Discipleship-The Foundation for Training Children.

Ephesians 6:4b states that the work of the father is two-fold: “do not exasperate” and “bring them (children) up”. I have been struck by the comprehensiveness of this verse. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Although this verse seems frustratingly short, it is a complete statement of all that a father needs in order to train his children. First of all, this verse cannot be lowered to a psychological level only (which is where, by-and-large, most parenting programs exist, even Christian parenting programs), that is having a concern for the emotional well-being of the child, since the work of raising children is primarily spiritual. Second, although we deal with the heart of the child, the heart of child does not determine how we deal with them. That is, the heart of the child needs to be brought under submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ through the teaching of His word. This is no different from the heart of any person, young or old. Third, the child is in a particularly wonderful position to be taught. They are in learning mode until they begin their own families, but particularly as they are living under the roof of the parent. They are captive, dependent and teachable. What more could we ask for?

Paul begins this verse with the word “father”. Some teach that this word for ‘father’ can also mean ‘parents’ and so they rationalize that the word here means ‘parents’. However, they fail to notice that if Paul wanted to mean ‘parents’ he would have done so since he referred to them in Ephesians 6:1. The word does not mean ‘parents’ but ‘fathers’ strictly. Why is that important? Because, men, it puts the bulk of training the children on us. Most men are comfortable with little input into the lives of the children. Even Christian men, being largely untaught, believe the status quo which tells the man that they are incapable of training children so they might as well let the wife do it. After all, she is better at it. However, as those who will be accountable to God for how we raise our children (1 Corinthians 5:1-6; 2 Corinthians 5:10; romans 14:10; Ephesians 6:8), then our greatest concern needs to be to comprehend exactly what God expects from us as fathers. And that is why He has put Ephesians 6:4 in Scripture.

There are two main commands in this verse. First, “do not provoke to anger/enrage” and second, “bring them up/raise them”. The first represents a fleshly, worldly kind of approach to raising children. A father can provoke a child to anger in many ways and thus it does not really need to be discussed. The point is, when you, as a father, do something that you see causes your child to become angry, then take note and don’t do that again. Pretty straight forward. The second command is the heavenly or spiritual requirement of raising children. Instead of making the children angry, raise them up. That is, take them from one level of training to the next. How is this done? It is done by the instructions of the rest of the verse. But, there is an underlying reality that Paul is assuming here that needs clarification.

As Christians, we have died in Christ and we no longer live of ourselves (Galatians 2:20). We have rejected the affairs of the world and all its darkness (Ephesians 5:1-12). We are now children of light and now we walk in the light. Those are analogies to say that we are living and moving and having our being, not in this worldly kingdom, but in the heavenly one (Colossian 1:13). We are regenerated by the work of His Spirit. We have righteous longings and desires and are no longer friends of the world, which is dominated by darkness (James 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19). We are, now, by God’s doing, new creatures and as such live our lives in a heavenly kingdom that co-exists in this earthly realm (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:4-6). The quality of His kingdom, unlike the quality of this earthly kingdom, is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Thus, we exude the kingdom of God when we are filled with His Spirit via the dwelling of His word in our hearts so that we obey it by His power (Ephesians 5:18; Colossians 3:16). This is all pre-supposed from the previous chapters of Ephesians. So now, in Jesus Christ, our homes, our little Edens, are filled with the word of God and the entire atmosphere is infused with the realities of Him and His revelation at every turn (Deuteronomy 6:5-9). Now, it is in that condition, and only in that condition, that a home can thrive and that children can be raised to the pleasure of God. In fact, since sanctification only comes by the Father (otherwise Jesus Christ would not have prayed to the Father for Him to sanctify His disciples-John 17:17), then we are to be subject to the ways in which God works His work of sanctification and that is only through His word. So, fathers, unless you are taking serious your confession of Christ as Lord and that this confession is evident by your life, which your wife and children examine more closely than anyone, then you are not allowing the Lord to build the house and, as such, you are laboring in vain (Psalm 127:1).

Therefore, under this atmosphere of a home filled with the word of God and two parents filled with the Spirit of God, biblical parenting can occur because this is the air that is breathed in by the children and they respond to it since they are always learning from it. So, fathers, refuse to provoke your children, but instead bring them up.

The two-fold activities that a man uses to raise his children are: “discipline and instruction”. Discipline indicates the instruction that is accompanied by consequences. The term is used of God in Hebrews 12:4-11 as One who teaches and is willing to “scourge” His own children who are not conformed to His own image so that they might be partakers of that image. This scourging, reproof, unlike the motive of some earthly fathers (vv.9-10), is for our good and has the highest goal in mind, which is the blessing of sharing in His image (vv.10-11). Proper teaching of the word of God and His expectations, accompanied by purposeful and discerning punishment, become the standard in a godly home.

Secondly, there is instruction that accompanies this discipline. Paul has in mind the exhortation that accompanies instruction. Kittel writes, “It does not mean “to punish,” but through the word… to cause the appeal to the moral consciousness to gain a hold over men and bring them to repentance and shame, so that punishment is superfluous.” The discipline and the exhortation work hand in hand in placing in the mind of the children the word of God so that God can work in their hearts for His own purposes. If a person were to master the book of Proverbs, he would emerge as one who is able to shape every conversation, activity and difficulty into this kind of venture since the goal of the book is to,

To know wisdom and instruction,
To discern the sayings of understanding,
To receive instruction in wise behavior,
Righteousness, justice and equity;
To give prudence to the naive,
To the youth knowledge and discretion,
A wise man will hear and increase in learning,
And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
To understand a proverb and a figure,
The words of the wise and their riddles.
Proverbs 1:2-6

The goal of Proverbs was primarily that of instructing the “son” or “young man” in the ways of wise speaking and behaving, which flows out of a person who “fears the Lord” (1:7), so that he would be able to shape conversations into purposeful and godly situations of edification, exhortation and conviction. Fathers, that is what we must do. This must be behind Paul’s admonitions in Ephesians 4:29 as well as Colossians 4:6. To master the heart of our children there needs to be the teaching of the Word of God always in the home accompanied by discipline as well as admonition in tandem so that God may work in their souls for salvation (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

Paul further qualifies these two processes by the phrase, “of the Lord”. The idea behind that is that the Lord is the example or the source as to how to discipline and instruct. “Of the Lord” is written in such a way that tells the father that as Adam learned from God, so fathers also learn from God as to the wisdom that determines how to obey these two practices. In other words, fathers you need to know God intimately. You need to know His word for in it, and it alone, He is revealed. As the father examines the Scriptures and God works in the heart of the father, spilling over into the mother, he then learns how to train his own children. Ephesians 5:1 says as much: “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children”. Jesus told Philip one day, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” in John 14:7-9. Thus, if we follow Christ closely, and abide in His word (John 8:31-32), then raising children becomes a fruit of our ‘walk’ with Christ. Study Christ (Matthew 11:25-30). Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18) and thereby train your children to follow after you. Expect hard work. But what a reward (Psalm 127:3-5)!