Fatherhood was one of the first jobs God gave men. Immediately after creating Adam and Eve, God commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). One of His primary purposes for marriage was offspring who would fill the earth with God’s praise and glory. However, providing sperm for conception is merely the beginning of God’s expectation for fathers. Sperm can make a child, but it takes a real man to be a father. Some men who want to be good fathers have little understanding of what godly fatherhood looks like, so this article will explore some characteristics of a godly father.
1. A godly father knows God. It should go without stating, but many men want their children to have a relationship with God but do not have such a relationship with God themselves. They let their wives take the kids to church, trust the preacher to instill godly values, and assume they are being what they need to be because they provide exposure to godliness. But children model what they see. If Dad does not consider obedience to God important, why should they? If Dad doesn’t lead the family spiritually, it must not be a priority. So godly fatherhood begins within the heart of a man. He considers his own relationship with God the most important one in his life and models that godliness for his children.
2. A godly father loves and honors his wife. It has been said that the best gift a father can give his children is to love their mother. When children grow up watching healthy, loving interactions between their parents, they naturally seek to imitate that in their own marriages. Sadly, children often do not see their fathers and mothers loving each other. Even if a man is divorced or single, he can still model respectful behavior toward his child’s mother; if he is remarried, he can demonstrate a loving relationship with his current wife (Ephesians 5:25, 28).
3. A godly father accepts responsibility for his children’s spiritual training. Too often, the children’s training is left to the mother while the father considers a paycheck his contribution to the family. While providing financially for a family is an important responsibility for fathers (1 Timothy 5:8), it is not their only responsibility. While he may delegate much of the day-to-day teaching to his wife, a godly father still bears responsibility. For example, he should pray with his children and talk with them about what the Bible teaches. He encourages Christian character in his children by his example as well as his words of instruction and the expectations of behavior he sets forth for and enforces with his children.
4. A godly father is continually aware of his influence. “Do what I say, not what I do” has been the unfortunate attitude of many fathers. Little eyes observe and learn from watching Dad’s behavior, regardless of what he says he believes. Sons, in particular, need male role models to show them how to become men. Dads may not realize it, but everything they do is influencing their children. Words alone are not enough. Consider what a child might learn from these fatherly instructions:
• “Church is important, so you guys go, but I’m staying home to watch football.”
• “Don’t you lie to me, but tell that person on the phone that I’m not here.”
• “I just cussed out our neighbor, but if I hear you guys saying those words, you’re gonna get it.”
• “Stay away from drugs and alcohol. Now bring me a beer and my cigarettes.”
5. A godly father models selfless service. Much of Jesus’ earthly life was given to serving others. As followers of Jesus, we are to imitate that service (Matthew 20:28). Godly fathers figure out ways to involve their little ones in that service. “Let’s go over and mow Mrs. Jones’ yard. Her husband had surgery, and she’s got a new baby.” When children grow up watching Dad quietly serve the Lord without expectation of reward, they internalize those values.
6. A godly father is consistent. Nothing confuses children more than inconsistency, either in discipline or example. A father who is angry one minute and loving the next creates insecurity in his children. Dads need to be careful that they don’t take out their frustrations on their children and later excuse their behavior by saying, “I was just upset.” Godly fathers channel their anger where it needs to go, they practice forgiveness, and they never allow anger to create confusion in their children. If Dad says he is going to do something, he’d better do it. Children need to know what to expect from their fathers.
7. A godly father disciplines his children appropriately. Discipline is part of child-rearing and should not be ignored or solely delegated to the wife. Hebrews 12:9–10 reminds us that earthly fathers disciplined us for our own good and our heavenly Father does the same. Wise discipline helps children learn to control themselves and keeps them out of serious trouble (Proverbs 13:24; 18:19). Correct discipline is not abusive, vengeful, or sporadic. A child should know where the boundary lines are, and he should also know with absolute certainty what happens when he crosses those lines.
8. A godly father does not allow himself to be controlled by outside influences. Addictions, such as alcohol, drugs, or pornography, often create a home environment marked by insecurity, fear, and depression. Fathers who display addictive behaviors often teach their children to do the same. Godly fathers are controlled only by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Children tend to adopt whatever gods their parents consistently worshiped; thus, alcohol and drug abuse is passed from generation to generation (see Exodus 20:4–5). However, children who watch their fathers run to Jesus with their problems can learn to imitate that healthy behavior.
9. A godly father is a man under authority. Due to his sinful nature, a man will fight to be his own boss. In many cultures, it is considered admirable to “answer to no one.” However, Jesus demonstrated that He was a Man under the authority of His heavenly Father (John 5:19; 12:49). He readily gave credit to God for His successes and submitted Himself fully to the will of God (John 8:29). A godly father will live as a man under God’s authority and that of God-given earthly institutions, such as employment, church, and government (1 Peter 2:18; Romans 13:1–2; Hebrews 13:17).
10. A godly father will lead. The world is in desperate need of men who will lead wisely. Leadership is not domination or control. A leader is one who goes first. He sets the pace for the family by practicing what he preaches. He is on the lookout for dangers and takes initiative to protect his family from them. He meets first with God so that, when he presents a plan to his family, they have confidence that he is following the direction of the Holy Spirit. He leads them to a healthy, Bible-teaching church. He leads them in personal devotions. He leads them away from worldliness. He leads his wife as her confidant and champion. He leads his children to come to know Christ. He leads in his community through charitable service and wise counsel. He leads at church by serving according to his gifts. And he leads other men to follow his example. He is a man that his children can be proud of (Proverbs 17:6).
Regardless of a man’s past or his own parentage, he has the potential to be a godly father. The qualifications for an elder or deacon found in 1 Timothy 3:1–12 are a good standard for all of us. A father who adheres to those guidelines will do well. If he seeks the Lord with all his heart (Proverbs 3:5–6), strives to keep his priorities straight, and lets love and humility define him, any Christian father can become a man that his children are honored to call “Dad.”