The following is a transcript of a message preached by Max Curell at the Clearnote Pastors Conference held February 19–21 at Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana, titled “Fathers in God’s House: Elders must be good fathers.” It is as applicable to fathers in the home as it is for fathers in the household of God.
What good fathers must do:
This morning we’re looking at the man ruling God’s household and his qualifications based on the fact that he rules his own household well; so follow with me as we read 1 Timothy 3:1 and following:
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
As we read these qualifications, honest men always wince a little inside…and it’s not because in our poor management we’ve bounced a check or two. We wince because we know the realities about our lives and where we have fallen short in these areas. And when men are considered for eldership we usually step back and look at the big picture. It’s not so much that we’re grading with a curve, but we want to realize that a man’s picture takes time to sort, and if we get too close we get lost in the pixels of it—our lives quickly become pixellated as we get too close. And certain times in our lives become this way—if you would’ve seen my life in the last two years up close you would’ve seen some really big pixels and you’d’ve thought, what is this picture?
And so this morning we come to look at the reality of man’s household management. And the Scripture says,
…but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?
Calvin, in his commentary on 1 Timothy, says,
This argument, drawn from the less to the greater, is in itself manifest: that he who is unfit for governing a family will be altogether unable to govern a people. Besides that it is evident that he is destitute of the virtues necessary for that purpose. What authority will he have over the people, seeing that his own house makes him contemptible?
What must good fathers do to rule their households well? I’m going to give several verbs, and I’m practicing some alliteration for you this morning, so all my verbs start with the letter ‘d’, and if it feels forced that’s ok.
What good fathers must do:
First, good fathers must determine, in the sense of adopting a purpose and knowing who you are. So God is speaking to Moses at the occasion of the burning bush, and God says to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And unlike us there was no necessity for God to discover who He was—He has always been and has always known who He was. But that’s not true for us as His creatures: we as men have to discover and embrace who we are and have a sense of knowing our place and our work.
I’m always talking about the connection between authority and faith, and I want you to understand that a man who does not know who he is cannot lead. And so I want you to hear with me the story of the centurion. Jesus finds out the centurion has a servant that is sick and the centurion would like Jesus to heal the servant, and so Jesus says, ok, I will go over and heal the centurion’s servant. And of course the centurion sent friends to him, and he communicated to him that He should not come to his house. He says, I am not worthy for you to come to my house—just say the word and my servant will be healed. And then he says, I am a man placed under authority. It’s a simple statement, but the centurion is communicating that he knows who he is. And you know the following words: Jesus says, “I have not found such an understanding of authority in all of Israel,” right? But that’s not what He says. He says, I have not found such faith. Inextricable connection.
You have the disciples coming to Jesus and they say to Him, “Increase our faith!” and then Jesus tells a parable that always used to just make me think, what is He trying to say? And finally I came to understanding what His parable was about. He said, Look, if you had the faith of a mustard seed you could say to this tree, be removed into the sea, and it would be removed. And then he told them a parable, He says,
“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'” – Luke 17:7-10
That’s what He uses to teach the disciples to have more faith: know your place, operate in your place. The father in the home needs faith. Faith thrives and grows in our embracing our position and responsibility in God’s authority structure.
I was reading a blurb in I think Psychology Today by a guy named Ray Williams, who’s a “leadership trainer and a coach to executives.” He says,
In a post-modern world lacking clear-cut borders and distinctions, it has been difficult to know what it means to be a man and even harder to feel good about being one. The many boundaries of a gendered world built around the opposition of work and family–production versus reproduction, competition versus cooperation, hard vs. soft–have been blurred, and men are groping in the dark for their identity.
And this is who we are. We do not know who we are—and that’s who we are. He’s on track in identifying the problem, but I’m fairly certain if you were to read his books, Mr. Williams doesn’t suggest what we would suggest as the solution. He wouldn’t suggest that we go to God’s economy to find out who we are; he would suggest some other way so that we can be men with women who are men while we’re being men who are women—something like that.
We have to know who we are in God’s economy—men, sons, husbands, fathers—faith begins with knowing who you are. If God made you a father, you must live carrying out the responsibilities of that charge.
Secondly, good fathers must decide-deploy.
This is the action associated with our purpose. After the centurion confesses his position and his authority in it, he tells Jesus how one in this position should act: “I say to this one, go, and goes, and to another, come, and he comes, and to my slave, do this, and he does it.” And so one of the first things we teach fathers in our church about their little toddlers is to teach their toddlers to come when they’re commanded to come—to teach them authority, to teach them how to obey, and to establish that relationship with them.
Many of you are probably more familiar than I am with the civil war account of General George McClellan and his interaction with Abraham Lincoln. McClellan had a reputation for being insulting and insubordinate to his commander-in-chief. He privately referred to Lincoln, whom he had known before as a lawyer for the Illinois Central, as “nothing more than a well-meaning babboon,” and “a gorilla,” and “ever unworthy of his high position.” And so on a date in November, apparently Lincoln went to McClellan’s house (being a president was apparently very different at the time) and McClellan had him wait for approximately 30 minutes, and then determined not to see him at all. And the president just left. Later, in talking with his generals, Lincoln became so exasperated with McClellan that he actually said the famous line, “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.” He said this because McClellan had a reputation for not doing things—for not deploying. Isn’t it interesting that a man with that reputation also had a bad reputation for insubordination—he didn’t submit himself to authority.
Inaction is evidence of faithlessness. James 4:17,
Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Matthew Henry says,
Omissions are sins which will come into judgment, as well as commissions. He that does not the good he knows should be done, as well as he who does the evil he knows should not be done, will be condemned. Let us therefore take care that conscience be rightly informed, and then that it be faithfully and constantly obeyed; for, if our own hearts condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God; but if we say, We see, and do not act suitably to our sight, then our sin remaineth.
Now, are the sins of omission sins of great importance and grandeur? Might they just be the everyday activities of our lives that we’re responsible to do as fathers in our home? Absolutely. These are our most important sins of omission, and the most egregious.
The father in a home must decide and deploy. If he abdicates, the home will degrade to the tyranny of subordinate rule. And so you have that reference in Proverbs 30,
Under three things the earth quakes,
And under four, it cannot bear up:
Under a slave when he becomes king,
And a fool when he is satisfied with food,
Under an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
And a maidservant when she supplants her mistress.
And the unloved woman in this case is not someone who’s just been neglected; it’s someone who is annoying, and so I have to read to you again from Henry, because what he says about this is fascinating:
An ill-natured, cross-grained, woman, when she gets a husband, one who, having made herself odious by her pride and sourness, so that one would not have thought any body would ever love her, yet, if at last she be married, that honourable estate makes her more intolerably scornful and spiteful than ever.
And so anytime a man abdicates his authority and doesn’t do the things he ought to do the tyranny of subordinate rule takes over. If a man will not be decisive and take action in his home, he will not be decisive or take action as a father in the church.
A husband and a father must work to know his wife and children better than they know themselves. And I’m constantly telling young men, you need to know your wife better than she knows herself. You need to be able to understand her better than she understands herself, because you’re the one who’s going to direct her, and you’re the one who’s going to care for her.
And so he must be able to see through all dishonesty. And this is why a fundamentally dishonest man is useless as a father—because he cannot see for the beam that is in his own eye. And so honesty is integral to us acting. With the knowledge of his wife and children, he is able to make decisions.
Have you ever thought about the account of King Solomon, when the two harlots bring the dilemma to him? “This woman’s baby died and my baby’s alive but she took my baby,” and Solomon has to decide, and so he says, Ok, give me the child; he gives the child to a guy with a big sword; he says, Now cut the child in half. And of course you know what happens—the true mother cries out and says, No, no, no—give the child to her; and the false mother says, Nah, cut the child in half, let’s be equally miserable. And so Solomon says, Give the first mother the living child and by no means kill it.
Wasn’t Solomon lucky that his solution didn’t end in the subdivision of a child! Just dumb luck, wasn’t it? How come Solomon knew that this would work? He knew because he knew the people he was talking to better than they knew themselves. He knew what a mother would do.
Third, good fathers must delight.
Here I could easily mean that we delight in our wives and our family—and listen, I do and you should, and I hope you have delight in your home. But first a good father must delight in the Lord.
Psalm 37:4 says,
Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
And also we’re to delight in God’s law. Psalm 40:8,
I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.”
And we understand from this very psalm the New Testament reference to Christ and His sacrifice in doing the Father’s will: “Behold, I have come to do Your will.”
A good father will lead his family by himself delighting in the Lord. What good is an elder that has no delight in God or His law? And how many sessions or boards in churches are filled with such men who have no delight in God or His law?
We don’t usually think in these terms, but I want to tell you that
- No catechism will replace delighting in the Lord, and
- No confession that you teach your children will replace delighting in the Lord, and
- The most regulated regulative principle will not replace finding delight in the Lord.
I know families where they haven’t had any of those things articulated where the father has delighted in the Lord, and it has been wonderful for the children, and they have themselves owned their father’s God as their God. And so we must delight in the Lord.
Further, good fathers must declare.
He must call his children to take his God as their God, and not to assume that they have or that they just will automatically.
I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great congregation;
Behold, I will not restrain my lips, O LORD, You know.
I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart;
I have spoken of Your faithfulness and Your salvation;
I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth from the great congregation.
And so often we do not declare to our children our God and specifically call them to have Him as their God, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. How easy it is for us to slip into presumption with our children and assume that they are God’s children or that our God is their God, simply by the fact that they are born to us. And we haven’t done the work of calling. And if we don’t do the work of calling our own children to God and to faith, will we do the work of calling people in the household of God to faith?
And if you don’t think people in the household of God need to be called to faith, you’re wrong. We call our children to faith.
A good father rules in the house and in the church by declaring God to his children.
Good fathers must deliver.
A good father provides, and of course we all see this in the obvious text, 1 Tim 5:8,
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Very familiar text. That a good father will provide for the physical needs of his family goes without saying!—well, not today.
But we know that this provision comes with a price. My father worked and retired from a plant that was famous in Flint, Michigan called Buick 36. It was famous because it was one of the biggest automobile plants in the world. The whole thing was like a mile long, it was just a huge, huge complex at the time. And he worked his 30+ years in that plant, mostly third shift. Sometimes if things were bad there would be layoffs and he would have to take a job a shift over—I remember one time he shifted over to working in the foundry and sometimes he wouldn’t be able to shower before he would come home, and he would literally come home looking like he had come out of a coal mine: black. Soot-covered, head to toe. And I remember sometime in high school when I realized the price that my father was paying to be the one who delivered the goods for me, and my attitude for my father changed at that point. And I made it a habit at that point—at night, 9:30, or so—to walk him out to his car to tell him good night, to do something to show him that I understood the sacrifice he made for me.
Where are those fathers today? Where are they? It doesn’t go without saying that men understand that they need to provide for the needs of their family.
But provision includes more than physical needs—it includes emotional and spiritual and educational, etc.—all part of the package. And so my father didn’t just work third shift; we went to church. He was always in church. He demonstrated his love for the church by having us there all the time, and by having people in our home all the time. And sometimes on Sunday nights after a service, when he knew he had to go to work on Sunday night, we’d have a family over to the house. And of course Sunday it was all messed up because he often wouldn’t work Saturday night, and so Sunday his sleep was all messed up, he spent most of the day at the church, and we’d have people or guest speakers over, and he would demonstrate to us his value of us knowing his God and us knowing his God in the context of the church. And he taught us to develop the spiritual, and he cared for us emotionally and educationally. He was an elder in a church that had no session (Wesleyans don’t have a session).
A good father in the home and the church rules by delivering all that is needed, at his expense.
Good fathers must discipline.
I was trying to think of what a good title for a book would be today concerning this, and I thought maybe a good title would be, Would Somebody Please Say No? And I was trying to think of things where I wish people would say no, and I thought, well I wish Congress would say no to the President and the Supreme Court; and then I wanted something humorous so I thought, I wish somebody would say to Joel Osteen, you should say no to the mullet—and there are so many places that we want no to be said in our world.
I read of a father who did say no; he said no because his daughter wrote some nasty things about her parents on Facebook. And so he made a video and put it on Facebook, and the video was him talking about the nasty things his daughter said and how that was inappropriate, and how she was going to have to take responsibility for what she said—the video is about 8 minutes long, and I think somewhere around 9 million people have viewed it. And at the end of the video he turns the camera at the ground and says, “You see, this is my daughter’s laptop,” and then you see this .44 mag come out in front of the camera, and he says, “Now this is shot #1, this is for her saying…(bang!)” And this is #2 (bang!) and then my wife said if I had some extra left over…(bang! bang! bang!) And the laptop became a collander with the hollow points. I think he put 9 shots into it. And he said, now she also owes me $1 for each one of those bullets, and she owes me $120 for the software that I upgraded her computer with. Once she gets the new computer, she can do whatever she wants, as long as she pays me (not whatever she wants in terms of whatever she writes—she can get a new computer when she can get a new computer is all he was saying).
He said no, and there’s been this huge, huge—you know he’s been interviewed—and this guy’s just sitting out in his yard in a big wooden Adirondack chair, he probably spit his tobacco out so he could make the video. I think they had Child Protective Services come and talk to him, I mean it’s just bizarre. All he did was say no.
But we can look at pictures of biblical fathers who refused to say no to their children. One of the most obvious ones is Eli. And we have the account of the Lord speaking to Samuel and telling Samuel,
“I have told him [Eli] that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them.“
He did not say no.
Saying no is difficult, because saying no leaves us at an interesting place. I think the interesting place is the place where our worldliness crosses paths with God’s economy. And we realize that we have to make a choice at that juncture and live by faith with the outcome of what will happen when we say no. And either we will act or we won’t. Either we will have faith or we won’t. We’re exercising faith in God and His economy of discipline.
We read in Hebrews 12 about the Lord discipling those that He loves, and it says in verse 7,
…for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
Let me ask you, can you imagine asking this question to any assembly of Christians today:
For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
It presumes a majority—it’s almost unheard-of that a father wouldn’t discipline his son—but we wouldn’t think that today, would we.
The church plays a role in the discipline of our children. Our parents have to live committed to disciplining their children in a world that is penalizing them for it, and then the church has to commit to that work as well. And so earthly fathers, as we grow in the church and as our children grow, have to learn how to submit our children to the work of the fathers of the church. And if we’re elders and we have children and there are other elders and they have children, we have to submit our children to their discipline. And it’s tough if we haven’t practiced that from the time that they were little—it’s a very difficult thing. A child gets to the age of majority, to the age where they’re individuating from their parents, and so in the church they become full-fledged members and they become communicant, and so then all of a sudden, boom, there’s this switchover: “Ok, now you belong to the church to discipline.” And that’s supposed to be easy? If up till that time there’s been nothing that’s been done, no interaction between the church and the children?
And so the life of fathers in the church and fathers in the home is just kind of back and forth. I’m not suggesting that there’s no clear authority of a father in his home. I am suggesting that we live with one another necessarily needing one another to speak into our lives—I like to call it meddling, because it’s what it is, but it’s not negative. But everybody thinks it’s negative. And when they’re small you deal with the little corrections, the little imperfections, the minor offenses.
I had recently read to our elders here a passage from an old, dead Baptist named Eleazer Savage from the early 1800s. He has a booklet on church discipline, and he has the first level of offenses which are called “minor.” And he’s not saying that you have formal discipline for these offenses, you understand—but listen, if we were doing this kind of work, our interaction with our families and their children in our lives and in our own homes would be much more active.
So what are examples of minor offenses?
Levity, a light and trifling deportment, a want of becoming seriousness and stability. Irritability, the susceptibility of being easily exasperated; soon angry; habitually fretful. Loquacity, a propensity to talk too much; to speak imprudently. Forwardness, a tendency to overact; to go too far; to be obtrusive; to be the greatest. Backwardness, an inclination to fall upon the back-ground, to never come up to the line of duty; a shrinking from obligation and responsibility; a hanging, like a dead weight, upon the wheels of devotion and usefulness. Littleness, a disposition to stick and contend for one’s own way in unimportant matters. It may be seen, also in thinking more of cents, than liberal men do, of dollars. And many other like features of character.
It was understood by him that it was the responsibility of church fathers to speak into the lives of children and adults who had these imperfections. It’s a long way away from his fifth level, you know. And so what do we do today? We ignore one another. We have nothing to do with taking responsibility for somebody else. We’ll never speak to somebody about their child’s behavior. We’ll never speak to our own children about their behavior.
What if fathers in the church would say no to sin? We have a commitment here that we’ve said out loud this way for a long time now, and that is that the pastors and elders have covenanted together that we would declare God’s yes and His no faithfully, both corporately and individually. Do we fail? Yes. Do we attempt? Yes. And it makes a big difference in the life of our church.
A good father in the home and the church rules with loving discipline.
Good fathers must defend.
I was reading about a man in Sydney, and what happened is a car got out of control and was swerving toward a building that he was in front of. The car hit his parents and they were thrown aside, and he was standing with his little child, and he only had time to take one action, and the action could either be dive out of the way or lift his child, so he lifted his child and was then pinned against the building. The child is here, completely unscathed, and the father’s against the building. Now he didn’t know this would happen, but he walked away. But that’s not the point: the point is that he defended his child, very clearly, very physically.
So Acts 20 says,
“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.”
A good father in the home and the church rules while defending and protecting his charges.
And finally, good fathers must demonstrate. (And this doesn’t mean picket.)
What do good fathers demonstrate? Well,
- A good father demonstrates his love for God.
- A good father demonstrates his love for the truth—God’s Word.
- He demonstrates his love for justice,
- his love for authority,
- his love for good works,
- his love for preaching,
- his love for his bride,
- his love for the Bride,
- his love for his children,
- his love for the children,
- his love for the weak and the poor,
- his love for…etc.
That’s what a good father does. And who does that? Can you think of a good father who does that? No man can do this in the household of God who does not first do it in his own home—but the reality is that all of these are attributes of God the Father Almighty, and that the work that we do as fathers in the home and in the church is work that directs and points and manifests and displays the reality of the work of the Almighty God, the Father.
A good father in the home and the church rules by demonstrating the characteristics of Him from Whom all fatherhood gets its name.
Heavenly Father, we give you thanks this morning that you are the good Father. Not earthly fathers being evil, as You have said in Your Word, but you are the good Father who gives good gifts. And Lord, we know that Your attributes are pure and holy, and that all of these particular characteristics that I’ve spoken of this morning are just a small sampling of the characteristics of Your holiness and Your goodness, Your kindness and Your mercy toward Your children. O Father, would you please deliver us from the sin that entangles us and that keeps us from being the fathers we ought to be. Would you please raise up men and help us to do the work of raising up men who would be fathers in the home and fathers in the church so that Your children would be delivered from evil—so that Your children would be properly cared for. O Lord, help us, we pray. In Jesus’ name, amen.