While studying for a Sunday School lesson recently, I ran across some very interesting words to describe the role of fathers. Paul used them to describe his own care for the Thessalonians. He said, “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:10-11, NASB; italics added). That description struck me. In it, Paul gives several characteristics of a great father.
- A father lives the life he wants his children to live. He leads by example, behaving “devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly.” He lives “free of wrongdoing” and gives “no cause for censure or blame” regarding his own behavior. His strives to develop an upstanding and faultless reputation. That is a tall order. But fathers strive to teach their sons and daughters “to walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls them.” That lesson begins by example. Our children need to see us live a devout, upright, and blameless lifestyle before they can learn to walk in it themselves.
- A father exhorts. Some versions translate the word “exhort” as “encourage.” The Greek word literally means to “call to one’s side; to call near” so you can comfort, exhort, instruct, or encourage. To me, the interesting aspect of this word is the basic idea of “calling to one’s side.” A father does not parent from a distance. He parents up close. He invites his children into his life. He comes alongside his children and walks through life with them. He invites his children to walk beside him through life’s summer days and winter storms so they can observe his actions and words. He walks with his children through good times and bad, leading by example. This requires an intimate involvement in all aspects of his children’s lives as they encounter a full variety of life situations. In each situation, a father calmly walks by his children’s side, instructing through word and example how to best respond in an upright and blameless way.
- A father encourages. The Greek word used in this instance is used only three other times in the New Testament. In one instance Paul uses the word to instruct others to “encourage the fainthearted” (1 Thessalonians 5:14—NASB). The other two instances are found in the passage describing Lazarus’ funeral. The townspeople were “consoling” Mary and Martha for the loss of their brother. Fathers comfort their children. Fathers encourage children when they become discouraged. They strengthen their children when they feel weak. They build their children up, especially when the world beats them down. Fathers walk with their children through grief and hardship, toward a hopeful future.
- Finally, a father implores. The Greek word translated “implore” means to “affirm what one has seen, heard, or experienced.” In other words, a father teaches his children based on his life experience and knowledge. There is vulnerability in this. To teach from experience a father has to remain open. He exhibits a willingness to reveal embarrassing mistakes and failures, not just successes, so his children can learn. He accepts his own mistakes and even apologize when necessary, teaching his children to take personal responsibility for wrongdoings and make amends. A father is also willing to affirm what he sees in his children, both areas of strength and areas of need, in a gentle and loving manner.
Think about what this passage tells us about a father. A father lives the kind of life he wants his children to live. He takes the time to come alongside his children and he invites them into his life. He spends time with his children; and, within this intimate relationship, he can encourage and comfort, instruct and teach. That is a GREAT father!