What Is a Father’s Role in Caring for an Infant?
John Piper is a pastor, a theologian, a preacher, an author, and a husband and dad and grandfather. Today’s question is one about being a husband and a dad, specifically to little ones. The question comes from a perplexed young wife and mom named Mary.
“Dear Pastor John, my husband and I recently had our first child, a beautiful baby girl. She’s now seven weeks old. My husband, however, doesn’t seem to want to help very much with her. He never changes diapers. And I have to urge him even to hold her. He claims that since he works outside of the home that he shouldn’t have to take care of her. What are your thoughts on this? What role should a Christian husband take in caring for little kids and their needs at home?”
Different Life Situations
I think I can paint a faithful biblical picture of the kinds of things a godly Christian husband should be inclined to do if he is submitted to Scripture and is led by the Holy Spirit and trusting the promises of God. But I don’t mean to imply by this picture that I’m going to paint that every marriage will have the same proportion of activities spread out among a wife and a husband. Rather, these are the kinds of things a man will lean into if he loves Scripture, lives by the Spirit, and draws strength from the promises of God.
The reason I make that qualification is because if you have a woman who has six kids and a husband who works eight hours — he leaves at 8:30 a.m. and comes home at 5:30 p.m. — and he is sitting most of the day while she’s managing six kids, that’s maybe going to look different when he comes home than if they have one kid and she stays at home while he works twelve hours of labor in construction all day and comes home at 8:00 p.m. It’s just going to look different. But in either of those cases, what I’m about to paint I think is true.
Provide, Protect, Sacrifice
First, a godly husband will feel a very special responsibility under God to love his wife and children by leading and providing and protecting them. The reason I say that is because I see all three of those things — leading, providing, and protecting — describing the kind of love that a husband is supposed to have in Ephesians 5:25–33.
Second, the nature of that love for his wife and children includes a self-denying, sacrificial inclination to honor and nurture the relationships in his family. Paul says in Ephesians 5:29, “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” That applies primarily to the wife, but his children are by implication also his own flesh, profoundly his own flesh. Built in to Christlike manhood in marriage is a God-given inclination to use strength for the sake of honoring and nurturing a wife and children.
Expending Our Strength
Third, Peter calls the wife the weaker vessel, and he infers from it not disrespect but greater honor from the husband (1 Peter 3:7). It follows that a Christian husband will seek to express or expand his strength to support his wife in her burdens rather than calling attention to his own weakness and weariness.
In other words, the strength of a man in his God-given manhood should incline him to go the extra mile in showing his strength to help his wife with the children — including changing diapers with his big strong arms — just as she will want to go the extra mile as a unique helper fit for him. This is a beautiful competition in the marriage, where both are seeking to outdo one another in showing honor and serving (Romans 12:10).
Fourth, Paul says in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Now, the application is that fathers have a unique role in displaying the character of the Lord Jesus and the nature of God. To be sure, mothers are crucial, essential in showing Christ and Christlikeness to the children. But the fatherhood of God and the lordship of Jesus is not revealed to us for nothing. Fathers have a unique role in showing their children what God the Father is like.
What we know is that God the Father is attentive to the very hairs of our head as he numbers them. He gets down nitty gritty, takes one hair at a time: 1, 2, 3 . . . 3002, 3003 . . . He counts the hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30). That’s a picture of the attentiveness and closeness and hands-on care God provides. That’s the picture in Matthew 10:30 of our Father.
“For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). He carries us when we’re weary (Isaiah 46:4), when we’re weak at the beginning of life and the end of life. He’s a carrier of his children. He sings over us and rejoices to do us good (Zephaniah 3:17). He takes us into his own joy rather than into his gloominess: “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21). These are all things that a father in his role, according to Ephesians 6:4, will want to both teach and model for his children.
Fifth, not only will a godly father want to show God the Father to his children in all these ways, but he will want to model for them the heart of Jesus.
“There are few higher callings than to be a God-displaying, Christ-displaying, apostolic-love-displaying father to his own children.”
When the disciples saw people bringing children to Jesus, they tried to stop them because they thought these children were not important. Jesus rebuked them. “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them.” Every father should perk up. “And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.” You can think of all kinds of reasons why you might rebuke them: “Don’t you know Jesus is tired?” “Don’t you know that’s a woman’s work?” “Don’t you know?” — whatever. There are a lot of reasons that a man might think of to say, “Children are just not important enough for me to get my hands on them.” “But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God’” (Luke 18:15–16).
These children are like the kind of people that God inclines toward. Jesus inclined toward children, not away from them. In fact, I think he said something about children that is one one of the most astonishing things he ever said. I used to quote it for our nursery workers at church, at Bethlehem: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:37).
I mean, that’s just staggering. If you receive a child in the name of Jesus, you don’t just receive the child and you don’t just receive Jesus; you receive God almighty, the Creator of the universe. That’s just staggering. I doubt that any of us can quite fathom what receiving the Creator of the universe and receiving a child involves. But that’s what it says. And a husband that wants to be like Jesus and receive Jesus and receive God the Father will be very attentive to caring for, receiving, playing with, and nurturing his children.
Heart of Love
Finally, a Christian father will want to have the heart of the apostles toward his children and show them how to relate to others from the earliest months of their lives. Here’s what Paul said; his heart was toward the Thessalonians. This is 1 Thessalonians 2:6–8:
Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
Now, if Paul spoke this way as a father in the faith toward his converts, how much more would a Christian father want to treat his children this way and want his children to learn by their father’s example. Even as infants, they pick up so much from the very beginning. Even as infants, they learn how a godly man loves.
To this man who says, since he works outside the home, he shouldn’t have to take care of his child — this man’s mind and heart need a biblical, Holy Spirit makeover so that he shifts from the mindset of have to to get to.
There are few higher callings than to be a God-displaying, Christ-displaying, apostolic-love-displaying, manhood-displaying father to his own children. It’s a get to, not a have to.