Saturday Sermon: Fathers, do not provoke your children
"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."
- Ephesians 6:4
This is such an interesting text in so many ways. Because Paul writes this command the way he does, it is clear that fathers must be in the habit of provoking their children to anger. I am a father and as much as I want to disagree with this, I can't.
All too often, I have pushed my children to anger because I have expected something of them that they were incapable of doing at their age, or I wouldn't let them do something they were capable of just because it needed to be done my way.
That is what this word "provoke" or "exasperate" means ... expecting something from them that they have not been taught or keeping them from doing something they are capable of. This frustrates our children more than we often know. There is a parallel passage from Colossians that says, "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged."
Our children want to please us more than anything else. That is why they draw us pictures. That is why they smile real big - to get our attention and our approval. When they are little they will try whatever it is that they see us doing. Imitation is the highest form of flattery - unless you are not able to do something well and the person you are most trying to impress tells you what you have done is subpar and that you need to do better without giving you any further training on how to do it differently. So, as fathers, we find ourselves frustrated because we really haven't done our job well.
Paul commands fathers to stop provoking our children for it is unreasonable and because it pushes our children to sin against us. Instead, Paul says, ".bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." The word translated "discipline" here could easily be translated simply "training" which helps us understand more of our job.
This word deals with hands on ... on-the-job training of our children. As our children follow us around, we need to let them see what we are doing and then along the way we instruct and encourage them in the why and how things are done.
We let them help us and we tell them along the way how much they are growing. This is parenting our children well. Rather than provoking our children they are able to please us which is what they live much of their growing up years trying to do.
Following biblical injunctions such as this will ensure a relationship that will continue to grow from childhood into adulthood. Enabling our children to please us when they are young yields far greater benefits for the relationship with them as adults that are so satisfying in later years.
Mike Singenstreu is pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church.