by Jefferson David Tant
Fathers are often clueless about gift-giving for their children. That’s Mom’s job. But when we think of gifts, we usually think of material gifts—toys for toddlers, clothes, games, and sports equipment for teens. Or maybe the ultimate gift for a teen—a car!
Many who are reading these words are prosperous by the world’s standards. You may not rank with Bill Gates or Ted Turner, but you are blessed with material prosperity unheard of by most of the world, or even in our own nation a few generations ago. And what do we do with our prosperity? We buy things for our children as good parents do — smartphones, computers, designer clothes.
May I suggest that there are far greater gifts that a father can give his children — a far greater legacy than lands and houses and things?
A father can give his children a place of refuge
“In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, And his children will have refuge” (Proverbs 14:26).
As our heavenly Father gives us refuge, so should our earthly fathers.
Children look to their parents for safety and refuge when frightened or faced with uncertainty. But what greater refuge could a godly father give than safety from the assaults of Satan and the world?
That refuge comes from a father who has great respect for God, our heavenly Father. This respect is seen in daily living as well as in “Sunday-go-to-meetin’” clothes. A father who is indifferent, lukewarm, or not even a believer can give little in the way of solid refuge.
Direction in life
“Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
This training involves many aspects, including the way of righteousness. Too many times fathers are more concerned about careers and earning power than spiritual matters. Many years ago a young man came from Florida to enter Georgia Tech in Atlanta on a golfing scholarship. Although his parents were members of the church, Bill had never been baptized. After being with us for a time, Bill was baptized into Christ. It was then that his father wrote me expressing concern that his son’s being a Christian would detract him from more important things. Hmmm. Does getting a “hole-in-one” on the golf course open the gateway to heaven?
Fathers, what is your focus for your children? To be great athletes; to be successful in business; to have treasures on earth? Or would it be to lay up treasures in heaven? “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Many children feel they are on a performance basis. The cleaner the bedroom, the better the grades, the more they are loved. Even if they only “feel” this, they will never be secure.
This is really hard for some fathers, especially the sports-minded. They may consciously, or subconsciously, give preference to the gifted child. With so many pressures and uncertainties our children face, they don’t need unnecessary pressures at home. Children should be encouraged to do their best, but love and acceptance should not be based on beauty, intelligence, or ability.
Our Heavenly Father is our model for giving unconditional love. He loved Israel when Israel was unlovely. In the parable of the talents, the two-talent man received the same praise as the five talent servant. When the prodigal son was gone, the father never stopped loving him. When the son returned, it is obvious that the father’s love was unconditional. This does not mean there are no consequences when a child disobeys, but what great security a child has when a mistake is made, yet is still loved.
This also has spiritual implications, for the concept small children have of their Heavenly Father is often drawn from their relationship with their earthly father.
“’For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.’ It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:6-11).
God certainly understands the value of proper discipline and gives the example of earthly fathers who discipline children for their good. Otherwise, it is as if the children were illegitimate, without a caring father. Too often, discipline is left to Mother, for Dad is too busy or too tired from work.
Dad, don’t be too busy for your children. We remember the example of a priest named Eli, who neglected a vital part of parenting. “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. In that day I will carry out against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them. Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever’" (I Samuel 3:11-14).
Another example of a lack of discipline was the case of David’s son Adonijah. “Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, ‘I will be king.’ So he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen with fifty men to run before him. His father had never crossed him at any time by asking, ‘Why have you done so?’ And he was also a very handsome man, and he was born after Absalom” (I Kings 1:5-6).
What great sorrow these fathers brought on themselves by failing as fathers. Consider the wise words of Solomon: “Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; He will also delight your soul” (Proverbs 29:17).
A study by Merton and Irene Strommen shows that “when parents are too passive in setting limits for their children, such permissiveness is interpreted by children as a form of rejection and often leads to hedonistic and antisocial behavior” (Five Cries of Parents, Harper & Rowe, 1985, pp. 89-90).
Love for their mother
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
One of the greatest gifts a father can give is to let his children see him loving their mother. Many teens have a fear of not being loved, and not being able to give love. Often this is because they have never seen love demonstrated. Love is more than a lab or lecture course. We recognize that love is really defined more by showing what love does, as in I Corinthians 13.
Children learn to love by seeing models, and the basic model is through seeing their father love their mother and vice versa. Without this model, how does a daughter learn to evaluate the love some young man professes toward her, to distinguish between lust and love? “Well, if you truly love me, you will treat me like my father treats my mother.” And the son can see that love honors the woman, rather than treating her like a sex object.
One reason we have problems with dysfunctional children involved in sexual promiscuity, violence, and drug abuse is that they come from dysfunctional families. When God told husbands to love their wives (a) as Christ loved the church and (b) as they love themselves, he was providing not only for their own relationship but also for the security of their children.
And to show he was serious about husbands honoring their wives, he emphasized the matter in I Peter 3:7: “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” That should get a husband’s attention! God is so serious about this that he threatens to not hear the prayers of a man who will not honor his wife.
The example of a godly man
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
In our culture, mothers often have greater spiritual influence in the home. It is not “macho” for men to be overly religious. Perhaps this is not unique to the 21st Century. Maybe Paul felt the need to address fathers in particular in the church at Ephesus. Did you ever wonder why this was addressed to “fathers” and not “fathers and mothers?” This is only speculation, but is it that God knew fathers needed special encouragement to fulfill the responsibility of being spiritual in the home?
Too often have I seen children follow the example of a father who is not spiritually-minded. Even though the father may have been baptized, he may not be really committed to faithful attendance, or to active participation in the life of the church. “If Daddy doesn’t have to go to church, why do I have to go?”
In later years, the father looks back with sorrow and regret as he sees his grown children who have no interest in the Lord. I knew a fine, godly couple with five grown children. This couple was very faithful, but during the children’s formative years, the church was not a part of their family life. I cannot imagine the pain in their hearts as they saw their children and grandchildren who did not know the Lord. The children needed to see godly parents when they were young, not at age 40.
Knowledge of the Word of God
“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:1-9).
We certainly get the impression that God wants parents actively involved in teaching their children. Fathers, don’t leave this vital matter up to the preacher or the Bible class teachers. They do what they can, but they cannot take the place of a father or mother who daily emphasizes God’s Word. Two or three hours a week should not be the whole instruction a child gets. Deuteronomy 6 teaches that Biblical instruction should be a part of everyday life.
We are careful to vaccinate our children against all sorts of diseases. Are we also concerned about protection against the disease of sin — an eternally fatal disease? “Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You” (Psalms 119:11).
A father would think himself derelict if he didn’t see that his children were protected against polio or smallpox. But fathers, it is of much greater importance that you do not neglect your children’s spiritual health. If your children are small, do you read Bible stories to them? If they are older, are Bible principles a topic of conversation at the dinner table, or as you ride together in the car? If not, you are missing some golden opportunities.
(Christ) “gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed …” (Titus 2:14).
Christ gave himself completely for our eternal welfare and set an example of giving for us. Children need fathers who are more than procreators. About 70% of juveniles and young adults who are in long-term correctional facilities did not live with both parents while growing up. Fatherlessness contributes to 75% of teen suicides and 80% of psychiatric admissions. More than 40% of births today are to unmarried women, and most of these children will never live with a father. That number is up from 28% in 1990. About 50% of children in the U.S. will have parents who divorce. All of this is a great prescription for tragedy.
This is why children need fathers, and it seems that was in God’s original plan. Someone has said, “It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a father.” Dads, do you know how your children spell love? They spell it “t-i-m-e.” One study asked dads how much time they spent daily with their small children. They estimated it was 15 to 20 minutes a day. Actually, it was 37 seconds!
Fathers, your children need you!
Eight precious and valuable gifts. And all these gifts have the added value of never wearing out or going out of style. And they have the further advantage of having eternal consequences.
Fathers, these are all gifts that even the poorest father can give, and must give if you want to give your children the greatest gift, which is the hope of heaven.
If you have trouble remembering all eight of these gifts, you might combine them all into one — be a man of God, a committed Christian.
On one occasion, a lawyer asked a question of Jesus. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment” (Matthew 22:36-38).
What greater legacy or inheritance could a father leave his children?