(Editor’s note: The following article is the final part in a series adapted from pastor John Kimbell’s sermon delivered at Clifton Baptist Church on June 29, 2014.)
by John Kimbell
In Part 2, we looked at why children should obey. And now, a word for parents. In Ephesians 6:4, Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
I said we shift our attention to parents. Paul specifically addresses fathers here. I take it this can also be applied to mothers, in part because Paul has made clear in verses 1-3 that children are responsible to obey both of their parents … fathers and mothers. And therefore mothers too shouldn’t provoke their children to anger and should seek to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Proverbs 6:20-21 says, “My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.
In 2 Timothy 1, Paul also exhorts Timothy to hold fast to what his mother and grandmother had taught him concerning the faith.
So this is a joint responsibility between mothers and fathers. However, Paul does specifically address fathers. Why is that? I think what this communicates, which is in keeping with the broader biblical picture of manhood, is that fathers bear a unique responsibility for taking the lead in the training and instruction of their children in the Lord. Not sole responsibility, but a unique responsibility for taking the lead in this.
I remember attending a parenting panel discussion many years ago. We were only a few years into parenting at that point … and Bruce Ware made a statement that has stuck with me ever since. He said a way to think about this is that if Jesus were to show up at the door of your home, and He had a question or a concern about how your children were being raised … he would ask to speak to the husband. Again, not because wives bear no responsibility, but because husbands bear a unique and primary responsibility to lead in this.
That fits with what we see here in Ephesians. So, in keeping with Paul’s emphasis, I am going to especially speak to fathers. But I hope mothers will be listening and applying this to their own relationships with their children as well.
Paul starts with a negative exhortation about what fathers shouldn’t do, and then a positive statement of what they should.
Do Not Provoke Your Children to Anger
First, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.” Of everything Paul could have addressed fathers about, why does he focus on this? Why the issue of provoking children to anger? My short answer is, I’m not exactly sure. I did find a couple suggestions from John Piper, in his book This Momentary Marriage, that I thought were especially insightful.
One possibility is that one of the most natural responses of the sinful human heart when it comes up against authority … even proper, rightful authority is anger. The sinful human heart … loves independence and self-rule. And so Paul knows that even with the best of parenting, there will be plenty of anger to be dealt with. Whether it is a two-year-old throwing himself on the ground or a teenager seething silently in his room. If this is going to be a particular struggle in parenting anyway, Paul says we should really strive not to unnecessarily provoke anger in our children.
Another suggestion is that anger is an emotion that tends to devour and block almost all other good emotions. Piper says this: “[Anger] deadens the soul. It numbs the heart to joy and gratitude and hope and tenderness and compassion and kindness.” So Paul knows that if a dad can help a child not to be overcome by anger, “he may open up his heart to so many other good and godly emotions that make worship possible and make relationships sweet.”
In Colossians 3:21, Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
Again, this doesn’t mean that every time a child gets angry, the parents have failed. It may just be the child is sinning. But if we keep from unnecessarily provoking anger in our children, it will be a tremendous help in shepherding their hearts toward Christ. The overall atmosphere of our homes … which should especially be set by Dad … should be one of joy and peace and patience and kindness and tenderness.
If that is not the atmosphere of your home, you should ask yourself:
If we have sinned against our children in any of these ways–and who of us hasn’t?–we need to humble ourselves; we need to ask their forgiveness; we need to repent and seek Christ in order to make changes in these areas so that we will not provoke our children to anger.
The most fundamental issue here is dealing with the anger in our own hearts. And we do that by dwelling on and resting in the love of Christ for us despite our sin. The patience and kindness shown to us by Christ.
Listens to Ephesians 4:31-32: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
The way we fight our own struggle with anger and harshness toward our children is we dwell on and rest in God’s own incredible, patient, merciful love for us in Christ.
Raise Your Children in the Discipline and Instruction of the Lord
Not only must we not provoke our children to anger, positively, we are called to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. The word which the ESV translates “discipline” can refer more specifically to corrective discipline, but it also can have the broad meaning of the total education and upbringing of a child. I think that is what it means here, although clearly this would include, according to the Scriptures, corrective discipline. The NIV says “the training and instruction of the Lord.”
We are to train and instruct and correct and admonish our children in the ways of the Lord.
There are probably some fathers who really feel themselves in Paul’s sights with his warning about provoking your children to anger. There may be others whose issue is not so much being overbearing and provoking anger, but you are struggling to take the initiative to instruct and admonish and to discipline your children according to the Scriptures.
Fathers, do you realize that you bear the primary responsibility for your child’s spiritual instruction? That doesn’t mean you personally must do all of their teaching and training. It doesn’t mean you do all the disciplining. Mothers will do a great deal of this throughout the day. But we are called as fathers to take the lead in this. And to bear particular burden for this.
A big part of that my be getting your kids into the car and bringing them to church every week. But every one of us should also be striving to grow in our own understanding of the Scriptures so that we might shepherd our families directly with the Word of God.
Are you proactively, intentionally making this a part of your interactions with your children? The Scriptures don’t dictate precisely how this must be done. But that it must be done is clear. At the most basic level, this means as parents we are entrusted with the joyful responsibility of teaching our children the gospel of Jesus Christ. Teaching them that there is one way for them to be forgiven of their sin and reconciled to God, through the sacrificial death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And only through personal faith in Him will they receive freedom from condemnation and the hope of eternal life.
More broadly, it means learning to apply the gospel in every area of our lives and teaching our children to do the same. It means consistently disciplining and correcting our children in love so that we can turn them away from the foolishness of sin.
If you are a father and you feel like you don’t know how to lead your family in these things, what should you do? Sit under the preaching of the Word with your family and talk about it with them together in your home. Come to the Discipleship Sunday School class and begin applying the material to your personal and family life. Join a small group, and ask other church families how they seek to shepherd their children. Or just meet up with someone whom you respect and see godly fruit in their family, and begin to seek their counsel.
What a gift we have in God’s Word as it sets a course for us in our life together as famlies. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right in the sight of God, and is good for you. Parents, shepherd your children in the training and instruction of the Lord. Let us encourage and spur one another on in these things, according to the hope we share in Christ.
John Kimbell serves as Pastor of Preaching and Discipleship at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. John and his wife, Sarah, have five children. He completed his Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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