“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4
“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Colossians 3:21
These two mirroring verses are actually the only two commands to parents in the entire New Testament. In them, at first glance, most of us see a command to dads to be careful not to anger their kids and to raise them with discipline and teaching. A myriad of books has been written on the meaning of discipline and instruction, bringing them up and provoke.
The parent’s job is to share. The Spirit’s is to change.
But we have focused on the wrong parts of these verses. We have solely focused on what we are to do and forgotten what Jesus is about and what he has done. Without the of the Lord at the end of Ephesians 6:4, we would have no good news to give to our children. They would have no motivation for obedience, and we would miss out on sharing the joy of the gospel of Jesus with them.
These three words, of the Lord, would have been revolutionary to the early readers in Ephesus and are still today.
A break from cultural norms
The Greeks in the city would have brought their children up in the discipline and instruction of the philosophers of the day. With Socrates, Aristotle and Plato leading the pack of great thinkers, the Greeks would have prized their wisdom and taught their children to do the same. Their thoughts would have been the accepted wisdom. Modern-day, pop psychology is our equivalent—such as Dr. Spock, Dr. Phil and maybe even Oprah. (Poor comparisons, I know.)
Deeper than the Law
These same three words would have shocked the Jews who received the letter from Paul. They would have brought their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Law. The Torah was the rule of the day, and fathers spent their time learning it and training their children in it.
The majority of the church today also thinks of discipline and the Law. We want our kids to know and obey the rules, and this is where we spend the bulk of our time—in trying to get kids to simply follow the rules. We too often forget about their hearts.
Training our children of the Lord
To train our children in the Lord is gospel-centered parenting. So we tell them about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension and his intercession for them. We tell them the good news of all that salvation brings: full forgiveness, adoption, redemption, atonement and propitiation (Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2). You don’t have to use all those big, delicious theological words, but you can break them down for your kids teaching in their own words and everyday situations. The following are examples.
- When your child lies because he doesn’t want to get into trouble, you can tell him that his life is hidden in Christ and the very sin he is trying to cover up has already been paid for. (Colossians 3:3)
- When your child steals, you can tell her that God promises to take care of his kids and give them everything they need. (Matthew 6:25–33).
- When your child feels alone, you give the comforting words of Christ, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
- When your child is troubled by his sin, you can tell him, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalms 103:12)
- When your child feels friendless, you can tell her that Jesus calls us his friends. (John 15:15)
- When your child feels like no one understands, share that Jesus sympathizes with him, in his weakness, and Jesus prays for him with understanding of what he’s going through. (Hebrews 4:15)
Jesus is strong enough to use our failures to glorify Himself.
The gospel really does change everything about our lives—that is the good news! It is good news that informs each situation we encounter. As you share these truths with your children, you can know that the Holy Spirit’s job is to open up their hearts to the beauty of God’s truth. Your job is to share; his job is to change. You can rest; you can enjoy your kids, and you can pray that the Holy Spirit will open your eyes and that he will use you in their lives.
The good news for us parents is that Jesus is strong and faithful enough to use our failures to glorify Himself. He works in our weaknesses and He proves Himself strong.