A Father's Greatest Gift
By Dr. Charles Stanley
Fathers give many kinds of gifts to their children. As Christians, we realize that the most precious gift of all is the one our heavenly Father gave by sending His Son Jesus Christ: His death on the cross provided salvation for mankind (Rom. 6:23). While it is important for us to introduce our children to the Savior and explain how to have an eternal relationship with God, we cannot make that decision for anyone else—not even for our own sons and daughters. But as for gifts that earthly fathers can give their children, the greatest thing they are able to offer is something everyone needs and wants, and something God intended for all of us to have: unconditional, loving acceptance.
Some fathers unfortunately relate to their children through conditional love, which says, I love you if . . . , when . . . , or but . . . . Unconditional love, on the other hand, says, No matter what you do or how often you make bad choices, I love you. Even when we disapprove of behavior or hairstyle, our love never changes. Sadly, many children grow up with the opposite experience: rejection. Child abuse, a major problem today, comes in various forms, including physical and emotional mistreatment. The most devastating and prevalent type is verbal abuse, which destroys self-esteem and has lasting consequences.
Parents should heed Paul’s warning: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification” (Eph. 4:29). Parental love was designed to reflect the agape love of the heavenly Father. He accepts His children just as they are, no matter what—which gives us reason for confidence and security. Let me share five important results of such a godly parenting style:
- Loving acceptance provides the proper biblical image of God.
A child’s first representation of the Lord is his or her father. Picture a dad who provides for his children, protects them, edifies them, and offers guidance; he makes them feel worthy, competent, and highly valued. When he teaches his young ones to pray, saying, “Our heavenly Father . . . ,” those children will form an image of God based on their earthly father, who is the primary authority they have known so far. On the other hand, when a parent is too busy or demanding, a child can form an incorrect view of the Lord. A harsh dad bases his approval on performance: “If you do this, then I will...” The child is likely to transfer his understanding of Dad to his perception of God, thinking, If I perform up to expectations, only then will the Lord accept me. But since Dad is harsh, God must also be condemning and judgmental—there is no way I could ever live up to His standards. Sadly, this all-too-common viewpoint assumes acceptance is based on what a person does rather than on who he or she is. Children instead need to understand that their father loves them no matter what, simply because they are his sons and daughters.
- Unqualified love paves the way for a child to trust Christ as Savior early in life.
I used to feel some hesitation about five- and six-year-old children walking the aisle at church to be saved. However, I have since learned that when a father is godly and unconditionally loving, it is natural for his child to want the same heavenly Father that Daddy has. In contrast, when young people do not feel parental love in their family, they are much more likely to stray from the Lord. They may even understand intellectually that God is supposed to accept them, but they believe that should also be true of their earthly father. So if their experience at home proves otherwise, a confusing conflict results, casting doubt on the Lord’s trustworthiness.
- Unconditional acceptance promotes healthy self-esteem.
When the Lord called James and John to be His disciples (Matthew 4:21-22), they could have responded, “Jesus, You’re calling us? We are just uneducated fishermen. We would love to follow You, but we’re nobody, and You are the Messiah—You wouldn’t want to be seen with our kind.” They could have made all kinds of excuses, but instead, they immediately dropped their nets and followed the Lord. Those two young men grew up with a father who built self-esteem into their lives; their upbringing undoubtedly gave them confidence in their ability to make good decisions, so much so that they were even able to leave their father/business associate to follow Jesus. Regrettably, many parents devastate a child’s self-image by confusing actions with personhood. It is one thing to say, “Your behavior is not in keeping with who you are.” This actually sends a positive message that the parent views the child as capable, even though behavior fell short of his or her potential. However, it is quite another thing to express, “You are no good and will never amount to anything.” A verbal attack like this is devastating at the core of a person’s being and may cripple his or her ability to make good decisions. When a child misses the mark, how much more edifying it is to build esteem by saying, “Don’t worry about that. I know you are going to make it. I’ll be praying for you.”
- Godly love protects children from developing a rebellious spirit.
We can expect that most children will at times defy their parents. After all, the Bible says that a child who is trained correctly will not depart from the right way “when he is old.” (Proverbs 22:6) But fathers should guard against excessive reactions to situations that are not “war issues”—a restrained response is far less likely to provoke sons and daughters to develop a spirit of rebellion. When parenting is accompanied by unconditional love, then it is far less probable that hostility, depression, or perfectionism will manifest in children. There is also less chance of self-pity, workaholism, jealousy, or promiscuity. Now, this in no way means that we should avoid disciplining our sons and daughters. The Word of God frequently encourages the proper training of children. (Proverbs 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; Ephesians 6:4) And, of course, our role model is the heavenly Father, who disciplines those He loves and “every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6). Our parental correction, like His, is to be carried out in a context of love.
- Accepting one’s children as they are prepares them to develop good relationships.
When children feel Dad’s warmth and fatherly affection, they grow up feeling loved and accepted. In that way, they have been equipped to relate to friends without being critical or trying to change them. Men and women who grew up feeling accepted bring love, confidence, and security to their marriage. On the other hand, when two rejected people marry, the home can easily become a battleground, not because they want to live in strife, but because they don’t know other ways of relating. Small things trigger annoyance and rejection because that has been their programmed response since childhood.
Psalm 127:3 calls children a “gift of the LORD”; we should take care of this precious blessing from God’s hand. And when you follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance, your actions, attitudes, and focused attention can demonstrate unconditional love—the greatest gift any father can give.
Adapted from Dr. Stanley’s Series, “How To’s for Fathers.”
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