Father and father

Matthew 5:43 - 6:15

Dr. Chris White June 16, 2013

     It is the best of times and the worst of times in fatherhood.

     On the one hand, we have the number 71. That is, 71% of all high school drop-outs come from fatherless homes.* And 71% of teen pregnancies occur with girls in fatherless homes.** We now openly identify the absent father as a major risk factor for children. It seems we’ve never believed more in the role of dads. So in many cases it is the best of times. Today, kids expect affectionate dads, moms expect involved dads, and our society expects responsible dads. We’ve never seen such an age of diaper-changing dads, stay-at-home dads, and I-need-to-talk-to-my-dad dads.

     But this unveiling of what a dad can be has created something else: the chase. If dad is the missing piece, then dad must be found. There are those who are chasing a missing dad and believe that, when he is found, all will be well. But some are chasing more than the presence of a dad. Some are chasing explanations, apologies, or acceptance. Others are chasing the dad they never had: a patient dad, an understanding dad, an employed dad, or even a sober dad. And in all of this we might just be looking for the perfect dad—the one we thought was the answer to all the anxieties.

     Whether you always had your dad or have recently caught your dad, what the chase and the catch reveals is the limits of these dads. The dad you want may not be available. The dad you want may not be possible. Which is why, I believe, the Scriptures are far more realistic about our dads and gives far more attention to the role of a Heavenly Father.

    To speak of God as a Father is to describe him in the ideal terms of a flesh and blood dad—protection, provision, name, and inheritance. But He is not flesh and blood. And that is the point. He is beyond the limits of a flesh and blood father. He is God. And Father. And that is the reason to take Him and His role seriously. He is able to do far more for you and in you than your earthly Father is able to do. Let’s look at Matthew 5-6 to see how Jesus speaks of this Father.

     #1 Mt 5:43-48 This Father offers Himself and His ways as the measure of your life. These are weighty words, showing us that God wants more from us than silence in the backseat of the car during long rides. Jesus asks for a radical response to enemies and persecutors, to be sure, but the reason for expressing agape love to enemies and persecutors is that we may be sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven. When we behave toward enemies in this fashion, we show ourselves to be like Him. If we only show graceful conduct toward those who love us, we show no resemblance to God at all. As Jesus points out, when the tax collectors and pagans are good to their favorites, then even the worst of the worst can be considered faithful. We are to be perfect, or whole, like our Father in Heaven is perfect. He asks that we carry and resemble His character. (Real life with dads: “Don’t make this mistake…”) It is far harder to ask your children to watch you in the sharpest challenges of life in order to copy you. But this is God’s way.

     #2 Matthew 6:1-8 He sees what is unseen and knows what is unknown.

The temptation in the time of Jesus, when religion saturated all levels of life, was to appear very religious. If “religious” was rewarded, it was in your best interest to appear religious. But these rewards came only when someone saw it. People wanted to be seen giving, with trumpets blaring—dropping your coin money loudly in the offering boxes at the Temple. In our time, it might be like placing a large, oversized cashier’s check in the plate. People wanted to be seen praying—standing in the open markets when the times of daily prayer came around. In our time, it might be like going to Welch’s Restaurant for lunch at peak hour so people could watch your lengthy prayer before you eat. If religion was the business of the day, then that business had to be promoted. Or so people said. Or maybe people feared. Jesus says this about our Father: He sees our faithfulness as no one else can. He calls for modesty in our giving, even hidden giving, knowing all the while that He sees it and rewards us for the faithfulness. He asks for us to trust Him where and when no one is looking. And He rewards the unseen. For all that a great dad can do, he cannot know you and interact with you on the level of your heart and your faith. But your Father in heaven can.

     More, He knows our needs before we even come to Him. It was the case with prayer that people put the emphasis on words, many of them. Jesus warns us not to babble on like pagans who think that formulas and duration move the gods to help. We will not be heard because of our many words. “Do not be like them,” Jesus says, “for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him (6:8).” You will be heard because of God’s knowledge of your life and God’s mercy. There are no secrets with God. There are no needs hidden from God. This is hard to digest, because we do our best to hide our marital problems from one another, not to mention our financial strains, our family strains, and flagging faith. We walk into this room every Sunday morning hiding some pressing need from the people in this room. And we’re good at it. So good at it that we miss a lot of heartache in the pew beside us. But God misses nothing. And He is able to meet needs that no one else even knows about. It is the case in the church that a lot of secret, private hells have ended in open praise of God’s deliverance. Just as Jesus sat with the Gadarene demoniac and brought him to his right mind (Mark 5:1-20), our Father has a way of going to our private hells and bringing healing, hope, and a right mind. For all a great father can do, he cannot know and address your needs over the span of your lifetime. There is much he’ll never know or understand or heal.  Your Father in Heaven, on the other hand, knows your needs before you even bring them to Him.

     #3 Matthew 6:9-15 He is going to treat us like His true children.

     As the prayer shows, God expects a certain relationship with us. He expects that we speak to Him in a way unlike any other relationship. We are his children, so there is a certain dialogue that is appropriate and unique between child and Father. He expects that we worship Him; that we align ourselves with His will; that we pray for daily bread from His hand; that we seek forgiveness and grant forgiveness; that we ask for help when temptation comes and presume He will deliver us from the tempter. These are not the words and hopes of unbelievers. Paul says in Romans 8:15 that the Holy Spirit in us is a spirit of sonship, removing fear. For by this Spirit we not only confess, “Jesus is Lord,” but also “Abba, Father.” We are moved toward Him and call Him Father—not slave owner or unpredictable volcano.

     We who call on Him as children expect to be treated like the children of God. Whether it be by the forgiveness we receive, or in the forgiveness of others, he expects forgiven children to practice forgiveness. This is a difficult angle. In our house, as in yours, any child carrying the name of that house was expected to carry that name well. God’s house is no different. This Father that called Jesus to follow Him even to the cross is the Father who calls for the same obedience. We are His children, proven as children, when we are obedient. He should not ask for anything less.

     *U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, 1999

     **National Principals Association Report

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