Ephesians 6:4 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
“Daddy,” she said, “when you were little, did you ever think about what you wanted to be when you grew up?” She was waiting for Daddy’s answer. “Yes, I did think about what I wanted to be,” he replied. “For a while I just wanted to play out the back. Then I wanted to be a teacher. Then we had a man living with us who worked at Hoovers and he was a personnel manager, and so when people asked me what I wanted to be I said, “A personnel manager.”
The little girl grinned and said, “Did you want to be anything else?” “Well,” he answered, “When I got a little older, I thought I might like to be a Religious Instruction teacher. That’s the course I did in University. Then I got to thinking more and more about becoming a preacher, because I sensed God leading me in that direction, but I found it hard to tell people that that was going to be my life’s work.” His daughter kept smiling and nodding as he talked about his boyhood and student dreams and the various things he’d thought of becoming. Finally, when he finished talking about all the different possibilities he’d considered, she asked one final time, “Is there anything else you wanted to be?”
He hesitated a moment and said, “Not that I can think of right now.” She looked straight at him and said, “Didn’t you ever want to be a dad?” He felt a little foolish. Of course that is what he wanted to be more than anything else. He wanted to marry and have children, his own family, far more than anything, and he couldn’t see it until she probed him. So he laughed and hugged his little girl and said, “Of course I wanted to be a dad. I love being a dad. I especially love being your dad.”
That’s the problem with men. Ask a man what he does, and often the first thing he thinks of is his job. That’s important, but to a child, the greatest thing about her father is simply that he’s a dad – her dad! Fathers are crucially important in the purposes of the Creator for the running of his creation. Let me again refer you back a few chapters to read what Paul wrote about God. He said that he bowed his knees before his Father God from whom every ‘fatherhood’ (as it says literally in chapter three verses fourteen and fifteen) in heaven and on earth is named. Paul is saying this, that fatherhood derives its existence, its concept and its experience from God. The name and office of ‘father’ didn’t ascend to God from us so that men chose to give to God the title of ‘father’ from their experience of fathers, but rather it came down to us from above. We are in a family and are under a father because God himself designed men and women in his likeness and created marriage and the family.
God created fatherhood, and this is what he expects of fatherhood, Ephesians 6:4 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Fathers, you must bring up your children. Not Caesar; not the minister nor the elders in the congregation; and children do not bring themselves up. Fathers, this is your God-given responsibility.
1. EVERY FATHER IS GIVING A MESSAGE TO HIS CHILDREN ABOUT GOD THE FATHER.
God has a common fatherhood over the whole human race. He created all mankind in his image and likeness. “Have we not all one Father?” (Malahi 2:10) asks the prophet. So as a father you’re always saying something about God in the way you relate to your children. You can’t help it. You are either displaying truth about God or telling lies about God. Either way, you are a picture of God to them, whether you want to or not. David Feddes helpfully sets out these contrasts; a man who sires offspring but abandons them sends a message that God created us but doesn’t care about us and wants nothing to do with us. A father who spends time with his children and takes a personal interest in them sends a message that the heavenly Father is with us and is interested in us.
A man who doesn’t provide his family with food and shelter sends a message that God does not provide for our needs. A father who works hard to pay the bills for his family sends a message that the heavenly Father feeds and clothes his children.
A man who always takes the safest, easiest approach and won’t fight against wrong sends a message that God is boring and passive. A father who enjoys adventure and stands against evil sends a message that the heavenly Father is a warrior.
A man who is too busy for conversation with his children sends a message that God is too busy with important things to listen to our prayers. A father who loves listening to his children pour out their hearts sends a message that the heavenly Father delights in the prayers of his people.
A man who abuses and violates his children sends a message that God is cruel and twisted. A father who protects and builds up his children sends a message that the heavenly Father desires what is best for them.
A man who constantly makes demands of his children but seldom praises or encourages them sends a message that God has an endless list of demands. A father who encourages his children sends a message that the heavenly Father is a great encourager and helper.
A man who makes no demands of his children and never disciplines them sends a message that God is a marshmallow with no clear expectations and no firm direction. A father who expects to be obeyed and disciplines disobedience sends a signal that the heavenly Father guides and disciplines those he loves.
A man who is constantly angry and slow to forgive his children’s failings sends a signal that God is a grump who holds grudges. A father who is slow to anger and quick to forgive sends a signal that the heavenly Father is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.
A man who doesn’t instruct his children sends a message that God isn’t interested in truth or in what we believe. A father who trains and instructs his children biblically sends a message that the heavenly Father prizes truth and wants us to know it.
A man who is unreliable and doesn’t do what he promises sends a message that God is untrustworthy. A father who does what he says and comes through when it counts sends a message that the heavenly Father comes through for his children.
If you are a father, you are your children’s first picture of what God is like. What sort of picture are they getting? None of us fathers are sinless as God is, but something of God’s character should be evident in a father. Is there anything in your life that would attract your family to the Lord? Or is your fatherhood a barrier that blocks your children from trusting in the heavenly Father and makes it very hard for them to pray gladly to the Lord as “Our Father in heaven”? Few sins are so terrible as a father damaging his children by evil conduct, making the very title father a dirty word for his kids and blaspheming the precious name of the heavenly Father. And few things are so splendid for a man as a father relating to his children in such a way that they see God in him and get to know the Lord as their Father through the fatherhood of their dad. Those are the helpful observations of David Feddes in his sermon on “Future Fathers” on the Back to God Hour (June 15, 2003).
2. FATHERS, DO THE LITTLE THINGS RIGHT
The Lord Jesus spoke a number of times of faithfulness in little things. So often we are being tested in this area of our lives more than others. Three little rules;
i] Show up. I mean being there at mealtimes can help a lot. You could work out a link between a life of criminality, and broken relationships, and drug abuse, and prison with the number of times a family sat down together in a day and in a week and shared a meal. I am beginning with small things. You don’t have to be a super-dad to sit down with the children at mealtime. I am not very interested in super-dads. Just do this small thing. If you don’t then your kids will be three to four times more likely to get into harmful habits. If you simply show up every day and share some food and conversation, it’s a little step on the way to what Paul is talking about here, while it is to provoke your children if you’re never around..
ii] Another small thing that makes a big difference for kids is taking them to church. We had John Blanchard in the town nine days ago. He mentioned following the example of Christ, how tough it is to love your enemies and pray for those despitefully using you. Yet there’s one case where it’s not so tough to follow him, and that’s in Jesus’ custom to join the people of God when they gathered for worship every Sabbath. “I can follow Christ in doing that,” said John. “That’s not so difficult.” Church attendance is no cure-all, but it helps a lot. As a father, you don’t have to be a scholar or a martyr to spend one hour per week with your family in church, do you?
iii] A third small thing that makes a big difference is teaching some rules about right and wrong. Set basic boundaries and hold your children accountable. Robert Fulghum became a multi-millionaire and he wrote a best seller called, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarden. Seven rules; so basic;
a) Share everything
b) Play fair.
c) Don’t hit people.
d) Put things back where you found them.
e) Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
f) Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone.
g) Wash your hands before you eat.
Simple lessons, yes, because we are simple people. Even without knowing a lot about the Bible’s teaching, a few commands go a long way. Insist that your kids obey you. Teach them not to lie or cheat. As they get older, command them to avoid substance abuse. Direct them not to misuse their sexuality but to save their bodies for marriage. Insisting on such rules may sound simple, even corny, but it makes a big difference. Yes, children may test some boundaries and do some wrong things, but research confirms that fathers who lovingly present clear rules and expectations do have a major impact.
David Feddes asks, “Now, if such small things can make such a big difference, if a father can make an impact just by sharing a daily meal and a weekly church service with his kids and insisting on a few rules, then imagine the impact you can have if you go beyond the bare minimum. What if you don’t just make a few rules to keep kids out of trouble but actively show them a thrilling vision of living in the joy and power of God? What if you don’t just go to church once a week but show in your everyday life that the Spirit of Jesus Christ is living in you? What if you don’t just eat a daily meal together but also talk with your children and listen to them, read the Bible to them and pray for each one individually every day? Your kids won’t merely stay away from drugs and other stupidity. They will grow up to become strong, dynamic friends of Christ who love their heavenly Father. They will also honour their earthly father and mother and be glad to have you as parents” (“Fathers in Command,” Back to God Hour, June 17, 2001).
3. FATHERS, DO THE BIG THINGS RIGHT.
I don’t mind preaching to you about the most high and holy demands that God makes in his Word, as long as I don’t treat you differently from myself. I am not Moses bringing the tablets of stone from the mountain top. I am one of crowd trembling at God’s law. I mustn’t berate and scold you, or suggest that I did or am doing these big things consistently and without any effort. I must also assure you that God’s demands are good, and that whatever he requires from us he enables us to do. I am speaking to many of you who are Christians, in other words, who have the spirit of adoption, who cry “Abba, Father,” and that Spirit – now let me encourage you – is a strengthening and sustaining Spirit, an enlightening and empowering Spirit. You don’t face fatherhood alone as a Christian. I can’t believe that the demands God makes on fathers are hopelessly idealistic, sent only to depress or torment us. Certainly one consequence of hearing what is God’s standard for fathers, and knowing that we are going to be judged by this one day, is that we’ll cry to God for forgiveness for our sins pleading the blood of Jesus Christ, and that we’ll ask him to give us a new heart and a new spirit and a new birth, and not be satisfied until we know he has answered us. So what are the big things a Christian father should do for his children?
i] Provide for them and protect them.
What is it that makes a man so important to the life of a family? To start with the obvious, a father provides and protects. A father helps provide the food and clothing and shelter that a family needs, and he also protects his wife and children from those who would harm or destroy them. Two things:
a) Meet their physical needs. Accept the responsibility of making sure they’ve got food and clothing, and a place to live. This is almost too obvious to need saying, but it’s too important not to say. Some of you have already fathered children and then left the mother of those children. You’ve broken up with your partner, and to make matters even worse you’re not paying child support. You’ve already hurt your children emotionally, and now you won’t even help to meet their physical needs. Wake up, sinner! The Bible says: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Timothy 5:8).
Others of you work long and hard to provide for your children. If so, be encouraged. If you’re a parent earning a wage in a job that isn’t much fun, look at it not just as a drag but as a God-given means to provide for the children you love. The same is true when you toil at home preparing meals and washing clothes and changing nappies. Don’t see it simply as a bore and a chore. See it as a privilege, a real and concrete way to love. Love your children by gladly working to meet their physical needs.
b) Protect them. Think of the influence of Joseph in the life of our Lord, how he was a provider and protector. He was there to help the pregnant Mary. He helped her find shelter when the baby was about to be born, and he was there at the birth to take care of the needs of mother and baby. Later, as Jesus was growing up, Joseph worked hard as a carpenter and earned enough income to provide for his family. Joseph had an important part in God’s plan to provide for Mary and Jesus.
Joseph also had a vital part in God’s plan to protect Mary and Jesus. When little Jesus was endangered by king Herod’s evil campaign to destroy all baby boys born in Bethlehem, God made sure Joseph found out about it. And Joseph took immediate action. He got up in the night and took his wife and baby and set out under the cover of darkness and took them on a long journey to Egypt . After Herod died, Joseph led his family on the journey back to Israel , and he settled in Nazareth , an out-of-the way town where they could keep a low profile and remain safe from any other murderous ideas that might occur to Herod’s successor.
Joseph’s family needed him to provide and protect, and families today still need dads to do that. If you don’t believe it, just look at the facts. In homes without a father, poverty and hardship is far more frequent. Government programmes and hand-outs can try to make up for missing fathers by providing for single mothers and their children, but what’s the outcome? More poverty than ever. I’m not saying the programmes aren’t needed. I’m saying fathers are needed. Any attempt at welfare reform will be a disaster if there isn’t fatherhood reform, and Caesar can’t do that. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit and it comes when men repent and believe the gospel
Fathers are needed to provide and to protect. A strong, decent man means strength and safety for those he loves. They’re more secure from things like robbery and rape, and his very presence can also protect them from other kinds of intimidation. For example, you probably know about the surveys which show that car salesmen are more likely to pull tricks on a woman shopping alone than on a man or on the man and woman together. Also, in families that have a husband and father, far fewer women are battered and far fewer children are abused or molested than in families with step-fathers or live-in boyfriends. So who needs Dad? Anybody who needs a provider and protector. So the first big duty of fathers is to provide for your children and protect them.
ii] Take up your God-given Role as Head in Your Home.
Many dads just admit they’re helpless, get out of their kids’ way, and hope for the best. That’s not an option for a Christian father. He has to take command of his family. He has to face up to the demands of our text, “Fathers . . . bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” What does that mean? In the Bible God said of Abraham, “I have chosen him in order that he may command his sons and his descendants to obey me and to do what is right and just. If they do, I will do everything for him that I have promised” (Genesis 18:19 TEV). God’s promise to bless Abraham and his offspring would take effect as Abraham believed God’s promise and commanded his household in God’s ways. God didn’t just expect Abraham to make polite suggestions to his offspring. God expected Abraham to command them, to direct them with authority.
Throughout the Bible, God speaks of fathers in command. Through Moses God told his people, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you – they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:46-47). God’s Word isn’t optional. It’s essential. It’s life. Accepting the Bible means life. Rejecting the Bible means death. So if you’re a father, command your children in God’s ways.
In the book of Proverbs, a wise father says: “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you . . . you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (2:1,5). “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity” (3:1). “My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you. Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye” (7:1-2). That’s how God wants fathers to speak to children: with love, with a desire for their wellbeing – and with authority! Fathers, take command! Give your children commands based on God’s commands.
Why do some parents feel so helpless? Why do some kids do whatever they please? Often it’s because dads don’t pay attention to God’s commands and have no command over their families – and the kids know that nobody’s in control. Fathers may pay bills, provide transport, and make sure the kids have a place to sleep. But being your children’s fundraiser, their taxi driver, and the one who makes their beds doesn’t mean you’re in command. It doesn’t mean you have their respect or shape their choices.
If you’re a father, how can you be in healthy command of your family? Start with faith in God and his promise. God promises that if you keep his Word in your heart and command your children to walk in God’s ways, the Lord will bless your family. Do you believe that? Do you believe that through God’s rule of your life and your command of your children, you and your kids will be blessed? Be confident in God, and be confident in what he will do through you when you live by faith in him.
Now, to teach others what God says, first find out for yourself what God says. Sit under biblical ministry twice a Sunday. Go where the whole counsel of God is taught week after week, where the pastor is into change, changing himself and changing you. Don’t go where your own prejudices are neatly rearranged each Sunday. Study the Bible personally each day. To have real authority in teaching, you need to know what you’re talking about. How can you teach others and steer them in the right direction if you’ve never studied the directions yourself?
Being the father of a family is like being in charge of a ship. If you steer the ship safely to its destination, you not only make it there yourself but you take others with you. But if you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going and you sink the ship, you will not only ruin yourself but the others in the ship with you. A ship’s captain who won’t study maps or pay attention to warnings will endanger himself and everyone with him. Likewise, a father who ignores the Bible’s directions and warnings will not know how to steer himself and his family through the icebergs, rocks, and storms of life. He puts his own soul and their souls in jeopardy of disaster. Get to know the Bible yourself so that you can steer your family to safety.
iii] Develop a Growing Loving Relationship with God.
To be in command of your family in a godly way, you must communicate with your life as well as your words. If your children can see God at work in your life, they will be far more likely to hear God in what you say. To command your children properly, you as a father must yourself be under the command of your Father in heaven, and your life must shine with the life of Christ in you.
If you don’t practice what you preach, your preaching will disgust your children. What if you went to a restaurant and the cook looked like a slob, was going back and fore to the toilet without washing his hands, wore a filthy apron, smelled badly, and had a cloud of flies buzzing around him? Would you want to swallow any food he offered you? Of course not. Likewise, if you live a dirty life that stinks with sin, you can’t expect your kids to swallow anything you say about God. You are provoking them to wrath by preaching the old virtues and practising the old vices.
You must live a Christlike life when your children are looking and also when they’re not looking. Don’t think you can have a secret life that won’t affect your kids. Hypocrisy stinks, and your kids will smell it and be turned off, even if they don’t know all the dirty details of what you’re up to. If you look at pornography, you may think it’s just a private matter that won’t hurt anybody. But it will. Everything in your life will somehow affect your kids one way or another. One of the dumbest beliefs in our society is that some things are bad for children to see but okay for adults. What nonsense! As a general rule, if there is something you wouldn’t want your kids to see or do, then don’t look at it or do it yourself. Your life, whether good or bad, has a commanding effect on your children.
What a difference it makes when parents are the kind of people their kids can admire and look up to! What a blessing to be able to say, “Parents are the pride of their children!” (Proverbs 17:6)! Can you say with integrity, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1)? None of us has Jesus’ full perfection, of course, but if Christ is living in you and directing you, then at least something of his goodness, love, and joy will shine from you. Your example will command your children’s respect and make you worth imitating.
If you don’t have a relationship to God, you are an obstacle to your children’s relationship to God. Even if you’re a fairly good parent in other respects, you are hindering and harming your child’s eternal soul (along with your own soul) if you don’t know God or love him. On the other hand, if you love and trust and worship the Lord, if you have a living relationship with Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Master and Friend, then your relationship with the Lord will inspire you to be an excellent parent and will also attract your children to want a relationship to God like the relationship you have.
A great verse for a father is Proverbs 14:26, “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.” When you have the deepest respect and reverence and love for God, it becomes a wall of safety and protection for your children. When you live by faith in God’s covenant promises, those promises embrace your children, too. So if you don’t know the Lord Jesus, get to know him. And if you do know the Lord, then love him with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. God will be honoured, and your children will be blessed along with you. Love your children by loving God.
iv] Never Neglect Admonishing Your Children
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children,” our text says, and so love your children by disciplining them firmly and fairly. I got these counsels from David Feddess in a sermon of his on Proverbs 13:24, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (“Loving you Children” The Back to God Hour, June 21 1998). If you discipline your children, they may sometimes accuse you of hating them and being mean to them. But what does God say in the Bible? God says it’s hateful not to discipline. Proverbs declares, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24).
There are misguided experts who promote permissive parenting and say that all spanking is child abuse. But God says it’s abusive not to punish your children for disobedience and sin. “Discipline your son,” says Proverbs, “for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death” (Proverbs 19:18). “Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death” (Proverbs 23:14).
Spanking isn’t the only way to punish children, especially older ones, but it certainly is one time-tested, Scripture-approved method of sound and effective discipline. The warning said, “If you can’t hear it with the ear, you’ll feel it through the rear.”
Some people oppose spanking and equate it with abuse. Why? Sometimes it’s because they have a sentimental view of children. They think children are sweet and pure by nature. Dads and Mums shouldn’t make rules or punish their kids; they should just give them what they want, let them do as they please, and watch those marvellous little people blossom. Some experts may promote this, but sensible people call it “spoiling kids rotten.”
In contrast to such sentimentality and permissiveness, the Bible bluntly says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15). Kids aren’t just sweet and wonderful. Sometimes they’re bad. Foolishness runs deep in their hearts and can even destroy their souls if it’s allowed to go unchecked. That’s why discipline must be firm, even painful at times.
However, discipline must also be fair. The Bible says, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). Do not exasperate them. Never spank your child when you aren’t in full control of your temper, or the spanking can become abusive. Punishment must be for the good of the child and must be appropriate to the offence. If you punish a child to vent your rage, and if the punishment is out of proportion to what the child did, it is abusive.
Still, not all spanking is abusive. There’s a world of difference between a carefully applied, well-deserved spanking and an angry beating. The best alternative to abusive discipline isn’t no discipline but firm, fair discipline.
Children may gripe about punishment, even when it’s fair, but they know they are loved. Kids who aren’t disciplined figure that their parents are either spineless or clueless – or, even worse, they figure their parents just don’t care. Do you want your kids to think you don’t love them enough to care what they do? The Bible says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5). A parent who scolds or spanks when necessary shows more love than one who says and does nothing.
If a child has no parents to exercise authority, no rules or boundaries to respect, no punishment to learn from, that child will most likely grow up confused, unhappy, and immoral. But if mom and dad are in charge and set well-defined borders and care enough to punish and correct bad behavior, the child develops a sense of order and wellbeing under the steady guiding hands of loving parents. “Discipline your son,” says Proverbs 29:16, “and he will bring you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.” Love your children by disciplining them firmly and fairly.
v] Encourage them at every opportunity.
Maybe one day you will have the opportunity to give away your daughter in marriage, and to say to her in front of all guests at the reception that she has been a far better daughter to you than you have been a good father to her. If our children come to know the Lord how amazing that is. They have seen us at our worst. They have seen us as angels in the pulpit and as devils in our own kitchens, and still they trust in Christ! Amazing grace.
A girl with a strong, gentle father who loves her enormously will have a better sense of who she is as a woman, and of what to look for in a man, than a girl who doesn’t have a father. A girl with a good father is likely to have so much dignity that she won’t be vulnerable to some pathetic fellow who doesn’t treasure her for who she is, and she’ll know the character of a real man too well to fall for some man whose only qualities are a hot car or a hot temper or hot hormones. Who needs Dad? Girls do.
So encourage them, as the father of the prodigal son had impressed on his boys that if they ever fell into sin and ruined their lives they could always come home. The front door would always be open for them. “Come back home son!” He had said that so often that when his foolish son was in poverty he had courage to go back to the family farm. If nothing they do seems to measure up to your requirements then you will exasperate them.
The Bible says children are a reward from God (Psalm 127:3). Because that’s true, delight in your children and value them as priceless gifts from God. Do you relish and rejoice in your children? Are you thrilled to have them? Kids can tell, you know. They can tell whether they are a joy to their parents or just a chore.
Prizing your children is crucial to the other things you do as a parent. Without really loving your kids, the time you spend with them will be a bore, and the discipline you apply will seem heartless. But when you prize your children – their smiles, their ideas, their achievements, their uniqueness – they will sense it, and all your other ways of showing love will gain added power. The more you prize your children, the more likely it is that they’ll become people who are indeed worth prizing. As Proverbs puts it, “The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him. May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice!” (Proverbs 23:24-25) Whatever you do, love your children by encouraging them as frequently and genuinely as you can.
There you have it, some simple ways and some very demanding ways to obey what Paul tells us about bringing up our children. As you’ve heard them you have thought, “I agree with them, but I’ve failed in so many ways.” Then ask for God’s forgiveness and his strength to become a better father. Remember you never stop being a father. There’s no divorce from fatherhood. Ask God to help you in the years that remain. You can change; you are never too old to change. We are all in the business of daily changing our lives.
Remember that Paul has written to these Ephesians about the God as “the Father, from whom the whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Ephesians 3:14-15). Your family can be a taste of God’s family. Your fatherhood can be a reflection of God’s fatherhood. If you model, even in a small and imperfect way, how God the Father loves his children by the way you love your children; if you show, even with your limits and faults, how Christ loves his church by the way you love your wife; if you lead your family into the truth of God the Father by being true to your calling as a father; then you join all the other godly men who obey the Lord and accept the joy and responsibility of fatherhood.
30th October 2005 GEOFF THOMAS