“Provoking or Providing”
And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”
One bible scholar has said, “America is running on the momentum of a Godly heritage. When the momentum runs out, God help America. And that momentum is in grave danger of running out.” Someone else said, “To our forefathers, the Christian faith was an experience; to our fath
Ephesians ers it was an inheritance; to our generation, it is a convenience; to our children it may well become a nuisance.”
We are living in a day when as never before the challenge to parents is to bring up their children “in the training and admonition of the Lord.” And that is the focus as we come to the study of this very significant verse here in Ephesians chapter 6. The very fact that this section of Ephesians is included in Scripture shows us the relevance of the Bible to our everyday lives. Beginning in the middle of chapter 5 and going through this verse, Paul gives detailed instructions about the home. And whether our society wants to admit it or not, the home and the influence of parents is one of the basic foundation stones of our whole way of life.
And so, once again, Christian parents are right in the forefront of the activity which is the hope of our nation! The last part of chapter 5 talked about husbands and wives, so now as we come to chapter 6, he gives us instructions for sonship in verses 1 through 4. In our study last week we looked at the requirement that children have to obey their parents, in verses 1 and 2 and the reason for it in verse 3. But today we want to think about the response that parents ought to have to that obedience here in verse 4. Look at that verse again:
And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
The first thing we need to notice in this verse is the very clear prohibition of provocation. The word translated “fathers” here usually refers to a male parent, but it was sometimes used of parents in general. Paul has been speaking about both parents in the preceding three verses, so it seems likely that he still has both in mind in this term in verse 4. And the same word is used in Hebrews 11:23 to refer to Moses’ parents together. So this is something for both parents to keep in mind, although the father as the head of the home should take the lead in it. And what does that provocation lead to? The word translated “wrath” here is a word that goes beyond just anger. Literally it would be something like “anger alongside anger.” This speaks of a continual state of anger. So a good summary of the meaning might be “to frustrate” or “to exasperate.” These are those situations where children just come to the conclusion, “well, it doesn’t do any good to try to please him.” Either “he’s never satisfied, no matter what I do,” Or, “He is unfair in his discipline and his requirements.” Or “he’s always so mean and angry, he must not love me, so I just don’t care any more.”
Now let’s think for a moment about the danger of provocation as it is implied in this verse. No matter how conscientious a father may be, there is always a danger of provoking a child. If that were not so, it would not be so specifically emphasized in the scripture. Many fathers just subconsciously think that their children have no rights at all. It doesn’t matter how the father speaks to the child, or how sternly he corrects them. Their goal is simply to discharge their obligation f being the boss and demanding obedience. With some fathers this is a “once in awhile” situation, with others it is continuous. But notice the scripture says, “Children obey, but also “fathers, do not provoke.”
But let’s think now about some of the details of provocation. And there are many, but I have tried to summarize them in two broad categories. First, there is what we might categorize as “lack of trust.” Parents who smother their children, overly restrict where they can go and what they can do, never trust them to do things on their own and continually question their judgement build a barrier between themselves and their children. Usually this is done under the delusion that they are just protecting their children. Children do need careful guidance, but they are individual human beings in their own right, and must learn to make decisions on their own. Their wills can be guided, but cannot be controlled.
Another cause of provoking children is a lack of tact. For parents to compare their children with each other, especially in the children’s presence, can be devastating to the child that is less talented or beautiful. Pushing achievement beyond reasonable bounds can exasperate or frustrate a child. Sometimes this happens because fathers fantasize their own achievements through he athletic skills of their sons. Or mothers fantasize a glamorous career through the lives of their daughters. A child who is never complimented or encouraged by his parents is destined for trouble. If he is always told what is wrong with him, and never what is right, he will soon lose hope, and become convinced that he is incapable of doing anything right.
The positive side of this command is in this verse also. Parents should look for something that a child genuinely does well, and they should show appreciation for it. Children need approval and encouragement in things that are good, every bit as much as they need correction in things that are not. Here we have the principles of provision. Look at the last half of verse 4 again:
“. . . . But bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”
The word “training” is the word that is translated in Hebrews 12:5-11 several times with the word “chastening.” But the overall meaning of the word is very similar to what is stated in Proverbs 22:6
Train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it”
It has to do with the overall training of children, including punishment. Then the word admonition” is a translation of a Greek word which literally means “putting in mind.” The general idea of the word is not only the giving of facts, but also the application of those facts. It has to do with right attitudes and principles of behavior. This means that along with everything else the responsibility of the father is to teach our children, to instruct our children, about Godly things. Many fathers are much more interested in training their employees or studying for the advancement of their own careers than they are in training their children. Make no mistake about it, your children are being trained by other influences: television, social media, peer group influence, teachers at school, and so forth. And so if you are not training them, you are the one who is losing out.
A passage in Deuteronomy 6 suggests one of the best ways for this training to take place:
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart; (7)”you shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.”
Although it is perfectly legitimate to have formal teaching sessions with your children in your home, a great deal more of what they learn will probably be at the dinner table, and in conversations as you are driving somewhere, and in what they hear of conversations between you and your spouse. Look for opportunities in everyday happenings to teach your children about things. News events, television programs, things that happen at school, all of these can be made to have a spiritual application or to teach a spiritual lesson. You can also have family devotions with your children. And even though its not a formal teaching time, this can greatly influence your children. There are devotional books that are written specifically for family devotions. There are Christian books, such as Pilgrim’s Progress that are fascinating to children and which also teach great spiritual truths. And if you are parents of younger children need to know that the opportunity to do these kinds of things does not last very long – the older children get the busier they get and the more involved in school and extra curricular activities, the less time there is to do those kinds of things as a family. At the back of all of these instructions about the discipline of children is the self discipline of the parents. We will not be able to discipline our children properly if we do not discipline ourselves properly. I wonder if, in the light of what we have been saying here we as parents are not responsible to some extent for the problems in America today. Because that is where god puts the responsibility, isn’t it? Dr. S. Lewis Johnson shared a poem with some of his students that puts the emphasis where it ought to be:
Twas a sheep, not a lamb that strayed away in the parable Jesus told.
A grown up sheep that had gone astray,
From the ninety and nine from the fold.
Out on the hillside,
Out in the cold,
‘twas a sheep the good shepherd brought.
And why for the sheep should we earnestly long?
And earnestly hope and pray?
Because there is danger, of they go wrong,
They will lead the lambs astray,
For the lambs will follow the sheep you know
Wherever the sheep may stray,
When the sheep go wrong
It will not be long
“Til that the lambs as wrong as they.
And so with the sheep
We earnestly plead
For the sake of the lambs today,
If the sheep are lost
What a terrible cost
Some Sheep will have to pay.