by Paul Briggs
With Father’s Day just around the corner, I would like to honor my Heavenly Father as I reflect upon the life of the earthly father I was privileged to have for nearly 60 years.
The first Father’s Day may have been celebrated in the state of Washington on June 19, 1910, but the concept of giving honor to our parents has its origins in the law delivered to Moses by God (who sovereignly gave us our parents). The importance of this command, applicable to each one of us in some fashion, is seen in the various references to it throughout Scripture:
- The fifth of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:7-21) reads: “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”
- In Matthew 19:19, Jesus repeats the foundational part of this commandment in his conversation with the rich young man, saying, “Honor your father and mother.”
- In Ephesians 6:2, after telling children to obey their parents in the LORD (because it is the right thing to do!), the apostle Paul repeats the words of the fifth commandment, declaring it to be the “first commandment with a promise.”
The number of times and the various places this command is found in Scripture (the Law, in the Gospels, and in the apostle Paul's letters to the early church) demonstrates the importance it has in God’s economy. Therefore there is great value, both personal and societal, in meditating on honoring our father and mother so as the people of God our reflection of this command will be clear to those who are watching. (And trust me, people ARE watching!)
Honoring our fathers and mothers is what I would call a “hinge commandment.” It transitions the first four commandments about rightly relating to God our Creator to the last five commandments about rightly loving our neighbor (something Gamil Ortiz excellently wrote about in this space last week). A correct reflection of honoring our father and mother grows out of deep love and respect for the Heavenly Father who gave us the parents we have. We cannot pretend, as many do, to be rightly relating to our Heavenly Father while disrespecting or dishonoring our earthly parents.
The biblical understanding of the Hebrew word for “honor” carries with it a positive sense of weight or heaviness; an appropriate ordering of authority and respect. This is desperately needed in our world today. As we grow in our understanding and practice of what it means to have no other gods before our Creator and to love Him with all of our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37), we will seek to honor the jars of clay the LORD has used as His instruments to bring us into this world and care for us.
I was awakened by the ringing of my phone. It was 4:15 am on Saturday, May 30. At that hour, I knew it couldn’t be good news. The hospice nurse on the other end of the line apologetically and compassionately gave me the details; my father’s caretaker had gone to his room in the healthcare facility which had been his home for the previous five weeks and had found him unresponsive. My father had been called home to be with His Creator and Savior, Jesus. His journey here on earth was finished.
The hospice nurse kindly offered me the opportunity to come and sit in my father’s room until the funeral home personnel came to pick up his body. There is just something about physical proximity which renders the sobering truth of death real. As I sat in his room, looking at a shell of the man whom I had called Dad, the one who lovingly, generously and sacrificially cared for and provided for his family, many thoughts crossed my mind. Thoughts of grief. Thoughts of gratitude. Thoughts of glory.
Thoughts of Grief
With the reality of my dad’s death beginning to sink in, I recognized there were some significant things I had lost. That’s the way it is with death; there is a sting that comes with it, a sense of finality that can’t be undone. There was grief for the loss of his presence, his smile, his gratitude, his positive approach to life, his care for others, and his humble desire to serve them.
While losing my dad had actually been a process of his gradual departure in his final months of life, he had at least still been present physically, if not always fully attentive with his once-sharp mind. There were days when he would joke through a difficult situation or respond with one of his witty quips. So there has certainly been the loss of the person himself, never to regain him. As Carl Trueman so aptly stated in his article “The Final Enemy,”
The death of a human being is the death of a person with a history, and the more that history has shaped who we are in the present—the closer we have been to the person who has died—the more the death deprives us of the future we had imagined for ourselves. A little piece of us has died with the death of another—whether a child who emerges stillborn, or a beloved grandparent full of years.
There is the loss of the wisdom he brought to many difficult situations. I’m reminded of a scene from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George Bailey (played by actor Jimmy Stewart) is in a difficult situation, and he catches sight of an advertisement sign in the drug store where he worked which read, “Ask Dad, he knows.” That’s how I felt about my dad. If he didn’t know the answer when I called to ask him about something or bounce an idea off of him, he might simply say, “Aha.” Which let me know that he had heard what I had said, but didn’t have a response to it. That “Aha” is something I will miss.
Thoughts of Gratitude
As I sat next to my dad’s lifeless body, I chose to think about the things for which I was grateful about him. Without much effort, several qualities about my father’s life emerged in my thinking. I reflected on my gratitude for:
- My dad’s love for the LORD and the LORD’s work and how he (and my mom) had intentionally sought to transmit that to their children.
- My dad’s love for my mom and his demonstration of that love in his faithfulness in their nearly 63 years of marriage.
- My dad’s love for his sons (four of them!) and the numerous sacrificial ways he demonstrated this.
- My dad’s love for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
- My dad’s example of leadership in the church.
- My dad’s evident servant’s heart in various ways.
These are priceless treasures for which I am grateful to the LORD and which live on and continue to challenge me in his absence.
Thoughts of Glory
In the darkness of those early morning hours, as I sat in my dad’s room, I reflected on the praise-worthy characteristics of my dad’s life which put on display the fruit the Spirit of God had produced in him. In the weeks since my dad’s home-going, words like “faithful” have been used to describe him. “Utterly self-forgetting” is the phrase which is my favorite that I have taken away from a conversation about my dad.
Ultimately (and this is how my dad would have wanted it), the praise for such characteristics in his life belongs to our Heavenly Father. The praise and the glory belongs to Him who created my father in the unique ways he was wired; who awakened him to his sin and his desperate need for salvation from sin; who throughout the course of his life showed him his need for Jesus; who called him out of darkness and into His marvelous light; who gave him to me (or was it me to him?) to be in a family relationship and who, when his life was over and his work on earth was done, called my dad to be with Him to see the God-given glory of Jesus because of the love with which the Father loved His Son before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24).
Things I Learned from My Dad
- Life isn’t easy - but complaining about it doesn’t change things. My dad’s mother died when my dad was 14. My dad’s father died four years later. I never heard my father complain about the difficult circumstances of his teenage years.
- Serve God by loving others - no matter how different they might be in where they come from, what language they speak, or what they eat.
- Be principled. My dad sought to live as an evident follower of Christ. I remember once when he sold a car and not 15 minutes after the buyer drove away with the car, the engine seized and the car would no longer run. While my dad could have told the buyer that the car was no longer his responsibility, instead he gave the guy his money back and accepted the loss without complaining about it.
- Be generous with your time, talent, and treasure, because these resources are given to you by God, your Creator!
- Be content. As the Puritan writer Jeremiah Burroughs put it, this is a rare jewel!
- Be thankful. This character quality grows out of that rare jewel of contentment. It recognizes that God is the orchestrator of our lives and that we bring Him glory and honor as we thank Him for all He is allowing in our lives, resting in His goodness and care for us.
Before I close this article, I want to acknowledge the painful awareness of the broken contexts many who might be reading have experienced or are presently experiencing in their home life. Some don’t personally know their biological parents; others do and wish they didn’t. Perhaps you find yourself struggling today with how you are to apply God’s commands with regard to “your lot in life.” The blind selfishness which characterizes the lives of too many parents takes its toll on the children in too many homes in our world. And even the best of parents with the best intentions are still fallible people living in an imperfect world. God has granted us as elders the privilege of serving His people by leading His church. It would be our privilege to walk with you as you work through the joys and difficulties of your life. We invite you to contact us to set up a meeting to speak with you.
Whatever your situation, whether bad or good, the command to “honor your father and mother” stands as a call from the Creator to His people to live the reality of the gracious and merciful transformation only He can accomplish in our lives. The selflessness of God is seen in sending His One and Only Son Jesus into this world to do for His people what they could never do for themselves. This reality stands as an authoritative call on the life of all people everywhere to recognize the authority and power of God and to give him the proper place in the life He has granted. While human efforts fail at changing the corrupt heart with which we are born, God our Maker is able to take that which is broken beyond repair (from our perspective) and turn it into something beautiful and functioning which reflects His glory. THIS is the essence of life!
I agreed to write this article before my father went to be with the LORD. I thought I might have one more Father’s Day to honor the wonderful man I called Dad. The LORD, in His mercy and kindness, had the script written another way, and for this, we give Him praise.
I close with this invitation to you to reflect on a way to honor your Heavenly Father by honoring the father He gave to you. This might be done in the form of a card, a post on the KSBC Facebook page, or an act of kindness for him or for someone else in your father’s name or memory.