This past Sunday, Father’s Day, you likely heard various attempts to make fathers important. Or you heard about how they are falling down on the job. Or you maybe even heard about how the holiday should be dispensed with. Are fathers, as fathers, important? Do they matter?
Curious Household Tables
The aptly named “household tables” in the New Testament list responsibilities of different parties in the Christian household. A curious feature of these passages (like Ephesians 5-6, Colossians 3), especially compared to more secular versions of the time, is who gets addressed.
We know how important women are in the lives of youngsters yet, in regard to the children, the apostle specifically addresses fathers. The children are told to obey mother and father, but the instruction on the other side is only to the guys:
Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Col. 3:21)
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Eph. 6:4)
Some claim that Paul is merely overturning social norms by addressing the fathers with familial responsibilities. But that doesn’t explain the masculine singling because in his tables he addresses wives as well as husbands, children as well as fathers, bondservants as well as masters. No, the apostle must specifically address fathers because fathers are critical for raising children in the Lord.
The Child Needs The Father
This is not a call for only fathers to be dealing with the kids. Of course, mothers are important. But according to the Bible the one rising to ultimate responsibility for how the children are doing should be Dad. Single moms are often heroic in what they do, but the wise ones know that the situation is not the way it is supposed to be. They feel the need for a man who would take charge for the child’s well-being. Yes, a child needs the father.
How many of our youth group programs are geared in this direction? How are our churches encouraging this call programmatically? Are they working to bring the children and fathers together or facilitating their separation?
When Restoration is Accomplished
The gender asymmetry in giving fathers primary responsibility in “discipline and instruction of the Lord” goes back to Old Testament roots. Paul may well be thinking of that asymmetry found in the last verse of the Hebrew Scriptures (as arranged in our English Bibles). The churches of Jesus Christ, he expects, will fulfill the messianic expectation of reconciliation, even in family life:
And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction. (Mal. 4:6)
So ends the last of the words to Israel before the centuries of prophetic silence. Once more, note that Malachi singles out the fathers. Again, not because mothers are unimportant, but because the job of restoration will be accomplished when the father’s heart is joined to the children. The father has the critical role in leading the children’s hearts.
Let Father’s day renew the call to this sacred task.