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One of the last things in Luther’s Catechism is something called “The Table of Duties.” It’s a list of the various callings or vocations of life- Pastors, Government, Husbands, Wives, Parents, Children, Employers, Employees- and under each of those callings are Bible passages that summarize what God expects of those who have those callings in life. Over the next few weeks, we will consider the duties of Fathers and Children, Employers and Employees, Government Officials and Citizens.
Much of the book of Proverbs is written in the form of advice given by a father to his child, especially to his son. The words we just read highlight for us the best gift that a father can give to his children, and the best gift a child can give to their father.
Most of us know the key passage from the New Testament that presents the primary duty, the best gift that a father can give to his children- bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. But what does that mean?
We have a picture here in Proverbs of a father who takes the time to sit down with his son, his children, and explain some basic facts of life according to God’s word. He offers one-on-one training and instruction in the Lord.
He tells his child, do not allow your heart to envy sinners. Is that ever a needed reminder for us today! With magazine covers and social media giving us the impression that everyone else has such a wonderful life compared to ours, Satan easily stirs up envy in our hearts. Social media posts are like the monuments of the ancient kings. You don’t put up a post, or build a monument, celebrating a defeat, or something bad. You only advertise the good, the best things happening in your life.
In addition to social media causing envy, as you watch the news and look around you, it seems that those who are doing better than you, who seem to have it made, got that way by doing sinful things, or at least, they don’t seem to ever be caught or punished for those sinful things. It’s easy to ask with the Psalmist, “what’s the use of serving God and avoiding sin when those who ignore God and do what they please seem to be doing better and having a lot more fun in life?”
A wise and faithful father anticipates that temptation and gives them the gift of warning his children against it. He instructs them, Instead, (of envying sinners) always fear the LORD. Indeed, there is a future, and your hope will never be cut off. Envying sinners has no future. It leads to doubt, depression, to questioning God’s wisdom and control, and that could lead to being cut off from God forever. Fear the LORD, trust him no matter what. He is the only one who is able to give you an eternal future, life with him forever.
This wise, godly father warns of another temptation his children will face. Do not be among those who drink too much wine, or those who eat too much meat. Drunkenness and gluttony are sins against the body God gave you which, if you are a Christian, is his temple. God expects us to be good stewards, to take the best care we can of the body he has given us. But not only does drunkenness destroy brain cells and open you up to giving in to temptations you would reject if you were sober; not only does gluttony cause all kinds of health problems from diabetes to high blood pressure; A drunk and a glutton become poor, and drunken stupor dresses a person in rags. You end up wasting your money, and you’ve seen the ads that list the cost of a DUI. What might seem like “just having a little fun” can haunt you the rest of your life. Peter reminds us of the most important reason to avoid drunkenness and drug abuse, be sober and keep vigilant because your adversary the Devil is like a roaring lion watching for any opportunity he can find to devour you.
Those are some warnings this godly father gives his children. What positive advice does he give his children?
Buy truth and do not sell it. Buy wisdom, discipline and knowledge. Buy it, don’t sell it. Value it highly. Don’t be like Esau who despised his birthright and sold it to Jacob for a bowl of stew. Remember what wisdom and truth is. Wisdom is the fear of the Lord, acknowledging that the LORD is the one and only true God, the only God who saves. Truth is God’s word, everything God says. Wisdom is trusting that everything in the Bible is true. God doesn’t lie and the Holy Spirit made sure that there are no lies or mistakes in what has been passed down to us and preserved in the Bible. Having discipline, letting everything you do and every decision you make be governed by God’s word, that’s true wisdom.
Fathers, God says it’s primarily your responsibility to have these talks with your children. Yes, wives, grandparents, Godparents can help and reinforce what you say, but God says giving your children this gift of training and instruction in the Lord is your responsibility. Is it any wonder then that our nation is becoming more and more ungodly? There are many children don’t even know their fathers, and many of the fathers who are in the home either have not carried out their responsibility, or have given ungodly advice and set a bad, unchristian example. If you are one of them, confess your sin and run to Jesus for forgiveness. Recommit yourself to do better, with God’s help, at giving your children the gift they really need, training and instruction in the Lord.
God says that this is so important that, if your children choose to ignore the instruction you give them, instruction rooted in God’s word, you can discipline with a rod! God is not talking about abuse here. He is talking about doing what is necessary to get a child’s attention and let them know how important listening to you, as God’s representative, is! He’s not talking about lashing out in anger. It’s interesting that the word God uses here is a shepherd’s rod, used by the shepherd to gently guide, and to inflict a little pain if necessary to keep the sheep from danger. Strike him yourself with a rod, if you don’t, sooner or later someone else will, maybe a policeman, maybe an angry neighbor. Ultimately, (if you discipline, even with a rod if necessary) you will rescue his soul from death, and the word for death could also mean eternal death in hell.
The best gift a father can give his children is loving discipline that points out their sins and then points them to Jesus for forgiveness, bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
What is the best gift a child can give their father? Is it a new grill? A day at the golf course? Is it a new tie, or a tool he’s been wanting? No matter how nice, or wanted, or expensive a gift you might give on fathers’ day, nothing can beat the gift described here in Proverbs.
My son, if your mind is wise, my mind will rejoice as well. My heart will celebrate when your lips speak upright things. Nothing is better than hearing your children confess their faith in Jesus. Why do you think Children’s Christmas Programs are so popular? Is it just because the kids look so cute all dressed up? I don’t think so. It’s because you get to hear your kids and grand kids proclaiming the most important news ever proclaimed – “today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born for you, he is Christ the Lord!” Nothing is better than hearing your children pray and be able to verbalize their trust in God in the midst of a messy world, or a crisis in their lives. When they show that their mind is wise by speaking upright things, things you taught them from God’s word, then a father’s mind rejoices and his heart celebrates. The father of a righteous child will celebrate greatly. One who fathers a wise son will find joy in him. Your father and your mother will find joy, and she who gave birth to you will celebrate.
Husbands and fathers have a tough job. They are to be the head of the home, which means not that they get to be tyrants, but that, as far as God is concerned, the buck stops with them. They are to be Christlike, to show the kind of love for their wives first, and then the rest of the family, that Jesus shows them. What did Jesus do for them? He died for them. He sacrificed to pay for all their sins. Even though he is the head of all that exists, Jesus was not a tyrant. He showed unselfish, giving love. He didn’t demand to be served, he served. He sacrificed for the good of others. That’s what husbands and fathers are called to be like.
Obviously, none of us who are fathers have lived up to our duty to be Christlike, servant leaders. We have often failed to provide training and instruction in the Lord to our children. We have often been demanding and selfish. We have abused our position as the head to get what we want. We have been like one or the other of the two sons in Jesus’ parable. Sometimes irresponsible, setting a bad example, being envious of the world and giving in to temptation. Other times maybe patting ourselves on the back and thinking we are better than others, excusing our sins by thinking that at least we aren’t like that guy.
Hopefully, like the younger son, we realize our sinfulness. We realize how wonderful, loving and forgiving our heavenly father is. We are willing to come before him, confess where we have failed, and throw ourselves on his mercy. When we do, his fatherly heart will rejoice. He will celebrate greatly. He will assure us of his love and forgiveness which will then work in us the desire and ability to be loving, forgiving, selfless fathers to our children.