I have up here on the screen a funny comic strip I came across a while back. Some of you parents may be able to relate.
It shows a son being escorted home by a policeman, and the father has a look of horror on his face. The little boy says, “Remember, you don’t believe in spanking.”
You have to wonder if the boy is being led home by a policeman because the father doesn’t believe in spanking.
The Houston Police Department put out a leaflet on parenting years ago which was guaranteed to be 99% effective. The leaflet was called “How to Ruin Your Child.” There are only five simple steps.
- Beginning with infancy, give the child everything he wants.
- When he picks up bad words, laugh at him.
- Never give him any spiritual training. Let him wait until he’s twenty-one years old, and let him decide for himself.
- Avoid using the word “wrong.” It may cause him to develop a guilt complex.
- Pick up everything he leaves lying around, so he will become experienced at throwing responsibility on everybody else.
That’s from the Houston Police.
Dr. Paul Meier, a Christian psychiatrist, facetiously discusses in his book called Christian Child-Rearing and Personality Development how parents can raise certain types of children depending on what they want. I’m not going to go into them, but he gives, for example, ten steps for the parents who want their children to become drug addicts or alcoholics. He gives other steps to direct your child into homosexuality, criminal activity, schizophrenia and a host of other anti-social behaviors.
The point that Dr. Meier and even the Houston Police have discovered is that a child’s future is very much dependent upon the discipline and training they receive from their parents.
Which is exactly the truth we read about over and over in the book of Proverbs. Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not stray from it (22:6). This is also the very lesson we are going to see today from Ephesians 6:4. How to train your children and bring them up to be Godly men and women.
Last week, I talked primarily to the children and youth who were here about obeying and honoring their parents.
But Paul goes on from there to talk about the role of the parents in the relationship. Everybody knows that no child automatically obeys and honors their parents, right?
Do any of you have children who were always obedient? No, of course not! Because each and every one of are born sinners, it is natural for us to disobey. It is natural for us to sin. It is natural for us to rebel.
Because of this, we have to learn obedience. We have be trained to obey. And this is the responsibility of the parents, as we will see from Ephesians 6:4.
Ephesians 6:4. And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
At first, it seems that Paul directs what he is saying here primarily to fathers. And if this were the case, that would be fine, because, as we learned back in Ephesians 5, fathers are supposed to be the head of the household.
But the Greek word used here can also refer to both parents. It is used this way in Hebrews 11:23, which says, “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents.” That’s the same Greek word there.
So although our translations say fathers, these instructions are for both mothers and fathers.
Culturally, this was quite a revolutionary thing for Paul to say. In that society, it was really only the fathers who had any authority in the home. Rome had a law called patria potestas, which means “The Father’s Power.” Under this law, the man owned everything in the house—the possessions, the children, the wife and the slaves—and could do with any of them whatever he wanted.
He could force his children to marry. He could divorce his wife for no reason at all. He could neglect his family and slaves. If he wanted to, he could beat any of them he wanted, or he could disown them, or sell any of them into slavery, or even kill them.
When a child was born, it would be placed at the father’s feet. If he decided he wanted to keep it, he would pick it up. If he decided he didn’t want it, he would turn and walk away, and the child was sold into slavery or killed.
We have a letter from a Roman man to his wife which reads this way: “Heartiest greetings. Note that we are still even now in Alexandria. Do not worry, if when all others return, I remain in Alexandria. I beg and beseech you to take care of the little child, and as soon as we receive wages, I will send them to you. If—good luck to you—you have another child, if it is a boy, let it live, if it is a girl, [throw it away.]
A man by the name of Seneca, who lived at the same time as Paul, wrote about they handled unwanted animals. He said this: “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.”
Barbaric, yes? Horrendous, right? How could they?
If only they had been able to practice abortion like civilized people.
We haven’t progressed as much as we think, have we?
Well, in such a society, like their and ours, Paul’s message was quite revolutionary. He begins by giving responsibility to both the husband and the wife, and as we see when we get deeper into the verse, he tells the parents to treat the children—not as possessions or slaves—but as real people who have eternal significance and infinite value.
So, mothers, I’m speaking to you today just as much as I am speaking to the fathers. Even though fathers are to be the head, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the father is the one who does all the discipline and training. He is the one who lays down the law, and sets the guidelines and principles, but I think that both the father and the mother can be—and should be—involved in the discipline and training process.
I know some mothers who only discipline their children by saying, “You wait until your father gets home, young man!” There’s something to be said for this because the father is the head of the household, but the drawback is that it lack an immediate consequence for sin and disobedience, and it also shows the child that they do not have to fear, honor or respect their mother.
So I think there needs to be a balance. When a child sins, the mother has the right and responsibility to correct and discipline the child right away. But also, the father, when he gets home, also needs to be informed of what happened, and to further correct and discipline the child if necessary.
Now men, listen up! By far, the absolute worst thing you could do is to undermine your wife’s authority to your child by getting upset at your wife for disciplining your children when you are gone, or by telling your child some nonsense like, “What you did wasn’t really a big deal”, and “mom over-reacted”, and “don’t you love dad because I’m not going to spank you?”
I see this happen all the time in families. What happens is that the children realize that they don’t have to obey mom, because if she tries to discipline them, dad gets mad at her, and the child gets off scott free. When children realize this, they become masters at playing one parent off the other.
Children are masters at parent manipulation. So while Paul refers directly only to fathers here in Ephesians 6:4, I think we can apply what the verse says to both parents. It takes a concerted team effort to train up your children in the way they should go.
So, let’s see what Ephesians 6:4 tells all of us parents.
Ephesians 6:4 begins with a negative command. This command is a good thing to remember when talking about discipline. Paul says do not provoke your children to wrath.
Now you should also know that the words provoke … to wrath all come from only one word in the Greek. The word is parorgizo, and can be translated, “to provoke to anger” or “to make or cause anger.”
The NIV has tried to show that only one word is being used here by simply saying “do not exasperate your children.” And that’s okay, but let’s talk about what this means to not provoke or exasperate your children to wrath.
Put in today’s language, we could say, “don’t be on a power trip with your children!” The New Living Translation says, “Don’t make your children angry by the way you treat them.” I think that’s pretty good.
The point here is to make sure that how you treat your children does not provoke them into disobedience. There are several ways this can happen.
Some parents are over-restrictive. It is very easy to go overboard on discipline. It is very easy to be too strict. To not give enough liberty. To be too harsh in your punishment. These parents try to protect their children too much so that they are never allowed to do anything or go anywhere without the parents.
Maybe they set unrealistic goals that can never be achieved, or their words and their actions toward their children are always discouraging and critical. Maybe they are not allowing their children to grow up and still treat them like they were two and can’t make any decisions on their own.
These parents are over-restrictive.
On the other hand, some parents provoke their children by giving too much liberty! They have no restrictions, no chores, no responsibilities around the house. They never get disciplined when they do wrong. The children are allowed to go anywhere, do anything, with whomever they want.
These parents are too lenient.
These are the two extremes. Ironically, both extremes are found in one famous father in Scripture by the name of Lot. Some of you may remember the first Father’s Day sermon I ever gave was about Lot. I tried to use him as an example of a bad father to show us fathers what NOT to do in our families. I now refer to that sermon as “The Worst Father’s Day Sermon ever.” It was a downer.
But you remember that first, Lot was living in Sodom and Gomorrah, and he had his two daughters with him, and all of them were involved in the wickedness and corruption of the city. Lot was the father who was giving too much liberty, and his daughters got caught up in sin.
But then we remember from Genesis that God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, but rescues Lot and his two daughters—his wife doesn’t make it. So now, Lot is scared, because he sees the disastrous results of sin, so what does he do? After a short stay in the town of Zoar, he goes to the other extreme and takes his daughters off to a cave in the wilderness where they live for a while. But now he is being too restrictive, and again, his daughters fall into some serious sin.
All of this is just to illustrate that fact that you cannot protect your children by being too liberal or being too strict. Both will end up provoking your children which is what Paul commands us not to do here.
So how do you know if you are being too harsh or not with your children? How do you know how much liberty to give a child? I mean, nobody thinks they are too harsh, and almost nobody thinks they give their children too much leeway. Everybody thinks they are just right, and everybody else is either too strict, or not strict enough.
Well, let me give you some ideas on how to avoid this.
First, it is not being too restrictive to attempt to teach your children some of the lessons you have learned in life. There is a distressing trend in parenting today where the parents know something is wrong, but since they did it when they were kids, they feel that they don’t have the right to tell their own children not to do it.
I’ll tell you what—it is exactly because you did it, and now you know it’s wrong, because you suffered the consequences—which gives you the right to tell your children not to do something.
I mean, according to this logic, we shouldn’t try to teach our kids any of the lessons we have learned in life. Just for the sake of argument, let get extreme and say that when you were a kid, you didn’t know it was wrong to play in the freeway, and so you and some friends were playing ball on the highway and you got hit by a car, broke your back and got paralyzed from the waist down.
Now, when you have kids, are you going to tell them that it’s okay for them to play in the highway because you did it when you were a kid? Of course not!
But a lot of parents who drank, or used drugs, or got involved in premarital sex don’t fell right about telling their kids to stay away from such damaging actions because they did it when they were young, and don’t want to be hypocritical.
That is the worst logic in the world. If we learn from our mistakes, these are opportunities to make sure that our children do not fall into the same mistakes and hurt their lives as much as we hurt ours.
So it is not too strict to tell your kids not to do something which you did when you were young. Let them learn from your mistakes, and maybe they won’t make the same mistakes.
But what does it mean for them to be provoked to wrath?
Well, this is the same kind of wrath we saw back in Ephesians 4:26 when Paul told us not to let the sun go down on our wrath. There it is a noun, whereas here it is a verb, but the words have the same root. There you have anger, here you are provoking to anger.
But this is a purely human kind of wrath. God, who is a God of wrath (Ps 7:11; 59:13; Isa 51:20; Jer 10:10; etc.) toward sin, never has the kind of wrath Paul mentions here.
The wrath in view here is a rebellious and sinful anger. When a parent is too strict, or too controlling, almost always the child, when they get out on their own, will rebel against the ways of their parents. They will do everything their parents told them not to.
On the other hand, children who were given too much freedom, and too much liberty, and were not disciplined and not trained, they too go off the deep end because they were never taught that a Godly life has boundaries. They were never taught to respect other people, or to respect those in authority. So they too rebel.
So you see there is a balance here—not too strict, but not too much liberty. And when a child rebels, whose fault is it? Well, again, there’s balance. I know some parents who seem to have done everything right, but their children still go the way of the world. That’s because each child has a free will to obey and honor their parents or not—as we saw last week in Ephesians 6:1-3.
But there is also the responsibility in Ephesians 6:4 on the part of the parents to make sure that they do not provoke or exasperate their children so that they rebel and go the way of the world. I see it happen both ways all too often.
Do not provoke your children to wrath.
Notice also, by the way, that it is your children that you are not to provoke to wrath.
We sometimes need to be reminded that God has given us our children to train, and not everybody else’s children also. This happens all the time in churches since almost everybody has different ideas about how to train and discipline children.
What happens is that one family sees another family having problems, and so takes it upon themselves to try to train and correct the children of that other family. This is a recipe for disaster—I’m telling you right now—don’t do it!
If another family is not bringing up their children the way you think it should be done, that’s their problem, not yours. They will have to answer to God, not to you.
And besides that, most of us have more than we can handle with our own children. If you really think you have the perfect kids, or have all the answers on how to deal with children, my advice to you is to wait a little longer or look into the lives of your children a little deeper. You will soon discover you didn’t know as much as you thought you did.
Now of course, if you do a pretty good job of raising your children, and another family comes to you and said, “Wow! Your kids are so well behaved, what’s your secret?” then you have an opportunity to share with them some of the principles you use in raising Godly children. I would not recommend trying to tell people how to raise their children when they haven’t asked you for help.
The only way to tell people what to do when they haven’t asked you is to become a pastor and preach it to them on Sunday morning … that’s a joke!
Paul is talking here to you parents about your children, not somebody else’s children. If God had wanted you to train other people’s children, he would have given them to you, instead of to them.
So that’s the first half of verse 4 and the negative command for parents. Do not provoke your children to wrath. Now we come to the second half of the verse and the positive command. If you are not supposed to provoke them to wrath, what are you supposed to do?
The rest of verse 4 says, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
Paul says bring them up. It could also be translated “nurture.” This means that from the moment they are born to the moment they leave the house and cleave to their spouse—as we learned in Ephesians 5 – it is your responsibility to raise them.
It is not just enough to bring them into the world, you must also show them how to live in the world.
It is the same responsibility we have as a church. Jesus has told us in Matthew 28:19-20 to go and make disciples, not just converts. It is not enough to just to get a person to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life, you then need to show them how to live their new life in Jesus Christ.
Whenever you come across somebody who boasts to you about how many people they have led to Christ, you should always ask them how many of these converts they are discipling. It is always better to have only ten converts and ten disciples, then it is to have ten thousand converts and no disciples.
As parents, your children are your first and most important disciples. When you have children, your first goal for their life is to make sure that each one of them have individually, for themselves, believed in Jesus for eternal life.
If, by the grace of God, they have done this, then it is your responsibility to bring them up as Paul says here. It is your responsibility to disciple them. I am convinced that if all Christian parents in the last 2000 years had faithfully discipled just their own children, nearly all the world would be Christian today.
Some of the strongest Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Atheist countries in existence today used to be Christian countries! Did you know that? Historically, some of the nations which used to be almost 100% Christian, are now barely 1% Christian.
And I’ll tell you what. America is headed that direction. Unless Christian families start to take seriously the importance of bringing up their children in the faith, 50 years from now, 100 years from now, 200 years from now—I don’t know how long it will take—America will be a Muslim country, or an atheist country.
In fact, I just learned on Thursday that in November, 2 to 3000 Atheists marched in Washington D.C. waving signs which read “Atheists Bless America.” Their goal was to show that they are rapidly gaining ground in their campaign to get rid of God in this country.
They are succeeding. Currently, 14% of America is atheistic, but this is way up from probably less than 1% a century ago. If families do not start taking steps to bring their children up in the faith, our country will be mostly atheistic within a few generations.
So what can you do? Paul tells us in the rest of the verse. First, he uses that word training.
The word Paul uses here is paideia. If you remember from last week, there are two Greek words for children. One is teknon, which is the word used here in verse 4 and also in verse 1. It means descendant, and so all of us, no matter how old we are, technically are teknon. If we have a mother and father, which all of us do, we are teknon.
But the other word for children is paidia, and it means young children, referring primarily to little children like infants and toddlers. And the word here for training is paideia. Different word, but same root. It can also mean discipline, or instruction.
But the similarity in the words means that the training Paul is talking about here begins at a very young age. While it is never too late to start training your children, it is best to start when they are very young. Wendy and I have already started a few things with Taylor, and she is only nine months old.
I am so thankful for Wendy in this regard, because she knows a lot about child development and how to train and instruct them. She has a degree in education, and she has read many books from all aspects of training children, and has observed and talked to people from all different approaches and has seen what works and doesn’t work. She has also worked with children of all ages and all backgrounds and has watched how their parents train them.
The only thing she lacks at this point is practical experience with our own children. That is where Taylor comes in. Taylor is our guinea pig. But so far—yes we are only nine months into it—so far, I am very impressed.
God has a lot to teach us still, I’m sure, and we’re going to make a lot of mistakes, but the point is that we are starting when Taylor is young.
And by the way, this word training has almost nothing to do with teaching her about the Bible. She really is too young for that. Training means to train and instruct them about the other things in life. Teaching them respect and obedience for parents. When we say “no” we mean “no.”
A lot of children have been trained that when mommy says “no” it actually means, “Just keep on asking her until she says ‘yes,’“ or “Go ask dad.”
Let me read a “Letter to the Editor” which appeared in Moody Monthly a while back.
The other day I was sitting in a muffler shop, waiting for a new muffler to be put in our car. A young mommy came in with Mark, about five years old, and plopped down two seats away from mine. After three minutes, Mark began to demand a “dwink,” pointing to the pop machine.
No, Mark,” the mommy said. But Mark knew, and I knew, by the way she said “no” that she really meant “keep pushing me and I’ll give in.” So Mark began his campaign. He threatened to hit her. He got on the floor and screamed. He accused her of not loving him. And he said some things that little Marks should not say. It was too much for me.
I turned to the Mommy and said, ‘Please, for Mark’s sake discipline him! He will thank you for it later. Buy a copy of Dr. Dobson’s book, Dare to Discipline for Mark’s sake and yours.
Training our children begins when they are very young.
As our children get older, training them means teaching them about finances and how to handle money and live on a budget. It means giving them responsibility around the house and the privileges or punishments that comes with how they handle that responsibility. Training involves teaching them how to make decisions in life and what is most important in life.
Basically, training your child means to teach them how to become a productive member of society.
And again, remember, you are to do this to your children. Parents should try to do everything within their power to make sure that the day care is not the one who trains their children. God gave the children to the parents so that the parents can do the training.
But there is another aspect to bringing up your children which goes beyond just making them a productive member of society. And Paul ends verse four with this vital aspect. He uses the phrase admonition of the Lord.
If training a child is teaching your child to be a productive member of society, admonishing them is teaching them the Bible and how to be a Christian. The word used for admonition is nouthesia. I don’t know how many of you have heard of nouthetic counseling, but it’s the only kind of counseling I do.
Nouthetic counseling is nothing more than Biblical counseling. It is using the Bible to help men and women deal with the problems, issues and questions they have in life. The Bible speaks to all of our needs and questions, and so it is sufficient and authoritative to help us. Why would we want some psychiatrist’s answers to our problems when we can have God’s?
That is what Nouthetic Counseling is. And, incidentally, Biblical preaching is a form of Nouthetic Counseling. All of you are receiving a little forty minute counseling session this morning on how be a better parent. When you listen to a Biblical sermon, you are receiving Nouthetic Counseling.
That is why you should always go to a church where the Bible is faithfully preached. It has been effectively proven that in churches where the Bible is faithfully taught from the pulpit, there is not nearly as much of a need for counseling as in churches where the pastor teaches topically. As Biblical preaching goes down, the need for counseling goes up.
But back to Ephesians 6. Paul calls parents to be nouthetic counselors with their children. He does this by using the word nouthesia, which means admonish. Parents, admonish your children.
A lot of Christian parents today say, “Oh yes, I do that. I take them to church.” No, that is not what Paul has in mind here. It is the parents who admonish their own children—not the church who does it for them. Nor is it good enough to send your kids to a Christian school so a Christian teacher can admonish them.
The point of a church service is to teach and train the parents so that they can go home and teach and train their children. That is why we do not send our children off to junior church. We understand that they might cry and make some noise—and that’s okay. We keep them in the service because we want them to see you learning God’s Word. If they see that learning the Bible is important to you, then they will want to learn it also.
What I’m trying to say is that when it comes admonishing your children, a pound of parent is worth a hundred pounds of preacher. Church attendance is for you, so that you can turn around and teach your children.
Which brings up the question of how you – as the parents – can admonish your children. One of the best ways, of course, is through family devotions. Once a week—every day—I don’t care. Some is better than nothing.
But admonishing your children goes far beyond just having family devotions. In fact, depending on how you have family devotions may be more damaging than if you didn’t do them at all.
Let me tell you what I mean. I heard of a single pastor who was invited over to a family’s house for dinner. When he arrived, there was the normal chit chat, and small talk about the church and the weather. When the meal was ready, they all sat down for dinner. This young pastor, since he was single, didn’t get home cooked meals very often, and so he said that as he looked at the spread, his mouth started watering and his stomach started growling.
The family was called to dinner, they all sat down. The father prayed. Then, right after he said “Amen” he said, “Now, let’s open our Bibles to 1 Chronicles 13 for family devotions. And they read chapter 13, and then chapter 14, and then chapter 15 with the father interspersing comments as he went.
Then, after he finally finished reading those three chapters—by this time, the steam had stopped rising from the mashed potatoes, and the gravy was slowly forming a film on top, the father said, “Now before we eat, let’s get out our hymnals and we’ll sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” After singing all four verses, the father finally said, “Ok. Let’s eat.”
Now that is a bit of an extreme example (it did happen by the way—Tape Preaching Today), but it illustrates the point that if you are going to do devotions with your children, make sure you do them at a time and in such a way so the children don’t hate it. Right before meal time while the food is getting cold on the table is not the best time.
Of course, there probably is not time for devotions that is perfectly convenient for everyone. So at some point you just have to pick a time, and discipline yourselves to do it. Family devotions are important.
But admonishing your children is much more than just having devotions. Admonishment is a way of life. If your children see that you have devotions with them several times a week, but then you get in fights all the time with your spouse, you are dishonest at your job, and you try and cheat the government out of taxes, talking negatively about your coworkers, watching shows on television that you know you shouldn’t, they are not going to think much about your relationship with God, and as a result, they won’t want one either.
Living in the admonition of the Lord is a way of life. It means that God and the things of the Bible enter into everything you do. When your kids watch television, and you are watching it with them, and you see or hear something taught that is contrary to the Bible, that does not mean you never let them watch television anymore. Instead, you should take that opportunity to point out to them what was wrong about the show and what the Bible has to say about it.
When you come home from work, and you’ve had a hard day, your children are watching to see how your relationship with God effects what you say about your boss. It is hard to tell your children to obey and honor you when you don’t obey and honor your employer. Or, if your employer is dishonest, has some illegal business practices, and maybe mistreats the employees, your children will watch to see how you handle the situation. You might need to refuse to go along with him, or you might need to quit your job.
How do you view church attendance and getting involved in church service? Is it a burden? Do you drag your feet? If so, don’t be surprised if later in life, your children don’t go to church at all. If you didn’t want to go, why should they waste their time?
It has been said that you are the first God your children will ever know. Obviously, you are not God, but what it means is that children learn about God and His Word by watching and listening to you.
Most of what they learn comes from what you say and how you live in your day in and day out life. Yes, the devotions are important, but how you live your life determines whether they accept or reject what you teach them during family devotions.
The whole process is referred to by Paul in verse 6 as the admonition of the Lord.
Parents, do you want your children to grow up to be Godly men and women? It doesn’t happen automatically. You need to make sure that you are not provoking them to wrath so that later in life they reject Christianity, and you need to make sure that you are training them about life, and admonishing them in the ways of God. This is God’s directions for how to have a happy family.
Notes on Ephesians 6:4
 John MacArthur, Successful Christian Parenting (Nashvilled: Word, 1998), 133.
 Ibid, 134.
 Quoted in Dr. Dobson, Straight Talk to Men and Their Wives (Waco: Word, 1980), 57.
 Kent Hughes, Common Sense Parenting (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1995), 67.