Despite modern efforts to minimize the importance of fathers, the reality is that dads will invariably set the tone of the entire household. Regardless if they are active or passive in their leadership, they will lead by example. The negligent and lazy father will set the tone for his sons; they too shall more than likely grow to be negligent and lazy men. The diligent and hard-working father will likewise lay a path before his sons to walk when they grow to be men. This is not to say that a father’s faithfulness is somehow an “ace in the hole” when it comes to the faithfulness of their adult children, nor that it is impossible for a child to break the mold of their father and carve out a new path for future generations to follow. Yet it is to say that a father’s role as the shepherd in the family is far more important than most truly grasp.
Our wives and children deserve so much more than passive leadership, or abdication of the role to someone else. The truth is: it is not the job of a youth pastor, friend, or the proverbial village to raise your children. That’s your job. Yet this next part is also vitally important: it is not the job of your wife to be the one who directs the way the family will go. You can shirk your responsibility all day long. You can let people tell you that the roles of men and women within the church and home are not different in any sense. You can embrace the ethos of a culture that “empowers” women by asking them to bear both curses. You can do any number of things to placate your conscience or take a place of prominence over your calling as a father, yet when you stand before God to give an account of your life there will be no excuse to be had.
There is a reason why men often take the brunt of the focus when it comes to the way of the household; you are responsible for the direction it goes; not your wife, not your children, not your pastor. You. If you think that is unfair, so what? Act like men. Do the hard thing. Own the responsibility you were blessed to receive and never make apologies for the fact that God has decreed you to be the leader in the home. At the same time, let all that you do be done in love and faithfulness to God Himself, lest you be a tyrant of a man who neglects the wisdom of his wife and the tender hearts of his children. All the while, recognize that if there is some deficiency in your household, it is a reflection of you.
I remember a time where I sat with my own pastor while I was in seminary, and he asked me the simple question, “If you had a church full of people like you, would you consider it a good church?” My heart sank because I knew the answer was that I wouldn’t consider it a good church. I know my pitfalls, my struggles, my stubbornness, and my pet sins quite well. Yet the point was not lost on me; the local church you shepherd is a reflection of you as the pastor, for good and bad. That doesn’t mean everything that goes on at an individual level is reflective of the pastor’s heart and actions, but rather, as one leads, the rest will generally follow. Our weaknesses become their weaknesses, just as our strengths become their own.
The same thing applies within the home. The mannerisms of your wife, but especially of your children, are a reflection of you. It is no small wonder then that children who grow to be negligent in attending to matters of the Christian faith had a father who was also negligent. It ought not to be surprising to us when a child leaves home and embraces all sorts of ungodliness if we never trained them, nor made the hard decision to remove them from bad influences and wayward peers. We cannot be shocked when our children place their priorities on everything but Christ if we found every reason we could to miss church, study the Scriptures, or practice basic disciplines of godliness. Furthermore, if a child grows to be an undisciplined man because we were inconsistent in our discipline of them—can we truly be at a loss for words on how it happened?
If we are to be found faithful fathers, we need to know then precisely what it is we are to do. My primary focus will be on one biblical text that I believe is an incredible summary of the role of the father in the home (Eph. 6:4). As this post is focusing primarily on one’s role as father, and not as husband, I will not be treating the pertinent texts on what it means to be a biblical husband (Eph. 5:25-32; Col. 3:19; 1 Peter 3:7). However, I do wish to draw your attention to the fact that Paul switches from “parents” in Eph. 6:1 specifically then to “fathers” in Eph. 6:4. Notice that he does not include mothers here, but exclusively fathers, and this is radically important if we are to understand our responsibility before God and our children.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).
When we look at the structure of the passage itself, we find two imperatives (commands) within the passage; the first is a negative command (“μή παροργίζετε” which is commonly translated as “do not provoke”), the second is a positive command (“ἐκτρέφετε αὐτὰ” which is commonly translated as “bring them up”). The first command (by way of prohibition through the negative particle “μή”) speaks of the idea of provoking our children to anger. The term itself is used in only one other passage in the New Testament, which likewise speaks toward a provocation to anger (Rom. 10:19). We find in the sister verse of our passage (Col. 3:21) that Paul hits at the same idea with fathers, except this time the term used (ἐρεθίζετε) drives towards an exasperation of the child, or a means of stirring up resentment and bitterness. It is important to note that the negative command here bears an ongoing aspect, which very simply means this command is to always be in practice.
There are any number of ways one can provoke a child to wrath and drive them to resentment, but perhaps the most common are:
- The father is not consistent in his own behavior towards his children. One moment he is laughing and joking around, the next he is blowing up in anger towards his children. They never know what mood dad will be in and they are constantly on edge.
- The father is inconsistent in his application of discipline. One day the child receives a punishment for his behavior and the next he can do the same with no punishment. Firm boundaries are never established, so the child never has legitimate structure.
- The father holds double standards, where he will continually bark at his children for things they do, yet he is never willing to hold himself to the same standard. Children rightly see this man as a hypocrite who is unworthy of respect.
- The father continually pours out criticism, yet never gives praise when and where it is due. When a child experiences nothing but criticism over and again, they notice dad only sees the negative and never the good they do (or even try to do, yet fail). Dad can never be pleased, and the child knows it.
- The father shows favoritism in the home. Dad constantly compares the behavior of his children and asks why one can’t be like the other. Not only do they see their brother or sister win dad’s affections, but they see that their brother or sister can do no wrong in dad’s eyes.
- The father is physically or verbally abusive, absent from home, belittling, condescending, etc.
The second command then, which comes at a strong contrast to the negative command, is that fathers are to instead bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. The word Paul uses here (ἐκτρέφετε) is found twice in NT, both times in the book of Ephesians (5:29 and 6:4). The term itself implies nourishment, as if through food—yet this nourishment has a specific instrument by which this goal is accomplished: the discipline (παιδείᾳ) and instruction (νουθεσίᾳ) of the Lord. Again, this command bears no reference to completion, so it is an ongoing means of discipline and instruction in a distinctively Christian manner.
The idea here relates not simply to a formal time of instruction, but in a training that involves admonishment, correction, rebuke, encouragement, and so forth. In essence then, it is a command encompassing the idea that fathers see and know their children’s deficiencies and nurture them in such a manner that correction, in the form of godly behavior, will follow. There are a number of qualities to the “discipline” and “instruction” that Paul has in mind, but the prepositional phrase “of the Lord” bears the distinct idea that they are from the Lord. In other words, it is the long-haul vision of the father to provide “spiritual food” to his child from the means God has given him, which is most plainly found in the Scriptures.
Two ways we can be found faithful in this are as follows:
- We train them in obedience to the Lord’s commands, which are too numerous to list. Some are as simple as how to work hard and provide for a family and be a good steward of God’s provisions, but others are more complex (i.e. how to love your wife as Christ loves the church).
- We rebuke or admonish them for sinful behavior. Again, think principally here, as there are many commands within Scripture of what we are to flee from. What that means on a practical level is that we establish boundaries and expectations aligned with Scripture, and we are consistent in our application of the authority God has granted us within the home.
Yet again, as a final word, it must be stated that we cannot expect our household to flourish if we are passive fathers. We cannot expect our sons to treat women as something more than mere sexual objects if we are consistently giving ourselves over to ogling lewd and provocative women. We will not impart to them the importance of the local church if we are skipping church for the opening weekend for hunting, or the Sunday game. We will not stress the importance of knowing the Bible if we can’t be bothered to open it up ourselves and dive deeply into the recesses of God’s truth to us. You cannot give that which you do not possess.
As in all things in the Christian life, the Lord Jesus is our standard; if we are to be faithful fathers, we must resemble our own Lord. Today is the day you correct the path, or perhaps start carving out a new one because you certainly did not experience this type of upbringing from your father. You have your children for such precious, little time—and even this is not guaranteed. Be the example. Be the strong man of God to them. Be the father you wished you had, or be an even more faithful father than your father before you. You set the tone. You set the direction. Be unapologetic about that—and yet do all of it in the spirit of love and humility. Recognize that God gave you the privilege to lead, and then own it. Do the hard thing. Day after day, rise up, and be the man who leads, and do it well, all to the glory of God.