We live in a spiritually soft age. That God uses means, particularly a child’s father’s commands, is understood today to be a betrayal of God’s grace. Yet, when it comes to soccer or SAT scores we readily understand the necessity of commanding our children. “No pain, no gain,” we tell them. Meanwhile, we make no demands on their conscience because we’ve been told that doing so will lead them to a mere outward conformity and no further. The message we are teaching our children is that sports requires discipline, obedience, rigor while the spiritual life is one of unprovoked, spontaneous, soft emotion. We no longer speak of the spiritual disciplines.
We’ve come to believe that when it comes to sports and academics our children will come to see the necessity of hard work and discipline, and, in the end, will enjoy the fruits of such discipline. But, when it comes to the spiritual life, the pursuit of God, the keeping of the way of the Lord, any rigor, any accountability, any discipline is a sure way to make our children hate God. The antinomians have won the day.
Read Genesis 18:19: “For I have chosen him (Abraham), so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”
If those words had not been inspired by the Holy Spirit we’d be inclined to dismiss them as legalistic and harmful. But there they, exhorting fathers everywhere to command their households to keep the way of the Lord. It takes faith in God’s means to do that, especially when we’ve been taught to stay silent, to manipulate rather than command, to convince rather than exhort. Not so when it comes to football: 2-a-days, strict diet, proper hydration, watching tape, learning from mistakes, cardio work-outs, weight training, “rub some dirt on it and get back in the game, boy!” Sunday rolls around and Johnny wants to stay home from evening church: “OK, son. Rest up for next week’s practice.”
We are to command our children to keep the way of the Lord. This way comes with a playbook that must be studied and memorized, spiritual disciplines, weekly meetings, continuous prayer, working out (our salvation with fear and trembling), buffeting (our bodies to make them our slaves), law to be kept, confessions to be made when unkept, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, single-minded devotion to Jesus Christ, Savior of sinners.
Fathers, your children need to hear your commands to keep the way of the Lord. What you command is what you believe to be of ultimate importance. God has made you a father, a man in authority. Use that authority to the glory of God.
Here’s some sobering help from men who did not suffer from the softness of our era:
Calvin from his commentary on Genesis:
For I know him, that he will command his children. The second reason why God chooses to make Abraham a partaker of his counsel is, because he foresees that this would not be done in vain, and without profit. And the simple meaning of the passage is, that Abraham is admitted to the counsel of God, because he would faithfully fulfill the office of a good householder, in instructing his own family. Hence we infer, that Abraham was informed of the destruction of Sodom, not for his own sake alone, but for the benefit of his race. Which is carefully to be observed; for this sentence is to the same effect, as if God, in the person of Abraham, addressed all his posterity. And truly, God does not make known his will to us, that the knowledge of it may perish with us; but that we may be his witnesses to posterity and that they may deliver the knowledge received through us, from hand to hand, (as we say,) to their descendants. Wherefore, it is the duty of parents to apply themselves diligently to the work of communicating what they have learned from the Lord to their children. In this manner the truth of God is to be propagated by us, so that no one may retain his knowledge for his own private use; but that each may edify others, according to his own calling, and to the measure of his faith. There is however no doubt, that the gross ignorance which reigns in the world, is the just punishment of men’s idleness. For whereas the greater part close their eyes to the offered light of heavenly doctrine; yet there are those who stifle it, by not taking care to transmit it to their children. The Lord therefore righteously takes away the precious treasure of his word, to punish the world for its sloth. The expression after him is also to be noticed; by which we are taught that we must not only take care of our families, to govern them duly, while we live; but that we must give diligence, in order that the truth of God, which is eternal, may live and flourish after our death; and that thus, when we are dead, a holy course of living may survive and remain. Moreover, we hence infer, that those narratives which serve to inspire terror, are useful to be known. For our carnal security requires sharp stimulants whereby we may be urged to the fear of God. And lest any one should suppose that this kind of doctrine belongs only to strangers, the Lord specially appoints it for the sons of Abraham, that is, for the household of the Church. For those interpreters are infatuated and perverse, who contend that faith is overturned if consciences are alarmed. For whereas nothing is more contrary to faith than contempt and torpor; that doctrine best accords with the preaching of grace, which so subdues men to the fear of God, that they, being afflicted and famishing, may hasten unto Christ.
Calvin from his sermons on Genesis:
When fathers of family and those of some preeminence get ready to teach, they must not be presumptuous and say, “This seems good to me,” and then try to subject everybody to their opinion and their concepts. “What? Shall I teach what I learned from God in His school?” What we have to remember from this passage is, briefly, that no one will ever be a good teacher unless he is God’s pupil. So let there be no teaching authority that advances what we invent and what our minds come up with, but let us learn from God so that He will dominate and alone have all preeminence; and may great and small bring themselves into conformity with Him and obey Him. That much for that instruction.
At that time, there was no written law and even less gospel; but Abraham still knew God’s will to the extent necessary. So Abraham is without Scripture, but even so, he does not presume to or attempt to set up laws to his own liking. But he asks God alone to govern and show the way to everybody else and lead them, for he does not wish to say, “Let us go the way I say,” but, “I am teaching you what I have learned from God. And may He alone have all mastery, and may I be a teacher only if I speak as by His mouth.” That is the second point we have to remember here.
So what is to be noted here is that heads of family must go to the trouble of being instructed in God’s Word if they are to do their duty. If they are stupid, if they do not know the basic principles of religion or of their faith and do not know God’s commandments or how prayer is to be offered to Him or what the road to salvation is, how will they instruct their families? All the more, then, must those who are husbands and have a family, a household to govern, think, “I must establish my lesson in His Word so that I will not only try to govern myself in accordance with His will, but that I will also bring to it at the same time those who are under my authority and guidance.”
Henry from his commentary on the Bible:
Abraham must know, for he will teach his household: I know Abraham very well, that he will command his children and his household after him, v. 19. Consider this, 1 As a very bright part of Abraham’s character and example. He not only prayed with his family, but he taught them as a man of knowledge, nay, he commanded them as a man in authority, and was prophet and king, as well as priest, in his own house. Observe, First, God having made the covenant with him and his seed, and his household being circumcised pursuant to that, he was very careful to teach and rule them well. Those that expect family blessings must make conscience of family duty. If our children be the Lord’s, they must be nursed for him; if they wear his livery, they must be trained up in his work. Secondly, Abraham took care not only of his children, but of his household; his servants were catechized servants. Masters of families should instruct and inspect the manners of all under their roof. The poorest servants have precious souls that must be looked after. Thirdly, Abraham made it his care and business to promote practical religion in his family. He did not fill their heads with matters of nice speculation, or doubtful disputation; but he taught them to keep the way of the Lord, and to do judgment and justice, that is, to be serious and devout in the worship of God and to be honest in their dealings with all men. Fourthly, Abraham, herein, had an eye to posterity, and was in care not only that his household with him, but that his household after him, should keep the way of the Lord, that religion might flourish in his family when he was in his grave. Fifthly, His doing this was the fulfilling of the conditions of the promises which God had made him. Those only can expect the benefit of the promises that make conscience of their duty.
Spurgeon from his verse expositions of the Bible:
Abraham is called “the friend of God.” It was not merely that God was his Friend; that was blessedly true, and it was a great wonder of grace; but he was honoured to be called “the friend of God”’—one with whom God could hold sweet converse, a man after his own heart, in whom he trusted to whom he revealed his secrets. I am afraid there are not many men of Abraham’s sort in the world even now; but, wherever there is such a man, with whom God is familiar, he will be sure to be one who orders his household aright. If the Lord is my Friend, and if I am indeed his friend, I shall wish him to be respected by my children, and I shall endeavor to dedicate my children to his service. I fear that the decline of family godliness, which is so sadly remarkable in these days, is the source of a great many of the crying sins of the age; the Church of God at large would have been more separate from the world if the little church in each man’s house had been more carefully trained for God. If you want the Lord to confide in you, and to trust you with his secrets, you must see that he is able to say of you what he said of Abraham, “he will command his children and his household after him.