Covenant Godly Living: (5) Nursing Fathers

October 6, 2002 / No. 3118

Dear radio friends,

Perhaps when you heard our announcer give the topic today you thought that a mistake had been made. Nursing Fathers? You probably thought, “Well, maybe he means ‘nurturing fathers.’ That is certainly a biblical expression (Eph. 6:4, Fathers, nurture them in the fear and admonition of the Lord).” But it is no mistake. It is very deliberate. The title of our message today is “Nursing Fathers.”

For the inspired apostle Paul equates all the tenderness, love, and travail of a nursing mother to fatherhood. He does that in I Thessalonians 2:7-12. And God, through him, is teaching us that the qualities of a good nurse and the work of a nursing mother of little children and the tenderness required, all of these are indispensable requirements of a biblical, godly, covenant father.

If you would read that passage (I Thess. 2:7-12), I trust that you would become aware that it was a biographical account of Paul’s ministry in the infant church at Thessalonica. In the course of reminding the Thessalonians how he, the apostle Paul, had labored among them, he uses the figure of family relations. He uses some striking ones. In verse 7, “We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children.” And again in verse 11, “As you know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children.”

Now, obviously, the primary focus of the passage I am referring to does indeed have to do with Paul and his companion’s ministry among the Thessalonians. If you would ask me for a chapter in the Bible which sets forth how a minister is to do his work in the church of God, I would point you to this chapter: I Thessalonians 2:1-12. But you cannot help but notice, if you read the chapter, that as Paul describes his work as a minister he compares it to the work of a father in his own household.

So the Word of God comes to you as a father.

When the inspired apostle Paul describes what he was and what he did as a spiritual father to the church, he is also setting down the truth of what we are to be as fathers in our own homes. So, passing from the primary focus of the passage, I want to draw from it what a covenant, godly father is.

This is applicable to everyone who is listening. Whether you are a father or not, or whether you never will be a father. You may be listening today and fatherhood is as far from your thoughts as day from night. Yet the truth of a biblical father is vitally important to you, no matter who you are.

It is important to you as a father, obviously. This is God’s Word, a word that He speaks to you, a word of direction, correction, and encouragement. But it is a word to you as a wife and a mother also. You are to be a help meet to him. Therefore, you must not simply hear the Word of God to have ammunition to criticize your husband. But, when you understand what God calls him to be as a husband and now as a father of your children, and knowing his sins and inability, you are now more able to support him and to pray for and aid him, that he may be exactly this kind of a father, a nursing father.

This is very applicable also to you as a teenager. And I pray that this Word of God may come and exercise a powerful influence upon your life as a teenager and as, perhaps, a college student, and will prepare you for marriage. This is a word that is important for young men. This is the instruction of God’s Word to mold you into the kind of man who is God’s man, and someday a godly father. You must not be molded by the world. The world says, “Oh, yes, a father. He’s someone who’s there for me on the weekends. He’s divorced my mother and occasionally I see him. And we have this relationship.” That is not a father. The Word of God teaches us what a father is.

And this is important for you as girls as well, that you listen carefully. What kind of man will be the father of your children? Is that important to you?

It has very much to say to all of us.

Consider with me today, “Nursing Fathers.”

What is the fundamental grace from God required of a father? The passage to which I am referring would answer, love. This passage contains some amazing statements. We might say, some contrasting or clashing ideas. Paul says that he was a spiritual father to the Thessalonians. And, as a spiritual father, he showed the traits of a gentle, loving nurse. And we would say, “Isn’t that a mixture of ideas? A strong, assertive father who has the gentle tenderness of a nursing mother?” But that is exactly what God’s Word says. Verses 7 and 8 of the passage, “We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.” And then in verse 11, “As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children.”

The Word of God is teaching us that the grace above all others, which caused Paul to act as a father to the Thessalonian believers, is the grace of an intense, sensitive, self-giving love of God. So being affectionately desirous of you, that is, desiring you with great love because ye were loved of us, we behaved ourselves gently as a nurse.

The grace above all others, is the grace of
an intense, sensitive, self-giving love of God.
Notice how this love was shown. First of all, it was shown in a gentle bearing – as a nurse. It is the picture of a woman who so loves babies that she gives herself to wet-nurse other people’s children. She so loves them that she will give herself to sustain them. Paul says, “In my calling to be the spiritual father of the Thessalonians, I came with authority. I came with boldness. I came with the teaching of the Word of God.” In the first four verses, the apostle emphasizes that. But then he goes on to say, “But all of that was mixed with an intense, self-giving love shown in a tender bearing. As a father, I exhorted, I comforted, I charged.” The work of the ministry in Thessalonica was a difficult work for the apostle Paul. Paul faithfully labored in the firmness and authority of the Word of God with the Thessalonians. He was no namby-pamby minister who sat around and let the spiritual household of Thessalonica go to pot. No, he was a father, a spiritual father, who had a clear understanding of the Word of God, of the situation, and of the sins of the people of God. He knew what was needed and he brought the Word of God. Yet, he says, his bearing was still that of a tender nurse.

What is it that makes a man responsible for his household, a leader of his household, firm for his household, and yet loving his household?

It is the love of God in Jesus Christ, that gentle, tender love.

The apostle goes on to say that that love was shown in a selfless disposition. “So being affectionately desirous of you,” he says in verse 8, “we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.” Technically speaking, the apostle says that all that was required of him as a minister was to speak the gospel in all its integrity. He says in verse 4, “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.” But, Paul says, “I went beyond the minimum requirement of simply teaching and giving the gospel. I was ready to go beyond and impart my very soul.” His heart was baptized with a love that is selfless.

That was shown in intense labor among the Thessalonian believers (v. 9), “For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.” Paul worked. It was travail. It was not something that a person who is absorbed in his own comfort would endure.

But what caused him so to give himself? It was the essential grace necessary for a father: the love of God – intense, selfless love of God.

Fathers, standing as king and queen over all other graces from God is the love of God that we need if we are to be fathers. Whatever else we need (we need wisdom, we need faithfulness to God’s Word, we need patience, we need strength and steadfastness, yes) this is essential – we need the love of God. Without this love of God abounding in your heart you cannot fulfill your calling. What is that which is essential to fatherhood? The Bible is clear. Intense, self-denying, gentle, Spirit-worked love of God – without that love you will not be willing to pay the price to be the head of your household. Only in the love of God will you willingly and joyfully deny yourself many things of your own time, your own pleasure. You will set your own time and your own pleasure apart and aside. You will not insist upon it, if you have the love of God for your home. Only with this grace will you work to know your children. You will set up communication with your children from the very first day. You will listen to your children. You will give yourself to pray for your children. You will talk with your children.

Only in the love of God will you
willingly and joyfully deny yourself
many things of your own time, your own pleasure.
Only with this grace will you continue when you meet snags. And you will meet snags as a father. You will come to problems, problems with your own children, and some problems are great. And you will say, “I can’t break through.” Only with the love of God will you continue. Only with this love will you desire to do more than just the technical requirement of being a father. The technical requirement: put bread on the table. But only in this love of God will you go far beyond and give your very soul for your children.

You and I need this essential grace of love if we are to be biblical fathers. Without this we will not discipline our children. Or, if we do discipline them, we will discipline them out of a sinful irritation, anger, or resentment. Without this love of God your discipline will not be wise, thought-out, consistent.

It means, if you are to be a father, that you must deny yourself and work in the love of God for your children and family. Then you might need to be ignorant of who won the ballgame Saturday because you needed that time to study the book of Proverbs and to pray and spend time with your children. Not time in front of the TV, but time with your children.

Fathers, we need hearts that are baptized in the love of God. The apostle says, “So being affectionately desirous … we were ready to impart our very souls to you.” Now, that is radical language in our age. Our age of no-commitment-relationships. Our age of no-strings-attached, one-weekend relationships. Our age, which says that you must assert your own rights. A sinful age. God says, “You, man of God, as a father of your children, must be committed, not to living for yourself, but living with an intense, self-giving, gentle love, firm in the Word of God – the love for your child as a nurse cherisheth her children.”

That is God’s Word.

I want to press that upon you as a father, first of all.

How much do you know of that love? Can you say as Paul did in verse 7, “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children”? Do your children know you as a firm, real father? Yes, a father who brings them up in the way of the Lord. But do they also know the gentle, loving tenderness of a believing father? I am not asking if you are sinfully pliable. You must not be a glob of back-downs because your children have learned to manipulate you by their tears. No, fathers. Bring them up in the way of the Lord! Yet, and not contrasting this at all, at the same time you must have the gentleness, the love of God for your children.

Yes, fathers who are permissive and neglectful are shameful fathers. But also fathers who are all stone and no heart, who run their household by the book, who run their home like a boot camp, and who are bringing up a bunch of little marines! Not compromising your call to bring them up in the way of the Lord and to correct and to discipline them, at the same time God says your children have to know you love them in the selfless love of God.

Let me ask you, fathers. Are you becoming choked with the things of this life? Do you give all of your energy and your time to your business, to your riches, and to the pleasures of this life, so that there is no time, no energy left over. You find yourself exhausted, so that you do not have any time for your kids? Do your children exist for your ego, to make youlook good? Fathers, do you yell at your son because he struck out in the ninth with runners on base? Do you yell at your daughter because she didn’t get an A? Do you drive your child beyond reason because you want your child to reflect well on you?

What about the labor that the apostle Paul mentions – intense labor? Or do we leave all the labor that goes into bringing up children to Mama, your wife? Ephesians 6:4, Fathers, nurture them. Or do you say, “Look, I put in my 9-10 hours at the office. Now I’m going to relax at home.” Listen, man! You put in 9-10 hours at the office? So did your wife at home. You need to relax? So does your wife. We have just so many hours, so many years when our sons and daughters will be at home. It goes very fast and then it is done. And when it is done, it is done. In love of God, you must give yourself now for your children.

Young girls, I have something to say to you. What are you looking for in a husband? A pretty face? Money? Carved jaw? Thick hairline? A car? Or are you looking for a man whose heart knows something of the love of God in Christ Jesus? Listen to me. That man who loves the Lord God in Jesus Christ may be only 5’5″ and weigh 125 pounds soaking wet and a little lumpy and out of shape and maybe balding. But if the love of God and the Word of God are his bread and drink, I tell you, fifteen years from now, after you have married him, you will be thankful to God, as you sit at the table with him, with your children, and then your teenaged children and the family can say, “Lord, thanks for the grace of love in a father who loved me as a picture of my heavenly Father.”

And I tell you, young girls, that if you marry a man who does not have these things, this love of God, a man who is simply interested in your body, and he is built like Adonis and he is as rich as Donald Trump and he is muscular and all the rest, I tell you that fifteen years from now, after you marry him, you will weep – because your sons will be like him.

And I tell you, young girls, a ring on his finger is not going to change him.

Young men, what are you cultivating? Maybe you pump iron. It is good to take care of your body, that is fine. But do not make a god of it. You say, “I work hard. I’m going to get ahead. I hold a good job, I’m going to succeed.” Good. But here is the question that is much more important: What are you doing to cut the cord of your selfish, self-centered self? Of your lust? Of your selfishness? And what are you doing to build yourself up in the love of God? What kind of a man are you going to be to your children? How vital that we hear this Word of God and that we pray from our hearts: “Father in heaven, make me a father filled with Thy Word, and filled with the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

Let us pray.

Father, bless Thy Word to our hearts this day. Bless our fathers and cause them through Thy Word to be, indeed, a covenant, godly father. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.