Dear radio friends,
“As a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.”
Godly, Christian parenting is a wonderful, yet difficult, task. We go to the Word of God for instruction and comfort.
Perhaps you were surprised at the choice of today’s text. Perhaps you are surprised with the text itself (Ps. 103:13). Do we usually think that way? We provide as fathers; we discipline; we instruct; we command. But show them pity? Fathers show compassion and mercy?
Furthermore, our text tells us that our pity for our children is such that it is compared to Jehovah’s pity for His people. God, the faithful covenant Father of His people, is willing to compare Himself with us earthly fathers. Then, I say to you, this aspect of pity must be very important, do you not think so?
Do you understand pity? In the world many wrong ideas about pity abound. We need today to learn about biblical pity.
Pity is often seen as some kind of weakness. “I’m strong. I’m macho. I’m a father, therefore I must be tough. I must rule. I must lead. Who wants pity? That is for wimps. In fact, my children don’t need pity — they’re great kids. I don’t need to pity them.” Or, if we do pity them, we think that we must give them whatever they want. We may even neglect discipline in the name of pity.
But why should fathers truly pity their children? As a father pities his children, so the Word of God says, so Jehovah pities them that fear Him (Ps. 103:13). In reality, you understand, the reverse is true. As the Lord pities us, so we ought to pity our children. We fathers ought to emulate our heavenly Father. We learn in the Lord’s Prayer to pray: “Our Father which art in heaven.” Our children in the home ought to have a wonderful picture of their heavenly Father even as they relate to their earthly fathers.
Indeed, we earthly fathers are only a very weak picture, for often we fail and falter and fumble. I know that I often fail as a father. The Lord has blessed me and my wife with eight covenant children. It is our prayer that our relationship with them will be a reflection of our heavenly Father’s love and compassion to His people.
But, you see, God’s Word puts it the opposite way — for a mirror effect — so that we may take a good hard look. “If a son asks bread of his father,” Jesus says in Luke 11, “will the father give him a stone?” Of course not. So also our heavenly Father graciously gives the Holy Spirit to all those who ask Him. In I Thessalonians 2:6-8 the apostle, in fact, says to the saints that he comes not as one who is burdensome but as a gentle nurse who cherishes his children, being kindly affected toward them. What a beautiful picture of an earthly father!
Fathers are to be gentle with their children. They are to be affectionate. And, according to our text today, they must pity their children. Oh, mothers too of course! Why does the psalmist point to the father then? The obvious reason is that fathers are to reflect the heavenly Father. Besides, the father is the head of the house, and he must lead by example. But, thirdly, I challenge fathers out there because I know that it is true also of me by nature that it is so easy for us men to abuse our headship and foolishly act as tyrants towards our wives and then also towards our children — instead of being loving husbands and fathers who show understanding, pity, and compassion, being ready to give a double dose of encouragement and commendation, and showing good concern for the needs of our children.
Do we fathers pity our children? Do we treat them in the conscious reality that they too, like us, are but mere creatures of the dust? Look at verse 14 of this passage, which gives us the reason why Jehovah pities His children: “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” God knows that because He framed us. He remembers that we are mere dust. When we look at our children, sometimes we forget that. We forget that they too are weak and sinful, just as we are. Remember, if we are going to reflect to our children their heavenly Father and our heavenly Father, then we must show them such fatherly pity.
They must be able to say in their hearts: “As my father pities me, so God pities all those who fear Him.” They must not be trembling. “Oh, I have done so bad! Just as my earthly father is going to hit me, so God probably will never forgive me. Oh, just as Dad gets angry with me, maybe God will be that way with me. He’ll never listen to a sinner like me!”
Listen, beloved people of God, the Word of God calls us to put away such ungodly parenting, which is unworthy of the office of a father. It is striking that both Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 (parallel passages in the New Testament) give to us that same instruction. “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.” But rather, instead of provoking them to anger and discouraging them, we are to nurture them in the admonition of the Lord.
What is it, really, to pity our children? What is the pity by which we reflect Jehovah’s pity for us?
Pity in Scripture is synonymous with mercy. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for pity means literally “the womb” or the “inner parts.” You will recall that Scripture often speaks of “bowels of mercies,” or “tender mercies.” Do you know why? Because the very root idea of mercy or pity is a deep-seated affection — from the innermost being of a person. It is not superficial. It is from the heart. It is from the bowels.
Jehovah, in His love for His people, shows to them such mercy, such pity, which is a virtue of His great love in Jesus Christ. Moses sings in Exodus 15:13, “Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed.” Or Psalm 40:11 (a prayer of the psalmist): “Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O LORD.” Or Psalm 25:6: “Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy loving kindnesses; for they have been ever of old.” In mercy God is kindly affected towards His people.
You understand, God is tenderly affected toward Himself. Even without us He is the God of mercy. He is good. He is the fount of all good. And He wills Himself, as the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), to be the eternally blessed One. But now God extends that mercy to us who are in sin, who are in misery. That is the wonder of the gospel. Those who fear Him, those who know that they are only dust, those who cry out to Him acknowledging that they are sinners wholly dependent on Him — the Almighty God lifts them up in mercy to that state of glorious blessedness that He enjoys even in Himself. Jehovah God, in giving His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, showed to us the highest expression of pity. Truly He did this as a Father! He loved His children. He saw their frailty. And He gave His only begotten Son, so that through this merciful high priest we might become sons and daughters of the living God.
You want to know what true pity is? Behold the Son of God on the cross. In that way, the only way, He took on Himself the pain, the misery, the death that we deserved, and drew His people to the blessedness of their heavenly Father.
Fathers, knowing that glorious gospel of grace in Jesus Christ, we must mirror it in our pity for our children. We who are Christians — we who are Reformed — we who understand the unconditional love of God towards us — we, of all people, should know what it means to show pity, to recognize the misery that we ourselves are in (and our children with us), to love them enough that we would be willing to enter into their suffering and to desire their blessedness. It means to feel their pain. It means to be willing to bear that pain — not necessarily always removing it. Remember, sometimes God chastises us. We must also chastise and discipline our children, as we heard last time, when we talked about training our children and narrowing the way, showing them the way so that when they grow they will not depart from it. Nevertheless, we must do so in pity, in love, assuring them, praying for and with them, urging them to look to God, listening to them in their needs so that they know that we know and that we understand. Remember, no father can be a good trainer unless he is able to put himself in the place of his child and pity that child.
Is that not true? Is that not what you want of the preacher? When the preacher brings to you God’s Word, he does not just bring some theory, some high-minded doctrine that has no practical consequence, that has no personal application. You want a preacher who brings the truth of God in love, who enters sympathetically into the seat of his hearers in order to minister to the flock. When you are in the hospital you want to sense that the nurses and the doctors are not just there for a job, busily going from one object to another, but are truly compassionate, truly understanding the pain and the cry, so that they are showing hospitality and love and compassion to those who are under their care. No savior, really, could save, except he be touched with the feelings of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15).
Likewise, fathers, let us learn to pity our children. Just as our heavenly Father has pitied us, so we look at our children, remember that they are but frail creatures of the dust, remember that they were conceived and born in sin, remember that they bear our weaknesses and sins, and that they have many, many troubles in life just as we do, that they go through difficult periods in their life. Then we show to them that, as we have experienced the mercy of our Father, we will have the patience, take the time, show understanding, remembering where they are at, listening to their afflictions and concerns, and then show them pity — encouraging them and urging them on and bringing them to that state of blessedness that we ourselves enjoy in Jesus Christ.
We would like now to speak very practically to the way that fathers can grow in that pity for their children.
First and foremost, I believe that the way for us to grow in pity for our children is by staring at and meditating upon and standing in awe daily at Jehovah’s pity for us. For, the more we know God, the more we will have a reflection of God the Father in our lives. And that will be seen through and through by those around us — especially by our children, who live close to us and are our closest neighbors. Imagine, as we have talked about in this series, if we take the time to love the stranger out there in the world, even take the time to love the brethren in the church, and then at home we put it all aside and behave as foolish tyrants towards our own precious children. What a sad story! No, we must walk close to God in our private closets in the consciousness of His love and of His forgiveness of our sins. I am sure that all godly fathers experience pangs of guilt in their hearts when they hear a sermon like this. Mothers, too. But as the Word of God is addressing the fathers today, fathers, we must learn to pity our children as our heavenly Father pities us.
Sometimes I look back and find that I can spend hours talking to others who are in need and then I do not even have a minute (five minutes) to sit down and listen, carefully listen, to turn off everything else — whether it be the television or the newspapers or the e-mail or whatever — and simply sit down, put away all my other thoughts, and give the focus and attention to my children. I must repent of that before God and fear Him, so that then I can show to my children the same pity that God shows to me. We must be brought again to our knees and give thanks to God that He has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west, that He listens to us, that He cares for us. We must be able to say, “God, I am but dust, yet I fear Thee. Have mercy upon me.” Then we will shed tears, but not in terror. For God, in His mercy, will work in us so that we also will have loving discipline towards our children. I challenge you. Do that! Because it will be seen through and through by our children. May the day come that our children are able to say, “You know what, Dad? I now know my heavenly Father. I know that He is a pitiful God. That is because I see that in you, my father, who has loved me and cared for me — cared enough to give me a patient ear to listen to me.”
Then, beloved, as we grow in that, we should also do one more thing. That is, we must fill God’s ears with prayers that we bring to God for our children. Picture a man kneeling down with his ears open to the cries of his child, asking his child questions to prod him along, listening to his or her woes and sorrows, then, turning around, praying to the heavenly Father, calling upon Him, pleading for the children, asking that God, the heavenly Father, hear the prayers and the cries of His children in pity. Daily, without fail, we ought to bring the needs of our children, one by one, to our heavenly Father. Let us fill God’s ears with prayers such as this: “God, Thou hast been so pitiful to us. Look pitifully on these children. They are but dust, they are sinners just like us. There are so many pressures, so many temptations, challenges, and fears. Look on them in mercy. Forgive them and graciously bless them so that they might walk in Thy fear.”
I would like to conclude today’s message by pointing you to the end of our text: “so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.” We must not allow pity to become some kind of wishy-washy love that allows things simply to go on without discipline. No, if we truly love our children, we must chastise them. There must be active, solid discipline in the home. There must be training. There must be guidelines. There must be rules. But I submit to you that all those guidelines and all that discipline, as long as our children remain in our homes, must be administered with a double dose of pity. We must instruct them in the fear of God. We must know that God our heavenly Father is watching. We must walk in God’s fear. Having experienced the tender mercies of Jehovah, we must fill our homes with the compassion of Christ, so that our children may indeed know that father and mother are touched with the feelings of their infirmities. In a way, we are there for them, to be their nurses, to be their doctors, I would even say to be their cheerleaders, prodding them on so. As the heavenly Father pities those who fear Him, so our children will also experience the tender mercies, the pity, of their fathers and their mothers in the home. And, thus, they also will walk in the fear of God and have godly reverence for their parents.
May God bless us and help us to deal in pity with our children.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, as we meditate on Thy Word, as we continue to grow in our understanding of the love for our children, may we behold Thee, may we see, O Lord, Thy grace and mercy and love for us in Jesus Christ. And may we grow in the reflection of our Father and of Jesus Christ, that, thus, our children too may experience the tender mercies of Jehovah through the pity of the fathers. Hear us, for we ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.