Fathers Who Lead, Mothers Who Love, Children Who Obey:
1 Thessalonians 2:7-13
May 9, 1999
This week I read part of a book by Richard Strauss on the Christian home. In one chapter he discusses seven goals for Christian parents. I found his list so suggestive that I decided to begin my sermon by repeating it here. This is what we want to accomplish in raising our children:
To lead them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
To lead them to a total commitment of their lives to Christ.
To build the Word of God into their lives.
To teach them prompt and cheerful obedience, and respect for authority.
To teach them self-discipline.
To teach them to accept responsibility.
To teach them the basic traits of Christian character such as love, faithfulness, integrity, zeal, patience, and joy. 
As parents we want to move our children from dependence to independence. When our children are born, they are 100% dependent on us. Everything they need, we must supply. As they grow up, they learn to do more and more by themselves. Slowly the percentage of dependence drops to 80%, 50%, 30%, 10%, and by the time they are ready to leave home, they should be ready to live successfully on their own. In a spiritual sense we want our children to move from 100% dependence on us to 100% dependence on God.
That perspective explains the various rules and regulations that all parents put on their children. We tell them “No” now so that they will tell themselves “No” later. We give them external rules today so that years from now they will voluntarily choose to follow those rules on their own.
We know that parents play a huge role in shaping what their children become. As the twig is bent, so the tree is inclined. God gives us our children for 18 or 19 or 20 years. What we do with those years will stay with them for life and ultimately for eternity.
What part does influence play? Godly influence by itself cannot guarantee the salvation of our children. Salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit. But God does use means. He uses godly parents to help produce godly offspring.
We all know that godly parents may have ungodly kids. There are Esaus and there are Jacobs. But godly parents do make a difference! Paul says “Follow me as I follow Christ.” How many of us as parents would dare to say that to our children? Yet that is precisely what we must say.
With that as introduction, we turn to 1 Thessalonians 2 where Paul uses two figures of speech that help us know what it means to be godly mothers and fathers.
I. A Father’s Influence
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (I Thessalonians 2:11-12).
Not long ago I read an interesting statement about the difference between mothers and fathers. Mothers tend to worry about their children’s safety and security; fathers focus on their children’s success. A mother frets over things like tender loving care while fathers push their children hard because they know we live in a world where failure is easy and success difficult. Both are absolutely necessary in raising children and in serving the Lord.
I have previously mentioned the mission statement of our Allied Force high school ministry. It’s painted on the wall of the youth room on the third floor of the west wing: “Our mission in Allied Force is to be impact players in our world for Jesus Christ.” I love that phrase “impact players for Jesus Christ.” The Apostle Paul would like that. That’s why he kept moving from city to city. That’s what made him persevere in spite of opposition, indifference, death threats, and physical weakness. He wanted to see Christians become “impact players” for Jesus.
Being an impact player isn’t always popular with other students. I’m sure you’re aware that ever since the tragedy in Littleton, Colorado several weeks ago, there have been many copycat incidents across the country. Here’s one that didn’t make the newspapers. During a lunch break, a group of our high school girls were holding hands in a circle and praying for a friend in the hospital. While they were praying, several others students came up and started saying, “You can’t pray here. That’s against the rules. You’re the ones we want to kill.”
Should this surprise us? Chuck Colson pointed out that the Columbine killers clearly included Christians among their targets. These days when parents send their kids off to school, they don’t know if they’ll ever see them alive again. Or if they’ll come home in a body bag. I’m proud of our teenagers who aren’t ashamed to pray in public and who won’t be intimidated by loud-mouth teenage thugs.
Paul expands the concept of a father’s influence with three phrases.
A. We Encouraged You 12a
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging … you.” The word “encourage” means to come alongside someone who is struggling and to help them out. It has the idea of seeing a runner begin to stumble as they round the last turn and head toward the finish line. Instead of simply letting them fall and finishing the race on your own, you slow down, put your arm around them, and carry them to the finish line, even if means you personally lose the race.
B. We Comforted You 12b
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting … you.” The Cotton Patch version says that Paul was constantly “sharing his insights.” This is a most positive statement. It reminds me of the little book, The One-Minute Manager, which exhorts bosses to “Catch Them Doing Something Right.” Most bosses are excellent at finding fault, the truly great ones love to catch their employees doing something right. Good fathers know how to cheer their kids to victory. Although 34 years have passed, I still remember my father coming home from the hospital late in the evening where he had been visiting his patients. If he found me studying, he would usually stop, say a word of encouragement, and then give me a quarter. Something about that simple gesture stays in the mind across all these years.
C. We Challenged You 12c
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
When I was a child, I heard it over and over again, “You’re Dr. Pritchard’s son.” That meant something special in the small town where I grew up. Now I understand that as a child of God, I have an even larger responsibility to live in such a way that I enhance his reputation in the world.
This week I received an e-mail from Lynn Briner, the daughter of my dear friend and co-author Bob Briner. Last fall he was diagnosed with cancer. He has come through one round of chemotherapy and is in his second round now. Each time Bob and I have talked in the last few months I have been struck by his sense of peace in the face of uncertainty. In her message to me Lynn said this about her father:
I know that no matter what the outcome, God’s will will be done. My dad is such a faithful man, and I know that even in his suffering, he is glorifying the Lord. How blessed I am to have him for a father!
I do not know what will happen to my friend Bob. I fervently pray for his healing but in the end that is in the hands of God. Bob has many accomplishments to his credit but at the top of the list must be the family the Lord has given him. Children can’t be fooled. What Lynn said about her father speaks volumes about his influence in her life.
II. A Mother’s Love
“But we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children” (I Thessalonians 2:7).
On Wednesday night someone pressed a piece of paper into my hand. It contains the following statement: “An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.” It is impossible to exaggerate a mother’s influence in the lives of her children. I Thessalonians 2:7 contains a lovely picture of a young mother nursing her newborn. See how carefully she wraps him in her arms. Watch as she lifts him to her breasts. She knows the little one cannot eat on his own, cannot find food, cannot survive without her. She must not only feed him, but the food must come from within her own body. To nourish him she must give of herself.
In verse 8, Paul goes on to describe the extent of a mother’s love: “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.” Mothers make an investment in their children that fathers never understand. We dads come and go, but mothers are the ones who give themselves completely for their children. Sometimes we hear women talking about choosing between their children and their careers. But that’s a mistake. If you are a mother, your children are your career. Someone else can do your job and someone else can win that case or close that deal or teach your classes or do whatever it is you do on the job, but no one can raise your children. Mothers are quite simply irreplaceable. If you are a mother, your greatest contribution will be the children you raise for the Lord. Please don’t mistake that as a statement about working part-time or full-time or in the home or outside the home. Just remember that your children (especially while they are young) are your career. Don’t let the world suck you into its mold by making you feel “unfulfilled” if you are “just a mother.” Motherhood is a high, holy and most noble calling.
Beulah Skinner’s Prayers
Last month we commissioned Rob and Kim Skinner as missionaries to Ecuador with radio station HCJB. Since then Rob and Kim and their two sons, Ben and Matthew, have started a year of language training at the Rio Grande Bible Institute in Texas. After they met with the elders in February, Kim wrote me a note about the influence of Rob’s godly grandmother:
“I have NEVER known a more powerful prayer warrior than Rob’s grandmother. When our son Matthew was in the hospital in Virginia she called every day from Mass. for weeks – praying over the phone and “rebuking Satan!” And I mean rebuking! When Grandma prayed I held the phone a foot from my ear, so I wouldn’t go deaf! When I hung up the phone I was always in a kind of daze – like I’d heard directly from God – and any problem appeared quite small and definitely taken care of.
Nine months ago when we told Rob’s parents of our acceptance to HCJB and our goal of getting to language school at the Rio Grande Bible Institute in a year, Rob’s mother (who is not an emotional woman) burst out with: “Wouldn’t the Rio Grande Bible Institute love to meet the grandson of Beulah Skinner!” It turns out that Grandma (who lived in a run-down old house and lived off homemade soup and garlic – eating only when she thought of it because it took too much time away from prayer, Bible reading and phone counseling) left that school a whole lot of money. No one in the Skinner family knew a thing about the Rio Grande Bible Institute until we said that’s where HCJB sends its missionaries to learn Spanish. Rob is too humble to talk about it, but I think it shows in a remarkable way how God puts the pieces of the big puzzle together through the generations.”
How many of us had a praying grandmother? How many of us had a praying mother? How many of us had a praying aunt? How many of us had a praying sister?
There are godly mothers and grandmothers who have prayed their children all the way to Jesus. And some of them are praying their children and grandchildren to Jesus at this very moment but the kids haven’t found out about it yet.
Thank God for women of faith. Their prayers have changed the world.
III. A Child’s Choice
“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (I Thessalonians 2:13).
This is what happens when godly moms and dads work together to raise their children. Verse 13 emphasizes the logical result of a father’s influence and a mother’s love. Many people accept Christ at an early age because their parents made it easy for them. As little children they said to themselves, “If Mom and Dad love Jesus, I ought to love him, too.” This is precisely what should happen in a Christian home.
John Paton’s Testimony
In one of his sermons on the Christian home, Jim Eliff relates the following story about John Paton, pioneer missionary to the New Hebrides Islands in the Pacific Ocean. John Paton was born on May 24, 1824 in a cottage in Scotland. His parents were poor but godly. When John Paton became a young man he was offered a scholarship to the Normal Seminary in Glasgow, Scotland. Here is his account of the day he left home:
I started out from my quiet country home on the road to Glasgow, about 40 miles on foot and thence to Glasgow by rail. A small bundle tied up in my handkerchief contained my Bible and all my personal belongings.
My dear father walked with me the first five miles of the way. His counsel and tears and heavenly conversations on that parting journey are fresh in my heart, as if it had been just yesterday, and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then whenever memory steals me away to the scene. For the last half mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence. My father, as was often his custom, carried his hat in his hand, his long, flowing yellow hair stringing down his shoulders like a girl’s. His lips kept moving in silent prayer for me and his tears fell fast.
We halted upon reaching the appointed parting place. He grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence and then solemnly and affectionately said ‘God bless you my son. Your father’s God prosper you and keep you from all evil.’ He never had to say any more. His lips kept moving in silent prayer. In tears we embraced and parted.
I ran off as fast as I could and when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him gazing after me. Waving my hat in adieu, I was round the corner and out of sight in an instant but my heart was too full and sore to carry me further so I darted into the side of the road. I wept for a time and rising up cautiously I climbed the dike to see he yet stood where I had left him, and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him, climbing the dike and looking out for me.
He did not see me and after he had gazed eagerly in my direction for a while, he got down and set his face toward home and began to return, his head still uncovered and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayer for me. I watched through blinding tears until his form faded from my gaze and then hastening on my way vowed deeply and oft by the help of God to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as He had given me. The appearance of my father as we parted, his advice, prayers and tears, the road, the dike, the climbing up on it, and walking away head uncovered, have often, all through life risen vividly before my mind and so now while I am writing seems as if it had been an hour ago.
In my earlier years particularly when exposed to many temptations, his parting form rose before me as that of a guardian angel. It is deep gratitude which makes me here testify that the memory of that scene not only helped by God’s grace to keep me pure from prevailing sins but also stimulated me in all my studies that I might not fall short of his hopes, and in all my Christian duties that I might faithfully follow his shining example.
Making it Easy for Your Children to Believe in Jesus
Not all of us had parents like that. And not all of us have been parents like that to our own children. No one is perfect and even the best mothers and fathers make many mistakes. Without God’s grace we would have no hope for our children or grandchildren. If we can’t change the past, we can certainly make a new start for the future. Let us here and now resolve that we will use our influence to point others to Jesus. Let each father and mother pray fervently to become the right kind of godly example. Where we have failed, let us confess it and then leave our failures at the foot of the Cross. By God’s grace things can be different from this day forward.
This sermon is subtitled “God’s plan still works today.” More than ever, I am convinced those words are true. Where fathers lead and mothers love, it will not be difficult for our children to obey.
We all know that children have minds of their own. We cannot compel our children to believe in Jesus. But by our behavior, we can make it easier or we can make it harder. God help us to make it easy for them to follow us as we follow Christ.
Lord, grant that in an 100 years our great-great-great grandchildren will rise up and give thanks for our godly example. Thank you for the influence of many men and women who brought us to Jesus. May the coming generations walk in your path because we have followed your way. And may that road lead us one day to heaven. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
1. The book is called How to Raise Confident Chidren (Tyndale, 1975). I believe it is out of print. You can access it online at the Biblical Studies Foundation website: www.bible.org.