Fathers and Sons
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
Last month, in Boy’s Brigade at Wednesday night church, my son made a pinewood derby car. It was dark green. When he was finished with it, he brought it home and he and I painted it more; we gave it some character. It reminded me of this (hold up my car). It’s my pinewood derby car that I made when I was a kid in Boy’s Brigade at an Evangelical Free Church. Except, I didn’t really make it. My father made it for me. I had chicken pox weekend of the lock-in when they were made. So Dad went in for me and made it. And together, at home, when I was better, we painted it.
Multigenerational. That’s the way God intended it to work, not simply with pinewood cars, but with life. One generation to another to another. God intends for biblical wisdom to be passed on across the generations—grandfather, to father, to son, and so on. We can see that in Proverbs 4:2-4, and it’s just one of a two dozen other things that the Book of Proverbs teachers us about fathers and sons. We won’t cover near that many, this morning we’ll get a few of them.
As we begin, would you pray with me…
This morning I have a 6-point sermon. It would be possible to draw the conclusion from the fact that I have six points that I’m getting paid on commission—getting a certain amount for every point. That’s not actually true.
Another conclusion to draw, and in this case the right conclusion, would be this: the Book of Proverbs has a many, many things to say about fathers and sons and I’m a young pastor that is just trying to do his best to fairly representing all of the material in the book without being overly selective or superficial, so I landed on six points.
The first point is about one thing that we should think about when we think about Proverbs. Then I want to explore five things Proverbs teaches about fathers and sons.
1. A Fourth ‘Key’: Expect Concrete, Specific Language.
Point 1. When you look at a map, often in a corner there is a ‘key’ or a ‘legend.’ Legends and keys help you understand what you are looking at so that you do not get confused. Two weeks ago, when we started our journey in Proverbs, I pointed out three ‘keys’ to reading Proverbs. We talked about
- What wisdom is—namely, wisdom is not knowing lots and lots of facts; wisdom is skill at the art of godly living,
- What Proverbs are—namely, proverbs are not promises but things that are generally true, and finally,
- Something we should expect from Proverbs—namely, to show people in their extremes (e.g., one extreme is Lady Wisdom and the other is Lady Folly).
Here is one more ‘key’ to help us get the most out of the book. It goes like this: Proverbs frequently uses concrete, specific language, leaving us as readers to figure out how the proverb applies to us. Let me say that again: Proverbs frequently uses concrete, specific language, leaving us as readers to figure out how the proverb applies to us. Not generic, ‘catch-all’ descriptions, but specific and concrete.
Let me illustrate. One the one hand, I could say this to you: “You can give some people all the instruction in the world, and even put their noses in the very solution, the needed solution, but even then, you can’t make them avail themselves of that solution. They have to do that on their own.”
Or, on the other hand, I could say, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.”
Both say the same thing, but which is more memorable? Which communicates more effectively? The 43-word, general, non-descript first attempt, or the 13-word, concrete, specific second attempt? It’s clear isn’t it. The concrete, specific one. This is the direction that Proverbs leans most of the time.
But one might object to the specificity: “I don’t have a horse; I’ve never had a horse. Why would I care about leading him to water?” But that’s not the point, is it? Whether we have a horse or not, we, as listeners, are supposed be able to figure out how it applies to us.
Consider Proverbs 24:6, “For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.” That is concrete, specific language related to guidance and war. Yet, as readers, we can learn from this proverb that if I’m going to change jobs, or if I’m going to buy a house, or if I’m going to choose a spouse, or pick a college, or if I’m going to undergo a particular health related treatment, or any other major decision in life, then I ought to get wise guidance from a team of trusted counselors. That’s what this proverb teaches, even though it speaks about war and I’m not a general.
Proverbs speaks of oxen, weights and measurements, houses and fields, ships, bread and wine, horses, female bears, war, fathers and sons and mothers, and on and on it goes—specific, concrete language. If these things do not explicitly identify our situation, then we must do the hard work of discerning how a specific proverb applies to us, even if at first it doesn’t look like it does apply.
So what’s the point? Why bring up this ‘key’ this morning?
Well, I’m about to tell you lots of things about father and sons, and some of you will go, “It sounds like I can only apply this if I’m like you—a man with young children.” I want to encourage us to think better. Thus, at times I will try to make a comment or two about broader application, but for the most part, I simply encourage you to be asking this type of question: How could this proverb apply to me?
I want you to be asking, “Okay, I see what he’s saying, and that’s not exactly me, but how can I learn from it? How can I engender those qualities and that wisdom in my heart, in my home, in my church, in my work, or in my neighborhood whether I have a horse that needs a drink or not?”
So because it is Father’s Day, and because in the wisdom of God, Proverbs uses paternal imagery over and over, therefore, so will I. But keep in mind, I’m talking to everyone.
Let’s move ahead to what Proverbs says specifically about fathers and sons. All of these could be a sermon by themselves but for each one, I’ll simply state the principle, then offer a representative verse or passage, and then give an application (or two).
2. God intends fathers to pursue their children.
The first thing we learn about fathers and sons from the Book of Proverbs is that God intends for fathers to pursue a relationship with their sons, and we might even say a good relationship. Again, the principle is that God intends for fathers to pursue a relationship with their sons.
Where to I see this in Proverbs? Which verse or passage? We’ll, it’s hard to put one verse to this principle because it is something I infer from so many smaller details. For example, consider that in Proverbs the word “son” is used 44 times. And most of the occurrences of “son” are in the context of the a parental address that says, “My son…” (exceptions exist, like 30:1, “The words of Agur son of Jakeh,” emphasis added; cf., 1:1), and most of the time the parental address “my son” is spoken from a father to a son (exception 31:1-2, “The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him: What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb? What are you doing, son of my vows?” emphasis added). What I am saying is that over and over in Proverbs we have the picture of a father pleading with his son to heed his counsel—what I’m calling “pursuing a relationship.”
In fact, in chapters 1-9, which are often grouped under the heading of “Fatherly Advice to a Son” because we have the father saying to his son, “My son… my son… my son… my son… my son…” 18 times and each the father follows the address with a large block of instruction.
So the principle was that God intends for fathers to pursue a relationship with their sons. And the verse, if I had to point to one, I’d just say all of chapters 1-9.
So what’s the application? Men, don’t be passive! Pursue relationships. Initiate. Don’t sit on the sidelines; Coach wants you in the game.
The picture we get in Proverbs is of a man, trying and trying and trying to do something. He encourages; he loves; he warns; he commands; he disciplines; he speaks. In the Garden of Eden, when Satan was talking to Eve, the Bible makes it very clear that Adam was standing right there (Genesis 3:8, “…and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate”). Adam watched; Adam listened; Adam took it all in, and he didn’t do a thing.
I remember in college there were two different men that lead campus ministries that reached out to me, and helped me figure a lot of things out. Their names were Scott Ashton and Scott Willingham. There were not my dad, and they didn’t take the place of my dad, but they were not passive. They initiated, and I’m so glad they did. Whether you are a father or a parent, you can do this for someone.
3. Fathers teach their sons about sin and sinners.
The second principle we learn about fathers and sons from the Book of Proverbs is that fathers are to teach their children about sin and sinners; or we might just say, fathers are to teach their children what is wrong.
Where do I see this in Proverbs? Lots of places, but at least in 1:10-19 (cf., 24:21).
10 My son, if sinners entice you,
do not consent.
11 If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason;
12 like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13 we shall find all precious goods,
we shall fill our houses with plunder;
14 throw in your lot among us;
we will all have one purse”—
15 my son, do not walk in the way with them;
hold back your foot from their paths,
16 for their feet run to evil,
and they make haste to shed blood.
17 For in vain is a net spread
in the sight of any bird,
18 but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
they set an ambush for their own lives.
19 Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
it takes away the life of its possessors.
The father tells his son that sinners will promise excitement and riches and glory. “But,” the father says, “in the end, greed takes away the life of the greedy. My Son, greed will eat you from the inside out. So don’t go with them; don’t follow them.”
Application: Fathers, we must do this. We must be wise enough to know the path of sin and then to plead with our children not do down that road.
Let me make it broader; let me help make the transition from ‘a horse drinking water’ to something that might apply to all of us, namely our vocations—what we do for a living. To do that, let me ask this: are there Christians here at Community, that are in the fields of medicine and law and banking and finances and real-estate and technology and sales and advertising and law enforcement and stay-at-home mothering and every other career, have been in their career long enough to know how their “industry” works, but they do not simply know how their industry works but also what are the ethical dangers inherit to their particular line of work, so that they can help others navigate the ethical dangers of their industry? In other words, do you know the moral pitfalls of your job so that you could help a younger person in your industry from messing everything up?
I remember back in my days working in the office of a construction company, and especially in those early years, I wished there would have been someone to come along side of me to tell me what to watch out for in the construction industry—someone to tell me ‘this is how sin manifests itself in our trade; don’t be sucked in.” As it was, I just sort of had to figure it out for myself. When you are young and impressionable, it’s hard to know. It’s not always clear.
God intends for Christians, as they walk with him and as they keep their eyes open, to be learning the particular ways that sin manifests itself in every vocation. I know that I am been so thankful for the “fathers” have in pastoral ministry. These proverbs teach that we should avoid sin and sinners, but also that we should aspire, someday, to be a ‘father’ or a ‘mother’ in our area(s) of expertise.
The flipside of a father telling his son about the wrong is a father telling his son about the right.
4. Fathers teach their sons about the supremacy of wisdom
This is the third thing we learn from Proverbs: that a father is to instruct his son about the supremacy of wisdom—about the “right” pursuits in life.
What do I mean when I say, the supremacy of wisdom? To answer that, let me point you to a specific passage. Although there are many that I could choose from (cf., 1:20-33; 2:1-22; 3:5-8; 4:1-27; 5:1-2; 6:20-23; 7:1-4; 8:1-9:18), consider 2:1-5,
1 My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
4 if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
What do I mean when I say, the supremacy of wisdom? The father says speaks of silver and gold and treasure and that we are to seek wisdom in the way we might seek those things. That’s the supremacy of wisdom; it’s more supreme than silver and gold.
Over and over, and just before and just after everything else that the father talks about, he calls the son to the supremacy of seeking wisdom and following the commands of God (again, cf., cf., 1:20-33; 2:1-22; 3:5-8; 4:1-27; 5:1-2; 6:20-23; 7:1-4; 8:1-9:18). I think the idea is that there are 1,000 pursuits in life, but above them all, we are to seek to know God in wisdom.
Application: Consider what you are really passionate about. Men what are you passionate about? Women, what are you passionate about? When you are just sitting around or driving across down, where does your mind drift? What do you day-dream about? Does it drift to the supremacy of wisdom, the supremacy of Jesus Christ?
I heard a teacher say once that most of his students forget most of what he teaches. He said, “What they tend to learn is what I most emphasize; they tend to learn what I come back to again and again—what I put at the center.” (D.A. Carson, 25:00-25:30 min. mark, speaking at The Gospel Coalition: Training the Next Generation of Pastors and Other Christian Leaders, Panel Discussion: R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Mark Driscoll, David Helm, Don Carson and Ligon Duncan, The Gospel Coalition 2011 National Conference, April 13, 2011). It’s so tempting, in the church or in life, to be pulled into 1,000 different pursuits, but what we learn from Proverbs is that we have to keep the main thing, the main thing, namely the beauty of the wisdom of God.
5. Fathers teach their sons about receiving the Lord’s discipline.
Where do I see this in Proverbs? Look first with me at 3:11-12,
11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.
Discipline is hard. It’s not fun. However, there is something wonderful that should be communicated to us when we go through the Lord’s discipline, and that is this: we’re God’s kids.
The author of Hebrews in the New Testament quotes these verses to remind some Christians that had been through, and in fact is still in, very difficult times, that it’s actually that God loves them that they are being disciplined. The point Proverbs implies and the point the author of Hebrews makes, is that God, to some degree, he just lets people that are not his children go do what they want, and they might be free and happy, but because he loves his kids, God intrudes himself in to their lives so that they might become holy, which is the happiest way to be.
So what’s an application: The obvious would be that fathers should be telling their children this same thing, but we can make it more broad in this way. As Christians, we don’t always know why difficult things come into our lives. A hard thing happens and we scratch our head and say, This is difficult. But because we believe God is a good father, and we are his children, even if a particular difficulty in our life is becasse God is disciplining us, because he is training us, that doesn’t mean we he doesn’t love is. We have to remember this. The Lord’s training is evidence of his love, not the absence of his love.
If I had more time, I would add several more things that Proverbs teaches us about fathers and sons. And in the coming weeks, we’ll hit a few of them. Let me come to the last point.
6. Fathers and son relationships, in a fallen world, are hard.
The fifth and final thing that Proverbs teaches about fathers and sons is this: in a fallen world, father-son relationships are hard. Again, Proverbs teaches that in a fallen world, father-son relationships, like all relationships, are hard. The Book of Proverbs lives in the real world.
In Proverbs, the direction of the strain on relationships can move from either the son to the father, or the father to the son. Let me read a few verses.
he who gathers in summer is a prudent son,
but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.
The one who keeps the law is a son with understanding,
but a companion of gluttons shames his father.
In these verses, a wayward kid makes it hard for parents (cf., 15:20; 17:2; 19:13a). But we can also see in Proverbs that the strain in relationships goes both ways—not just from a son to a father, but a father to a son—if we understand that many times the that when Proverbs describes an adult fool (and the collateral damage of a fool to those around him), then we might suppose that this foolish grown man would create just a much tension towards his children. In other words, not a wayward son, but a wayward father.
And leaving aside sinfulness of either the father or the son, there are many of other non-sinful reasons for strained relationships, liked infertility or an early death or disease.
Father’s Day is a difficult day for many. Perhaps because Dad’s not around anymore. He’s gone, either through death or distance or gone declining health. And it’s hard. For others, your father was around, and that actually was the problem because of who he was and who he wasn’t. And it’s hard. For others, fatherhood just never ended up happening. O, you thought it might, and you tried to work towards it, but it didn’t happened and now, the window feels gone. And it’s hard.
So, I want to end with by concluding this point, and concluding this sermon, with the application, we must see our Heavenly Father in the gospel passionately pursuing us.
If we read Proverbs rightly, yes we see a father speaking to a son and we learn things from that. And it is right for us to see ways for us to follow the teaching of Proverbs—to pursue or children, to teach them about right and wrong and about discipline. But more than that, we must not simply see a father speaking to a son, but The Father (capital “F”) speaking to all of his children!
Look with me at one last Proverb. It’s Proverbs 23:26. It blessed me immensely this week. It says, “My son, give me your heart.”
Because of the love of Jesus Christ poured out on your behalf, our Heavenly Father raises his voice and says to every one of you: “Give me your heart! Your heart may be a broken, sinful, messed up, but I don’t care, because I’m your Dad. I know you have not been perfect, and I know your father was not perfect towards you. But I will love you, and care for you, and pour out my love to you in such a way that whatever difficulties and losses you have experienced in this life, if you would come to me, then I would make you whole and sound. I’d be a good father to you. Give me your heart.”
Behind the fathers in Proverbs, we see The Father pursuing his kids, loving them well, pleading for their heart.
For whatever else you have heard this morning, I hope you hear that.