In our heavenly Father’s gracious plan, earthly fathers play a key role in passing faith on to the next generation. There are two God-given ways by which we can encourage faith in others: by speaking the Word of God to them and living faith-filled lives before them. While fathers cannot guarantee that our children, grandchildren, or anybody else will believe God and His Word, we can promote faith in others by our words and our works, as this exhortation from Scripture bears out:
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7)
This command seems to refer primarily to leaders of local churches (cf. verses 17 and 24). Scripture requires that church leaders are to prove their skill and faithfulness in their own homes as loving fathers. This is clearly portrayed in Paul’s instruction regarding elders and deacons:
[An elder] must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? . . . [and let deacons be] managing their children and their own households well. (1 Timothy 3:4–5, 12, cf. Titus 1:6)
In the present context of the letter to the Hebrews, it may be that the leaders spoken of here had already died in faith, whether naturally or as part of the persecution that was occurring under Nero (cf. 10:32–39). The author encourages the people to “remember” these leaders who “spoke” to them and seems to indicate that the “outcome” or conclusion of these leaders’ lives had come to a close. Whether alive or recently deceased, these leaders were personally known by the people and provided an even more tangible testament of faith than those Old Testament witnesses commended in chapter 11.
The command to “remember” these men means more than simply recalling facts or reminiscing on past conversations or events. These activities may be necessary first steps in remembering, but such reflection should encourage us to learn a lesson from their example (cf. Luke 17:32) and serve as a motivation for our present behavior (cf. Acts 20:31). This verse teaches us that as we “consider” the lives of these men, we ought not to think merely of the way they walked, talked, dressed, or drove, but carefully examine all these aspects and more as evidence of the set of principles by which they directed their whole manner of life. The behavior of godly men displays a certain measure of purposefulness and consistency as they seek to live for the glory of God. For example, Paul details a set of characteristics that should mark older men, that they should “
be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2; cf. James 3:13, 17–18).
Because of how these godly men lived, those who knew them should be compelled to glorify God and honor them by following their example of faith. The word faith appears throughout the New Testament and, except for Paul’s letter to the Romans, appears more frequently in Hebrews than any other New Testament book. In nearly all instances in Hebrews it refers to the act or state of believing. For example, we see the warning regarding the Israelites in the wilderness that “
the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (4:2). We receive the encouragement to “
draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (10:22). We find that “
faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1) and “
without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (11:6).
It is crucial to recognize that what sets great fathers apart and what is to be recognized and emulated by the next generation is their faith in God. Men can be fickle, easily distracted, and unpredictable, but “
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Throughout this letter to the Hebrews, the author promotes the Lord Jesus Christ as our superior and sufficient Savior. He is the ultimate example of faith, “
the founder and perfecter of our faith” (12:2). So godly fathers serve best in pointing their children and others to the Lord.
Fathers should consider that the most powerful words we can utter are those recorded for us in God’s revelation, the Bible. Fathers should make direct reading of Scripture their first choice in teaching their children and others, as the Scripture says, “
The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130; cf. Ephesians 6:4, 1 Timothy 4:13). For example, a man could read from the chapter of Proverbs that corresponds to the day of the month, or he could read consecutively through a Bible book with his family. The central thing is to read God’s Word personally and in the household (Deuteronomy 6:7, 11:18–19). At a time when so many Christians compromise on the Scripture or just neglect to consider it, godly fathers must know and speak the Word of God in specific circumstances, as the Bible says, “
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).
So, on Father’s Day and at other times, we are to keep in mind these influential men in our lives—not merely nostalgically but seriously and in such a way that our behavior would change because of their example. We should speak honorably of them to our children, holding up their example of faith and faithfulness. The heritage we receive should be part of the legacy we pass on.
But in referring simply to earthly fathers, we should not exclude also those spiritual fathers who have spoken God’s Word into our lives and promoted faith in us (1 Corinthians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:10–12). It may even be that our own physical fathers were inconsistent in this work or failed entirely to speak God’s Word into our lives or exemplify faithful behavior. Thus we should appreciate a multitude of godly men throughout our lives who reflect the fatherhood of God (1 Thessalonians 2:10–13). Ultimately we find our perfect Father in God Himself, who is “
a father to the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5) and who loves His children and trains them toward holiness (Hebrews 12:6).
If your father didn’t speak the Word of God to you at all or did it falteringly, commit yourself to changing your family tree. Today is not too late to start immersing yourself and your family in God’s Word. What we do reflects whom we serve and it teaches others (Hebrews 6:11–12; 1 John 2:4, 5:2; 3 John 11–12), so give heed to your daily conduct. In fact, you might read this article again from the perspective of your child or grandchild. How will they remember you? Let us do our best and leave the results to God. May Jesus Christ be praised!