I visited a church member in a Roman Catholic hospital. Her face lit up as I walked into the room. She thrust a green menu sheet into my hands and said, “I saved this for you. Isn’t it terrific?”
Decoding the puzzled expression which came over my face as I read her circled choices of asparagus soup with saltines, pot roast of beef, boiled potato, buttered carrots, custard, and tea, she said, “Oh, no, not that side. Read the other side.” There, on the other side, was a little article titled “A Word in Favor of Father.”
Your father?
Maybe he gets crabby sometimes. Maybe he could tell you things a little more gently. Perhaps he even blames and scolds you unfairly once in a while. But think of all the times when you did something wrong and got away with it. You’re still far ahead of the game.
And don’t think your father is angry or grouchy every time he looks or talks in a serious way; maybe he’s really worrying about you — and with good reason. The next time he gives you a good going-over, take it like a good soldier who has made a mistake. Don’t ever go away with a grudge in your heart against your father — a grudge that won’t wear off for three or four days.
You don’t have to put a halo on your father’s head or wings upon his shoulders to get the right picture of him. But remember that he is not just the man who provides the home in which you live, the food you eat, the clothes you wear and the money you spend.
He is your father!
Father gets little enough in return for all he does and gives. Love from his children? Certainly! But love packed in little packages and so tightly wrapped that poor father wears himself out looking for the speck of love that is tossed to him. And it’s a rare day when he has to get out an umbrella to protect himself against the showers of thanks that are rained upon him. But he keeps on working and providing and giving. He is satisfied with the happiness he provides for his family.
I like that. Father gets a lot of guff and too little credit. So it is good to have a day when we pause to honor our fathers. However, we would waste our worship time if we allow it to evolve into mushy, sentimentalism about fatherhood. Instead, I would like to share a biblical word having to do with fatherhood.
The Bible has a lot to say about fathers. There is no way in which we can deal with all of it. So today I’ll focus on two verses: Proverbs 3:11-12. “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
The implications in these verses can help you and me confront who we are as fathers. These could be reduced to a thesis statement. It would be something like this: The good father is the one who is disciplined and disciplining. Let us remember some of the implications which undergird this thesis statement.
I. Every father is also a child.
The author addresses his words of counsel by saying, “My son…..” Let us never forget that we are children no matter how old we get. Think about that. You are always a child. You have an earthly father. You have a heavenly Father. You and I did not just appear full-grown. We are the products of the human reproductive process. Without an earthly father you would not exist. And without a heavenly Father, who started the whole creative process, you would not be alive today.
This is so basic that it almost goes without saying. However, it is one of the most easily forgotten facts. There is something within you and me that rebels against authority. You and I want autonomy. We would just as soon not have to keep tipping our hats to our earthly parents and our heavenly Parent. Why not? Because it is humbling.
Deep within each of us is a desire to consider ourselves self-made. Perhaps it is the youth who comes from poverty circumstances. With the right combination of breaks and hard work, he gets an education, is established in a vocation, and is labeled a success. He becomes part of the “Horatio Alger syndrome.” Articles are written about him. He makes it to the top. Little attention is given to the earthly parents who gave him his start. He may tip his hat in appreciation as he receives his award for what he has accomplished.
On the other extreme, there is the wealthy heir. He has inherited the family fortune. All his life he works hard to convince the world that he is someone in his own right. He may do it by trying to achieve in an area in which his father had no particular expertise. Or he may do it by developing a whole new value system in which he walks away from the fortune to live an alternative life-style. Some even squander the fortune in their frenzied endeavor to establish their own autonomy.
Most of us do not fit into these various extremes. We are somewhere in the middle. Yet we are just as determined to prove ourselves. In all of our efforts, as good as they may be, let us never forget that we are products of earthly fathers and mothers, and we have a heavenly Father to whom we are responsible. The Scriptures teach that every good and every perfect gift we have comes from Him. It is a humbling thought.
At the same time, it is a liberating concept. We are in relationship, whether we want to be or not, with the divine personality who entitles us to every breath we breathe. He, with one switch on the cosmic control board, can cut off our existence. It is an awesome thought. We try to repress it. Nonetheless, it is true. We are children, dependent upon His mercy, dependent upon His love, and dependent upon His daily provision. We need to remember that.
II. As fathers who are children, we need continuing wisdom.
Today’s text is set in the larger context of the entire third chapter of Proverbs. This chapter has, as its central theme, your and my need for wisdom. You and I are exhorted to seek wisdom. (Proverbs 3:1-18).
Is there any quality which gives more dignity to a father than wisdom? Those of us who acknowledge the fact that we are children of both earthly parents and a heavenly Father are much more readily able to find wisdom than those of us who are boldly proclaiming our autonomy. Wisdom comes only to the person who is humble, who acknowledges his need, who is willing to bow his knee before a higher sovereign.
Remember Solomon? His father, David, had just died. Humble before God, Solomon went to the altar. He took his offerings. In the night God appeared to him and said, “Ask what I shall give you.” Solomon acknowledged God’s love toward his own father, David, and acknowledged the fact that God had made him king in his father’s place. And then Solomon made this request: “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (2 Chronicles 1:10).
God answered, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have” (2 Chronicles 1:11-12).
God rewarded Solomon for wanting the right things. Granted, we have a problem understanding Solomon’s later life. How could a person of such wisdom do so many wrong things? Perhaps instead of presenting a problem, it illustrates the fact that we can willfully go against what we know is right and, in spite of God’s gift of wisdom, mess up our lives. This underlines a very important fact. You and I must live in the daily appropriation of God’s wisdom. It is a gift that you and I need to steward.
A man who is a fool can, with God’s help, become a man of wisdom. A youth gifted with God’s wisdom can, by self-centered and autonomous pride, develop into a middle-aged or elderly fool.
III. Wisdom comes through the discipline of our heavenly Father.
God is the source of wisdom. All wisdom ultimately comes from Him and is enabled by Him. One of His key methods to give you wisdom is to do it through discipline. A careful study of the Bible will reveal that discipline is closely associated with two parental practices.
The first of these is instruction. This involves training and knowledge. If we were to look at this in athletic terms, we could compare it to what will begin this summer for the various professional football teams. They will check into training camps. There will be several major emphases to the instruction which the coaches will give at the beginning of this season.
Each player will have his playbook. It is a valuable commodity. Usually a fine is levied against any player who loses it. There will be classroom sessions. You have seen football diagrams on television. There is a cerebral aspect. The coaches instruct players as to what they are to do in certain situations. They are to memorize the plays.
You just don’t go out there and do what you feel like doing. You are instructed. You are told that if you do what you should do, there will be a desirable result. This is called a “skull session.” You are instructed as to how to use your head. Then you move from the classroom to the practice field. It is there where you are drilled to implement what, up to this point, is head knowledge. You practice blocking and tackling. The whole team runs through the play patterns. The receivers work with the quarterbacks to perfect their timing on the various routines.
Interspersed into the football camp scheduling are conditioning exercises. Muscles are stretched, preparing the body for contact. “Gassers” are run to build up the endurance. Instruction involves knowledge. Instruction involves training. Instruction involves practice. Instruction is one part of discipline.
God has given us His Word. He instructs us as to what it is to be His person. He describes His game plan. He tells of our rebellion against His will for us. He alerts us to His provision as He became a man in Jesus Christ to die for our sins. He alerts us to His Holy Spirit’s presence in our life. He challenges us to a Spirit-controlled life. And we are called to daily practice. It is here that the athletic analogy breaks down. We don’t have the luxury of a month at training camp and a six or seven game pre-season schedule. We learn our lessons daily, right in the middle of life.
That’s what makes this second dimension of discipline all the more difficult. Not only is there instruction. A biblical understanding of discipline will show that combined with instruction is reproof and correction. All through the Bible we see God’s “rod of discipline” in dealing with His people. He takes corrective measures not to crush His children, but to train them in the ways in which they should develop.
Some of our young people are taking gymnastics. We have seen films of what training it takes to become an Olympic star. I will never forget those pictures of youngsters in day-long training sessions when they would miss the bars and hit the floor, face first. What pain! Pain is part of correction. Reproof is part of discipline. God cares enough to grade our efforts!
What would you think of a math teacher who was so pleasant that he never told a student that two and two aren’t five? He didn’t want to be negative. He didn’t want to hurt the child’s feelings. He wanted to be liked so he never corrected. Is he doing that child a favor?
Students are graded for their own good. There is no place for an easygoing relativism in math, nor is there in life. And we would never know this if God never corrected us.
Part of discipline is what we call “chastisement.” God could leave the training wheels on forever to protect us from the pain of falling down. What good parent would do that? I would rather fall off the bike a few times and find my balance than go through life protected from the exhilaration of vulnerability.
IV. God warns against two natural responses to His discipline.
On the one hand, we are warned, “… do not despise the Lord’s discipline….” We have seen this in children. There is that occasional child who despises parental authority. That child steels his will against the rod. He hardens his heart against the parent’s discipline. He refuses to accept the instruction. He pretends not to feel the pain. We have seen this ugly sight.
God urges us not to despise His discipline. Expect it. Realize that a disciplined life will have pain. There will be those corrections. Don’t snap back at Him. Don’t dare Him. Don’t refuse to be guided. Open your life to His discipline. Don’t despise it.
On the other hand, He warns us to “… not resent His rebuke….” The RSV translates this better, urging us to “… not grow weary of His rebuke.” Even as there are those who harden themselves against the Lord, there are those who faint. They collapse under life’s pressure. They are like the gymnast who dislocates a shoulder or breaks an ankle. He gives up, never experiencing the satisfaction which comes from a well-executed routine. Perhaps you are growing weary. You are discouraged. You are beaten down. You can’t handle much more.
One of the great British Bible expositors of a previous generation said, “Dogged insensibility and utter prostration are equally harmful.” God’s discipline is not designed to knock us out. This leads us to another implication.
V. Only a father who delights in a child takes time to give adequate discipline.
Let’s look at our text once again. It reads: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son He delights in” (Proverbs 3:11-12).
Look again to the Scriptures and you will see constant comparisons between God’s relationship with us as His children and us in our relationship with our children. Discipline dare not be viewed as a yelling, screaming, beating affair.
God doesn’t practice child abuse. We have all seen a parent grab a child by the arm, picking this helpless little one up, kicking him or slapping him in the face. That is not discipline. That is lack of discipline. “That is not authority. This is lack of authority. That is not an adult. That is a child. That is not control. That is lack of control.
In contrast, God is talking about a loving direction. It is an instruction and reproof which emerges from a sensitive and deep care. Delighting in a child doesn’t mean spoiling the child.
Perhaps the analogy of a garden best pictures this discipline. I have been watching various people and the way they take care of their gardens. There are those who are half-hearted gardeners. They do a lackadaisical job of preparing the ground. They plant the seed into a soil not properly fertilized. Every so often they pay a little bit of attention to it. They really don’t get down to good, hard work. And they really don’t get a whole lot out of their gardens, whether it be vegetables they have planted or flowers. Then there are others who really love their gardens? They carefully prepare the soil. They add the right fertilizers.
They don’t keep digging around the seed to see how it is doing. They leave it alone for a while. And then at certain stages they work extra hard. They are careful in the way they pull up the weeds. They know that too vigorous an effort can disturb the seedlings. They carefully stake the stock. They spray for insects. They carefully water. They prune back the unhealthy branches. They take delight in this growth process. They face many a challenge. They keep at it. Drought demands extra watering with its cost in time, effort, and money. Fences may have to be erected to keep out the rabbits. Gardening takes work. Trained, disciplined growth doesn’t come easily.
So it is with a father who delights in a child. It takes time to give adequate discipline. A father who knows best loves his children enough to go through the pain of executing his God-given authority and discipline. Do you love your children that much? Are you willing to turn this responsibility over to a cold, hard world which will do the job for you — but with much less care and very little love?
VI. The only person able to adequately discipline is one who lives responsibly under adequate discipline.
A responsible person must be accountable to someone. The father who knows best is subject to a Father who knows best. This is a restatement of our basic thesis: fathering is never easy. There is no human father who can properly wield authority who is unwilling to live under authority.
A father who knows best is willing to be disciplined by a heavenly Father. He is willing to live under this authority. He is willing to model this before his children. Are you? The father who knows best is disciplined and disciplining.
Charlie Shedd, author of many family books, in his syndicated newspaper column, “Strictly for Dads,” once told about listening to a famous child psychiatrist read a paper on “Theological Implications in the Father-Child Relationship.” It began by saying that he himself was a believer. And then he made this announcement: “No little child will think more of God than he thinks of his own father!!”
Startled by this, Shedd began to check it out in his work with parents, teenagers and the college set. In his hours with alcoholics, drug users and unhappy marriages, people of every kind out of sync with life at its best, it became clear that the child psychologist was right. A little child can’t contrast. He can only compare.
We teach him to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” We tell him that God is our heavenly Father. In his mind he muses, “God is like my father? I’m not so sure my father really cares about me. He’s always playing golf, watching television, reading the newspaper. Besides, he isn’t very nice to my mother. He’s not even fair. I don’t think I like God.”
What did Shedd suggest? It is a little speech to kids — a speech given both by words and by actions. It is given as early in life as possible and given frequently.
Listen to me, troops. Where I’m the kind of father I should be, that is what God is like! Where I am not so hot, I hope you’ll learn the all-important process of contrast. Wherever the Bible says that God is like a father, you can understand it means that God is like a perfect father. You know I’m not perfect, but I’m going to keep on trying. I want you to know that I know I’ve got a long way to go.
This is pretty good advice for both fathers and mothers, isn’t it? Although today we have spoken in relationship to God as Father, we need to remember that He is more than that. He is also One who comforts as a mother. Jesus referred to God as Spirit. He has both the feminine and masculine characteristics of the finest parents, while being so much more than Parent. Today’s words are also for mothers as well as fathers, as we are called to acknowledge to our children how we live accountable to God and ask their forgiveness wherein we have failed.
Perhaps today you need to give, as I do, Shedd’s little speech by phone, letter, or personal conversation to one of your children whose understanding of God has been damaged by how you have lived. And, before you do that, perhaps you may need to talk to your heavenly Parent, receiving anew His grace, love and forgiveness.

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