Biblical Fathering: On Being Fair

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Part one of a four-part series on fatherhood.

I have three children, all girls, and for over twenty years my wife and I prayed for them every night. Our first prayers were for saving faith and later for them to marry Christian men. God has graciously answered those prayers. 

A Christian father is the divinely appointed leader of his family.

The Bible tells us that salvation is by God’s grace through his gift of faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. Ps. 68:20). But we also read that faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). It has been said that Christian character is “caught as much as taught,” so in light of these truths the importance of godly parenting becomes clear. Christian fathers are the divinely appointed leaders of their families; they are to raise their children in the truth of God’s word (Deut. 4:9; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 5:25, 33; 6:4; 2 Tim. 3:15).

This responsibility cannot be ‘subcontracted’ to Sunday school teachers or the youth group. Parents must intentionally school their children in sound, biblical Christian doctrine. The process is best done at home with regular family devotions led by the father.

In Ephesians 6:4, Paul identifies the father’s primary role in the spiritual training of children: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” When we look closely at this verse, we see four principles for every Christian father. They are to be fair, flexible, firm, and forthright as they raise their children. I invite you to join me in looking at these principles in detail in a series of four posts.

Fathers are to be fair.

Our verse in Ephesians says, “do not provoke your children to anger.” Most of us don’t intend to exasperate or cause our children to become angry, but we sometimes do—often unintentionally—by overprotecting them, favoring them (one over another), neglecting them, or verbally abusing them.

Don’t hover. A common term for the tendency to overprotect our kids is “helicopter parenting.” When Dad is constantly hovering, it’s hard for either boys or girls to behave like adolescent boys or girls. Kids need the freedom to run, jump, play, and even argue with others. While safety and security are always a top priority, kids need to be allowed to be kids. Children can be messy, thoughtless, selfish, and loud; sometimes they break things. While the house must not be destroyed, neither should it be a museum. Within established boundaries fathers are to allow their kids to be kids.

Don’t show favoritism. Favoring one child over another is the second mistake. Isaac loved Esau, and Rebecca loved Jacob (Gen. 25:28). The rift it caused between the brothers and in the family never fully healed. As Christian dads, we must always be alert to avoid favoring one child over another. Each child is God’s gift to us, and they come with unique traits, interests, and skills. As fathers, we must take care to love them as equally as possible in all that we say and do.

Don’t neglect your children. The third way, neglect, is subtle but pervasive for fathers who are in the pressure cooker of twenty-first century life. It’s a real challenge to find the proper balance between work and family responsibilities. When we don’t get it right, our children may suffer. Spending “quality time” was once pop psychology’s answer to this issue; but unfortunately, quality moments—where our kids are open to advise, correction, or encouragement—can’t always be scheduled. Teachable moments come on their own schedule, which is why there is no substitute for spending significant blocks of time with our kids, both one-on-one and as a family.

Finally, be careful with your tongue. Like neglect, verbal abuse can be subtle and unrecognized. We may not browbeat or berate, but sometimes a look, a gesture, or silence can be as devastating as a verbal beating. The challenge is to find the right mixture of honest critique, suggested improvement, honest encouragement, and sincere praise that will keep our kids striving to do more and improve.

Fathering requires balance.

Fairness encompasses each of these areas, so we must examine each to ensure we do not unfairly provoke our children to anger. When fathers find the proper balance in these areas, we demonstrate the kind of behavior that allows us to teach our kids the biblical principles behind them. Fairness is an essential step in biblical fathering that demonstrates to our kids how they should treat others. Not only does it make life as parents easier, it also allows us the credibility to teach Christ to our kids.

Click here for Part 2: “Biblical Fathering: On Being Flexible"

Click here for Part 3: “Biblical Fathering: On Being Firm"

Click here for Part 4: "Biblical Fathering: On Being Forthright

Related Article: The Gut-Wrenching Pain of Letting Go and Trusting God with Your Children

Recommended: Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp