In the previous post, we saw what fathers should not do according to Paul’s command in the first part of Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” In this post, let’s see the second part of the same verse, which reads, “but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” in this post.
Fathers—What To Do [The Positive]
Rather than causing children to get bitter, angry, and discouraged, Paul calls fathers to do the positive: “but bring them up.” This phrase is from one word that has the idea of feeding or nourishing to bring them to maturity. That’s the father’s responsibility.
Interestingly, the other place where this word is in Ephesians 5:29, where it’s translated as “feed.” Just like Christ feeds, cares and nourishes the church, husbands are to do the same for their wives. In other words, husbands are the teachers, trainers, and nourishers for their wives and bring them to maturity just as they are to do for their children.
Sadly, many men want to be “No. 1 Dad” for their kids while failing miserably in their roles as husbands. They are bitter against their wives, treat them as sex objects, cooks, money-making machines and vessels to carry their seed. Yet, they desire to be great dads. If one fails as a husband, the overwhelming possibility is that he will fail as a father.
So, Paul commands the fathers to bring up their children to maturity. How? In 2 ways: “discipline” and “instruction of the Lord.”
The word “discipline” has the idea of systematic training, which includes discipline. It is used several times in Hebrews 12:5-11in the context of God training and disciplining us. The word “instruction” has the idea of warning and caution – putting sense into the mind to stay away from dangers. It is used in 1 Corinthians 10:11 and Titus 3:10, where it appears in the context of warning. And the phrase “of the Lord” has the idea of fathers acting as representatives of the Lord, providing training and instructions to their children so that they will bring glory to God.
This training or discipline and instruction of the Lord is accomplished through 4 ways: a. Teaching, b. Disciplining, c. Loving and d. Being a good example. Let’s see each of these means briefly.
Even the world recognizes the need for fathers to be teachers. Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, said, “The father who does not teach his son his duties is equally guilty with the son who neglects them.” But what are Christian fathers to teach? First and foremost biblical truths.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 “16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
This concept of teaching biblical truths as the foundation of all teaching goes back to Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
Fathers [and mothers] are the primary teachers to their children—not the church, not the schools, not grandparents, but parents! The call is clear. But notice what Moses says in verse 6 to parents: “These commandments are to be on your hearts.” You cannot give what you don’t have! So, parents should first of all be serious in their study of the Scriptures.
Parents, do we spend time in the Scriptures? I hope the answer is yes. Only then can we impart biblical teaching to our children. The word “impress” in verse 7 has the idea of engraving letters by chisel on a stone. It takes hard work. But that’s the call. As indicated by the words, we are to strive at all times, “sit at home…walk along the road…lie down…get up” to put biblical teachings into the hearts of our children, so it stays permanently. Now, this does not mean we must always keep quoting the Bible. It means we must help children see how biblical truths affect decision-making in all walks of life.
There should be set times for explicit biblical instruction every day—a regular and systematic time for family Bible reading and prayer. Over and above those times should be the general teaching of the Bible as it applies to various walks of life. That’s the idea here. We need to teach them to fear God, to obey his commands, warn them about the dangers of sin, about the judgment of God on sin, about the cross, repentance, forgiveness and so forth. In other words, the main thrust is for their salvation.
2 Timothy 2:15 “how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Timothy was taught Scriptures from a young age by his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois that eventually led to his salvation. And the means used were the Scriptures that point them to Jesus Christ. The words of John Piper regarding this issue are worth quoting:
“Parents, successful parenting is more than compliant kids. It is gospel-saturated living and teaching. Show your children how Christ, crucified for our sins, and Christ, raised for our justification, and Christ, showing the Father’s love, and Christ, guaranteeing the Spirit’s daily help—show them how this gospel is not just something that begins the Christian life but empowers it and shapes and sustains it. Pray and love and teach your children until Christ breaks in on their hearts and becomes their Treasure.” [Let No One Despise Your Youth sermon]
So, we need to teach them biblical truths. We need to get them a Bible in a translation that is age-appropriate for their understanding. No point in giving them something they cannot understand! We need to read with them, read to them and help them to read on their own as well.
We need to teach them to memorize and meditate on Bible verses—even 1 verse a week is a good start. Asking them to explain what the verse means is another way to help children study the Scripture independently. We need to assist them in applying biblical principles in their daily lives.
We need to teach them about prayer. Fathers should pray with the kids, for the kids and help kids pray on their own. They should teach them to learn to talk to God on their own. Children should be encouraged to pray about everything and that nothing is to be done without prayer. They should be taught to give thanks to God for all his blessings, including small ones! They should be encouraged to go into their rooms and privately talk to God. Even 5 minutes of closet prayer, when they are very young, helps cultivate good habits. And the best way is to model it to them. Fathers, if they see us on our knees calling to the Lord frequently, they will also be encouraged to do the same.
We need to teach them about non-retaliation. Sad to see many Dads telling their children when they complain of some other child hurting them to go back the next day and beat them up. Instead of encouraging the kid to pray for the offender, and if needed, reporting to the teacher, they teach them how to retaliate. What a reversal of Christian principles. Hopefully, they don’t see us retaliating against those who offend us—then our teachings of non-retaliation will be useless.
We need to teach them about the value of work. We need to explain why work is good and how the Bible commands good and honest labor.
We need to teach them how to manage their money. We need to teach the value of things—not just the cost of things. We need to make sure our children don’t grow in an environment where they get whatever they want—as long as they persist.
We need to teach them to share their resources with those in need. We need to teach them to be very generous from an early age.
Fathers, let us take this teaching role very seriously. George Herbert, a believer of the past, said, “One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.” True words!
So, teaching is the first means fathers ought to do.
When the teaching aspect mentioned above is not followed, then part of that teaching involves corrective training. I understand disciplining is a sensitive subject in our day and age. Some may even disagree with this aspect. However, as believers, we need to ask, “What does the Bible say regarding this issue of discipline?” It’s not about our feelings but God’s word! That’s where the absolute authority lies.
First of all, God, the perfect parent, disciplines his children. There is our role model! Hebrews 12:5-11 explains that his disciplining us is “for our good” [vv. 10-11]. And this passage assumes that human fathers will discipline children [12:9] for their good as well!
The book of Proverbs filled with wisdom for a daily practical living has so many instructions calling for parents to discipline their children when required. Here are a few.
Proverbs 13:24 “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”
Proverbs 19:18 “Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.”
Proverbs 23:13-14 “13 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. 14 Punish them with the rod and save them from death.”
So, it is clear that God commands parents to discipline their children. Of course, no parent is to resort to any abuse or discipline out of frustration. They should do it properly. And when the Bible uses the word, “rod” we should not think of it as a reference to a rusty old metal pipe! A wooden paddle is more likely the idea, and that could be used as the means for discipline when appropriately applied on the behind.
Again, the call is not to abuse but to inflict a small amount of pain so that the child understands there are consequences for disobedience. By disciplining our children, we teach them a far bigger principle: Sin has consequences—at times long-term consequences. And the only way to be protected from it is to run to Christ for forgiveness.
Parents ought to pray with the child seeking God’s forgiveness for the child’s disobedience after the disciplining process, and encourage the child to pray out to God seeking his forgiveness for disobedience. Even at a young age, this can be encouraged by teaching them to say phrases like, “Sorry Jesus.” As they grow older, they can be taught more words to pray when seeking forgiveness! No need to worry if they don’t understand everything. We are creating a good habit of going to the Lord to forgive sins at an early age.
So, you see, disciplining is not just so that kids will be obedient to parents. Instead, the more critical issue is that they will run to Christ for salvation when they grow older; that should be the hope of all disciplining. It’s for the good of the child. Parents, by faith, must have this conviction. It’s not good to raise rebellious children behind whom parents are constantly running and trying to keep them in check. That’s why disciplining should start at an early age. The command in the Scriptures is “Children obey your parents” [Eph 6:1], not “Parents obey your children!”
By the way, the command to discipline applies to both parents—not just the fathers! Failure to do so on either parent is sin, and the result—God will discipline the sinning parent[s] for failure to discipline their sinning child!
Also, not all disciplining needs to be physical, even at a younger age. At times, certain pleasures can be withheld as a form of punishment. Where talking and other softer forms of punishment don’t seem to work, physical disciplining is to be done. Yes, a time will come when we cannot physically discipline them and only talking will do. But, there is a time where physical disciplining will enable them in their growth.
So, in addition to teaching, we need to discipline them as needed. And this is the second thing fathers ought to do.
Fathers, love your children—all of them equally! Don’t see them as an intrusion in your life. Show love by spending time with them. Speak loving words. Be there as much as possible when they participate in events. I understand you cannot be there for every single event. But as much as possible, show love by your presence. Talk to them without being distracted by looking at your phone or TV. Look them in the eye and communicate. Show love by being a good listener. Often, kids desire just the company of their parents more than the gifts.
A prominent Philadelphia Christian businessman’s wife felt he was not spending enough time with his six-year-old daughter. He decided to make up for that failing all at once.
He had his limousine driver take him to her school, where she was picked up and deposited next to him in the backseat. They took off for New York City, where he had made reservations for dinner in an expensive French restaurant and had tickets to a Broadway show.
After an exhausting evening, they were driven home. In the morning, the little girl’s mother could hardly wait to find out how the evening had gone. “How did you like it?”
The little girl thought a moment. “It was okay, I guess, but I would rather have eaten at McDonald’s. And I did not really understand the show. But the best part was when we were riding home in that great big car, and I put my head down on Daddy’s lap and fell asleep.”
Never underestimate simple acts of love. One cannot parent their kids and show love by absence!
So, in addition to teaching, disciplining, we need to love them. And this is the third thing fathers ought to do.
4. Being a good example
Teaching is important, but living out our teaching is the key. The truth of God’s word is like a nail. And our life is the example that drives the nail in.
If we tell our children to read the Bible and pray regularly but don’t model it, how effective is our teaching? If we tell them the importance of telling the truth and punish them for lying, and yet they see us lying—even in small things, what example is that? Or, if our children constantly see us talking about money, material things, what do we expect them to learn?
Yet, if our children see us trusting God in everything, studying the Scriptures, praying, being humble, being truthful and gracious in our speech, seeking to further God’s kingdom, displaying a forgiving spirit, what an example will that be?
So, in addition to teaching, disciplining, loving, we need to set a biblical example before them. And that’s the fourth and final thing fathers ought to do.
So, fathers, we have seen—what not to do and what to do. Let’s not be those who are labelled as “Delinquent Dads.” Let’s take these truths to heart and trust in the Lord to help us do what he commands us to do.
If you’ve been a good father, thank God for it. Give him all the glory and continue to lean on him. If you’ve been struggling in your role as a father, cry out to him. He knows your failures and heartaches. Even if you are reaping the consequences of past failures, God can still bring good out of them. He is the changer of circumstances. As you cry out to him, he will help you to be a godly father.
For many single moms and dads who perhaps do not have a wife who sees the biblical priorities in life, don’t lose heart. Keep up the good fight. The Lord knows your heartaches. Continue to trust in him. He will carry you through all the struggles.
Fathers [and mothers], my sincere appeal is this: Let’s learn to parent on our knees. We must constantly be interceding for our families. If the greatest man to have ever lived on earth, the sinless Son of God, gave himself continually to prayers, can we afford to be negligent in our prayers? If our words are to affect our children, we must spend much time daily speaking to the One who alone can change their hearts! Our Lord put it plainly, “Apart from me you can do nothing” [John 15:5]!
Finally, for all of us, including those who might not have had good fathers, may I encourage you to see the real and true Father—God himself. This great Father sent his Son to be a sacrifice for our sins so that those who trust in him through Christ can be adopted into his family and call him Abba-Father. What a privilege! Through Christ, we can find all we need in a father in God the Father. We can rest in him as his child.
Note: To know about the fatherhood of God, being adopted into God’s family, read this POST.