In a family that is built on the pattern of a loving heavenly Father, with loving communication as a priority principle, the role of the husband is one which is incredibly lofty and an exceptionally high calling.

Mothers are typically understood as having a loving disposition, however in Ephesians 5, Paul explains a great secret—that the husband is to lead his wife in love in the same way that Christ loved the ecclesia (Eph 5:25). He is as it were, Christ to his wife. Think about the ramifications of this for a moment. Just as the ecclesia reflects the light of the knowledge of the glory of God (2 Cor 4:6) so also the ecclesia is to be not only a reflection of Christ, but a living example of walking in love in response to Christ’s love (Eph 5:2). In the same way, the wife is to reflect the godly qualities of the Truth found in her husband and respond to his love. This means that the husband needs to not only express love but become the motivation of love within his family. Are we living up to that ideal? Are we, as fathers, providing the love and light of God in our homes? Or do the children see their mother as the primary source of love with dad hanging around the periphery?

This is the challenging role for husbands—that in the same way Christ loved his bride and gave himself for her, so must we first sacrifice ourselves for our wives and elicit their willing responses in return. In this way each is looked after by the other.

There is a saying that “two halves don’t make a marriage—two wholes do”, and it is instructive that the role of the wife is not to sacrifice herself for her husband, but to respond to her husband’s sacrifice for her.

This may take some thinking and readjustment of our relationships, but such is the high calling of the Scriptures. God is “willing to do more than we ask or think” and one of the ways He enables us to demonstrate our potential is by stretching our capabilities if we willingly follow our Lord’s example.

But the challenge for fathers does not end there. As a reflection of the Lord Jesus Christ to our family, as the source of love and the example of our heavenly Father, how well do fathers follow his example? My impression is that most fathers would willingly offer their own life to save their wife in a one-off sacrifice, such as in a ‘women and children first’ situation. I hope and pray we are never put in such an extreme situation, but the issue as godly fathers is not about ‘how would we go if we needed to die for our family’: that’s not what following Christ’s example is really about. Being like Christ is not a one-off supreme sacrifice for our family; it’s sacrificing each day and being like the Lord Jesus Christ consistently.

As the type of Christ in the relationship, how are we at washing the feet of our family to nurture and encourage our family as Christ did? Do we calm the storms of emotional turmoil in our families—or are we sometimes the source of waves and clouds of anger? Do we pray all night for our families?

Do we spiritually feed our family, teach our family, point out lessons from nature to our family (like the parable of the sower), and encourage the growth and development of our family as we see Christ does? We need to be the forgiving spirit in our family as the source of light and love.

Fathers are also singled out a couple of times in Scripture specifically with the charge not to frustrate their children (Eph 6:4; Col 3:21). I think fathers are singled out because we can potentially discourage our children by being too unyielding, even at times too hypocritical, having higher expectations of others than of ourselves.

However, from these passages there are two potential failings I am most conscious of as a loving father: firstly, not always having to be seen as right and being humble enough to apologise. Our heavenly Father is unique as a Father in that He is perfect, and as loving fathers we will gain more respect from our children if we apologise when we obviously fail, perhaps losing our temper while driving, or rebuking a child too harshly by misjudging a situation. Fathers who are genuine and who admit mistakes, make themselves open and vulnerable to their children in a positive way, and will create a genuine loving relationship, with no danger of being the kind of father warned of by Paul.

I also take from the fact that Paul warns fathers twice that it is likely to be a challenging problem for us; and the second thing I really try to do as a father, is empathise with my children and enter into their excitement. In my experience, mothers seem to resonate more with the children. Dads can razz them up easily but can also be easily annoyed by them and fail to match them emotionally, which can lead to repeated failures in their minds when they try to share something with us. This potentially gives rise to frustrations and then in the end they could angrily write us off, and not try to share anything with us in future.

An illustration of this is that the children find a bird’s nest that has fallen out of a tree: they come running inside to share it with us, but we fail to see the excitement on their faces or hear it in their voices. All we see is sticks and twigs falling onto the carpet and perhaps mites jumping off it too! We raise our voice and tell them to get it back outside this instant, completely ruining the chance to resonate emotionally with our children and share their obvious excitement at finding something so special that they immediately wanted to share it with dad.

Instead of creating frustration by missed opportunities to relate on their level, we have to learn to see it through their eyes and learn to hear and engage in a positive way with their excitement. A better response would be to say, “Let’s find a box or container for it first”, and then when you have contained the mess in a positive way you can examine it together and talk about how the birds made this nest so neatly and wove all the grass and twigs together to make a nice home to start a family. You can then marvel together at God’s handiwork in creating these creatures and share and resonate with your children their joy and enthusiasm.

Being resonant and understanding are also important when it comes to recognising when they are not excited, but upset. Just being held by your father can be comforting; so as fathers we need to recognise and respond appropriately to these moments also.

Being open and vulnerable, by apologising when we fail to be a good example to our children and resonating emotionally with them when they are younger develops trust in your family. As your children grow older, trust forms the basis for a positive and supportive family environment. The angry and frustrated teenagers that Paul warns fathers of in Ephesians and Colossians don’t have to be the end result in our families; angry and frustrated is what society understands teenagers behave like, but Paul tells us these are the default responses of children who have been failed by their fathers. Potentially, we can prevent it.

As fathers, we are leaders, and in as much as Paul warns us of the potential for harm in our relationship with our children, there is obviously as much potential for good.

The final thing I will point out is our flaw as males to be single-mindedly focused on one thing that needs to get done. It is a God-given attribute that allows us to tackle and process and find solutions for large problems. However, when we wake up on Saturday morning, we need to be conscious that whatever it is we think is the priority and must get done, at all times loving our wife comes first, and training our children comes second. Whatever we see as a priority at the moment is a distant third. So we must refrain from yelling at the kids for ‘being in the way’; instead we need to find ways to involve and encourage them: perhaps they can pass the tools or hold the spring clamps for us. Yes, the job takes longer, but you are doing multiple jobs at once— including the greater job of being a godly father and not frustrating and upsetting your children by yelling at them simply for being there. Yes, there are occasions when the best ‘help’ the children can be is by playing quietly somewhere else, but this should be the exception rather than the rule.

Let us, as loving fathers, strive to use our leadership role and responsibility as a positive motivator for love in our families: first by loving the wife our God has blessed us with by following our Lord’s sacrificial example, and then by extending ourselves to encourage and resonate and develop trust in our children.