What is the best thing a father can do for his children? What is the best thing he can give them?

Several years ago I had a conversation with a young man about his hopes and dreams for life after college. He was telling me that the combination of his father being absent and the fact that he didn’t have a lot of material things, made him want to be a good father by giving his children all of the things he never had.

What father doesn’t want to give his children good things? A loaf of bread instead of stone? A fish instead of a snake? (Matthew 7:7-11) An IPhone or Android instead of a can with a string on the end, otherwise known as a Blackberry? A Wii instead of an Atari? We all want for our children and better life than the life we lived. But what is a better life? If we could really give and leave something significant and lasting with our children, what would it be? Would it be more stuff that is destined for a thrift store or a junk yard? Junk yards are full of the must-have stuff that someone thought they needed so they could be happy. Is that the legacy we want to leave with our children? Junk waiting to happen?

I have a couple of very firm convictions about what I want to give to my sons. The first is obvious to me, but probably not to most in this world. I want to give them the gospel that results in eternal life. (John 5:24; 20:30-31) I want to give them the exclusive gospel message of Jesus Christ. (John 14:6) I want to tell it and show it to them with my life. If I can give them something eternal in a world that is very temporal, then that is something worth diligent effort. If I fail at disciplining myself with the strength that God supplies in order to get the gospel to my sons, then I have failed at my first priority and responsibility. If I can’t be faithful with the gospel to those closest to me, then I have no business being a pastor. My home is the front line for the gospel and my boys need it more than anything I can give them. Anything. There is no good gift without the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

But there is something else that I give them that is very important and it is closely tied to the gospel. The second greatest gift I can give to them, in my opinion, is an unwavering love for their mommy.

I’ll illustrate. My wife  and I were being appropriately affectionate in front of Luke (our 6 year-old) one morning as he was reading his Bible and eating breakfast and when I glanced at him I found that he was carefully observing us with a slight grin on his face. He was watching me love his mother. When the moment calls for it, and this one did, I will ask both of my boys, “Do you know that daddy loves your mommy?” “Do you know that I love your mommy more than any person in this world, except for Jesus?” Their reactions to my questions are usually less than enthusiastic, but my sons need the gift of hearing and seeing that I love their mother. Let me be clear, it doesn’t mean Lacey and I always get along, but it does mean that when my boys see that life is less than perfect, they can still know we are committed to love one another. There are so many life lessons here that my sons need to see and eventually live, but they need to know that their dad is in a covenant and biblical commitment to their mommy.

But besides the stability of knowing that their dad and mom love each other, and all the other benefits (whether spiritual, emotional or physical) that come a long with a thriving marriage between a man and a woman, there is a greater significance here. It is a significance that might not be realized for a long time by my sons, but one day they will get it and then hopefully live it. Here it is: When I love my wife according to God’s word (Ephesians 5:21-33) I am living out the gospel for them because marriage is for Jesus (Colossians 1:16) by displaying the way He loved and continues to love the Church and the way the Church is to respond to Christ. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the Church.” (Ephesians 5:22, 25, 32) Jesus is the ultimate point and purpose of marriage. Not the only purpose, but the primary purpose, and my boys get a front row seat in seeing Jesus displayed or blasphemed. Pretty sobering stuff.

Getting the gospel to my boys is important and the beauty in God’s design is that my marriage and my desire to pass the gospel to my sons is married to my marriage. When I live out marriage biblically, I am sharing the story of the gospel, however imperfect I may be at it.

What then is the greatest gift I can give to my sons? Jesus and Jesus in my marriage because it is all for Jesus. (Ephesians 1:10; Col. 1:16)