Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4
Young children are so simple minded, but man can they create confusion in our lives. As fathers, obviously we are smarter, stronger, and more capable in every way than our young children. So why does it seem like they are always winning the war?
Well, maybe “war” is a bit strong. But all fathers of young children know there really are plenty of parenting battles throughout week, and it can be hard to know if we are doing a good job or not. Thankfully the Bible gives us some really specific advice on what our goals as fathers should be.
Ephesians 6:4 is one of the most specific verses given directly to fathers. So let’s unpack what Ephesians 6:4 means for fathers of young children.
Ephesians 6:4 Means Fathers Are Responsible for Bringing Up Young Children
As dads to young children, it can be easy to pass the buck off to mommy when it comes to raising young children. It’s so easy for this to take place in the early years because it seems in most cases that the younger the children are, the more they gravitate towards their mothers.
But Ephesians 6:4 means fathers are commissioned to have an active role in bringing up their young children. Certainly mom has this responsibility too (Ephesians 6:1), but as the leader of the home, the father should be leading in discipline and instruction too.
Leading as a father doesn’t mean dominating, acting like a swooning mother, or commanding our wives to parent in a certain way. Leading as a father means we are not leaving our wives in full responsibility of our children’s well being and behavior. It means we are making sure the goals of Christian parenting are being met.
Ephesians 6:4 Means Fathers Have Two Primary Goals for Their Young Children
Ephesians 6:4 gives us two goals. One goal is to avoid provoking our children to anger. The second goal is to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
If we want the best for our kids, Ephesians 6:4 has prioritized exactly what we need to do. While it’s important our kids get excellent grades, do well in sports, and have the best material life we can offer, these are not what’s most important. Ephesians 6:4 means we will need to be thoughtful in what our aim as a father really is.
Now that we know what our two main goals are as fathers, let’s talk about three ways we can accomplish them.
Ephesians 6:4 Means Fathers Should Not Be Harsh With Their Young Children
Being harsh, angry, or frustrated will hurt a father’s chances of accomplishing both goals outlined in Ephesians 6:4.
Being Harsh Provokes Your Child to Anger
I think the most obvious way to “provoke your children to anger” is to parent them out of anger.
Young children may be simple, but they are not stupid. They may not be able to articulate how they are receiving you, but they feel it inside. When we disrespect our children, it angers them. Our children may be young humans, but they are still human, and all humans get defensive when they are disrespected.
We can yell louder, we can push harder, and we can get our way when our children our young. But parenting out of a negative spirit, while it may produce external results, is not accomplishing the goals of Ephesians 6:4. The goals listed were not a clean room, toys put away, eating dinner quietly, or brushing teeth immediately when asked.
Obviously we should enforce rules and expectations like these. But if we are getting our children to do what we want because we are harsher than them and more manipulative, as they grow older we will see our children become like us – angry. If we focus on our young children’s behavior as our ultimate goal, we will be missing the heart behind Ephesians 6:4.
Ephesians 6:4 means that as fathers, we not only must ensure our children do certain things, we must also help them accomplish our expectations in ways that do not disrespect them and damage their hearts, thus provoking them to anger.
Being Harsh Hurts Your Ability to Discipline
Additionally, being harsh drastically hinders our ability to discipline our children in the ways of the Lord. The difference between discipline and punishment is the intent. Discipline is meant to correct bad behavior. Punishment is meant to make someone pay for their bad behavior.
These two can look the same on the outside, but our children will feel the difference. If in a fit of anger you send your child to their room, they will feel like you are punishing them, which is not a goal in Ephesians 6:4. But if you explain that they are getting a timeout because they just disobeyed what you said, they may still be angry in the moment when you close the door, but inside they will know you care.
Being Harsh Hurts Your Ability to Instruct
Being harsh directly compromises are ability to teach and instruct. Instructing our children in the Lord doesn’t mean we have to be theologians or gifted Bible teachers. What we need to do is transfer the truth of God’s word into the hearts of our children. This is always done in both word and deed.
We need to tell them the truths in the Scripture, and we need to model the truths in the Scripture. When we as fathers are angry, it will clog our children’s ears when we speak and blind our children’s eyes when we model good behavior.
Imagine sitting under a pastor who you know is an angry jerk Monday through Saturday, but on Sunday morning he tells you to be nice and tries to model it for you in his sermon. Is it easy to learn from a guy like that? The same is true for our children when we father them in anger.
Ephesians 6:4 Means We Should Not Spoil Our Children or Withhold Discipline
There’s more than one way to provoke your child to anger. While being harsh and overbearing is the most obvious downfall, spoiling children can have almost the same affect.
When a child has no boundaries, that child will always be pushing harder and further to see where the line will eventually be drawn. As pushover-dads, we mean well. But when we set a boundary or consequence and then allow our children to railroad us with loud screams and fits so we don’t follow through, we are still provoking our children into anger.
When a dad spoils or withholds discipline, it’s basically a temptation to the child saying, “If you get angry enough, you can get what you want. Go ahead, it worked before. Throw a fit. I’ll bend if you freak out.”
It may be done in love, but spoiling and being a pushover causes your young child to grow into an angry teenager and adult who can’t relate to authority. They are the ones who always have a problem with their teachers or who are always getting fired because they are such a pain in the neck to their bosses.
Being a gracious, lavish, and loving dad can be done without spoiling kids rotten. Disciplining doesn’t mean you have turn into a grumpy old man who can’t joke around with his kids. But if we spoil and withhold discipline, we won’t be accomplishing the goals of Ephesians 6:4.
Ephesians 6:4 Means We Must Be Able to Model an Authentic Christian Life
Last but certainly not least important, if we hope to accomplish the two goals of Ephesians 6:4, we must be authentic, God-loving Christians.
Nothing hurts our ability to pour biblical truth into our children’s life more than being fake. Again, young kids may not be able to articulate what they are feeling by our hypocrisy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel it.
When you yell at the top of your lungs, “Stop yelling at your sister!”, your young child may not be able to trap you with a clever comeback like, “Oh, like you’re not yelling too!” But that snarky comment will be waiting after puberty hits. When they become a teenager, all that hypocrisy they felt as a young kid will be expressed through lack of respect for your counsel.
Bringing kids up in the training and instruction of the Lord is one of those “caught” and not just “taught” spheres of life. We can’t turn our homes into pulpits, preaching at our kids all day. But for better or worse, they’re always watching and learning by being in such close proximity to us.
Therefore, Ephesians 6:4 means we must have an authentic Christian life if we hope to not provoke our children to anger and to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.