Home Improvement: God's Instructions
by Contributing Author Ryan Reynolds
"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph. 6:4 ESV)
Immaturity in parents will carry over to insecurity in children. This is all too common today. We see this dynamic everywhere. Let us look at two examples of how a parent could express character that falls short of the biblical standard and thereby provoke their children to anger. We are dealing with the negative example first because we are doing an exegetical study on Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4 ESV). And so to be true to the text, we will have to pass over the negative first.
The first example is that of a father. We all have seen the frustrated father and his little girl at the grocery store. The girl is not misbehaving but is clumsy and causes an accident. Therefore her father scolds her with harsh language in front of everyone. What is the end result? She is embarrassed and embittered toward her father. She wonders why her father acts in such a way when he professes to have the love of Christ.
The abuse continues in the form of silence on the drive home, as her father sweats out in his mind the next ‘big deal.’ Her father is a successful business man and is constantly busy. He thinks his ridiculous, yet to some prestigious, work ethic is necessary to give his family a lifestyle they will be most pleased with. In reality, it’s a cover up for a lust deep inside his heart that is consumed with the fear and praise of man. Though successful, living beyond need and snug up to income causes him to be overly stressed and on the edge. So the behavior in the grocery store is the atmosphere in the home—loveless and insensitive. After years of continued provoking in the form of abuse of authority, neglect of love, and harsh words, she begins to hate his instruction about Christ and the Word of God, defying the God he believes in. The bitterness inside eventually births into a deep introspective mindset. She is insecure. The uncertainty about herself turns into trust in boys. These boys are opposite her father. They tend to be the rebel type: the school drop outs with no future. But they aren’t hypocrites; so for the moment she’s happy.
Then there is the Christian mother who is consumed with herself. She is single and raising two children on her own. Believing that it’s not too late to remarry, she spends most of her time at the gym, mall, and on the internet. Because of the pressure at work, there is only minimal time to spend with her children, and it certainly is not spent teaching God’s Word. Whenever the children hear God’s Word is when they are being reprimanded for bad behavior. The children have heard that real beauty is found in the heart of a gentle spirit (1 Peter 3:4), and that a woman should be self-controlled (Titus 1:12), but they don’t see it in their mother, even while she professes faith in the Christian God. So they are evoked to resentment toward her and this God. Bitterness and anger is easily transformed into insecurity, for a wrong attitude of the heart perverts a right understanding of self.
Both of the examples involved the parents provoking their children to anger, and both come from immature character. Since life is not meant to have a flamboyant lifestyle at the expense of love, and since its not made to please oneself but to look out for the best interest of those whom God has given us, character that reflects the above attitudes and actions is immature. It hasn’t developed correctly. And when this takes place it can damage the children in the home.
In Ephesians 6:4 we see a prohibition and a command, with a twofold objective. The negative includes the attitude as well as the behavior of the parents. ‘Do not provoke’ will take work in the mind and actions of the parents, for you must know (mind) what angers your children so that you avoid provoking them, and then you must implement correct disciplinary action respectfully (action). The command to ‘bring up’ (raise them) is twofold in that it deals with two different aspects of raising godly children: discipline and instruction. Even though the verse makes ‘fathers’ the explicit subject, the Greek word (πατήρ) can also signify ‘parents,’ as we see the same word being used for Moses’ parents in Hebrews 11:23.
The command to ‘bring up’ (raise them) is twofold in that it deals with two different aspects of raising godly children: discipline and instruction.
What you might not notice is the missing conjunction (and, even, or now) in most English versions. Most translations start out the verse simply ‘fathers,’ when in Greek we see a conjunction (Καὶ) preceding fathers. So a better translation would have ‘And fathers’ or ‘Now fathers.’ The author is probably using it for emphasis to get the attention of his readers. Could you see yourself rejoicing when Paul was talking to the children in the preceding section (6:1-3) that they should obey their parents? But now he uses his literary skills to grab the attention of the parents, who should listen carefully to what he has to say.
He starts off with a negative prohibition, a behavior that should not be exercised: “Now parents, do not provoke your children to anger…” (my translation) This is a general precept that should always be obeyed. Provoking others can be acted out in many different ways. Some times this is done indirectly, and at other times it’s direct.
When Scripture speaks of not provoking your children to anger, you can logically assume that the implication is you know what will anger them and you should, therefore, avoid it. This is seen in Romans 10:19 where the same word is being used as Paul recounts when God tells Israel that He will provoke his people to anger in the future by extending His grace to others, the Gentiles. He knows this will anger them, because in the preceding clause He says He will make them jealous. "I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry" (Rom. 10:19; see Deut. 32:21 ESV). God knows this will frustrate them. He is correcting them for their disobedience and idolatry (Deut. 32:19-20). God can do this. We can’t.
And there is good reason we can’t. A similar word is used in Colossians, and this time Paul gives a reason why it is not right to provoke our children to the point of them getting angry: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Col 3:21 ESV). It is easy for kids to lose heart at harsh or crude words. It tears them down. Solomon recognized this when he said, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov 15:1 ESV). James compares the tongue to a small fire that can set ablaze a whole forest (James 3:5-6). A small fire can quickly engulf a forest, so the tongue can swiftly breathe out harsh words that destroy the one in its path. The cautious parent is the wise parent who looks out for the interest of their child, regardless the righteous (or unrighteous) indignation they may feel toward them at the moment.
When you break down a child verbally and emotionally to where it produces anger, you are discouraging them. “A child frequently irritated by over-severity or injustice to which, nevertheless, it must submit, acquires a spirit of sullen resignation leading to despair.” In other words, of course your child is going to listen and submit to your authority, but if done improperly you will only damage them. It’s much easier to be domineering to a kid and have them do what you want right that second than it is to speak kindly in the heat of the moment. We all desire immediate behavioral change, which often forfeits at getting to the heart, for working toward heart change takes time and loving care.
When you break down a child verbally and emotionally to where it produces anger, you are discouraging them.
This brings us to our next point. God says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Here is the command on what to do. ‘Bring them up’ in Greek is one word (ἐκτρέφω), and has the meaning of ‘nourishing’ or ‘feeding’ someone, which implies delicate care and intentional, ongoing work to strengthen the individual. Paul uses the same word just a few verses back when he is exhorting husbands to love their wives like their own bodies: “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes (ἐκτρέφω), and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church… (Eph. 5:29 ESV)
So when Paul talks about bringing your children up (raising them), it should be done in a manner that aims to nurture them in their present need and condition. This is not easy, just as feeding your body what is pleasant and forbidding what is harmful takes discipline and thought. We will do well to listen to one commentator when he says, “It is not the will of God that parents, in the exercise of kindness, shall spare and corrupt their children. Let their conduct towards their children be at once mild and considerate, so as to guide them in the fear of the Lord, and correct them also when they go astray.” We are to still exercise firm discipline when needed, but this should always be accomplished in a manner that is consistent with the likeness of Christ, a meek and gentle disposition (2 Cor. 10:10).
The verse could read as such: “Now parents, do not provoke your children to anger, but nurture them in the Lord’s discipline and instruction.” What is the difference between the words ‘discipline’ and ‘instruction?’ In Greek they are closely related. It seems that discipline deals more with correcting behavior for a wrong committed, while instruction refers to correction by training verbally. The former is implemented when wrongful behavior is taking place; the latter focuses on general instruction (educating). Both imply action in order to teach, and both are iterative (repetitious).
Christ is the end object in all discipline. He is the One we aim to imitate, and the One we seek to instruct about. When seeking to correct a child for a transgression committed (discipline), Christ should be the person we point to in order to align them back to God’s redemptive purposes. We correct on the basis that we too are forgiven sinners, and only Jesus can transform the perversion of the heart to produce right behavior.
Discipline should always point to the cross. Showing the child that their problem starts with sin and that the cross is the ultimate remedy will enable them to take a proper view of themselves in the world around them. They will see themselves as God desires them to view themselves. For in one of the most beautiful passages about the Holy Spirit being poured into our hearts (Rom. 5:5), God thought it wise to stress the fact that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8 ESV). Why does He want us to be conscious of our sin? It shows His great love and grace, which then reveals the root of our problem—sin. An easy way to fall into legalism is to leave out sin and the cross and tell people to start doing this, and that.
As our discipline should be gospel-centered with a redemptive focus, so our instruction should be geared to teaching according to the unfolding plan of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. We should instruct the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). God says that instructing His way is a moment by moment lesson. Everything in life should involve trying to figure out what God has to say about every situation, complication, and problem, which will then bring glory to His name. This might seem overly fanatic, but this is God’s instruction. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17 ESV).
In Deuteronomy God states the importance of having His Word the constant subject matter in the lifestyle of a family. Concerning His words that He’s instructing the people to obey, He says, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:7-9 ESV). This is not an easy task. We are consumed everyday with busyness and things that occupy our mind. How are we supposed to obey this command when we have a million other practical things going on that need attention? We do our best. We work hard at having the Lord’s instruction the central focal point of all godly character molding in the life of every individual, including our own.
Families today need this more than ever. Bringing up children who will serve Christ unreservedly is a task met with many oppositions from competing secular influences. The Word of God through His Spirit is the only remedy for shaping godly character. Maturity in the life of the adult is experienced as one is conformed to the image of Christ through God’s Word. Knowing that immaturity in parents can carry over to negative behavioral development for children should motivate adults to go to the Scriptures and find out what God desires for Christian instruction in the home.
Having a Christ-minded attitude so as not to provoke your children to anger is not easy. Being reminded that God prohibits such behavior should give you encouragement to seek out the gentleness and meekness of Christ as you seek to properly exercise your God-given right as the authority in the home. God is glorified as we seek to manifest His ways in the home. We are constantly reminded that God is good in all that He does. We should try our best in the home to be good in all that we do.
Ryan Reynolds was born in Houston, Texas and has spent most of his life residing in Houston and the surrounding suburban areas. He grew up in a tightly knit family of six who have encouraged and helped push him along his desired path of advancing God's kingdom.
In a powerful encounter with Jesus Christ through the Word of God, Ryan was graciously saved at the age of twenty-two. Since then he has made it his aim to thoroughly understand the Bible, so that he can help re-insert sound teaching into a culture that has lost sight of godliness.
Ryan is a third year student at Sangre de Cristo Seminary in Westcliffe, Colorado. He is studying for a Master of Divinity, which he hopes to attain after completion of an undergraduate degree in biblical studies.
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