Excerpted from Dear New Dad.
The apostle John’s entire ministry was fatherly. A man far different from the apostle Paul, John seemed to continually brim over with love. His short letter of First John was written entirely from a fatherly perspective. In fact, one great study of the role of a dad is to look at the different times John used the phrase “little children” in his first epistle. Notice the progression:
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1). As a father speaking to his own little children, there were two main things John wanted his readers to know. First, he longed to speak to them of a life that was free from sin. He was willing to warn them, instruct them, and talk to them freely of the dangers around them. You have an opportunity as a dad to teach your children of the gravity of sin throughout their young lives. Always remember, as you do, that your goal isn’t merely to have behavior changed for the now, but a person prepared for the future. I can still remember my first conversation, heavily filtered and guarded, with my firstborn daughter about the local porn shop. I kept it very age appropriate, but as we drove by I wanted her to know of the dangers there and the prayers of her father for that place to close down. Secondly, John wanted them to know of the grace of God. When they sinned, John wanted them to know of the great Advocate they had with the Father in heaven, Jesus Christ the righteous. Continually give your children grace. Show them grace. Discipline them well, but give them the hope of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. When they confront face-to-face the weakness within them and their own propensity to sin, something they might begin to see around seven or eight years of age, talk to them of the wonderful internal work of Jesus Christ. He can transform them!
John also wrote, “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.” (1 John 2:12). John spoke to them of the greatness of God’s name, namely that God’s reputation is wonderful because of the forgiveness of sins offered through the cross of Christ. Always bring your children back to the cross. Let them filter their questions about the universe and world and word of God through the cross of Jesus Christ. Do everything you can to make sure that God’s name is honored within your home (Matthew 6:9). Let Jesus be famous within the walls of your house.
“And now, little children, abide in him...” (1 John 2:28). Here John progresses into talking to his little children about their personal relationship with Jesus, and harkens back to the words of Christ; “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4). I know I’ve plucked this one string quite a bit in this little book, fathers, but Jesus wants a relationship with you. He longs for you to remain in constant life-receiving relationship with Him for the purpose of bearing more fruit and much fruit, which glorifies the Father and blesses others. At different levels and stages of your child’s life, like John, speak to your children about abiding in Christ. Demonstrate it for them. Be infatuated with and connected to Christ and they will never forget it.
“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” (1 John 3:7). Additionally, John spoke of a lifestyle of righteous living. As a father, you have an opportunity to embed a value system inside of your children. How will they feel about the poor and the abandoned? What will their view of church service be? How will they define personal consecration? Many of these definitions will come from their father.
“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18). John stressed the preeminence of love in his ministry to his spiritual children. Cultivate a culture of love and honor within your home. Teach them how they are to love God, family, and the body of Christ through your words, but also with your actions.
“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4). Again, John references the reality of the battle at hand. Especially as your children grow older, they will come face-to-face with the pressures and influences around them. To ignore this would be folly. Instead, like John, remind them of who they are in Christ and the great victory that can be theirs to the power of God living in them and through them. Give them grace, help them to process their failures at times, but speak to them of the wonderful power of God who enables us to overcome.
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21). Lastly, John spoke to his children and exhorted them to keep themselves from idols. The tendency of the human heart to worship is strong within us. We will either worship God, which produces wonderful results in our lives, or we will worship self, success, relationships, intellect, sex, or a million other things. As your children grow older and older, help them navigate their hearts and show them the wonderful glory of God. They need to know from you how worthy He is of worship and adoration and sacrifice. He is the God who always gives back, unlike any idol ever worshipped by man.