How to Understand the Biblical Definition of a Father

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How do we understand the Biblical Definition of a Father? The first commandment in the Bible is to be fruitful and multiply. The first couple dutifully fulfilled this first directive, and what followed was the creation of the first family: a father, a mother and their offspring.

This powerful nucleus called a family is the fundamental building block of all functioning societies, and the fitness of that society inescapably follows the general health the families that form it. Firm, stable families express vigorous societies, whereas fragmented families spell societal failure.

The Biblical Definition of a Father, Paul’s Take

The Bible explodes with wise principles for producing strong, healthy families. But Paul, distilling the insight of Tanakh and Jewish wisdom, auspiciously embeds it into his epistles.

Perhaps the most densely packed list of prescriptions for success to every member of the family is in Colossians 3:18-21, with another more expounded form in Ephesians 5-6.

All too many commentators simplify Paul’s collective message down to, “Husbands love, wives submit, and children shall obey (or else)!” But let’s consider his message from a fresh perspective.

A family effortlessly compares to a small organization: it consists of a manager and a deputy-manager, whose realm of responsibility teems with contributors, each possessing unique interests, skills, qualities and challenges.

Ephesians 4 says that there are many members in the body, and each has a function of its own. Members comprise a physical body, they build the Body of Messiah, and just as much so, they make up the corpus of a family.

And the one who bears ultimate responsibility for the outcome of that family is the father.

Management of the Organization

The role of an organizational manager is to strive for the success of each member in the organization and, ultimately, for the success and productivity of the organization as a whole. Correspondingly, a father’s number one priority is the success of the entire family, which entails the success of each family member, a feat whose fruit is readily evident.

His family is cooperative, efficient, thriving, dedicated, well-mannered, industrious, helpful and encouraging to others, and it prepares children to start a family of their own, repeating the process.

In an age of cheap sex, gender identity, and role confusion, men are asked to be effeminate yet are expected to act adolescent, and women prefer to (or must out of necessity) clutch the reins of the family. But the holiness of God is incompatible with such cultural norms that embrace dysfunction and brokenness.

The body of believers should not imitate the ways of the world, but rather it needs to stand out and shine as imitators of God, starting with the fathers. Paul delivers dads several powerful ways to accomplish this: love, do not provoke, do not threaten, and be consistent and fair.

Fathers Need to Love as the Messiah Loved

Inextricably, the father of the family is to love as Messiah loved (Ephesians 5:25). If anyone needs clarification on this then study Yeshua’s behavior.

Yeshua healed the sick, so the father should bind his child’s wounds in love. Yeshua fed the hungry, so the father should provide food for the table. Yeshua preached the message of the Kingdom and corrected error, so a father should speak with instructive wisdom.

Yeshua cast out demons and rebuked haughtiness, so a father should skillfully eliminate insubordination. Yeshua interceded for his disciples, so the father should defend his family against false accusations.

Yeshua took kind exception to faithfulness, so a father needs to show compassion and encouragement at every possible opportunity. And ultimately, Yeshua sacrificed His precious life in love for the whole world, so every father himself should be prepared to pay the ultimate price to protect his family.

Other Imperatives for the Father

The head loves, protects and provides, but there are other equally essential imperatives incumbent upon him. The head must be fair, consistent, and firm.

A father is not to incite anger; he nurtures and admonishes his children with patience (Ephesians 6:4). If you see a failed father, you see someone who withheld or gave improper discipline, encouragement and affection, a man guilty of abuse, neglect, or partiality.

How long would you continue working for a dunce boss that repeatedly drove you to anger or neglected you, be it intentionally or even inadvertently? How would you react to a supervisor at work that plays favorites, constantly changes his mind, or caves to every breeze of challenge that blows his way?

Any rational person would quit! But can a child “resign” from his family?

The Results of Poor Fathering 

Sadly, children run away from home at an alarming rate (nearly three million cases per year in the United States alone). Discouragement and anger are powerful forces of themselves, let alone in the maladroit hands of impressionable children; they can shatter families.

Fathers, do not make the faux pas blunder of recapitulating the less-than-perfect tactics of your dad. Ephesians 6:9, speaking to masters concerning their servants, exhorts giving up the use of threats and favoritism.

How much more precious are children than servants that you should not threaten and incoherently discipline them? Rather, fathers need rise to new heights—to Biblical standards—and mirror our heavenly Father by being nurturing and instructive as well as firm, fair, and consistent.

Four Observations of Healthy Families

The Polish American criminologist Sheldon Glueck extensively researched juvenile delinquency and reported four basic observations of healthy families. Brace yourself for the first one. The father’s discipline was firm, fair and consistent.

The latter three, too, are insightful: the mother constantly knows the whereabouts and activities of her children and is with them as much as possible, the children see affection both from and between their parents, and the family spends quality time all together.

Christian psychiatrist Paul Meier supports this conclusion adding that the key to a proper parent-child relationship boils down to these five things: parents love each other, they love their children, they are consistent, they provide a good parental example, and there is a man at the head of the home.

These are the shoes for parents, especially the father as the trendsetter, to fill.

Set a Positive Example

It is tempting for a man to preoccupy himself with the musings of his peers (even from within the congregation), all the while eschewing concentrated effort toward setting a positive parental example to his children.

Just remember that children do not remember and emulate what you say, but rather what you do. How do you treat friends, business partners, the maid, mailman and cashier? Your children need you to succeed, and they are watching you.

So, treat elders as fathers and mothers, and treat younger people as brothers and sisters (1 Timothy 5:1-3). Your children will follow in your footsteps.

Yes, Ephesians does exhort children to obey their parents (6:1-3), but it would be so much easier and more natural for them to do so under stable and encouraging leadership. Fathers need to help children grow in maturity by setting healthy boundaries and talking them through any happenings that lend themselves to instruction.

He promotes maturity mentally with wisdom, discretion, instruction and knowledge; physically by protecting them; socially in teaching them what to share, when, and how, with humility; and spiritually in developing into a faithful servant of God.

This father and husband has an indispensable obligation to leadership, trendsetting, encouraging and providing, but as anyone who has ever worked for another person knows, it is imperative that all of his family members fill their respective roles and duties, too, in order for the larger organism to succeed.

Good Leadership Brings About Good Followers

True, good leadership generally generates and emboldens robust followership, but the deputy-manager and contributors need to engage, jump on-board, and take up their posts; basically, to “fall in!” This is the actual meaning of the Greek verb hypotasso that is famously (or infamously) interpreted as “submit”.

The phrase “wives submit to your husbands” too often precedes a rustle of cynical scoffs. The reason for these scoffs is simple. Somebody in the familial organism hasn’t been doing his (or her) job.

Maybe dad’s fickle or uninvolved, maybe mom’s overbearing or unhinged. Possibly someone hasn’t been loving, helpful, dedicated or encouraging enough.

But fatherly failures and motherly misdeeds aside, this word “submit” is hardly an expletive or a handicap. Rather, it is a matter of structural diligence.

The verse previous to “wives submit” actually calls all believers to submit to one another out of reverence for Messiah (Ephesians 5:21). Additionally, Romans 13:1 invokes collective submission to governing authorities. Titus 2:9 requires servants to submit to their masters (in modern terms, employees to an employer, if you will).

Demons submitted to those whom Messiah sent out (Luke 10:17), and Yeshua himself submitted to His earthly parents (Luke 2:51). The scriptures virtually burst at the seam with examples of righteous submission.

Do not mistake submission with oppression. It does not mean “be intrinsically inferior to” or “be a doormat or wallflower”, nor is it subterfuge for domination. God forbid!

Rather, it announces, “Fall in!” It is a military term signaling each person, intrinsically valuable and equal in God’s eyes, to take up their positions within a chain of command to effectively accomplish a mission.

What would happen if this were not the case; if bosses submitted to employees, masters submitted to slaves, and Yeshua submitted to whims of ours? In a phrase, chaos would ensue.

But God is not the author of chaos. God is the Head of Messiah, Yeshua is the head of His people, and in just the same manner, the scriptures assign to the father the responsibility of being the head of his family.

Fathers Need Inspiration and Encouragement

Besides this exhortation, though, the heart of every man longs for, and indeed needs, cooperation and encouragement from his team. He struggles with plenty of challenges outside of the home without adding more from within his own walls.

He especially yearns for a preeminent helper and partner with a can-do mindset who sticks with him through thick and thin. In God’s infinite wisdom, he created the woman. The woman, a creature as mysterious and confusing to a man as she is indispensable, is the natural encourager, comforter, and faithful companion.

The wife inspires the husband to meet and surpass his goals, cautions him against unbridled risk, assists him where she is able and brings a soft, feminine counterpoise to countless facets of the home. But she is human and suffers exhaustion like anyone else with the stresses of duty.

So, in case you didn’t know, husbands, her fuel is your heartfelt love. Now, women receive (and express, for that matter) love in various ways, and the husband needs to determine which is right in his situation to avoid misplaced or misunderstood affection.

Does your wife like spending quality time together, or maybe your warm embrace? Perhaps your words of affirmation and encouragement, acts of service, or surprise gifts? Whatever the case, it is the husband’s mission to learn his wife’s most effective channels of love, and to love her dearly, protect her and provide for her.

By doing so, he reinvigorates and empowers his chief supporter and helper, who subsequently will continue to build him up, and so the cycle upward goes.

It is too easy for spouses to succumb to playing the blame game or to show love (or Biblical submission) only conditionally. Tragically, such behavior leads to a hasty and downward spiral.

“He doesn’t do this, so I won’t do that. Now she doesn’t do that, so I won’t do this.” This is negativity that thrives on negativity, the solution of which appears in the person of Messiah who loved even the most despicable among us in our filth and mire.

Be like Yeshua. Sever the negative trend, be a father and husband, and embrace your duty. Take your God-ordained position as the head of your family and fulfill your calling honorably, dedicated to being firm, fair and consistent, and then watch your team “fall in” under your stable leadership and develop into a strong, flourishing family. Using the Biblical definition of a Father, you will both put your family in the wisdom of Scripture and help set society on God’s intended firm foundation.

This article originally appeared on Netivyah, August 24, 2020, and reposted with permission.