to rent our property to fornicators and adulterers.

Rebellion is the disordering principle of the Western world and our governments facilitate our rebellion.

But make no mistake: we are responsible to guard the authority of the husband, father, and church officer.

Souls depend upon it.

[1] Psalm 133.

[2] Exodus 18.

[3] Titus 1:5.

[4] Hermeneutics is the study of how to interpret Scripture.

[5] John 3:16.

[6] 1John 4:10.

[7] “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1Corinthians 7:4).

[8] Ephesians 6:5-9.

[9] Upper and lower-case ‘adam’ here distinguish between the man “Adam” and the race “adam” bearing that man’s name. Thus ‘adam’ is the name used throughout the Old Testament for the human race.

[10] Ephesians 5:24-27.

[11] 1Peter 3:6.

[12] Hebrews 12:8.

[13] Hebrews 13:17. Although this text addresses submission to church leaders (cf. Calvin’s commentary), as with the Fifth Commandment, synecdoche leads to this application to fatherhood as well.

[14] Genesis 3:9-11.

[15] Matthew 6:14, 15.

[16] Ephesians 4:32.

[17] Matthew 18:21 ff.

[18] 1Corinthians 13:7.

[19] Mark 10:42-45.

[20] Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 23:13, 14.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!