The Glorious Strength of Fatherhood
The Bible teaches that the glory of men is their strength (Prov. 20:29), and this glory is specifically given to every man to carry out their calling of fatherhood. This is not because every last man marries or begets biological children, rather this is because every man is created and called by God to follow Him in masculine shaped holiness called fatherhood.
Act Like Men
At the end of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he writes: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). It’s striking that Paul writes this to the entire church at Corinth, and yet his charge is that they act like men. This presupposes that God has designed men with a particular kind of strength, which they must embrace and in appropriate ways women respond to and even imitate. The inverse of this can be seen in multiple places describing the fear of women: “In that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the Lord of Hosts shakes over them” (Is. 19:16, Jer. 50:37, 51:30, Nah. 3:13). When the courage of men fails, the Bible says they’ve become like women. The other word the Bible uses to describe men who have lost their nerve is “soft” or “fainthearted” (Dt. 20:8, cf. Jdgs. 7:3). A little boy is described as “soft” or “tender” (Prov. 4:3). This is why the Bible calls it a curse to be ruled by women and children (Is. 3:12). It’s striking that the Bible often describes this softness as turning violent: “His speech was smooth as butter yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords” (Ps. 55:21, Prov. 25:15, 26:22, cf. Mk. 14:45). The word translated “soft” in the Septuagint here and elsewhere (cf. 4 Macc. 6:17), is used in two places in the New Testament: the first time when Jesus asks the crowds about John the Baptist. “What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses” (Mt. 11:8). The only other use of the same word is in 1 Cor. 6:9: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind” (KJV). A man who fails to embrace his glory to be strong is acting like a woman, is being soft, effeminate, or what modern parlance would call gay. (cf. Dt. 22:5).
Let me just give a few examples of this and try to offend as many people as possible. But let me start with a story. When my wife was studying elementary education at the University of Idaho around 15-16 years ago, in an elementary literature class, a teacher presented on a children’s author named Tomie dePaolo. He’s the author of over 200 children’s books and has received virtually every significant award possible (Caldecott, Newberry, etc.). The final book of that unit was dePaulo’s book Oliver Button is a Sissy. The book is about a little boy who doesn’t like to do things that boys are supposed to do. And he gets made fun of because he likes to play with dolls and to dance. Of course the moral of the story is that Oliver Button is just different and should be celebrated for being different. Now there are at least two reasons why Christians are susceptible to this kind of propaganda: we have an anemic view of masculinity and we are cowards. We are cowards when it comes to confronting effeminacy. And we do this often when we begin sentences with “well, it’s not a sin to…” Well, it’s not a sin for a man to care about his clothing, his hair, how he smells – no, but it is a sin for him to be effeminate, to care about those things like a woman. Paul says that those kinds of men will not inherit the kingdom of God. There is a kind of male fastidiousness about personal appearance, which can often be measured in time spent looking in the mirror and looking at clothing catalogues which is vanity and effeminacy. And to be clear, you can find this vanity in other places, like the gym for example. Men can be effeminate about the care of their beards or boots or boats or trucks. This softness and effeminacy is fundamentally exhibited in self-serving obsessions that distract and excuse men from exercising their strength and courage to perform their duties to serve and protect others. They’d rather do the dishes back at camp than face the taunting giants.
Since the very first days of the Christian Church, the followers of Jesus have confessed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty…” Jesus taught His followers to address God as “Our Father…” And Paul says this is directly related to all fatherhood: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named…” (Eph. 3:14-15). Notice too that the particular point Paul is making is about strength and power (Eph. 3:16, 18, 20). In fact, one way of reading the book of Ephesians would be as an extended meditation on fatherhood: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Eph. 1:3). He (the Father) chose us, predestined us for adoption as sons, redeemed us and forgave us by the blood of Christ, and has guaranteed us an inheritance through the Spirit (Eph. 1:3-14). This “Father of glory” is the one who raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand, and it is His fatherly power which is at work in those who believe (Eph. 1:15-20). This is the power of begetting: “even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God the Father] made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him…” (Eph. 2:5-6). Peter says the same thing (1 Pet. 1:3-5). Notice the similarities: the fatherhood of God begets and takes responsibility, provides, guards, and anticipates and prepares for the future. Scripture shows us that this fatherhood extends to kings (Is. 49:23), prophets (2 Kgs. 2:12), pastors/elders (1 Thess. 2:11), and mentors (1 Cor. 4:17).
What Does Biblical Fatherhood Look Like?
Be Fruitful: “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blesses is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Ps. 127:3-5) Fatherhood begets. God made men to be the kind of people who plant seeds. This is true biologically, and that is the sign that this is true generally. What are you planting?
Take Responsibility: Just as Joshua famously spoke on behalf of his household (Josh. 24:15), so too God our Father in Jesus Christ has made provision to bring all of His sons to glory: “Behold, I and the children God has given me” (Heb. 2:13, cf. Is. 8:18). This may include your wife and children, but it may also include any other people God has placed in your immediate vicinity. Recognizing that you are your brother’s keeper/guardian is an act of fatherhood. This is what your strength is for. This is why we have Men’s Forums and Head of Household meetings, and address vows to heads of households. Fatherhood is learning to say, “We…”
Set an Example: “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:15-17). The more you can say, “be imitators of me,” the more you are being a father.
Plan for the Future: “… giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12, cf. Prov. 13:22, 19:14). But an inheritance is much more than a 401K; it stands for and includes all of our actions being pointed toward the future and not just the immediate results. What are you storing up? Fatherhood looks to tomorrow, next week, and to grandchildren.
Be Strong & Compassionate: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Ps. 103:13). A faithful father is feared and loved – notice that combination throughout Psalm 103. Men must be strong and courageous in the truth and tender and compassionate towards all men.
Let me give you several examples: David was a man after God’s own heart. He was a warrior and a poet, a shepherd and an accomplished musician. He fought lions and bears and giants, and he loved Jonathan dearly. Paul was no pansy. He preached to crowds that wanted to kill him. He was bold and courageous, and yet the number of times he would say that he loved his people is astounding. When he said his farewells to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, he had the audacity to tell them that some of them would likely become wolves (Acts 20:29-30) and then all of those men hugged and kissed one another. Or our Lord Jesus, the manliest man that ever lived could be so fierce and terrible in His wrath and yet so tender and compassionate. Remember Jesus reclining at the Last Supper with John apparently leaning on his chest (Jn. 13:23), and Jesus saying that one of the disciples would betray him. Our great temptation as men is to be soft in the wrong ways and hard in the wrong ways. We are tempted to be soft and lazy on sin, and we are tempted to be hard and harsh with people. And when we are hard on sin, people will accuse us of being harsh with them, and this will tempt us to go back to being soft on sin. But we must not do that. We must be men who learn to say, “I love you.” We must be men who embrace and kiss our children and one another. And we must be men who tell the truth about sin.
The truth is that every man in this room is tempted to be a sissy like Oliver Button. And the reason we are tempted to be sissies is because we are descended from Adam, the first sissy. Instead of despairing, instead of listening to the voice of his wife, instead of going soft on evil when he realized that the sentence of death was now over his wife, Adam should have firmly refused her offer, led her straight to God, taken responsibility for her actions, and offered to die in her place. Adam didn’t do that, but God in His Fatherly love and mercy sent His only Son Jesus into the world to do just that. Jesus came as a man, and he played the man for all of us cowardly, soft, effeminate men. This is why embracing the strength of manhood and fatherhood is not fundamentally about trying harder and getting stronger. Fundamentally, the glorious strength of fatherhood is all about believing God. Abraham did not become a father when Isaac was born. Abraham embraced the strength of fatherhood when he believed God.
“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham… so then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal. 3:7-9).