Nurturing Our Children

January 13, 2013 / No. 3654

Dear Radio Friends,
What we said of the children of the Ephesian church last week was true of their parents as well. These were Gentile believers. God had, through the labors of Paul, just grafted them into His church. These were adults, many of whom were parents that had just recently been called out of the darkness of unbelief to faith. Their ways had been in the world. They had been thoroughly imbibed with the worldview of unbelief.
This was true as far as their parenting skills were concerned too. They had been taught by their sinful society an improper view of children and an improper view of raising children. The unbelieving professionals of their society had taught them wrongly, even sinfully.
Now they had been delivered out of their unbelief. They had become new creatures in Christ. They, together with their children, had been grafted into the church of Christ and had become of the same household of faith with the believers in the Old Testament. They with their children had been baptized into Jesus Christ.
Now Paul addresses godly parents. These parents had separated themselves from the wicked world and joined the church institute in Ephesus. They with their children had placed themselves under the rule of the elders of Ephesus and under the official preaching of the Word. So, once again, we cannot overlook the purpose of this letter to this congregation. In it Paul explains the boundless grace of God in including them within His church as Gentiles. He points out the beauty of belonging to that church in this world, and the safety and security found there. And now he instructs these new believers concerning proper conduct in the church. The calling of parents is given in a short, simple manner in Ephesians 6:4, the verse that we consider today:
And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
This is not a long verse. It does not contain deep doctrinal truths. It is of a very practical nature. In seed-form, this verse contains the basic principles for all child-rearing. Not just to make them better children in the home, not to make them citizens of our country (though all this will follow if proper instruction is given by parents), but the point of this Word of God is that they might be better members of the church of Jesus Christ.
So, we consider the calling of believing parents in the church.
Paul, in this verse in Ephesians 6, addresses fathers. This is not to say that mothers are not included in the injunction of this verse. They are. But since the wife is viewed in the last chapter as being one flesh together with her husband, Paul does not find it necessary to mention both here. Besides, a fundamental principle of Scripture is that the husband and father is the head of the home and family. God has invested in him the rule over his household—not only over his wife, but his children as well. God will hold fathers responsible for the spiritual welfare and character of his children. Not that mothers are exempt from this before God. What is said to fathers here is also a command to mothers. Mothers do not escape the Word of God here. We do not need to pursue the whole matter of the right and authority of father and mother to rule over the children. That is established already in God’s command to children. And we considered that in detail in our last broadcast.
The verse before us today addresses the proper use of that authority God gives to parents. In other words, God gives authority to mother and father in order that they might exercise it righteously and therefore properly. This verse reveals to us as well exactly how a father and mother will use their authority in a righteous manner. This is revealed to us in the short phrase “of the Lord” used here in this verse: “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” All proper training of children must be to this end: to lead them to the Lord. Christ must be the object of all our training, of our nurturing, and of our admonition. Any motive other than that which is rooted in Christ is not proper training. And that is what these new converts to Christianity in Ephesus had to learn, first of all. All parental instruction, care, admonition, and even discipline are for the purpose of leading our children to Jesus Christ.
I can anticipate the reaction that will be found in this world to such a contention. “What? Do you have your head stuck in the sand? We must train our children for success and for fortune. We must teach them how to get ahead in this world. We must teach them everything that will give them the proper self-discipline and knowledge in order that they might make their way in this world. Religious beliefs are of no practical use for making our way in this world.”
That, dear reader, is unbelief speaking. Scripture is replete with passages that teach that the most important goal or end of our instruction is to teach our children their sin and their salvation in the cross of Jesus Christ alone. Yes, we must see to it that our children are trained in subjects that are necessary to make a living in this world. We must hone their unique talents and abilities in order that they might develop this creation God has given us. But all of this must be done in the service of the Lord. All things must be made subject to Christ. We must first and foremost, above all else, teach our children that our rank and position, our talent in time, our money and affluence are all subservient to Jesus Christ. He is Lord. He is ruler over all. God has placed all things in His hand unto the establishment of His kingdom. And we who are the subjects of His kingdom must, likewise, use everything we have and are to walk in obedience to our Lord and Savior.
Because this principle of Scripture is ignored, it has resulted in the abuse of children today. Not only is this true in the wicked, unbelieving world where it can be expected, but this is happening in the church of today as well. Why? Because parents have failed to see that believing parents must instruct their children from a whole different point of view. They must instruct their children in faith, train up a child in faith. They must use every means at their disposal to teach them the fear of God.
Neither may we compartmentalize our lives, as if religious instruction is just one part of our instruction as opposed to instruction, say, in academics or sports or labor or whatever. Instruction in every area of life must be permeated with Christ. He is the Lord of instruction in math, in science, in history. He is the Lord in the realm of academics and labor and so on. All instruction must be in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Bearing that in mind, we heed the Word of God in this verse: Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath. This is how parents can abuse their authority while training their children—by provoking their children to wrath.
Now, this command is not referring here to playful banter of parents with their children. You see, there are certain ways of treating our children that will make them bitter, resentful, and in the end, rebellious. We provoke them to wrath, or anger. Not just that they suddenly burst out in anger against us and yell or strike out against us. But they begin to seethe below the surface. They begin to build up an emotional and even spiritual resentment between themselves and their parent or parents. They become so bitter inside that when they become of age and are able to strike out on their own, they will be fairly bursting to get away from parents. Because of the particular treatment of father or mother (or both), children learn to resent them so much that they will resent everything their parents represent. The child then will become angry, not simply at parents, but at God. The young person will begin to rebel against the cause of Jesus Christ in this world too.
So the command here in this verse in essence is this: Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath against God and against Jesus Christ. What possibly could parents do to provoke children to walk away in anger from their parents, the church, and God?
There are two scenarios against which wisdom dictates. The first is an overly harsh and critical attitude of our children. John Gill, an old commentator, states this sin of parents in this way:
By unjust and unreasonable demands, by reproachful language, by frequent and public chiding, by indiscreet and passionate expressions, and by severe and cruel blows and inhuman usage.
There are parents who, in their zeal for good parenting, go to this extreme. They do not allow their children freedom to live within the bounds of God’s law. They criticize their children in everything the child does. They publicly humiliate their child, as if this will force him or her to change their behavior. They never speak a word of encouragement and tenderness. They do not spend time with their children other than always seeming to reprove them. They are inconsistent in their demands.
Then there is also this extreme: physical abuse. This does not mean a parent ought not to spank a child when punishment is necessary. Neither does it mean that proper discipline ought not be administered when our children sin. But it does mean that screaming at our children or beating them until they are black-and-blue is definitely inappropriate and sinful.
And the result of such treatment of our children is that it causes anger to build up in them; bitterness begins to reign. And when the years of independence finally come on them, they reject the cause of Christ. No matter how much father might have preached to them God and His commandments, they reject those commandments. And they up and leave it all behind. Fathers, mothers, do not provoke your children to wrath.
The second way parents can provoke their children to wrath is to be soft and indifferent to the behavior and sin of their children. This is, of course, the opposite extreme, and we see this so much in the church today. In this instance the children rule and dishonor parents. And the parents run after every whim and wish of their children. When the child makes a demand, father and mother rush to satisfy the demand just to keep them quiet. They spoil their children, giving them everything their flesh craves. When it comes to discipline, there virtually is none. Admonition is not backed up by a harsher form of discipline.
Along with this improper mode of parenting comes careless indifference. The parent takes little notice of what the children are doing. They ignore them and let them go. The children get into everything and, virtually, rip apart the house. Such parents, in order to avoid the upset of home allow the world to babysit their children by letting their children watch TV all day. When the children grow up to be teenagers, they are left to go anywhere and everywhere they want without having to give an account to their parents. This kind of parent will also always defend his children, no matter what trouble or disrespect they show toward others in authority in the church or school. They close their eyes to their teenagers partying, drunkenness, and fornication.
The result of such parenting is that their children develop a disdain for God’s Word and law. They have never been led to see their sin and acknowledge it before God. They see no need for Christ, or for living a sanctified and holy life. And when they are finally hounded by the church for their wicked life they, in anger, blame the church—usually along with their parents—for discipline. And in anger they leave the church and forsake God and Jesus Christ. Fathers, mothers, provoke not your children to wrath!
But rather bring them up, raise them, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This is the positive injunction of God’s Word here. This is the way we teach our children to be good members of the church.
Nurture, here, refers to the actions of mother and father. They must in every way teach their children to lead a disciplined and godly life. This begins with a godly example. When father and mother are seen living in communion with God, then believing children seek to do the same. When I say this, dear readers, I mean that parents may not simply go through the motions, simply go through some outward check-list of things I ought to do as a parent. That is not enough. Our actions must come from a life that is spent in communion with God and with Jesus Christ. I dwell with my children at home. I spend time with them. I am with them in my rising up and in my lying down. I am there as a parent to answer the questions of life when my children are ready to ask them. I show a real interest in their life. When I send them off to school, then I am deeply aware that in this area of life, too, I must lead my children to Christ, lest they become discouraged. God must be taught in their studies. I desire that for them. I want that for them. I will seek out a place for them where they can receive such godly education and not cast my children as sheep before the wolves. This is bringing them up in the nurture of the Lord. Every action I take as a parent will have an impact on how my children will view life as a whole and, more specifically, view their place in the church.
As my children grow older, I will reason with them and direct them into making wise decisions in order to be a good member of the church where they are. All the while, in all of this, I will keep my eye focused on the spiritual goal: bring up my children to be good citizens in the kingdom of heaven. Encouragement, tenderness, care—but also chastisement, firmness, and steadfastness—all to shape and mold our children to be fruitful in Christ’s kingdom. The children of believers are the church of the next generation, but only when nurtured in the fear of the Lord. Or they will walk away from the church when they are provoked to wrath.
Not only must we nurture our children in the fear of the Lord, but we must admonish them in that way.
The term “admonition” points us to the need of parents to teach and instruct their children in the ways of God and their place in the church. Instruction starts in little ways, when our children are very young. Already by two or three, children are able to sing a song or even memorize a simple Bible passage. Godly parents will also see to it that this instruction continues to develop as our children develop. Parents ought not to be so quick to give the schooling of their little children to another. The home must shape and mold their spiritual values.
The church helps parents in this instruction, not only in the preaching on Sunday but also in the catechism room. This is what God’s Word means when it speaks of bringing our children up in the admonition of the Lord. When our children are prepared to learn the math, history, sciences, and languages, parents will prepare them for their place in this world. This admonition, too, must be that of the Lord. This is why Christian schools are established—to teach our children that even in their various studies and academics God is Lord over all. Such instruction ought to lead our children to Jesus Christ and His sovereign rule at God’s right hand.
Our admonition, too, must always serve to warn our children from ways of wickedness, displeasing to the Lord. They must be told of sin, their sin. They must be admonished for their sin and directed in the way of sorrow and repentance. They must be taught as well the beauty of belonging to the church. Every effort must be bent to direct our children in the ways of the Lord. The purpose, the goal, the desire of believing parents is so, so, so much different from that of unbelieving parents.
This then will be the fruit of such instruction of children. Obedience. I know that God does not work by His Spirit and grace in the heart of every one of the children of the church. I know that even when trained properly there will be children who rebel and who will walk away from the church and the cause of Christ in this world. Though this may happen to some of the children, nevertheless, God’s promise to believing parents always remains true: He will save in our generations by using the means of godly parents.
That is why we say that obedience is the fruit of heeding the command of this verse. God will work in the hearts of our children obedience to father and mother. When parents do their job, then children will respond accordingly. And that makes for an orderly home and family.
But there is more. The fruit of proper training of children will result in faithfulness to the church of Jesus Christ. Children will take the place of their parents in the church and will carry on the cause of Christ in the generations to come. They will become good members and some of them good office bearers in the church. The church will grow from within unto the full stature of the fullness of Christ. We pray for that fruit in our homes and families.
Let us close in prayer.
Our Father and our God, we are thankful for our homes and families. And as parents, we are thankful for our children. We are thankful, Father, for the place that Thou hast given us together with our children in the church. Give unto us as parents the grace to train our children in the fear of Thy name. Forgive us in our weakness and our sins. Strengthen us that we might properly do our calling as parents. Wilt Thou bless us in this way and cause Thy church to grow and to prosper in this world. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.