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The fact that God is a perfect Father is a two-edged sword, and we must take care that we not emphasize just one of them—lest we damage our souls . . . and our families. God is a perfect Father, and we are fallen creatures. This means that God is a perfect Father as an example, in front of us, and this means that we always fall short. This is one edge. This is why a series of messages on biblical fatherhood could be filled with condemnation. But here is another edge, cutting and piercing, but not like a sword slash in battle. It is more like a surgeon’s scalpel, bringing healing and restoration. God is not only a perfect Father in front of sinners, He is a perfect Father to sinners. He does for us what fathers ought to do. And so it is that we are not consumed.
“And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15).
Summary of the Text
This is of course from the creation account. Just prior to this verse, we have a description of the Garden of Eden, and of the two trees that God placed in it (v. 9). We are told about the goodly rivers that came from the one river flowing from Eden (v. 10), and we are also told of the metals and precious stones to be found there (v. 12). Just after our verse, we have the prohibition of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (v. 17), and a description of the creation of the woman (v. 18ff.).
In verse 15, the Lord God took the man, put him in the place prepared for him, and gave him his directions. He was put into the Garden in order to do two things. He was put there to “dress” and to “keep” it. These two verbs describe for us what men are for. The word for dress means to tend, or till, or serve. The word for keep means to watch, keep, protect, preserve. And so Adam was placed in the Garden, and he was told to provide for it, and to protect it. Those marching orders took on a much higher level of significance in the verses that follow, when Eve was created. She was a garden within this garden, and so he was called to provide for her, and to protect her.
The command that is given in verse 17 gives us the sin of commission that Adam was guilty of (Gen. 3:6). But we often overlook the sin of omission that was clearly involved. He was told to provide for his wife, and yet the serpent came to her and provided for her. He was told to protect his wife, and yet he stood by and failed to protect his wife from the serpent. He had been given the prohibition before she was created, and he knew directly from God what he was supposed to do. So be assured of this—when you find yourself doing something you ought not be doing, it is almost always preceded by a neglect of something you ought to have been doing, and yet did not.
Justification and Sanctification
Godly fatherhood (on a day-to-day basis) must absolutely be based on the free grace of God that is offered to us in Christ Jesus. We are justified in Him, which means that when God looks at you, considering whether to deal with you at all, what He sees is the absolute perfection of Jesus Christ. In the free justification that God offers (because of the cross), what kind of father are you? You are a perfect father, because Christ was and is perfect, and His perfection has been imputed to you. This sets you free from the curse of condemnation (Rom. 8:1), and it means that you can set about the work of being a father to your children without fear or guilt. The things you will apply as you and your wife give yourselves to the work of being Christian parents belongs entirely to the realm of sanctification. In being a father, you are not trying to earn anything from God (for all has already been given). You are rather trying to give something to your children, in free imitation of the free gift that has been given to you.
Never forget the gospel in this. You are not a bramble bush trying to grow an apple so that you might be turned into an apple tree as a reward. You are not a coyote going baa baa in order to turn into a sheep.
All that said, your natural instinct with your children should be yes. Not the yes of a push-over, or the yes of a fearful and craven doormat, but the yes of a father. And when you say no (think ahead to the second category of protection), you are doing it because the yes involved is as plain as anything to you, and is still invisible to your children. All they can see is no, but you should know better. You say no to candy before dinner because you want to say yes with the dinner. You say no to lazing around on the couch because you want to say yes to the productivity of a lifelong work ethic. In this realm, motive is everything.
Fathers who say no simply because they can are being diabolical fathers. What do demons do? They say no just because (1 Tim. 4:3).
A man who does not provide for his household is involved in denying the faith, and is worse than an infidel (1 Tim. 5:8).
We must not allow ourselves a false and pristine view of the nature of the unfallen world. The first bloodshed was before the fall, when God took a rib from the side of Adam (Gen. 2:21). The sleep that Adam was put into was a type of death, before the fall. Death and resurrection patterns are more violent now (John 19:34), but they nonetheless existed before the fall. And God required an unfallen man to protect an unfallen woman from an enemy, and He required this before either of them had sinned. They sinned because they did not treat that enemy as an enemy. So fighting did not bring in sin. A lack of fighting brought in sin. Had war broken out in the Garden, it would still have been a perfect world. It would have remained a perfect world.
Fathers, what does a protector do? What does a watchman on a tower do? What does a security guard by the doorway do? He looks for enemies. He is suspicious. He is suspicious on behalf of his teenaged daughters (who are as a class not suspicious), and he should do this with a fierce loyalty. When a daughter says that “some boy” is “so nice,” a father’s eyes should narrow. But your model for security should be that of a fierce Levite with a spear guarding the sanctuary, and not a TSA agent full of hassles for everybody. Again, why are you saying no?