4 And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
This verse comes on the heels of Paul’s teaching to children to obey their parents in everything. The standard is clearly set for children in our homes just as the standard is clearly set for each of in the family of God…obey! Guess what…just like us…our children don’t always get it right and disobey and sin. The result…grief. With this in mind, what is Paul teaching us fathers?
Notice first that “fathers” are directed in this command. Paul knows how to say parents because he did so in verse 1. Why are fathers singled out? Ephesians 5:23 tells us that husbands are declared by God to be the head of the family and therefore responsible and accountable for what happens in the family. Fathers are to have an active role in the family, particularly in raising the children. Additionally, fathers are going to be challenged to not act in anger toward the children. There is a reason God says this to the men. The intention seems clear that this is an issue that we must be aware of. Fathers are going to have the temptation to provoke the children to anger.
Children test our patience, our will, and our authority as fathers. They grieve us, however, the command rules out excessively severe discipline/consequences, unreasonably harsh demands, abuse of authority, being unfair, nagging, being humiliating, etc. Children are persons in their own right and are not be manipulated, exploited, or crushed. Our Father is loving, graceful, merciful and long suffering…we must be the same with our children. With that said, this does not mean we allow our children to run the household. Children are not the head of the family.
The answer to the challenge of parenting…to fathering…is not to let the children do what they want. Verse 4 tells us fathers to raise our children and to not provoke them…both are required. So how might we do this? We might start with saying “no” with a reason. It is easy to just say “no”. But think about the frustration, confusion, and disappointment our child might experience if we do not explain the reason or make the “no” inconsistent with how we live. This is especially important with our children who are old enough to reason with and to make every effort with each “teachable” moment. Our Father teaches us with “no” and His consistent and Holy will gives us confidence “no” is right and best.
Please don’t misunderstand me…there are times as Godly fathers when our rule or word must simply be enforced. What I emphasizing here is we cannot let our attitude always be “my way or the highway”. The word “discipline” speaks to the activity of the education. Some translations rightly read, “training.” This is active and it is a partnership with our children. “Our way or the highway” all the time is not “parenting” or “teaching” or “leading”…that is simply “bossing”…and our God does not love us or raise us that way.
I know we all want our children to safe and in the loving care of our Heavenly Father because that is what they choose to be. I know we want our children to have the life skills to be independent of us when they leave our home. Fathers, we have a job to raise our children so that when they turn 18 they can live life independent of us but are especially dependent on our Heavenly Father! We must show them that we desire God and find our joy in God. What we are doing is not an activity as if God is something to do. We desire these things because this is the whole life and joy.
(NOTE: These thoughts were amplified by a sermon by Brent Kercheville from West Palm Beach CoC; 2014.)