A Dad’s Job Description

by John Pate

Now hiring sign in a yard

Things were getting ridiculous at the dinner table. More specifically, I was getting ridiculous. My son was just acting in a manner consistent with his age and personality. His behavior was really quite normal. That’s when I began my micro-parenting routine. “Hold your fork below this line.” “No, that’s not a fork.” “Yes, that’s your fork, but don’t hold it like that.” “Put it down. Ok, now pick it up.”

All of those commands might have been appropriate, but something very wrong was taking place in my spirit. In my frustration I was trying to control my son, his behavior, his future. If I don’t micro-parent his every move, will he ever learn self-control? Maybe he’ll continue to throw food at the dinner table for the rest of his life. Even worse, someone may wonder why his parents were never able to teach him table manners. (The fear of man will always prompt excellent parenting decisions.)

But is all that even in my job-description as a dad?

Revising our Job Description

If we were asked to write up a job description for our position as dads, it might look something like this: “A dad ensures, through appropriate care, instruction, and incentive, the physical and spiritual well-being of his children.” That’s not a bad start. After all, part of that description stems from our God-given role. We are called to be leaders and protectors, guiding our children toward maturity.

But here’s the honest truth–my child’s maturity (whether spiritual, emotional, or physical) is not up to me. God’s sovereign plan for my child’s life is much bigger than my parenting. He loves my child infinitely more than I ever will and cares perfectly for him every step of the way. When I’m asleep, when I’m away, or even when I’ve failed as a dad, God is still sovereignly involved in every moment of my child’s life. He’s in charge, not me.

What should amaze us is that God, in His perfect sovereignty, has chosen to use our parenting in His master plan! In His love and care for our children, He handpicked imperfect, sinful people to be their dads. It should come as no surprise, then, that He himself has written us a job description.

I love how simply Paul puts it in Ephesians 6:4:

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

This God-given job description should at once relieve and motivate a Christian dad. It should relieve because, amazingly, the sum of our responsibilities could be scribbled down on a 3x5 card and stored in our back pocket. It should motivate because much more is being accomplished here than mere “child control.”

Getting Realigned

First off, dads, if we try to change our job description and do something other than our job, we’re going to frustrate our kids. In our actions and attitudes, we sometimes act like we are the ultimate authority in our children’s lives. But we’re not. God is. Human fathers make poor gods, and our kids will quickly discover that. In addition, we will also frustrate ourselves. Microparenting leads to anger, fear, and discouragement.

We are not called to be God. Instead, we are called to represent God. Our chief responsibility as fathers is this: “Bring [your children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” “Discipline” literally means “child-training” and pictures the day in, day out, hands-on interaction that a father has with a son or daughter. “Instruction,” on the other hand, involves admonition and warning. It pictures the positive reactive response of a father when his child is in physical or spiritual danger.

The Instruction of the Lord

But there’s more. Whose discipline and instruction are we to give? Notice that they don’t originate with us as human fathers. We don’t get to decide the content of our training or our warnings. The discipline and instruction come from the Lord Jesus Christ. What we learn from Christ (see Ephesians 4:20) we then pass on to our children. Christ has given the message, and we are His messengers. Jesus is the ultimate authority, and we are His ambassadors.

How are we supposed to know what His discipline and instruction look like? We find it in His Word. Godly parenting is parenting under the authority of God’s Word. The more familiar we are with God’s Word, the more capably we will represent Christ to our children.

The instruction of the Lord, however, involves much more than mere moral Bible-based teaching. In fact, the first three chapters of the book of Ephesians are devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, the ultimate communication of God’s purpose for His sinful world. So, when we read “the instruction of the Lord” in Ephesians 6:4, that absolutely includes the gospel of Jesus Christ. As dads, we have the responsibility to speak often with our children about God’s beautiful plan of redemption. Most likely, the bulk of this instruction will look a lot like Deuteronomy 6:7–a continual truth scavenger hunt through God’s Word prompted by the circumstances of everyday life.

So, Dads, how are you doing? How will you know if your parenting is aligned with the description found in Ephesians 6:4? Here are some practical indicators that you are looking to God for your job description:

  • You read God’s Word daily.
  • You place yourself regularly under the preaching of God’s Word.
  • You pray daily for your children’s growth.
  • You regularly ask the Lord to guide your parenting decisions.
  • You point your children to specific truths from God’s Word as you interact with them (including times of discipline).
  • You pray with your children when things “fall apart” as well as when life is going well.
  • You find yourself daily delighting in the gospel and looking for ways to talk about it with your family.

Notice that this list doesn’t consist of self-help measures. All of these indicators are actually acts of dependence on God. Dads come in just one flavor: needy. The only way any of us can fulfill our role as dads is to depend entirely on our all-powerful, infinitely-loving, sovereign Lord. He has not only written our job description; He will give us the power to fulfill it.

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