Fathers ought to play a significant part in the development of their teenagers. Just as the mother’s role is critical when the children are youngest, so the father’s role grows increasingly more important as teens grow into young adults. The steady guidance and caring discipline of a loving father helps complete that development.

It was Paul who outlined the work of fathers in 1 Thessalonians 2:11 where he wrote, “Ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children”. Here are three words which tell us a great deal about being a father and whilst it is true that the apostle’s labours refer to spiritual fatherhood, they are nevertheless firmly grounded in the natural sphere of life.

The first word he used was “exhort” and the Greek word parakaleo has the idea of calling someone near to speak a word and assist. The second is “comfort” which is a translation of the Greek word paramutheomai, meaning to address with soothing and cheering words. One writer suggests that the distinction between these two words is that the first is “to exhort to a particular line of conduct” whilst the second is more “to encourage to continue in a course”. The third word Paul used was “charge” and it is the passive form of the Greek word martureo which carries the thought of being borne witness to. Hence Paul’s fatherly work was to instruct, hearten, encourage and adjure.

In one brief verse Paul carefully blends together the qualities of good fathering. It is a picture of an out-going and active man who is sensitive to the way he approaches his children but clear about the guidelines that need to be set out. He is constantly alert to their needs and is prepared to encourage rather then lambaste. He is not a distant tyrant; rather he is one who is prepared to draw near. He is not blithely ignorant of what his children are up to. Instead he is keenly aware of their attitude and behaviour and is familiar enough with the principles of the Word to use it as a witness in pointing out the right way.

In seeking guidance in the work of father we can do no better than study the qualities and actions of our gracious Father in heaven. His example ought to be the ultimate guide in the lives of all those seeking to lead their families in Godly ways.

The Son of God himself said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Here is the highest ideal—to be like our heavenly Father in every aspect—completely full in every particular, evenly balanced, lacking no deficiency, totally consistent.

What is God really like as a Father? He is styled the “righteous Father” in John 17:25 and yet is also termed the Father of “abundant mercy” in 1 Peter 1:3. This “goodness and severity” is a wonderful blend of benevolence and discipline. It is seen historically in the way He dealt with His firstborn son, Adam, and later His firstborn nation, Israel. The former He placed in a paradise, the latter He took through a searing desert; but in both instances He provided everything they needed for the development of a Godly character. When they transgressed He kept His Word, but even in judgment He remembered mercy.

It matters not what circumstances our family might find itself in, our role as fathers remains the same—to develop a Godly seed in the strength of God’s Truth. We need to lay down the guidelines of what we consider appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. We need to define clearly the consequences of wrong doing but at the same time foster respect and love within our teenagers so that compliance with the family rules is not so much an imposition as a contribution to the well-being of the family. When we need to rebuke and set restrictions we do so without explosive epithets. Like our Father in heaven we keep our word and encourage a contrite response and a return to favour.

Through the very act of creation itself God sought the well-being of His family. He is in fact the superlative giver in the fullest sense of the term. He is known as “the Father of lights” because He created the physical stars and also because He begets those whom He has selected to shine in the brightness of the firmament. To the latter class Hehood gives every good and perfect gift (Jas 1:17). His own Son said, “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him” (Matt 6:8). This reveals to us a diligent Father who is able to anticipate the gifts that are required for the development and maturity of His family. The same Father who expended such great power in the creation of distant galaxies is able to expend the same power on those whom He has called (cp Eph 3:20–21).

We should have that same sense of wanting to give and expending our energy on behalf of others. Our children need our time and interest. They yearn for our love and care. These are all things that need to be given. We can never regain those lost opportunities where we failed to encourage them when they did something right or show them our appreciation when they brought some good thing to our attention. We sometimes brush off these moments as inconsequential because we find it easier to give out criticism than confer deserved praise.

The gifts fathers bring to a family vary considerably, but they should always be nothing less than good (cp Matt 7:11). God does not bestow anything upon His children that is detrimental to their natural or spiritual well-being. We could hardly imagine our Father giving incorrect counsel or, worse still, allowing evil to continue within His family without taking some form of corrective action. We could never conceive of Him remaining aloof or passing the responsibility to someone else. On the contrary He takes an active role in the shaping of character. As His Son taught, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17). Giving means working and working means expending ourselves on behalf of our teenage children. The teenage years soon come and go and our positive contribution during this brief period is a critical part of fatherhood.

Look at the way our Heavenly Father educates His sons and daughters. He unsparingly furnishes wisdom from the storehouse of His Word. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” writes Paul, “who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). He prays later: “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph 1:17). Part of God’s Fatherly glory is the distribution of spiritual wisdom and knowledge according to the differing abilities within the family.

When a child is young the parents should set in train a definitive program which teaches the basic building blocks dealing with God and His Word. Educating teens, however, is entirely different. They are no longer satisfied with basic pieces of information. Their mind is beginning to think about more complex issues and they seek answers to more adult-like concepts. Our wisdom is to be like the Father of glory and provide an environment full of spiritual blessings. It is as important to impart a “spirit of wisdom” as it is to provide knowledge. This may be best achieved by having regular family nights around the Word or using the opportunities of the Bible Class themes to introduce Scriptural principles. Whatever method we use we need to appreciate the importance of communicating and keeping the channels of communication open at all times. Simply listening to what they have to say is a significant part of creating an environment of mutual trust. Educating teenagers in divine principles means finding the right time and opportunity to convey from the heart the glory of God’s Word.

Principles dealing with commitment to God, moral purity, interest in the activities of the Truth and a genuine care for others can only be properly conveyed if we ourselves are practising what we teach. Teenagers are very adept at noticing inconsistencies. Furthermore we need to be prepared with the right answers ourselves. Unveiling the deeper things of the Spirit in proportion to the ability of our teenagers to grasp the issues involved is not an easy task. Constant feedback will ensure that we don’t muddy the waters.

Another part of being a father is to exercise correction. Paul wrote, “If you endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Heb 12:7–11). No one naturally likes to be corrected or disciplined and teenagers are no different. We neglect to confront bad behaviour and wrong doing at our own peril. The deficiency of David in correcting Absalom and the failure of Eli to discipline his sons are telling warnings against negligence in these matters.

Sometimes our teenage children will make this task one of confrontation involving tension, anger, denial and self-justification. We might naturally shrink away from such conflict but our wisdom lies in being like our Heavenly Father who is depicted in the parable of the prodigal son as appealing to the wayward and recalcitrant (Luke 15:20–22). He was long-suffering and slow to anger with His people Israel, yet He administered rebuke when it was necessary and chastened when it was opportune.

The method He uses to administer punishment and reward good is simple but exceedingly effective. He rewards people according to their works and the fruit of their doings (Jer 17:10). For example if we have pity on the poor we are in effect lending to God and He will repay us in kind (Prov 19:17; Luke 14:14). If on the other hand we do evil we will receive evil (Ps 18:25,26). This means that if we administer some form of discipline to our children we should make the punishment appropriate to the deed. If they have caused damage then they should make reparation. Some additional compensation too in recognition of the wrong would be appropriate as well. By dealing with them after this manner there is a more complete sense of fairness and justice which is not only right but more difficult for them to dispute. Similarly good should be openly commended and perhaps even rewarded. In all things we should attempt to imitate the example of our Father who is in heaven.

It is significant too that Yahweh is a God of comfort and encouragement. “Blessed be God”, declares Paul again, “even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor 1:3). He is not a stern, unfeeling Father, who is incapable of encouraging others by drawing near and helping them. On the contrary He is able to offer complete comfort and encouragement. This surely is a significant part of winning teenagers to the ways of God. It demonstrates a capacity to share their triumphs and reversals; to be there when they seek answers or need help.

We learn from Psalm 103:13 that “like as a father pitieth his children, so Yahweh pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust”. He is acutely aware of our shortcomings and is generous in forgiveness. He is not the kind of Father who constantly harps on about past misdemeanours. Once the matter has been dealt with in the proper manner He forgives. The only thing He continues to remember is our inherent weakness. Sometimes we as fathers expect the impossible from our teenage children and set goals that we ourselves cannot reach. Let us ensure that our demands are reasonable and that we are generous in our forgiveness if contrition and humility are present.

Our greatest influence for good can often be felt by our example and our love. “All that is in the world”, writes John, “is not of the Father” (1 John 2:16). Yahweh is the superlative ideal of holiness, steadfastness, integrity and goodness. Moreover His love towards His people is incomparable. “Behold” says the same writer, “what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1). The role of fatherhood is full of responsibilities which need to be shouldered in the strength of God’s Word. The challenges are great as well, but so too are the opportunities for good. How gratifying it is to assist our teenage children develop Godly attitudes in the fear of God. We may not always be successful but if we can do all to the glory of God, surely He will blend His richest blessings with our feeble endeavours. How important then is the command of our Lord, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”.