Fathers, Bring Them Up in the Discipline & Instruction of the Lord
A Tribute to My Father, William Solomon Hottle Piper
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise), "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
My aim in this message is threefold. First, in obedience to Ephesians 6:1-2, to honor my father. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’” When children are younger and moving toward adulthood, they should honor their father especially by obeying him. I don’t mean to the exclusion of mothers. But the focus today will be on fathers. As children move out of childhood into adulthood the way we honor our fathers is not primarily in the category of obedience, but rather by tribute and care. Today I pay tribute to my father even as the days of increasing care have come.
The promise in verse 3, taken from Deuteronomy 5:16, “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land,” I take to be a general encouragement based on the fact that in the days of Israel when there was humility and respect and obedience to parents God protected the people from their enemies and prospered them. But when they forsook his laws and became arrogant and disrespectful and disobedient he gave them over to their enemies. The point is not that every child who is obedient will live a long life. The point is that God delights in obedience and gives special blessings to families and churches and peoples where that kind of humility and respect and obedience prevails. So the first part of my aim in this message is to honor my father by paying him public tribute.
The second part of my aim is to inspire fathers to be worthy of this kind of tribute—to help you see the glory of your calling to exhibit the fatherhood of God to your children and lead them to faith and Christian maturity. I pray that Christ will take what I say about my own father and will use it to make you better fathers.
Third, my aim is to glorify the Fatherhood of God whose Fatherhood is the source and pattern of all human fatherhood. Human fatherhood exists to display the beauty of God’s Fatherhood. Our highest calling as fathers is to be the image of God’s fatherhood to our children. I think this is implied in the words of verse 4b: “Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” What does it mean that our discipline and instruction should be “of the Lord”?
It means, in part, that in our fathering we take our cues from the Lord Jesus. Jesus, in his human nature and in his earthly ministry directed the disciples again and again to the Father in heaven. And in his life and death he modeled for us how to relate to God as our Father. His longest prayer in John 17 begins, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you’ (v. 1). The discipline and instruction of the Lord takes its cues from the Lord Jesus who lived and died to glorify his Father in heaven. No father here should do less. Our calling as fathers is to exhibit the glory of the Fatherhood of God.
So I turn with a sense of deepest gratitude and joy to pay tribute to my father publicly and through this to honor my Father in heaven who adopted me, an undeserving sinner, into his everlasting and supremely happy family on the basis of Christ’s blood and righteousness alone.
My father is 86 years old and lives in home called Shepherd’s Care owned and operated by Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina—the school from which he graduated and which conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. His short term memory is weak, but his memory of Christ and his word is strong. And for that I thank God.
Here is a fragment of the legacy of truth imparted to me by my father. And I hope that you will see before we are done that the word “imparted” is no mere transmission of information, but involves a whole life of demonstration of what he taught. I will mention eleven precious truths imparted to me by my father.
1. There is a great, majestic God in heaven, and we were meant to live for his glory not ours.
Most of these truths that I will mention are rooted in my memory of particular texts that were branded on my mind at home. Few texts were more often on Daddy’s lips in relation to me than 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” I am sure that in heaven some day the Lord will make plain the unbreakable chain of influences that led from that verse when I was a boy to the mission statement of this church: “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” This won’t be the only influence you will see of my father on that mission statement.
2. When things don’t go the way they should, God always makes them turn for good.
Even more prominent in my growing up was the presence of Romans 8:28 in our family: “God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.”
I have several vivid memories of this truth. One was in 1974 when I rode with my father in the ambulance from Atlanta to Greenville with my mother’s body in the hearse following behind. They had just been flown in from Israel where Mother had been killed in an accident and Daddy was seriously injured. All the way home, for three and a half hours, he would weep and talk and weep and talk. He was 56. They had been married 36 years. And when he talked it was Romans 8:28. I remember the very words: “God must have a reason for me to live. God must have a reason for me to live.” In other words, God governs our accidents and makes no mistakes.
I will never cease to be thankful that I heard and saw the truth of Romans 8:28 in my father’s life, “When things don’t go the way they should, God always makes them turn for good.”
3. God can be trusted.
How many times did I hear the words of Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.” And Philippians 4:19, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
I can see us as a family when I was just a child. We were all (Mother, Daddy, my older sister, Beverly) sitting around a card table my parents’ bedroom folding letters and stuffing envelopes which would be sent to pastors asking them to consider having my father come lead their churches in evangelistic meetings. This was Daddy’s life—he was a full time evangelist—and our livelihood. The answers to these letters meant bread on the table and paid bills. Then we prayed over these envelopes and Daddy closed in a spirit of utter confidence: God will answer and meet every need. He can be trusted.
He told me more than once of a financial crisis when I was six years old in which he almost lost everything. And he said that God used Psalm 37:5 to sustain him and bring him through: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him and he will act.”
And so I saw and I learned: God can be trusted.
4. Life is precarious, and life is precious. Don’t presume that you will have it tomorrow and don’t waste it today.
My memory of my Father’s preaching was that he always began with humor but within seconds he was blood earnest and talking about heaven and hell, and sin and Christ and life and death. One text above all others rings in my ears with terrible seriousness. He squinted when he said it and his mouth pursed tightly the way it does after you taste a lemon: “It is appointed unto men once to die, after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27) It made a huge impression on me as a boy.
The motto on Daddy’s college wall was, “The wise man prepares for the inevitable”
The plaque in our kitchen when I was growing up was: “Only one life ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
The stories of wasted lives tumbled from his mouth:
“During a South Carolina [campaign] a lovely high school senior attended every night but refused to accept Christ. Shortly after the crusade while driving her car over a treacherous railroad crossing, she was killed instantly by a freight train she failed to see coming.”
“While in a Pennsylvania campaign, I witnessed a whole town shaken by the sudden deaths of six young men. Driving home from an afternoon football practice, they failed to stop at a major intersection and were struck broadside by a heavy truck. Six were dead within three hours.”
“I’ve seen babies die in their mothers’ arms. I’ve seen little boys and girls struck down before their lives had scarcely begun. I’ve witnessed men die in the prime of life and others at the height of success.” (Menace, pp. 49-50)
He told story of a girl who said she would give her life to God when she was old. A wise old woman sent her a bouquet of dead flowers, and when the girl expressed offense, she said, “Isn’t that the way you are treating God?”
And most memorable of all to my young mind: The old man saved in the eleventh hour of his life weeping in Daddy’s arms: “I’ve wasted it. I’ve wasted it.”
5. A merry heart does good like a medicine and Christ is the great heart-Satisfier.
That’s a quote from Proverbs 17:22. My father has been the happiest man I have ever known. Here is the kind of things he said in a sermon called “A Good Time and How to Have It.”
“Right from the start, let’s get one thing straight; a Christian is not a sour puss. I grant you that some of them look and act that way, but you simply can’t blame God for it.”
“Some folks seem to have been born in the objective case, the contrary gender and the bilious mood.”
“Mama, that mule must have religion too, he looks just like Grandpa.” (Good Time, p. 7).
He preached another sermon called “Saved, Safe and Satisfied.” He said, “He is God. When you fully trust Him you have all that God is and all that God has. You cannot be otherwise than satisfied with the perfect fullness of Christ.” (Good Time, p. 48).
He said worldly Christians are like a cow with her head stuck through fence eating stubby grass on the highway while a beautiful green pasture lies behind her.
A merry heart does good like a medicine and Christ is the great heart-Satisfier. What a legacy of joy my father has left!
6. A Christian is a great doer not a great don’ter.
We Pipers were fundamentalists without the attitude. We had our lists of things not to do. But that wasn’t the main thing. Here’s what my father preached in a sermon called The Greatest Menace to Modern Youth.
Millions insist upon thinking that Christianity is a negative religion. You don’t do this and you can’t do that. You don’t go here and your can’t go there. To the contrary, the Bible constantly sounds the triumphant and positive note. “Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only.” . . . “Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do with all your might.”
God wants us to be doers, not don’ters. A Christian who is only a don’ter is a sour saint who spread gloom wherever he goes. A don’ter is usually a hypocritical Pharisee. Years ago, I heard the late Dr. Bob Jones say. “Do so fast you don’t have time to don’t.” That sums it up.
That left an indelible mark on my life. We had strict standards, but I never chaffed under them. They were not the point. Enjoying Christ, doing good and loving people was the point. The rest was just fencing to protect the good field of faith and purity.
7. The Christian life is supernatural.
I have one precious DVD of my father preaching. It is a message on new the new birth. John 3:7 “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Becoming a Christian was not a mere decision. It was a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.
And therefore he believed in prayer—crying out to God to do the miracle of the new birth. We prayed together every night as a family, because the great need in life is supernatural, divine power to live with joy—and that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, not a work of our own.
I saw that my father’s work was not a human work. It was divine work. Impossible work. But with God all things are possible.
8. Bible doctrine is important but don’t beat people up with it.
At this point he admitted openly to me with grief that our fundamentalist tradition let him down. There was great truth, but too many of them were not great lovers. I can remember him saying: If they only understood Ephesians 4:15, “Speaking the truth in love.” So from as early as I can remember he showed me the importance of both right doctrine and the way of love. They must never be separated.
9. Respect your mother.
If you wanted to see Daddy angry, let one of his children sass our mother. He not only knew the command of God to honor our mothers; he also knew the extraordinary debt that every child owes a mother. Time and again he would compare true love not to married love but to mother’s love. He knew the price my mother paid for him to be away so much. Therefore, he would tolerate no insolence or disrespect toward her. I trembled at the fierce gaze in his eyes if I said something sarcastic to my mother.
10. Be who God made you to be and not somebody else.
My father was short, a good bit shorter than I am. But he was content and could joke about it. The one I remember is that he said he was part of a football team as boy, and the name of the team was “Little potatoes but hard to peel.” I think God delights to make short men great preachers. (Remember John Wesley!)
For me this contentment with being who God made you to be meant freedom. He never forced me or pressured me to be an evangelist or a pastor or anything else. His counsel was always: seek God and be what he has made you to be. And then what your hand finds to do, do it with all your might for the glory of Christ.
I close with one more truth, the central truth of my father’s life. This was what he preached and what he loved. So I will let him preach it one more time to you as we close:
11. People are lost and need to be saved through faith in Jesus Christ.
My father was an evangelist. His absence from home two thirds of the year (in and out, in and out) meant one main thing. Sin and hell are real and horrible, and Jesus Christ is a great savior. Here’s a direct quote from my Dad:
“In my evangelistic career I have had the thrill of seeing people from all walks of life come to Christ. I have seen many professional people saved. I have knelt with Ph.D.’s and led them to Jesus. College professors, bankers, lawyers, doctors. I have seen them all saved.
Then I have seen many from the other side of life come to the Lord. I have put my arm around drunkards in city missions and prayed with them. I have sat by the bedside of dying alcoholics and led them to Christ. I have seen the poor, the forsaken, the derelicts, the outcasts all come to the Savior. Yes, God takes them, too. Isn’t it wonderful that anyone who wants to can come to Christ.” (Grace for the Guilty, p. 111)
Perhaps you never had a father like that, but right now you hear your heavenly father calling, “Come home, come home!” Father’s Day would be a good time to stop running and come home.
I thank you heavenly father for my earthly father. What a legacy he has left to me and my children and grandchildren—and to this church. O, raise up fathers in this church with great legacies of faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.