Ephesians 6 v 4
Please read Hebrews chapter 12
We start this morning with a question – a simple question – What are children for? What a multitude of answers could be given. What does the Bible say in answer to the question? David in Psalm 127 says this –
3 Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. 4 As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
In the next psalm he speaks of family life as a blessing – Psalm 128:3
Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. 4 Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD.
That children are precious is without doubt. From earliest times children have been seen as a great blessing. Jacob gives this testimony to his son in Genesis 48 v 3
And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, 4 And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession.
The people of Israel are the fruit of that promise from God to Jacob. And as the tribes of Jacob grew in number over the next 400 years God kept His promise – millions of them passed over the Red Sea to freedom from Egyptian slavery. More promises were given to them through Moses – Deuteronomy 28: 2
And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. 3 Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field.4 Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
And later the prophet Isaiah was able to say this – Isaiah 8:18
Behold I and the children whom the LORD hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion.
Whereas our children today are not for signs as wonders, yet they are to have a special place in God’s arrangements for families. All of us are children; all can receive this ministry whether we are parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles – the word of God is applicable to every one of us here today. Last Lord’s day we considered the importance of the obedience of children towards their parents. It is right and righteous for children of all families, whether Christian families or not, to obey their parents – it is a universal law of God the creator. This morning we come to the other aspect of Biblical teaching in the passage in Ephesians 6 – in verse 4
The Duty of Parents towards their children, who are precious.
4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Several years ago the American Police Force in the state of Texas issued a leaflet with the interesting title
HOW TO RUIN YOUR CHILDREN. It carried a guarantee – follow these instructions and you will have a 99% success rate – your child will be ruined by the end of your parenting years. Here are some of the recommendations for ruining a child – 1. Begin in infancy to give him everything that he wants if you can afford it. 2. When he picks up swear words just laugh at him. 3. Never give him any spiritual training. Let him wait until he is 21 and then let him decide for himself. 4. Avoid using the word WRONG. It may develop a serious guilt complex. 5. Pick up everything he leaves around so that he will become expert in throwing responsibility on everyone else. 6. When he breaks the rules nag him, but never spank him – physical punishment is a thing of the past. Never let him suffer the consequences of his own behaviour.
My friends, when you observe the way that many parents bring up their children it is almost as if these recommendations are written up on the walls of their houses. Yet these tongue in cheek directives from the Police Department, intended to shock in a paradoxical fashion, seem to be the actual strategy adopted by so many parents, despite the warning that they will ruin their children! What these parents are not told by the modern experts in child rearing is that rather than bringing an enlightened parenting programme into being, these parents end up doing precisely what the Bible says they should NOT DO – and that is provoke their children. This strategy is not only guaranteed to ruin the child but it will also wind him up! I use the phrase “wind up” because it is the modern equivalent of “provoking someone to wrath” an expression denoted by one word in the Greek – here in the text it has a negative with it – DO NOT wind them up – do not arouse them so that they are angry. So the first half of the verse speaks of
1. The duty of parents stated NEGATIVELY.
In a moment we will look at what it is that can arouse our children to anger. But first let us notice to whom this imperative from Paul is directed. Ye fathers – “PATERACE”. Paul uses the plural form of the Greek word for father. He does this to denote two things. 1. That the fathers in households have the Primary responsibility to ensure that the children are protected from provocation, and are nurtured and instructed. 2. That the fathers AND mothers have a responsibility in parenting in the home. Paul used a different word in verse 1 when he spoke of parents – you may remember it is a word that means “Those who brought children into being.” That was the term that described the parents as the agents of a child’s birth. But this plural form of FATHERS includes the mothers too as those who have responsibilities for the child’s nurture over many years until adulthood. Elsewhere in Greek literature it is common, so I am told, to include BOTH parents when the plural form for Father is used. As always the buck stops with the father in God’s order. But in parenting the father and mother both have a crucial role. It is not good enough for ALL the discipline to be meted out only by the father – the “wait till your father gets home” kind of approach – this in itself is likely to provoke a child to anger – delayed discipline is weak discipline. The word for provoking to wrath is only used in one other place in the New Testament – in Romans 10 v 19
But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.
This verse comes in a passage in which Paul explains that the Jewish people were the first to hear the Gospel from Jesus and the Apostles. But after that, the Gospel was extended to the Gentiles and in doing so it resulted in the Jews sitting up and taking notice – to be provoked to believe through jealousy first – and then to be provoked to believe through anger. The Jews would notice that their God, Jehovah, had also poured out salvation blessings on Non Jews – and they would be stimulated, aroused and wound up – in order that they might repent and believe. It is therefore a strong word with a strong meaning – and Paul says that parents are not under any circumstances to provoke their children like this. How then may parents provoke and arouse their children to anger? 1. By unreasonableness. It is very easy for parents to set unachievable goals for their children and then criticise or penalise them for not achieving. Parents can be very demanding can’t they – and when the children cannot reach what the parent wants, then the child can be discouraged. Parents need to know what their children ARE capable of and only ask what is reasonable. This of course is different from the situation where it is the child’s will that refuses to move – it is reasonable to set achievable targets whether the child agrees with them or not. Provocation results from rules being unreasonable. Children can be aroused 2. By parents being over protective. We had an expression in our family when the children were growing up – it was called “controlled danger.” Whenever there was a cliff to look over careful warning was the order of the day, a firm grip of the hand as together we looked down hundreds of feet. But to shout a loud warning, and display fear and anxiety when a child gets near to what the parent thinks is too close, can convey a false and heightened sense of danger that merely cossets the young one who never learns to cope with physical risks. It can also convey a far to high sense of anxiety in the child. Another example – most parents will want their offspring to be able to learn to swim. It is right to warn them that water is dangerous and that people can drown in water. But it is useless keeping a child out of water at all times because of the potential danger. The only way for the child to learn to swim is to get into the water and to learn safely. Being overprotective gives a provocative message to a child – who will want more than anything what has been denied him. The answer is to guide and gently warn, and help the child into the dangerous experience giving ongoing instruction regarding safety. 3. By showing favouritism. A few weeks ago we cited the example of Isaac and Rebekah favouring Esau and Jacob respectively and the disaster that followed. There are other examples in scripture. Jacob himself showed favouritism with his son Joseph until God providentially rescued him and made a man out of him during his time in Egypt. King David paid the penalty for having Absalom as his favourite son, who tragically rebelled and died in a revolt. Indeed Absalom is a prime example of a child being provoked to wrath – his wrath motivated him to wish to depose his father the king and steal his kingdom. Children can be provoked 4. By parents who live lives that display inconsistent examples. Some parents work on the premise, “Don’t do as I do, do as I tell you.” How frustrating it is to have an authority figure saying that it is all right for him to break the rules, but it not right for you! There once was a teenager who was arrested for breaking into a car and stealing a car radio – he was found with it in his possession and was taken to the police station. The Police Sergeant phoned the boy’s father to come to the station to witness the telling off. While the father was on his way the Sergeant began to talk to the lad. “Has your father not told you that it is wrong to steal?” “Yes he has and he will be angry that I have been caught.” “Why did you do it if you know it is wrong?” “Because I don’t understand why it is wrong for me to steal but not for him. Last week he was filling in his Income Tax return and I heard him tell my Mum that he was not going to declare all of his money that he has earned in cash. Isn’t that stealing? If he can steal why can’t I?” The teenager had a point. That father was a bad example. And it is not only stealing – whenever a father swears, loses his temper, is grumpy, refuses to help his wife with the jobs and so many other things, there are eyes watching him, particularly his sons – there are ears listening to him – the minds behind those eyes and ears drink in the example of the fathers and mothers in the home – is this what I should be like when I grow up? Should I treat my wife, my husband like that when I am married? The wife that is constantly criticising her husband to her children is not only disloyal but also damaging her daughter’s future – she will learn how to treat her own husband one day, from her mother. Children have living lessons in front of them for all of their formative years – and we as believing parents have an awesome responsibility to give them the godliest example, the most Christ-like that we can. Children can be provoked 5. By bitter words and physical cruelty. Thankfully we have left the Victorian era far behind us when children were supposed to be “seen and not heard.” This was enforced by brutal punishments that went far beyond loving reasonable discipline. The sad thing is that we seem to have gone completely to the other extreme. The antidote to harsh and severe discipline is not NO DISCIPLINE but rather loving Biblical discipline. It seems that Victorian fathers took the book of Proverbs in one hand and a rod in the other and made it their manual for parenting –
Proverbs 13 v 24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
Proverbs 19:18 Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.
Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
Proverbs 23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.
Proverbs 23:14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.
But they seemed to ignore Ephesians 6 v 4
Provoke not your children to wrath.
The answer of true godly Biblical discipline and parenting lies between the two principles and parents with God’s help must work them out. There is nothing wrong with the Book of Proverbs – it is after all scripture. The Whole Bible is the best textbook for parenting, better than any of the books on parenting today. Certainly the secular books are useless – because like secular man-centred counselling, they leave God right out of the picture. So much for the negatively phrased direction from Ephesians 6 v 4 – now for the Positive.
2. The duty of parents stated POSITIVELY.
But bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
John Philips remarks that the spiritual education of children was a strong emphasis of Old Testament law. Israel was to keep the feast of the Passover, for instance – and children would ask a question at the Passover meal, “What is meant by this feast?” We can read of this in Exodus 12:26
And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? 27 That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the LORD’S Passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses.
The parents were required to put Bible verses on the door posts of their homes. Children leaving the shelter of the home would be confronted by those verses and would carry the haunting memory of some Word from God into their outside activities. Returning home the children would again be faced with the verses on the door posts. They would cause the children to think afresh, in the light of God’s word, of where they had been, what they had been doing and saying. Christian parents also have a great responsibility to make sure that their children are raised in the fear of God. They need to be taught about knowing God, the Gospel, His Word and their only hope for eternity, a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. These are the things that Paul is telling us in the second half of Ephesians 6 verse 4. He uses three words to give us the positive lead in parenting – 1. EKTREPHETE – bring them up – literally it means to nourish out of the family resources. Parents are to be nourishers in the same way that a husband should nourish his wife, a truth that we saw in chapter 5 v 29, where Nourish was EKTREPHEI that strictly means to “feed from oneself.” TREPHO means to nourish in the sense of a mother nourishing her child with milk or later with weaning food. But the word EKTREPHO is “nourish oneself.” So the husband is the provider of food for himself and his wife, the nourisher, the one who feeds and cares for them both. Ephesians 5 v 29 is the only other place that this very special verb is used so it has significance in family life. We are familiar with the term “bring up” as one of our English phrases – but it is so graphic – a little child from babyhood is brought up in height, weight, maturity and education from the low level of utter dependence on the mother and father, to independence in society – it is an upward movement – but it depends on nourishment. Neither is this nourishment only material. We often think of nourish as only having a link with food and drink – it is far more than that. Intellectual, emotional and spiritual food must be given to the child as he or she grows – these things too are part of the nourishing, the bringing up. 2. The next word is NURTURE – Greek PAIDEIA – that means the training of a child including instruction. This word includes the training by an ACT of instruction that includes discipline, chastening and correction. Most people learn well through trial and error. Often the best skills and crafts are learned by having a go, making mistakes and learning where one has gone wrong. Parents need to anticipate and expect mistakes to be made as children learn in the home. So there are positive aspects of nurture – nourishment and love along with discipline. So many people find the word discipline a hard word. As soon as they hear it they think of the old days when a headmaster’s cane was a deterrent; they think of a denial of freedom, they think of a physical punishment and so many negative things. But discipline is a character building and stimulating thing. Take for instance the winter Olympic games that are about to end. The training that athletes go through to reach their best potential requires discipline – indeed some of the sports themselves are referred to as DISCIPLINES simply because there are rules of play connected with them. Training coaches are employed to correct and discipline the competitors in their training so that they are ready and prepared to compete with others. The dictionary gives as one definition, “Discipline – A mode of life in accordance with rules.” Hardship has to come into it somewhere and acts of discipline are vital if children are shaped into self-disciplined people. We read earlier from Hebrews 12 where Paul makes it quite clear that discipline is a basic principle of life and a clear evidence of love.
5 My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: 6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
If God can display His tender love in the way that he disciplines us, why should we withhold it from our children, whom we say that we love? Parents are to rear their children tenderly, disciplining them with love. John Calvin, who maintains that these words are the opposite conditions to the provoking to wrath and anger, says that this means,
“Let the children be fondly cherished.”
But this does not exclude firmness – and this is where the third word comes in – 3. ADMONITION – NOUTHESIA. This wonderful word means to instruct and to encourage. Literally it means to “put in mind.” If discipline, nurture, is ACTION based, so admonition is WORD BASED. This is training through words – words of encouragement, of praise, of reproof, of remonstrance, words of appreciation and positive regard. Our children do not always appreciate our counsel with words – sometimes they think that we are just having a go at them – nevertheless parents have an obligation to instruct and encourage then whatever they say. For the Christian family the instruction must always be tied to the Word of God. This verse says ADMONITION OF THE LORD. That makes all the difference. Paul was very much a father figure to the young Timothy to whom he wrote two letters. Listen to this example of Paul’s instruction to Timothy, inspired by the Holy Spirit – 2 Timothy 3 Be warned, my son Timothy
v 13 …evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. 14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
Children need the word of God and the principles of scripture to be admonished, instructed and taught and disciplined in the right and kind way. We need to understand this particularly because we live in a society that has preferred secular teaching to Biblical teaching. It is a society that looks back and sneers at the Victorians for their cruel heartless application of the Scriptures – but instead of recognising how mistaken the Victorians were people attack the Bible itself, and in so doing attack God and His ways, His character and His wise counsels. Sadly many parents, even some Christian parents, have failed to learn the Biblical doctrine of what sin has done to man. Many believe that children are born perfect but are corrupted by the wicked sinful world – therefore it is not the child that needs to be punished. The Bible knows nothing of that idea. The Bible teaches that we are sinful and rebellious from the womb. Every child’s nature is fallen and evil as a result of the fall and unless steps are taken to restrain and modify natural behaviour in a child then the result will be increasing disorder in the home, violence, thefts and people with no appreciation of who God the creator is. It results in a society in confusion. And surely this is what we see today? But it has been said that the problems facing us today that flow from a failure to properly train children, is an indication that generally people do not understand the Gospel, and in particular the doctrine of the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. This doctrine tells us quite simply that at the cross of Calvary, the holy righteous God was punishing sin in the person of his own son that He might be the just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. God hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. God has made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. By His stripes we are healed and it hath pleased the Lord to bruise Him. The wrath of God demanded this punishment and His righteousness and justice insisted on it. But we can see the love of God, which is so great that He poured out His holy wrath on His own Son so that you and I might be rescued and delivered. Punishment HAS to come into it somewhere. Punishment is seen on Calvary’s Hill – because sin is serious. My friend do you see yourself as a sinner this morning? Are you convicted in your soul that you have a heart that is evil and wicked and needs to be rescued? Perhaps you now feel that you ought to be punished for your sins. Perhaps you can look back and wish that you had parents that lovingly restrained you so that you knew what was right and wrong. But here is the good news – Yes – punishment is necessary – but someone else has taken the punishment for the sins of God’s children – the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s son. Jesus was not punished to teach him obedience as we should teach our children – Jesus was punished for our sins – instead of us. He WAS obedient in everything – even to the obedience to His Father’s will – to go to the cross and to die for sins that He did not commit. God’s law must be enforced – but God’s grace is available for sinners who repent and believe. God’s law brings ordinary people to see who God is and how holy He is – but also to see how gracious He is. And when grace comes to a person’s heart then that person can see how to obey God’s higher law under which he or she pleases God and keeps His commandments willingly and happily. Is this your experience? The Bible teaches that there must be discipline and there must be punishment – but there is also tender grace – and we are not to provoke anger in our children – but we are to nourish, nurture, guide and love IN THE LORD. May God help us all to understand His word?