Part 1: Introduction | Part 2: Likeness
What else does is God for us, because he is our Father?
I suppose the most obvious thing a father does for his family is to provide what they need. Often the first thing a wife will say to commend her husband is that “he is a good provider.” That’s expected in cultures all around the world. The father will see to it that his family has a place to live, and food to eat, and clothes to wear. And that makes sense: since the mother is typically tasked with the care of the children, and since, at least in cultures where most paid work requires physical labor, the father is the physically stronger of the couple, it falls to the father to “bring home the bacon.”
Our heavenly Father isn’t bound by either of those constraints, but he still provides for us his children, and abundantly. Jesus has already noted that he gives rain to the just and to the unjust (Mt 5.45), but that’s just the beginning. I’ve written before on the fact that everything we really need—both physical and spiritual—is free, thanks to God’s provision. But Jesus takes it beyond common grace.
He delights to give to his children, to meet their needs, and even to give them extra. Jesus tells us to just ask the Father, and he will give us what we need: “pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Mt 6.6). Just earlier, he has said that if we make charitable contributions in secret, the Father will reward us (Mt 6.4). There are other references to the Father’s “reward” in this chapter (Mt 6.1, 18). And he knows what his children need even before they ask (Mt 6.8).
Then Jesus gives his disciples a pattern for daily prayer—what we’ve come to call “The Lord’s Prayer.” We call on our Father (Mt 6.9), and we ask him for “our daily bread” (Mt 6.11)—because even though our earthly father goes to work to bring home the bacon, his ability to do so—and our ability, once we’re working—comes from God, both in his giving of health and strength and in his providential direction.
Now Jesus uses an earthy illustration to set his point. Look at the lilies, he says; they don’t do anything to provide for themselves, yet the Father arrays them in clothing of unsurpassed beauty. Look at the birds; they do no agriculture whatsoever, but the Father sees that they always have food when they need it—seeds, berries, a worm or two. Even when nature is broken by sin, “red in tooth and claw,” as Tennyson put it, the creatures of the earth manage to survive and even thrive on the Father’s generous provision.
Jesus is using here a rhetorical device called an a fortiori argument, working from the weak to the strong. If the Father provides for birds and flowers, how much more will he provide for his actual children?
He makes the point again in the next chapter—
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Mt 7.11).
And it goes even further. If he will provide our temporal, physical needs, how much more the eternal, spiritual ones? He justifies us, declaring us to be perfect, as he is perfect (2Co 5.21); he sanctifies us, setting us aside as his special treasure (1P 2.9), and progressively conforming us to the character of his Son (2Co 3.18); and one day, no matter how far we are from the finish line of perfection, he will take us the rest of the way (1J 3.2), by his grace, because that’s what we need.
That’s what fathers do.
Part 4: Oversight | Part 5: Accountability
Photo by Derek Thomson on Unsplash
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