A Plea to Fathers

In December 1974, singer and songwriter, Harry Chapin’s signature song reached the top of the Billboard charts. He took the song from a poem written by his wife about an awkward relationship with a son and his father. The song starts like this:

My child arrived just the other day, / He came to the world in the usual way, / But there were planes to catch and bills to pay, / He learned to walk while I was away / And he was talking 'fore I knew it and as he grew / He'd say I'm gonna be like you, Dad / You know I'm gonna be like you

My son turned ten just the other day / He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play / Can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today / I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok / And he walked away but his smile never dimmed / And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah / You know I’m gonna be like him”

The boy in the song desperately wanted to spend time with his father, but his father never seemed to make him a priority. And father comes to a fearful conclusion at the end of his song,

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away / I called him up just the other day / I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind” / He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time / You see my new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu / But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad / It’s been sure nice talking to you / And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me/ he’d grown up just like me / My boy was just like me

The Cats in the Cradle resonated with the American culture of the 1970s making one of the top songs in the decade and the song continues to resonate with the America people. It has been featured steadily on popular television shows through the last decade. Chapin admits that the song was also about his own relationship with his son, Josh. When asked about the song, he candidly replied, “Frankly, this song scares me to death.”[1] And frankly, this song scares me to death. Our children will often become like their parents. Our sons will become like their fathers.

Fathers, our task of teaching our children is one of the most important tasks in all of life. God has given us a tremendous responsibility in leading and loving our children. Sadly, most fathers either do not understand the importance of their role or they abdicate their responsibility as spiritual leader in the home. God has called fathers to be the spiritual leaders in the home. My pray today, regardless of what stage you in fatherhood; father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great grandfather, that I will challenge you to intentionally teach your children the Way of the Lord. This morning, we are going to look at three challenges from a father to a son and I pray that the fathers hear would answer the call to teach. First challenge,

I. Fathers, Teach your Children the Way of Wisdom

Look with me in verse 1-2, “Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching.” Notice the intensity in which this father is speaking: Hear, Be Attentive. There is importance and fervor in his voice. Most scholars believe that Proverbs was compiled mostly with sayings from King Solomon. Proverbs 1:1 says, “The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel.” This is Solomon giving wisdom and instruction to his children. We are going to look specifically at what was his instruction, but first, notice very simple that Solomon was teaching his sons. Solomon understood that it was his responsible to teach his sons the way of Lord. The scripture that was earlier read from Deuteronomy 6:4-8

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.

This was known as the “Shema.” It was recited twice a day and taught to children to be repeated at night. Solomon grew up hearing those words and knew of their importance. It was his job to teach them to his children. You can see that Solomon believed that he was giving good precepts that would give his children wisdom and insight.

Fathers, it is our job to teach children the way of wisdom. Fathers, we must take this seriously. Women have been shouldering the burden of Christian instruction for decades. Fathers, we have abdicated or stepped aside from our God-given calling to teach our children and have been satisfied relegating Christian instruction to our wives. Our wives have shouldered the burden for too long. Men, we must step up and reclaim our role as spiritual leaders in the home and in the church. We should want to lead and should want our children to follow in our footsteps as leaders of the home. I am a strong believer that the key to strong churches and a strong country is strong fathers. Fathers, I plead with you to teach your children because our teaching reaches far into the future.

Look at verse 3, “When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me.” So Solomon is bringing to remembrance things his father, King David, taught him when he was a tender young age. Think about that, the words of King David are given as instruction for his grandchild. David taught Solomon and Solomon taught his children. Do you see how far our teaching goes? The words I give to John David at his tender young age may be given to my grandchild in 30 years. So my words will carry on so we better be very careful in what we prioritize in our teaching.

So Solomon passes on the words from his father to his sons, verse 4, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honour you if you embrace her. She will place on you head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” Solomon, from the father, encourages his sons with the benefit of wisdom. Listen again to the benefits of wisdom: she will keep you, she will guard you, she will exalt you, she will honor you, she will place on your head a graceful garland, and she will bestow on you a beautiful crown. The way of wisdom will bless you. But it is important to notice that all of these blessings are conditional. Verse 6, “Do not forsake her (condition), and she will keep you; Love her (condition) and she will guard you.” Verse 8, “Prize her highly (condition) and she will exalt you.” Solomon wants his sons to be blessed by wisdom. He wants them to be kept, to be guarded, to be exalted, and to be honored. So Solomon prizes the pursuit of wisdom as the highest calling.

ESV translates verse 7, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” I like the way the NIV translates verse 7, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” The most important thing, the principal thing, for King David and for Solomon is that their children get wisdom. This is the heart of God for it is in His inspired and perfect Word.

So we are taught that wisdom should be the most highly prized and highly pursued in our lives, but does that reflect our lives with our children? Are we teaching our children to pursue wisdom more than anything else? Fathers, do you spend more time teaching your children how to throw a baseball or a football, than how to seek after wisdom? Do you spend more time complimenting them on their grades, or on encouraging them in their character? Grandparents, what are you most concerned with about your grandchildren? What do you brag on about your grandchildren, their worldly achievements or their knowledge of God? Fathers, we can teach our kids how to shoot a gun or hook a fish, but we must never place that above teaching them to get wisdom. Our culture trains parents to sacrifice time and money on worldly pursuits like sports or recreation that will never have the same eternal impact than sacrificing time and money on teaching your kids the way of wisdom. Fathers, take stock of your parenting. If we want our kids to be truly blessed and happy, then we must teach them the way of wisdom.

But fathers this is not worldly wisdom. The wisdom we teach is altogether different. Listen to 1 Corinthians 1:21-25:

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God. We teach the wisdom of the cross which is folly to the world. We teach our children of Christ crucified and Christ risen. We teach our children that we are sinners, but that God has made a way through a great and perfect Savior. For fathers, it pleases God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. Teach your children the way of wisdom, the way of the cross.

II. Fathers, Teach your Children the Way of the Wicked

In verse 10, we heard Solomon’s second appeal, “Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.” Before Solomon introduces what to avoid, he reminds his son of his father’s example. I have taught you the way of wisdom. I have led you in the paths of uprightness. Solomon is encouraging his son that he already knows the right way to go, because he has heard and seen it in him. The only way this can be true for us is if we walk the walk and talk the talk. Our children need examples to follow. You may not have been raised with a faithful Christian witness and you may not even be walking as a faithful Christian witness, but there is still time. If you have life in your body, God can still use you. Repent of your former sins, and give your life over to Jesus Christ. We have an incredible opportunity to change the lives our families, if we would only turn to Christ. You may be walking with Christ, hold fast to him. The devil is crouching at the door, waiting to devour you. Stand fast against his schemes for your life has incredible influence.

We must hold fast, because sin is tempting. One of the ways that young people are tempted to drift away from God is through their choice of friends. How many of you did things you regret because you were trying to win the approval of friends? I remember being 13 years old hanging out with some of my friends at their house. One of my friends went and got a beer out of the fridge. I had never drank beer and had never had the desire to drink beer, but there I was with my friends and all I could think, “what will they think of me if I say no?” So at 13 years of age, knowing it was wrong, I took a sip of beer. It tasted awful and I felt ashamed on the inside, but I gained approval of my friends. It was a dumb decision. And by wanting to win their approval over God’s, I entered into the path of the wicked.

Listen to Solomon’s warning to his children in verse 14, “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter until the full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” Solomon paints a very clear picture. The way of the wicked is deep darkness. They are so lost and blind that they fall over things that they cannot even see. Solomon is instructing his child how dangerous and deadly is the way of the disobedient and the wicked.

The Bible is clear that the wicked will perish for their sin. Sin separates us from God. We have to teach our children of the outcome of wicked. Psalm 68:1-3, “God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before him! 2 As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God! 3 But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!” The Bible speaks in promises; promises to bless the righteous and promises to punish the wicked. Read through the Psalms or the Proverbs and notice how often the Lord contrasts both groups. In biblical terms there are really only two groups of people, the wicked and the righteous. The wicked are all those that continue to live in their sin while the righteous are all that have turned to live for Jesus Christ. God promises to punish sinners. But God also promised from eternity past to punish His Son, Jesus Christ, for sinners that would repent and trust in Him alone for salvation. Salvation is found in no other name than in Jesus Christ. We must teach our children and ourselves to surround ourselves with people that will lead us to Christ.

Men, we need to choose better friends for ourselves and to teach our children to choose better friends. In my years of ministry, I am always surprised in how many men I meet that do not have deep godly friendships with other men. We may have childhood friends or work friends, but we do not have many friends that help us intentionally grow in Christ. There is a saying that more is caught than taught meaning our children often learned more about from our example than from our words. We have to model to our children the importance of godly friendships. Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners, but his friendship with them was always for their good. They never pulled him into their path of sin; rather Jesus always would pull them out of their sin to Himself. Do we have the kind of friendships that keep us from sin or take us into sin?

In the book Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis is giving advice from an older demon to a younger demon in how to keep people from God. At one point he writes:

"You will say that these are very small sins, and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to keep the man away from the Light.… Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."

The way of the wicked is deep darkness for it keeps men away from the light. We must not minimize our sin or the sins of our children. We must fight for their soul, by pleading with them to avoid the way of the wicked. We do not want our children in deep darkness, but rather in the light. “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” Oh fathers, teach the way and the end of the wicked and plead with your children to avoid it.

III. Fathers, Teach your Children the Way of Life

We turn to Solomon’s last appeal in verse 20, “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forwards, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”

Solomon urges his son to again to be attentive to his words and hold fast to them. Look again at verse 22, “For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” The “heart” in the Scriptures refers to the center of the person. In John 7:37-38 Jesus is probably quoting this verse, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.’” Believing in Jesus and His Word is the way to protect the heart. After speaking of the heart, Solomon expands to mouth in verse 24, the eyes in verse 25, and the feet in verse 26 giving a picture of the comprehensive blessing of wisdom. The way of wisdom truly is the way of life.

Beloved, we must fight for the wisdom from God. It may costs you all have, but get wisdom. Fathers, this world is after our hearts. We must protect our hearts so we can keep the wise instruction before our children. Voddie Baucham shares this heart-wrenching story of his coach from his children. Listen to this excerpt from his book Family Driven Faith:

Over the years Coach and I have kept in contact. Every once in a while I pick up the phone and catch up with Coach. Recently I discovered that he had fallen on hard times. He had finally retired and didn’t know what to do with himself. What’s worse, his marriage of over twenty-five years had recently ended. At first I wondered what could possibly have gone wrong. Then it dawned on me. We saw a committed coach who arrived early every morning; his wife saw a man who was never home when she got up in the morning. We saw him as committed; she saw him as overextended. We saw him as a confidant who was always there for us; his children saw a man who was more of a father to strangers than he was to them. Now he spends his nights alone missing the woman who spent a quarter of a century missing him. He sits at home reminiscing about the house he was so committed to that he drove an hour to work every day rather than moving. He yearns for time with his kids, but that time is scarce because they are busy doing what he didn’t—spending time with their families. His days are spent with his elderly father, and occasionally he has a chance to watch his grandkids play ballgames, something I’m sure he wishes he had done more with his children. Every once in a while someone from the past calls and asks, “How’s it going, Coach?” A few minutes later the reminiscing is over, the voice from the past is gone, and Coach is alone with his memories. And all he has to show for it are a few trophies, a couple of pictures, and some patches on an old, faded jacket. I cried when I got off the phone that night. . . . All of the pictures came together, and I finally saw the truth that had been there all along. This man who had meant the world to me had sacrificed his family on the altar of his career, and I was oblivious to it. I considered it normal, even admirable. Suddenly, all these years later, I went from admiring Coach to feeling sorry for him. I saw the trade-off, and it wasn’t worth it. The occasional thanks of strangers will never dull the pain of years missed with your family. Needless to say, when I got off the phone with Coach, I spent some time with my kids. It turns out Coach still had lessons to teach.[2]

Beloved, we all have lessons to learn, but let’s learn them now. Fathers, God has given you an incredible task, but he has given you the tools in His Word and His people. Let’s lean on each other to walk in the light and keep ourselves and our children from deep darkness. Oh fathers, teach your children. Let’s pray.