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What Makes a Good Dad?

Father’s Day is this weekend! In two days, millions of people young and old will take time to express their appreciation for good old dad (or for a father figure, for those whose dad isn’t—or never was—present in their lives).

What does a good father look like, according to the Bible? You may be familiar with the famous admonition to Christian fathers in the book of Ephesians:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. (NLT)

The Bible doesn’t have any single exhaustive list of ideal fatherly traits. However, there’s no mystery to what makes a good father. A good father is one whose priorities in his family life match those that Jesus described in Matthew 22:

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

If love is owed to God and to our neighbor, it is surely also the guiding principle in fathering children. The Bible is also clear in its definition of this love:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Patience, kindness, and endurance are challenging virtues to embody when your child is throwing a temper tantrum, disobeying you, or wrecking the family car. But this selfless love is to characterize a father’s relationship with his children, just as it ought to characterize his relationship with his spouse and neighbors. It’s an ideal to aim for, not an achievement that can be easily grasped—which means that recognizing that you sometimes fall short of biblical fatherhood is an important part of working your way toward it.

Beyond these general exhortations, there is much we can learn about godly fatherhood by noting the father-like traits that the Bible ascribes to God. Here are some of the passages that describe God using the language of fatherhood:

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”— Luke 11:11-13

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy. — Psalm 68:5

For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. — Proverbs 3:12

There are many more such verses throughout the Bible. And there’s another source of fatherhood wisdom in the Bible: taking note of the many biblical fathers who failed in some way, and prayerfully considering how to avoid the (usually self-created) traps into which they fell. Earlier this week we learned a few parenting lessons from the miserable example of Laban. Other biblical fathers who fell well short of the mark—but from whose failure we can learn something—include the priest Eli, who failed to speak out against or restrain his sons’ outrageous behavior; and even the great Bible hero David, whose troubled relationship with his son Absalom brought sorrow to his family.

This Father’s Day, your relationship with your children (or perhaps with your own father) may be healthy and fulfilling, or it may be strained and uncertain. It’s probably a little bit of both. Regardless, now is an excellent time to commit yourself to making Christlike love the defining element of those relationships. Have a blessed Father’s Day—and dads, may you grow daily in grace as you navigate the joys and trials of fatherhood!

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