Gospel Gazette Online
Volume 21 Number 6 June 2019
Page 7

What I Want for My Children

Although we do not celebrate Father’s Day religiously, it is a day set aside for our nation to honor our fathers. Fathers have a special responsibility as leaders of the home. Since this responsibility is God-given, it should never be taken lightly. Every father would do well to seriously consider God’s instructions regarding his responsibility in the home. It is tragic that so many fathers in the church today display a lack of concern for the spiritual well-being of their children. We become alarmed when we see that many young people have a lack of interest in the church as they grow older. Could it be that part or even most of the responsibility goes back to the father?

Having five children, I am made keenly aware of the responsibility God has placed upon me. My children asked, “Daddy, what do you want for Father’s Day?” This article concerns a number of things I want for my children as opposed to what I want from them.

Father Knows Best

Mark T. Tonkery

Mark T. TonkeryWhat makes an ideal father? In our day and time, what is the picture of a father? Leadership, protector, provider, love and disciple have gone to the wayside. Think about the images of fathers we see on TV and in the movies. Fathers are often viewed as goofs, careless, uninvolved in their children’s lives, abandoning their responsibilities, lazy or abusive. This often influences our view of fathers and how fathers take or don’t take care of their families. Thankfully, the Bible draws us a picture of what a father should be and gives us a model to follow. The Bible can also be a guide to allow us to honor fathers when we see godly men living the example that God has set for them. Luke 15:11-32 is the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and yet, it is not only a parable about two sons, it is a parable about a loving father, who represents God. The father in this parable provides one of the best possible role models that is found in the Bible for Christian fathers today. A father who is to be honored is one who sets an example of godliness and guides his children to having faith in God. Godly fathers know best.

Godly fathers know best about giving their children freedom. In Luke 15, the younger son, for whatever reason, rejected his home. As difficult as it is, fathers need to give their children freedom to make their own decisions. A saying goes this way, “Love is like a dove, if you have it and let it go and it comes back to you, you know it was meant to be.” In Luke 15:11-12, the younger son wanted his father to give him his share of the inheritance so that he could leave home. The father gave his son freedom, which is always difficult to do. The father knew that according to custom, he could divide his estate and give a share to the younger son, but this usually took place after death. Yet, by giving the boy his inheritance early, the father may have suspected that his son would probably waste the money and not use it properly, which was the case in this parable. The father could have kept it until it was time and invested the money. He could have used his wisdom to turn the money into a bigger profit. However, he did not. Instead, the father divided the inheritance and gave freedom to the boy to do what he wanted.

Freedom can be a dangerous gift. The father knew the dangers, pitfalls and the heartache that would come to his son if he did not use the money wisely. As we read in verses 13-16, the boy did the one thing his father feared. He wasted the money on wild living, and he spent everything. We can easily look around and see children doing the same thing today. They demand the car, an apartment or money. They wreck the car, don’t take care of the apartment and then waste all their money. A father once said to his son, “God gives every person a rope. Each person can choose what to do with that rope. You can tie the rope to something and pull it. Or you can put the rope around your neck and hang yourself.” The younger son in the parable had enough rope, and he proverbially hanged himself. The younger son left because he thought he could conquer the world. He was old enough, tough enough, had enough friends, and he could do everything on his own, or so he thought.

His dream had come true. He had freedom; he was his own boss; he could get up out of bed when he wanted and didn’t have all the chores around the house. He had all the friends he wanted. Then, the money ran out, and when the money went, so did his friends and his freedom. He realized he was helpless, and no one was around. It got so bad that he had to fight the pigs for their food. For a Jew, this would have been despicable and the lowest blow one could imagine. There is a price for freedom. Sometimes, we must learn the hard way.

It is true that parents are to teach their children to be independent, how to manage money, take care of themselves, provide for themselves and put God first. There will come a time when children will need to leave home for college, marriage, to go to the military or other employment and start lives on their own. Yet, sometimes children leave home for no good reason and only in rebellion, like the young man in the parable. Like many young people who rebel today, the prodigal, in time, decided to go back home. The boy in the parable thought he must go back because even his father’s servants were treated better than he was experiencing. So, he went back. This was the beginning of repentance, coming to oneself and going back home, changing his life.

Godly fathers know best how to treat their wayward children (vs. 17-24). The son in Luke 15 returned home, not knowing what to expect. As an act of repentance, he came home. His heart was guilt-ridden; he had failed, and he had done the one thing his father thought he might do. How embarrassing and humiliating? He did not want to come home this way. He wanted to come home successful and proud of his accomplishments. Now, instead of a speech on how great he was, he now had to plan a speech about how wrong he was. However, as he was far off, his Father saw him. His father ran to him, filled with compassion, hugged him and kissed him. Then, the prodigal’s father threw his son a party. The only one who came to meet the returning wayward boy was his father. He was waiting and watching for his son. Notice that the father didn’t lose his faith in this process; he didn’t stop doing what he always had done.

I had an acquaintance of mine who is a faithful preacher, but his child rebelled. The child got in with the wrong crowd, into drugs, refused to go to church and it got to the point that the police were involved. The child left home. My friend, as he told the story, told me that he and his wife were greatly grieved. They really didn’t know what to do, but they did stay faithful to God. They continued nurturing their faith, praying and being involved with the church. Over time, the child did return home, was restored to the faith and the last I heard was growing in the faith. My friend said he talked with his child after he came home, when some of the pain had eased, and asked him why he left. The child said it was “because of your Christianity.” Then, my friend said why did you come back, and he said it was “because of your Christianity.” This family continued to stay faithful to God regardless of the decisions of their child, and that is the one thing that helped that prodigal child to come back home. We must give our children their freedom, but we must continue to be faithful ourselves to the Lord. Remember Ezekiel 18:20, which reads, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”

A good father often treats a child not the way the child deserves to be treated, but rather often with unmerited favor. The ideal father deals with all his children with grace and discipline, but he deals with the wayward child with mercy. Notice the younger son’s reception upon returning home. The father did not ask about the lost money or his misadventures. He knew his son was dead and was alive again; he was lost and now he was found. So, they began to celebrate! They had a party, a good time, lots of happiness and rejoicing over this one son.

Abraham Lincoln was asked how he was going to treat the rebellious southerners when they had finally been defeated and had returned to the Union. Lincoln replied, “I will treat them as if they had never been away.” That is how the father treated his wayward son. However, the older son in Luke 15 did not like that his brother upon coming back resulted in the sounds of music and dancing coming from the house (vs. 25-29). He was invited to the party. He was encouraged to come, but he did not attend. Some children test the character of their fathers, and the older son was such a one. When the father came to the older son (vs. 28- 30), the older son spoke angry words because of his father’s reaction to the return of the younger brother. The father must have been sad and upset over his older son’s reaction, but look how the father reacted (vs. 31-32). He treated him with kindness and even explained his actions. The father set an example of what Ephesians 6:4 means. “And, fathers do not provoke your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

We can learn many lessons from this parable, especially the example of the father, but I hope we can observe at least two lessons. First, teach your children and grandchildren how to deal with freedom. We have about 18 years to teach them how to deal with freedom and independence. Parents, our job is to teach them, train them and let them go. However, if they leave home before we or they are really ready, be prepared to accept your children when they come to you in repentance, looking for help and love. Do not say, “I told you so!” or “You should have listened to me.” Open your arms and give them a hug, just like the father in Luke 15.

Second, children need to see the example of a godly father. We can see in this parable that the father was a godly man by the way he treated his sons with love, forgiveness and mercy. Today, we need godly fathers who are involved in their children’s lives, and when trouble comes, they will go to their fathers. It is said that children will often choose the religion of their fathers over their mothers. I know many cases where this true. Whatever the father deems as important the children will see that as important as well. It may be God, or it may be the world.

The Bible specifically singles out fathers as the ones who are to teach their children the ways of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Both parents share responsibilities in this, but notice fathers specifically must answer to God whether their children are taught the ways of the Lord! Fathers, get involved with God, read your Bible, pray with your children, come to church and live the Christian life daily. This will help your children to be godly, too. Fathers, you are an example to your children; you are their heroes. Strive to live in a way that will help them grow up in the Lord. Be the father that they can trust, so when they make mistakes, they will be willing to come to you.

Although Jesus made His point with this parable that lost people matter to God, the lost sons really mattered to fathers. It leaves us with some questions. Did the younger brother continue to be a faithful son? Did he and his brother reconcile? Did the older brother repent? Sometimes, the Bible leaves us on the edge of our seats so we can think it through. We need to ask ourselves, “Where do I fit into the parable?” “Which person am I?” “Am I like the younger son needing to turn to God and repent?” “Am I the older son, unwelcoming of the sinner who has repented?” Or, “Am I like the loving father, offering forgiveness to a lost child?”

May we each strive to be like the father in Luke 15 and to be that spiritual hero to our children and to our families. The greatest gift a father can give a child is the love for God and a faith in Jesus Christ. Interestingly enough, it is when we become Christians that we are able to call God Father. Is God your Father, or maybe you once were a child of God, but you left home. Will you come back? Come home today!

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