This is the third post in a four part series on fatherhood. If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2 of this series, I encourage you to read those before you read this post, as they will help you understand this post in context.
Orientation #2: Imitation
The second primary orientation I believe we need to have as fathers is that of imitation. By imitation I mean that we should be imitating God, and, likewise, our children should be imitating us. Therefore, how we live becomes an example to our children, just as we have followed the example of those before us. Everything we do needs to be oriented towards providing an example worthy of imitation. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:14-17:
“I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 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 child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.“
We learn at least three things from Paul in these verses. First, we see Paul instructing them because he sees the church as the children he loves (this relates to my last post). Second, Paul says we do not have many fathers, meaning that a father plays a special and unique role in setting an example for his children to follow. Being a father is different than just being a teacher, a manager, or a leader: a father shapes the culture and behavior of a family, church, business, or organization in a foundational way that holds sway even after he is no longer present. Third, Paul urges them to imitate him. It is clear this practice of setting an example has been such an emphasis of his leadership and discipleship of others that Paul could send Timothy as a representative of himself.
Like Paul, we need to be able to say to our spiritual and natural children, “Imitate me!” As Paul said later in this same letter, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
I place the following categories under this orientation of imitation:
- Private Worship
- Public Worship
Integrity is the idea of incorruptibility, soundness, or being undivided and complete. In other words, having integrity means who we are in public is also who we are in private. We do not live a double life or speak out of both sides of our mouths. Being a man of integrity is one of the greatest ways you can bring blessing to your children. Proverbs 20:7 says, “The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him!”
When we lack integrity, we will be found out, and the first to see through our duplicity will be our children. Unfortunately, when a father lacks integrity, the result is usually that their children become cynical and hard, questioning the validity of everything they were taught.
To be confident in telling someone to follow you as you follow Christ, you must begin with being a man of integrity. Related to this is the importance of repentance. Since we still battle with the flesh, we will sin and fall short of being able to model integrity to our children in many ways. But through repentance, we can point our children to Christ, who was the only man to ever live with perfect integrity, being perfectly obedient to the Father. Through repentance, we can publicly acknowledge our own sin, ask for forgiveness, and continue to press on toward the goal of maturity in Christ, showing that the Christian life is all by grace from beginning to end. This kind of gospel integrity if vital in the example we set for our children.
Setting an example also suggests we are presenting ourselves as a model. In all we do, we are modeling how to live, speak, work, love, and serve. Do you realize that everything you do serves as a model for your children? Paul wrote to one of his spiritual sons in Titus 2:7:
“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.“
In all respects, we are to be a model of good works to those who follow us. We model the works of those who have gone before us, primarily Christ and the Apostles, but also our fathers and leaders.
For those fathers who are married, a primary way we serve as a model for our a children is in how we love our wives. Christian husbands are called to give up their lives for their wives just as Christ gave up his life for the church (Ephesians 5:25). We model Christ’s love for our own covenant children in how we love our wives. Do we selfishly demand to be served by our wives, or do we set the example of service? Do we speak with loving patience, or are we harsh? Does our schedule revolve around our own interests, hobbies, and desires, or do we give our time to the things that are important to our wives and families?
Additionally, we set an example for our children is in our private worship life. We should be men of prayer, men who read the word, and even men who sing songs at home to the Lord. We should live our lives at home in the worship of God, knowing that all of life is under his watchful eye. Our children should know that we desire to serve the Lord faithfully everyday of our lives. This is not a Sunday-to-Sunday faith, it’s an everyday faith, lived to the glory of God! We need to model what it means to cling to God, as Psalm 63:5-5 says:
“My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.“
I am forever grateful to the example my own father set for me in this way. I remember him praying and reading the word every morning. I remember him playing his guitar and singing praise to God most days. Even though he was and is a pastor, he set the example of what it meant to first be a child of God. His role of pastor did not define his walk with the Lord, but his walk with the Lord gave birth to his role as a pastor. I never doubted for one minute that he meant every word he preached on Sunday morning. (By the way, you can check out his blog here: https://thirdpeter.com/). I pray that my children will remember me the same way!
If we have integrity in our faith and model a private life of worship, it will not seem odd when we worship with the church. Our public worship is another crucial way we set an example worth imitating. This includes membership in the church, submission to the church, worshiping the Lord corporately, and generally living an outward life of worship to the Lord. Psalm 35:18 says, “I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you.” Additionally, Psalm 40:9-10 says:
“I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.“
We should not conceal what God has done, but we should be those who model what it means to worship God publicly. Our children should see and hear us sing and speak publicly of God’s faithfulness and salvation.
Setting an example for our children that is worth imitating is just as important as instructing them. To set an example worth imitating, the first thing required is integrity. This really cannot be stressed enough. If we allow or create a culture in our home, church, or business that lacks integrity, we actively undermine the other good things we are trying to do and teach. Second, we must be aware that everything we do serves as a model for our natural and spiritual children, especially as it relates to our lives of private and public worship. So, fathers, be the kind of men who can say to their children, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
In the next post, I will write about the third orientation of fatherhood, which is providing for our children.