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A Portrait Of Fatherhood

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1 Thessalonians 2:7-2:12 (NIV, NIRV, TNIV, KJV)

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(Changed e-mail address: Powerpoint slides for this sermon are available at no charge. Just email me at with your request - #106.)

A. Do you remember when men were men & you could tell it by looking, when women were the ones who wore earrings & makeup? Do you remember when men knew who they were & had confidence in themselves & in their God? They knew where God was leading them, & trusted Him to get them there.

Maybe the problem today is that our modern society has tried to convince women that they can be as masculine as men, & men that they can be as feminine as women. So we have put them together in one big mixing bowl & mixed them all up until many are no longer sure what their role really is.

B. Father’s Day presents us with an opportunity to look at masculinity once again. Not the Rambo type who walks with a swagger & cusses like a sailor. Such men probably make bad neighbors & poor business partners & abusive fathers & husbands. Nor am I talking about the Archie Bunker type who sits in his chair like a king on a throne, expecting the whole world to revolve around him.

I’m talking about a man who knows he is a man & is proud of that. But at the same time he has a soft & tender heart that is sensitive to others & to the will of God. I’m talking about God’s man. I’m talking about fatherhood the way it ought to be.

C. Where do you find guidance for that? Well, the Bible is always the best source. So I’ve selected a passage from 1 Thessalonians 2 that few would consider to be a Father’s Day text. But I think it is a good one.

In 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12, Paul says, “…we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil & hardship; we worked night & day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.

“You are witnesses, & so is God, of how holy, righteous & blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting & urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom & glory.”

PROP. Let me suggest that in these few verses we see a portrait of fatherhood that is worth examining. And as you look at the portrait, consider with me 5 wonderful traits of a father today.


A. The first trait of a father would be the ability to express genuine love. Notice what Paul says in vs. 8, “We loved you so much.” In the original language those words expressed an intensity of love that gives over & over again. Paul says, “It’s hard even to find words to express how much, but we really do love you.”

I think that is an important character trait for fathers because loving & expressing love does not come naturally for most men. I’m convinced that is the reason the Bible tells husbands to “love” their wives, because we have to learn how to love.

The Bible almost never tells wives to “love” their husbands because that usually comes naturally for them. Instead, wives are told to “respect” their husbands, because sometimes that is hard to do.

Men, most of us have to learn how to love. That is true about the father & child relationship, too. It doesn’t usually come easy for us.

ILL. Do you remember when you brought your first child home? Your wife seemed to know what to do. She knew the head was heavy & that the muscles had not developed in the neck to support it. So she supported it. She also knew that the soft spot on top of the head was a place of vulnerability & you had to be really careful about it.

She knew when the baby was hungry, & when its diaper needed to be changed. And she changed it with skill. She knew when it was bath time & play time & sleep time. She knew all those things.

But we men had a lot to learn. When we first held the baby, at least for many of us, it was an awkward experience. I didn’t know when the baby was hungry, & when the diaper needed to be changed. And I was not very skilled at changing diapers, either. All those things had to be learned.

But soon we get to the place where even if we’re not so good at them, we kind of enjoy them. We enjoy holding our children & expressing love. We enjoy playing with them, watching them laugh, & then comforting them when they are in distress.

B. Then what happens? They grow up, & just about the time you get good at it, it all changes.

ILL. A couple of years ago the cartoon strip, “For Better or for Worse,” showed Dad coming into the room where his teenage daughter was sitting on the couch watching television & munching popcorn. So he decided to sit down next to her & help himself to the popcorn.

As he was sitting there, a little thought balloon appears over his head. He’s thinking, “I remember when she was so young. I held her in my arms & loved her, & it was wonderful. Now look at her. She’s all grown up, & such a beautiful girl, too. I wonder what she would think if I held her like I used to & told her again that I love her?” He finally concludes that she would be uncomfortable if he did that.

While he’s thinking that, his daughter is thinking, “I wonder why Dad never hugs me anymore?”

Isn’t it sad that we have arrived at a time in our culture when there is so much incest & perversion that as Dads we’re not even sure how to express love anymore? We’re not sure what’s proper & what’s not proper.

C. Our best example of fatherhood, of course, is our Father in heaven. And the best story to show that is the story of the Prodigal Son. The reason this is so universally applicable is that virtually everybody experiences what the prodigal son experienced, where we’re sure we know better than our parents. We have it all figured out.

You know the story. The son goes off into a far country & squanders all his money. And when he runs out of money he runs out of friends & ends up in a hog wallow, eating from the slop that is fed to the pigs. This is the most humiliating place a Jewish boy could possibly be.

As he sits there the Bible says, “He came to himself.” And he starts thinking, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare? And here I am, starving to death. I will set out & go back to my father.”

Now notice something important. He felt that he could go back to his father. The relationship might never be the same. But he knew the door was open to him.

How did he know that? All through the time of raising his son the father had communicated his love. “No matter how far you go, you can always come back home again.” That kind of love is a vital thing to communicate to our children.

So he said, “I will say to my father, ‘I have sinned against heaven & against you, & I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired men.” I think this was a speech he practiced every step of his way back home. He had it down pat.

But before he could blurt it out his father had run to him & thrown his arms around him & kissed him. He had no fear of expressing love, did he?

SUM. You know, the beautiful part is that our Father in Heaven always leaves the door open for us to come home again. And as dads, we need to teach our kids, no matter how deep their sin, “You can always come home.” And there’ll be a father waiting to throw his arms around you, & to assure you of his abiding love.


The second trait is a transparent life. Paul writes in vs. 8, “We loved you so much that we delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well.” Now notice that there is a connection between “gospel” & “lives.” It is one thing to hear the gospel. But it is another thing to live it.

What Paul is saying is, “When we lived among you we not only told you the good news, we modeled it for you by how we lived.”

It seems to me that if you’re a Christian dad, your kids ought to know it by the way you live. For example, being a Christian will affect the decisions you make every day. The values in your home will be different than those found in a pagan home.

A pagan home values things like pleasure & power & prestige & possessions. But in a Christian home, we learn that things we can’t see, things we can’t buy, & things we can’t hold on to, are really the most precious. We have completely different values.

What about stress? Would you deal with stress differently if you were a Christian dad than if you were not? I think you would, because there is a peace available to you that the world doesn’t understand, a peace that passes all understanding.

What about finances - how you budget your money? Wouldn’t that be affected by how the gospel has changed your life & made you into a different person? What about humor & joy & laughter - all the things we find in a home influenced by the gospel?

ILL. Robert Fulgem became popular when he wrote a book entitled, “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” He has written again, & in his most recent book he talks about grown children coming home again. He says that it is normal when grown kids come back home, to reminisce about things they got by with when they were younger, that mom & dad never found out about.

He recalls that when his children began reminiscing, that his oldest son said, “Dad, when I was 14 & you & mom were gone for a while, I went out in the garage & got in the car, started it up, backed it out, drove it around the block several times, & then put it back in the garage. And you never knew it.”

Everybody laughed, & then he went on, “Another time when you & mom went to the grocery store, we kids went out in the back yard & smoked a cigar. You came home early & we thought for sure you had caught us. But you never knew & we got away with it.” Once again everybody laughed. And it was a kind of a bonding time for them all.

Then Fulgem told his children, “You didn’t know some of the things your mom & I got by with. For instance, you never knew that we took a cut off all the money grandma sent you at Christmas. You never knew that oftentimes when we told you we weren’t serving leftovers, that they really were leftovers disguised in some way. You never knew that when you called me from camp & you were so homesick, & I told you that I missed you, too, that I lied.”

He went on, “I know who sent you the anonymous valentine cards. And I know who got into my wallet & took money & never said so. And there were times when I let you lie to me, because the truth was too hard for either of us to hear. And there were times when I told you that I loved you when I didn’t love anybody, not even myself.”

SUM. That’s transparency, & that’s hard to deal with. But I think kids need to see in their fathers, not just an authority figure, but someone who is real, someone whose heart has been touched & changed, who still makes mistakes & yet has the courage to admit that he has made those mistakes.


Here’s a third trait – an unselfish diligence. Paul says, “You remember, brothers, our toil & hardship; we worked night & day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” [1 Thessalonians 2:9].

Now I think we have a responsibility as parents to teach a good work ethic to our children. And oftentimes, if our kids don’t see a father who is a hard worker & who has a good work ethic, they’ll never learn it.

We teach it in two ways. First, we teach by example, by just doing it & letting our children see that. Secondly, our children learn by doing. We give them the opportunity to do things & make their own mistakes & learn from the mistakes they make.

ILL. I’m reminded of the story of a little boy who was not very artistic who was trying to draw a horse on a piece of paper. His father, who was artistic, watched as he did. The little boy was clumsy, so his father tried to help him. He started giving him advice, which really didn’t help very much.

Finally, the father took the piece of paper, drew a beautiful horse & handed it back saying, “Here, that’s the way you do it.” The son turned & looked at his dad & said, “But dad, I want to draw my own horse.” Every child has to draw his or her own horse. And as dads we have to be wise enough to step back & let them do that, to make their own mistakes & learn from those mistakes.


Fourthly, the trait of genuine spirituality. Paul said, “You are witnesses, & so is
God of how holy, righteous & blameless we were among you who believed” [Vs. 10].

Now notice what he said, “First of all, we preached the gospel of God to you. Secondly, you are witnesses of how we lived. We lived holy, righteous, & blameless lives among you. Our behavior was influenced by what we believed about Jesus.”

God has commissioned dads to be spiritual leaders. And you’re the spiritual leader of your home whether you realize it or not. You will either lead your family closer to God or further away. But as a Christian, it is your responsibility to lead them closer to Him. If you don’t, you’ll be leading them closer to the evil one & his kingdom.

As spiritual leaders it’s our responsibility to show that we are genuine, that our Christianity is not just something for Sunday, but something we are all week long.

So if you come to church & carry your Bible & look very pious on Sunday, but you never open it through the week, your kids will know. They’ll be watching you & they’ll know. If you pray here on Sunday morning when everybody else is praying, but you never pray at home, your kids will know that, too. If you never ever worship God through the week, or if you aren’t a good steward, your children will learn that, too.

SUM. So it is absolutely essential that we be genuine, & that our children see that we not only worship here but that we worship at home. We not only read the Word of God here, but we read it at home. We not only pray here, but we pray every day of our lives. And they see the genuiness of our faith.


Finally, there is the trait of positive influence. Paul writes, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting & urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom & glory” [Vs. 12].

That is what a father does. He encourages & comforts & urges his children to live lives worthy of God. And it’s all positive. But not every dad is a positive influence.

ILL. Listen to Brian’s story: “I was just 12 years old when my Boy Scout troop planned a father-son campout. I was thrilled & could hardly wait to rush home & give my father all the information. I wanted so much to show him all I’d learned in scouting, & I was so proud when he said he’d go with me.

“The Friday of the campout finally came, & I had all my gear out on the porch, ready to stuff it in his car the moment he arrived. We were all to meet at the school at 5 p.m. & car pool to the campground. But Dad didn’t get home from work until 7 p.m. I was frantic, but he explained that things had gone wrong at work & told me not to worry. We could still get up first thing in the morning & join the others. After all, we had a map. I was disappointed, of course, but decided to make the best of it.

“First thing in the morning, I was up & had everything in his car while it was still getting light, all ready for us to catch up with my friends & their fathers at the campground. Dad had said we’d leave around 7 a.m., & I was ready a half hour before that. But he didn’t even come out of his room until 9 a.m.

“When he saw me standing out front with the camping gear, he finally explained that he had a bad back & couldn’t sleep on the ground. He hoped I’d understand & that I’d be a ‘big boy’ about it … but could I please get my things out of his car, because he had several commitments he had to keep.

“Just about the hardest thing I’ve ever done was to go to the car & take out my sleeping bag, cooking stove, pup tent, & supplies. And then, while I was putting my stuff away in the storage shed & he thought I couldn’t see, I watched my father carry his golf clubs out & throw them in his trunk & drive away to keep his ‘commitment.’

“That’s when I realized my dad never meant to go with me to the campout. I didn’t matter to him, but his golfing buddies did.”

ILL. Dan Benson, in his book “The Total Man,” says that for every positive word that most dads say to their children, they say 10 negative ones. They’re really good at words like “Don’t” & “You can’t” & “Stop that,” & “No.” But they’re not very good at the positive words. Benson suggests that we could change the whole personality of our relationship with our children if we just learned to be positive, & influence things in a positive way.

ILL. Charlie Shedd writes about the time he moved his family from Kansas to Okla. He said that there was a bale of baler twine he had saved for some reason but that he had never used. So as they were getting ready to move he told his son, Phillip, “I don’t want you to mess with that baler twine. That’s special, so please don’t touch it.”

He said, “That must have been like saying ‘Sic ‘em,’ to a dog, for almost every day I found that he had been playing with my baler twine. I would lecture him. I would tell him, ‘Don’t play with it.’ But it seemed like a magnet that kept pulling him back. Then one day, I came home from work & there was baler twine almost everywhere. It was stretched & crisscrossed all across the garage door,” he said.

“As I started cutting my way through just to get the car into the garage, I rehearsed the lecture I was going to give my son. But,” he said, “as I cut away I started thinking, ‘What am I going to do with this baler twine?’ And then he realized that maybe the baler twine was not nearly that important.

“So,” he said, “that night when we sat down at the evening meal, & said a prayer to thank God for the food, Phillip remained with his head bowed. I said, ‘Phillip, about that baler twine.’ Phillip’s head bowed even lower & you could tell he was really disturbed.”

Then Charlie Shedd said, "Phillip, I’ve decided that baler twine is not worth nearly as much as you are. You’re really a special son, & I love you a bunch. If you want to play with the baler twine, just help yourself.” And he added, “Phillip never touched the baler twine again.” Now that is what I call a positive influence, & that’s what I really call love.

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