This is the second post in a four part series on fatherhood. If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, I encourage you to read that before you read this post, as it sets the stage for understanding this first orientation of fatherhood.
Orientation #1: Instruction
I finished the last post by pushing you towards balance in being a father. This balance is important in how we orient ourselves to our calling as fathers to make disciples. I wrote that it is like shooting an arrow, where many factors must be taken into consideration to make a good shot. After we know what the goal is and create conditions for healthy growth, we then need to focus on the three primary orientations of fatherhood, which I believe are instruction, imitation, and provision.
First, fathers need to be oriented towards being the primary instructors of their children. In foundational teaching for parents, Moses declared in Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.“
Additionally, you could easily summarize much of the Book of Proverbs as a father’s instruction to his son. Proverbs 1:8-9 says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.“
Our children desperately need us to instruct them in the ways of the Lord and in the practical skills necessary to live in this world. This requires that we take the time to patiently teach them and include them in what we do. We need to tell them why we do things, and we need to show them how they, too, can do what we do.
In Ephesians 6:4, Paul wrote to the church, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” We need to instruct them and discipline them without provoking them to anger. This is best understood by us being patient, loving, kind, compassionate, and showing our delight in them. We need to be consistent in our instruction and in our application of discipline, not arbitrary. They need to know that what we are saying and doing is for their good and is prescribed by God.
I am placing the following Biblical responsibilities of fatherhood under this general orientation of instruction:
- Practical Training
One of our primary callings as fathers is to discipline our children. Indeed, we show our delight in our children through our discipline of them. You might think showing delight would mean endless, mushy encouragement, but it actually shines through discipline. Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.“
Also, the author of Hebrews states:
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:7-10).
This includes formative and corrective discipline. Formative discipline is the effort we make to instruct them in how to live a disciplined life. This is the character formation that happens as we help our children establish good habits for life, such as going to bed at a reasonable time, helping with chores around the house, eating proper amounts food, exercising regularly, and doing all things with excellence.
Corrective discipline is when we have to enforce standards or expectations when our children stray. Unfortunately, I think many fathers are hesitant to apply corrective discipline when it is necessary. Although none of us are perfect in our attempts at discipline, there are some things our children should simply not be allowed to do without knowing there will be repercussions, such as speaking disrespectfully to anyone in authority or directly disobeying a command. Along with this, when children are young, one aspect of this correction should be corporal punishment. Consider the following scriptures:
Proverbs 13:24: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.“
Proverbs 22:15: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.“
Proverbs 23:13: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.“
In summary, one of the greatest ways we show our children our delight is through lovingly administered discipline. It is compassionate to desire to save them from death and from folly. God wants you to discipline your children in love.
The idea of teaching is self-explanatory, so I will not go into much depth here. But, I do want to emphasize the necessity of fathers teaching the Bible to their children. Bible reading should be a regular activity a father does with his children. Timothy is a good example of a young man in the New Testament who was taught the scriptures from birth. Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14-15, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.“
We should desire that the same could be said of our children! Teach them the scriptures! So my challenge to you is to find a time that works for your family. For us, bedtime is the best time to read together. I have also found that younger children more readily connect with the narrative portions of scripture, such as Acts, Samuel, Kings, or Genesis. I know my sons love these books and the rich stories they tell, and they provide plenty of room for you, as a father, to teach them the gospel as you read.
Your instruction to your children must also be practical. Much of the Book of Proverbs is spent on very practical matters, like finances, how to choose the right kind of spouse, and how to work hard. Make sure you are also training your children in the practical things of this life, like how to pay bills, balance a checkbook, take care of the yard and the home, maintain a car, cook, and eat a balanced diet. Teach them about the kind of friends they should have and the kind man or woman they should marry.
Do not just assume your children will figure all of this out. You need to take the time to teach them how to do these things from a young age. Include them in these activities, even if it takes twice as long to get it done.
Again, the Book of Proverbs is designed to impart wisdom to young men, and really to all of us. Like the author of Proverbs, we, as natural and spiritual fathers, should desire to impart wisdom to our natural and spiritual children.
This is a little different than teaching, but wisdom cannot be gained without teaching. Left to themselves, children will be foolish. Wisdom is another level of knowledge, and it can be understood as “masterful understanding, skill, [or] expertise.” In order to impart wisdom, you need to pray for God to give it to your children, and you need to include them in hard, confusing, or difficult situations where they can see what wisdom looks like.
For example, it’s one thing to teach your kids that the yard needs to be mowed regularly. It’s another thing to actually impart to them the skill to do that well by including them in the mowing schedule. Likewise, it’s one thing to teach your children about conflict resolution, but it’s a lot different to help them actually work through conflict in the right way. Let’s resolve to raise wise children! They need to know how to apply the knowledge they have been given.
We just briefly covered four responsibilities of being the instructor of your children: discipline, teaching, practical training, and wisdom. I want to end this post by encouraging you, as fathers, to be confident in your God-given role as the instructor of your children. God gave your children to you, either spiritual or natural, for a reason, and you should ask him to help you be the instructor they need. God’s grace will empower as you raise them in the fear of the Lord.
Although the church and schools can assist you in this role, do not become passive, farming out the responsibility to teach your children. You need to pass onto them everything you know so they can start life ahead of where you started. And most of all, you need to point them to the only hope of the world: Jesus Christ.
In my next post, we will look at the second orientation of a father, which is imitation. I will write about what it means to set an example your children can follow.
 Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1–15, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 76.