By Matthew Stewart
Becoming a husband and a father has a way of giving you a fresh perspective on life. You take things for granted growing up, like having both a father and mother present in the home. Looking back on my childhood, I realize just how much mom and dad gave up to make sure my siblings and I had food on the table, clothes on our backs, and most importantly, a Bible in our hands. Their example fueled in me a desire to have a family of my own, and in his grace, God granted me just that, blessing me with a beautiful wife and three wonderful children.
But being a husband and a father also exposes things in the recesses of your heart you never knew were there, like a warped view of sacrifice. Perhaps it’s because I watched movies like Braveheart and Gladiator a few too many times that I began to associate sacrifice with charging the enemy with a battle axe in hand. Of course, God calls men to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their families, even if that means laying down their lives. The Apostle Paul states this idea explicitly in Ephesians 5:25-26, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her…”
Christ sacrificed his life in order to free his people from their sin, and to present the church blameless in God’s sight on the day of his return. The picture of Christ’s sacrifice for the church is the example of the way husbands are to love their wives (and by default, the way fathers are to love their children). In other words, men are to willingly sacrifice themselves for the spiritual well being of their families.
Having grown up in church, I heard this concept taught on a number of occasions. But it wasn’t until I became a husband and father that I understood the implications of this truth. When I look back on my childhood, I don’t recall my dad ever running into a battle with his face painted and bagpipes blaring in the background, risking all to save his homeland. What I do remember, however, is a dad who said, “no” to a lot of things so he could say, “yes” to me.
While hunting can be found most anywhere, it’s a way of life in the south. For my dad, sitting in the tree-stand was place of escape, a chance to get away from the business and responsibilities of life. I enjoyed hunting as well, though I was never very good at it. More than anything, I enjoyed being with my dad and brother. In fact, some of the best conversations I’ve ever had with my dad were sitting in the cab of his white Dodge Ram truck on the way to another hunt.
But when high school rolled around, hunting went out the window. I was focused on football. With the exception of Sundays, almost everyday of the fall was spent doing something related to the sport; whether running sprints, lifting weights, or watching film. As I think back to that season of life, I realize I put too much stock in something that was temporary and fading. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about life, and developed friendships that have lasted to this day.
Inevitably, my dad had to make some hard choices during this period of my adolescence. Those choices may have seemed trivial then, but they were monumental for the future. Would dad take up another buddy’s offer to join him on a hunting trip, or would he stay home to watch his son play high school football? Though I know it must have pained my father, given how much he enjoyed being in the woods, away from the hustle and bustle of life, my dad was there for me. In fact, I can recall my dad only missing one game my entire high school career. I didn’t fully understand it then, but our family had hit a hard time financially, and my dad needed to take an out of town job to pay the bills. He even asked me if I would be ok with him missing my game before he made his final decision to leave town. He didn’t have to do that, but he did, and it spoke volumes of how much my dad valued me.
Now, I realize that the quality of time we spend with our families is important, but the quantity of time we spend is important as well. I knew my dad loved and valued me because he was present in my life. Dad sacrificed hunting trips, job opportunities, and chances to just relax, because he realized that, after his own relationship with Christ, his family was his first priority. Dad’s sacrifice didn’t look anything like Mel Gibson or Russell Crow in the heat of battle, but it made an eternal impact on his wife and children.
What scares men isn’t the thought of having to physically defend their families from harm, but the thought of what they might have to give up. For some men, the thought of having to give up their hobby sends chills down their spine, because it’s their opportunity to escape from reality. For others, it’s the idea they might have to turn down a job promotion because it means significant time on the road, away from their families. Still others fear not being able to relax on the couch when they get home because they know when they walk through the door the kids will have taken their mother hostage, the kitchen will be on fire, and their will be another dirty diaper that needs changing. Sacrifice seems admirable, even glorious, when it’s coupled with an intense battle sequence with thousands of men following us into battle, but it seems rather frightening when it means letting go of things we hold dear so that we can give our time and effort to things that seem trivial at the time, but make a massive difference in the long run.
I was talking with a gentleman the other day about how much he enjoys his grandchildren. Toward the end of our conversation, which was full of stories and laughs, the man said with tears in his eyes, “I wish I would have loved my children as much as I love my grandchildren. I was just always to busy with things I thought were more important.” I couldn’t help but notice how he equated love for his children with time spent with his children. Men, answering the call of biblical manhood will require a kind of sacrifice that probably won’t result in a blockbuster movie anytime soon, but nothing testifies to the gospel of Jesus Christ quite like a man who willingly gives of himself for the sake of his family. My dad might not have as many deer mounts on the wall as other men, but he made the gospel visible to his son through his sacrifice, and that’s something that will outlast the best hunting story.
Matt Stewart (M.Div. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the senior pastor of South Shore Baptist Church in Crownsville, Maryland. He and his wife Courtney have been blessed with three children: Titus, Mercy, and Levi. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @matthewpstewart, or learn more about South Shore Baptist Church at southshorechurch.org.
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