“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4, NASB95)
I notice here that there is no instruction to mothers, but I suspect that it is for a very good reason. Just as husbands in Ephesians 5:33 are instructed to love their wives because it is a general weakness in reaching their wife’s great need, so is the instruction to fathers given here to guard against squelching the heart of their children. Whereas 5:33 is worded in a positive form, here the instruction to fathers is worded as a prohibition or something they are guard against doing. It is not an instruction to not make our children angry, but it is an instruction to not provoke them to anger.
What we have here is another one of those “put off” and “put on” instructions of chapter 4:22-24 as we have our mind renewed. “…that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:22–24, NASB95) The central pivot point here is the instruction of the Lord. As we grow in our knowledge and understanding of Him it is to affect how we relate to others.
In accordance with the submission instruction of Ephesians 5:21 where we are to submit to one another from our reverence for Christ, the father is not to “provoke” or incite the anger of his children. Just looking to the news these past few months and the rioting in the streets as outsiders (many times) have come into hurting communities to incite the people there to do much more than grieve and quietly protest. Their intense response has incited others to respond intensely as well, and things quickly spiral out of control and even into anarchy where lawlessness prevails for a season. Anger destroys reason, and as fathers (and mothers where it applies) we are to not allow even our own anger, frustration or disappointment to be a tool to incite our children to anger as well. We are not to escalate things by the way we deal with them. They may respond poorly on their own and may not need our help, but we are not to be a source of gasoline on the flame of rebellion. We are to remember that this instruction to fathers follows immediately on the heels of a powerful instruction to children. There are responsibilities on both sides, and we as parents (and particularly fathers) are to uphold our end.
I wish that I could say that I am an expert at this, but I know there are too many times that I have to be quietly reminded by my wife to bring it down a notch. As men we can sometimes use our strength and position in the home to intimidate. This is not how we are to be with our wives, and it is surely not how we are to be with our children.
The awesome thing about Scripture is that God has given it to us not only to instruct us in what not to do, but also what to do. In this verse we read that we are to “put on” what we learn from Him and, “bring them [our children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” We are not to have the attitude of some which says, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.” But rather, we are to have the attitude of our God who loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins and to draw us into an eternal relationship with Him. We are not to be about making obedient slaves of our children, but about training them in a relationship of love in which we walk right with others before God. This needs to be our STOP sign when we are tempted to respond otherwise. This needs to be the point we back up to when we go too far. This is the way we are to be toward our children. It is the way our God is toward us.
We are to bring our children up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” It is not a “because I told you so” kind of thing, but a “we are going to do things God’s way” kind of thing. Some other translations use words such as “nurture” and “admonition” (King James), “training” and “admonition” (New King James), or “training” and “instruction” (NIV). This first word “discipline” incorporates the whole process of correcting, disciplining, structuring, and setting straight. It is not necessarily a pleasant process, but it is a necessary one which is done from a right heart according to the pattern set by our God. In Hebrews 12:5-11 we see this comparison made and expanded upon.
“and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:5–11, NASB95)
In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we see this process in action, where Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NASB95) The word “training” in this passage is essentially the same as our word “discipline” in our word today. We see that this training incorporates the whole process of teaching truth, correcting error, and setting straight so that the individual might be fully trained or disciplined for righteous living.
Not wanting to overlook the second word, “instruction” or “admonition,” we see that this process is more than one of obtaining right actions or responses, but of instructing the mind such that the reasons are understood. It is the priority of the “why,” and this “why” is not “because I told you so,” but because this is what God has given us to do and this is how He says we are to do it. It is the passing on of a foundation such that when the child leaves the home there is a rock on which he or she can stand.
The original name of my field of study in school was “nouthetic counseling” or being able to instruct or counsel one another in the Word. We see this in Romans 15:14 where we read, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14, ESV) The word “instruct” is the Greek word ‘noutheteo’ and it means this whole process of instructing, warning, and admonishing one another in the truth of God. And, our word “instruction” in today’s passage is the same. Notice in the Romans passage that this is something that is passed on by one filled with the goodness of God to others. This is the role of the parent and it is to be accomplished with that heart, not one of frustration and inciting of anger and/or fear.
Fathers are big and powerful guys, and just as God does not use His great power to force His will, so are we to treat our children similarly. But rather, from power we are to lovingly and firmly discipline and instruct such that they are built up and encouraged to do likewise and act responsibly before Him on their own.
Again, as I write this I do so as one who recognizes that I am still growing. But God is so amazing in what He can and does do through us as we seek after Him and trust Him to work in and through us. Work on putting up the STOP sign when anger surfaces, and seek to do it another way—His way. James 1:19 tells us, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;” (James 1:19, NASB) STOP and listen to God, pause before your children, and then speak appropriately into the situation and into their lives such that you “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”