10 You know stuff about tanks.
9 You can go to the bathroom without a support group.
8 If someone forgets to invite you to something he can still be your friend.
7 You can drop by to see a friend without bringing a little gift.
6 If another guy shows up at the same party in the same outfit, you might become lifelong buddies.
5 One wallet, one pair of shoes, one color, all seasons.
4 There is always a game on somewhere.
3 Your pals can be trusted never to trap you with, “So…notice anything different?”
2 If something mechanical doesn’t work, you can bash it with a hammer and throw it across the room.
1 You can do your nails with a pocketknife. We need to come back to a biblical theology of fatherhood. God very clearly says that dads are to be difference-makers by leading and loving their wives and kids. Fellow fathers, it’s my prayer that through our study of God’s Word together that we might experience a great awakening in both our person and in our parenting!
Our primary passage is a short one but it packs a wallop! Please turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 6:4: “And you Fathers, do not provoke your children to wraqth, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
Before we unpack this verse, I want to begin by giving some background. In the first century, when this passage was written, families were presided over by fathers who could do whatever they pleased in their homes.
Rome had a law called patria potestas, which meant “the father’s power.” Men who were Roman citizens were given absolute property rights over their families. By law, the children and the wife were regarded as the patriarch’s personal chattel, and he could do with them what he wished. A displeased father could disown his children, sell them into slavery, or even kill them if he wished.
When a child was born, the baby was placed between the father’s feet. If the father picked up the baby, the child stayed in the home. If he turned and walked away, the child was either left to die or sold at auction. Seneca, a contemporary of the apostle Paul, described Roman policy with regard to unwanted animals: “We slaughter a fierce ox; we strangle a mad dog; we plunge a knife into a sick cow. Children born weak or deformed we drown.”
Friends, things are not much better today, are they? Millions of unwanted babies are aborted each year. Children have become a disposable commodity in our society, just as they were in ancient Rome.
The Bible calls Christian fathers to a different standard. Just as it was revolutionary for dads to lovingly lead their kids in the first century, faithful fathers today who do not exasperate their kids are counter-cultural. Our kids are not property to own but image bearers of God who need to be managed and trained. Dads, we are called to provide a proper nurturing environment where our kids can grow up to love and serve Christ. Our primary responsibilities by which our fathering will be judged are set forth in Ephesians 6:4.
Old Paradigm: Provide/Protect!
I want you to notice the very first word of this verse: “Fathers.” I think Paul addresses just dads here because he knows that we especially need to hear this. He doesn’t say “parents” or “moms and dads.” He uses the word, “Fathers.” Most of us dads are sloppy in our fathering, not giving much thought to what we’re called to do. This verse brings us up short by calling us to some pretty high standards.
In essence, Paul is challenging us to see the word “fathers” as a verb not just a noun. It’s biologically easy to become a father, but biblically challenging to actually “father” our children. The Bible very clearly challenges dads to become the point men in their homes because the ultimate responsibility for what a family becomes is the father’s. In this passage, we’re given 4 “Dad Duties.” One duty is something we should not do; the other three are what we are to do.
A. Avoid Exasperation
The first duty is negative we are told to “not exasperate our children.” This is a caution or warning designed to put us on guard against stirring up anger in our kids either deliberately or through careless provocations. I think Paul started with a negative command because he knows that fathers, who are fallen creatures, are prone to abuse their authority in the home.
The Greek word translated “exasperate” means “to rouse to anger” or “to enrage.” The present tense of the verb indicates that we are to stop doing something that is common and continuous. This warning is calling us dads to avoid anything that will eventually break the sprit of our children. Paul puts it this way in Colossians 3:21: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” When we exasperate our kids, they can become bitter and bummed out.
While there are times when kids become sinfully angry due to their own selfishness or immaturity, there are other times when dads are guilty of aggravating their kids. We can do that by deliberately goading them, by callously neglecting them or by any number of other intentional or careless means that exasperate them. When that happens, it is we dads who are sinning and provoking our children to sin as well.
You can anger your kids by fencing them in too much.
Laban, an Old Testament dad, was an overprotective and domineering parent. He dealt dishonestly with Jacob in order to get him to marry Leah, his eldest daughter, even though Jacob loved Rachel, the younger one. In exchange for a promise to work for Laban for 7 years, Jacob was allowed to marry Rachel as well. His controlling parenting cost his own daughters a healthy marriage.
Ironically, despite Laban’s overprotective interfering, the daughters’ assessment was that their father did not really care for them. Listen to what they say about their dad in Genesis 31:15: “Are we not considered strangers by him? For he has sold us, and also completely consumed our money.” What their dad had thought of as an expression of parental protection came across as evidence that he did not really love them.
The flip side of overprotection is overindulgence. Excessively permissive parents are as likely to stir their children’s wrath as much as those who stifle them. Studies prove that children given too much freedom begin to feel insecure and unloved. Because our society has fostered increasingly permissive attitudes toward children, we are now reaping the harvest of a whole generation of angry young people.
A third way to exasperate kids is by showing favoritism. Isaac favored Esau over Jacob, and Rebecca preferred Jacob over Esau. That family experienced terrible agony and two brothers became bitter rivals. If you want to destroy your child, just make him feel inferior to everyone else in the family.
4. Unrealistic Goals.
Dads, we can provoke our kids to wrath by constantly pushing achievement. 1 Thessalonians 2:11 shows us Paul’s fatherly concern for the church: “We exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children.” Fathers, while it’s true that we’re called to exhort and charge our children, we’re also to comfort them.
As Colossians 3:21 challenges us, we are not to provoke our children to anger or they will become discouraged. Dads, let’s cut down on criticism and sarcasm in the home. Let’s look for ways to celebrate and applaud. Let’s give our approval spontaneously so our kids don’t have to earn it or look for it in the arms of a boyfriend or girlfriend. Let’s catch our kids doing things right instead of lashing out at them for what they do wrong.
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: For every time you have to point out something that your kids do wrong, try to equalize it with a word of encouragement.
Haim Ginott wrote this: “A child learns what he lives. If he lives with criticism he does not learn responsibility. He learns to condemn himself and to find fault with others. He learns to doubt his own judgment, to disparage his own ability, and to distrust others. And above all, he learns to live with the continual expectation of impending doom."
Another way to exasperate your children is by neglecting them. When we fail to show affection and act indifferently toward our kids, we can cause them to burn with anger. We can neglect our kids by never being home; or we can do it by being home but not involved in their lives.
7. Excessive Discipline.
Too much punishment is another sure way to provoke a child to anger. Dads, don’t ride your kids constantly. The father who throws his weight around whether physically or verbally can be devastating to a child’s spirit. Hebrews 12 says that God always disciplines us in love and so should we.
That’s the negative side of our dad duty: avoid exasperation. Now, let’s look at three positive principles from the second half of Ephesians 6:4: “…but, bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”
B. Provide Nurture
The word “instead” shows a contrast between what we should not do and what we are to do. Here’s the first thing we are called to do: provide nurture. The NKJV translates this verb as “bring them up.” This is the same phrase that is used in 5:29 referring to the husband’s role of “feeding and caring” for his wife. Men, we are called to nourish our wife and children by sharing love and encouragement in the Lord.
Notice also that we are to “bring them up.” We are to bring our children up because they will not get there by themselves. Dads, we are to take an active role in shaping the character of our children. Proverbs 29:15 says, “A child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” John MacArthur puts it this way: “What ruins most children is not what their parents do to them, but what they do not do for them.”
The phrase, “bring them up” also carries with it the idea of “tutoring” and “instructing.” I’m a dad, but along with Melody, I’m also a tutor and teacher for my daughters. In fact, my most important job is to disciple my kids and to leave a legacy of faithfulness for them.
According to a 50-year study of Christian and non-Christian families, most young adults who follow Christ either come from non-Christian homes or from homes where they grew up in love with Jesus because mom and dad were in love with Jesus. Their parent’s passion for Christ permeated their lives and passed through their pores to their kids. Sadly, very few believers came from homes where there was a kind of indifferent, apathetic commitment to Christ. It is sobering to suggest that the chances are better for a child growing up in a non-Christian home to become a sold-out believer than for a child growing up in a spiritually lukewarm environment.
Dads, how are you doing on this one? Are you modeling authentic faith? Are you providing a nurturing atmosphere in your home in which your children can grow up to love and serve Christ? Are you looking for ways to teach and tutor your kids or are you leaving this for mom to handle? As we’ve established in this series, one of the best ways to parent your children is to live authentically yourself. As someone has said, “One way to correct your children is to correct the example you’re setting for them.”
C. Provide Discipline
The next thing Paul challenges us to do is to provide discipline for our kids. This word is translated “admonition” in some of your Bibles and carries with it the idea of a rebuke or a warning. Literally, it means to “place before the mind.”
Proverbs 13:24 in the New King James Version provides a strong challenge to us dads: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” You may hesitate to discipline because you think that you’re being unkind to your kids. Actually, when you don’t discipline, you’re being more than unkind you’re not loving them. If we love our kids, then we must admonish, rebuke, and discipline them.
Listen carefully. I’m not advocating that you beat your kids. What I am saying is this: children need to be disciplined by their dads. Our kids not only need correction, they want it. If we don’t give it to them, we’re failing them and may cause them to fall away from the faith. Hebrews 12:11 speaks of God’s loving discipline in our lives by showing how beneficial it really is: “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."
D. Provide Instruction
And so dads, we are to avoid making our kids angry if at all possible and we’re to provide nurture and discipline. There’s one last thing that we’re called to do in this verse: we’re to provide instruction. Notice that this instruction is to be “in the Lord.”
“Lord” is an extremely exalted title as Paul uses it in the New Testament. To say that Jesus is Lord means that He is the rightful king of the universe, He is ruler over the entire world, He is commander of all the armies of heaven, He is triumphant over sin and death and pain and Satan and hell, and He will one day establish His kingdom in righteousness.
Dad, you are the point man in your home. You are the coach of your team. You are the captain and your barracks is boot camp for training young soldiers for the greatest combat in the world. Your residence is a launching pad for missiles of missionary zeal aimed at the unreached peoples of the world.
Our goal is not merely to get our kids to outwardly conform to a list of rules. Our mandate is to develop children who seek to glorify God with their lives.
Let’s be honest about something. We have a problem, don’t we? My trouble, more often than not, is that I’m not engaged as a dad. I’m not always fully present. My heart is not always in the job.
Dads, you don’t have to make all these changes on your own. In the very last verse of the Old Testament, in Malachi 4:6, the prophet looks ahead to the ministry of John the Baptist and writes this: “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
I know for me it’s really a heart issue. If my heart is fully focused on my kids, then I will do a pretty good job of fathering. Dads, if you sense that your heart is not really into parenting, and you sense that your kids don’t have much to do with you, then make this verse your personal prayer. Ask God to turn your heart to your children and ask Him to turn their hearts to you. He will be glad to answer a prayer like this.
Let me remind you of 3 things:
1. There are no perfect fathers, except our Heavenly Father.
2. We can all be better dads if we will work at it.
3. We do not father alone. That’s why we need to pray daily for our kids.
A man came home from work late again, tired and irritated. He found his 5-year-old son waiting for him at the door. “Daddy, may I ask you a question?”
The dad replied: “Yeah, sure, what is it?”
“Daddy, how much money do you make an hour?”
The dad got mad and said, “That’s none of your business! Why do you want to know?”
The little boy said, “I just want to know. Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?”
The dad, wanting to sit down and relax, said, “If you must know, I make $20 an hour.”
The little boy sighed and bowed his head. Looking up, he asked, “Daddy, may I borrow $10 please?”
The father flew off the handle, “If the only reason you wanted to know how much money I make is so that you can hit me up for some cash to buy some stupid toy, then you march yourself straight to your room and go to bed. You’re so selfish. I work long, hard hours every day and don’t have time for this.”
The little boy quietly went to his room and shut the door.
The dad sat down and started to get even madder about the nerve of his little boy. How dare he ask questions only to get some money. After an hour or so, the man had calmed down, and started to think that maybe he was a bit hard on his boy. Maybe his son really needed the money for something important. And so, the father went up to his boy’s room and opened it, “Are you asleep, son?”
“No daddy. I’m awake,” replied the boy.
“I’ve been thinking, maybe I was too hard on you earlier. It’s been a long day, and I took it out on you. Here’s that 10 bucks you asked for.”
The little boy sat straight up, beaming. “Oh, thank you, daddy!” he exclaimed. Then, reaching under his pillow, he pulled out a wad of crumpled up bills.
The dad, seeing that the boy already had some money, started to get angry again. The little boy slowly counted out his money, and then looked up at his dad.
The dad, now ticked off, demanded to know what was going on, “Why did you want more money if you already had some?”
The little boy replied, “Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do. Daddy, I have $20 now…and I’d like to buy an hour of your time.”