Raising our Children

February 20, 2011 / No. 3555

Dear Radio Friends,
Today we are going to look at the subject of raising children, from Ephesians 6:4: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
A couple of weeks ago we looked at the biblical view of children. There were two things we said then about children that are very important for our message today. First, we said that children are a gift from God. They belong to God. And parents have the privilege and responsibility of being stewards or caretakers of them. That means, for parents, that they will raise their children according to God’s Word. Second, we said that children are sinners who, by nature, left to themselves, are on the way to hell. Children are sinners who not only need to be corrected for sinful behavior but need also is to be brought to Jesus for salvation.
It is with those things in mind that we come to the subject of raising our children.
Whose responsibility is it to raise the child? Is it a communal responsibility? Is it the responsibility of the government or the school or the church? Sometimes you will hear a person say about a child: “He just didn’t turn out because he went to a bad school.” Or, “the church didn’t have a very good youth program to help him.” Sometimes parents will say things like this about their own children (most often these comments are simply excuses). Who is responsible to raise the child? What does the Bible say?
The Bible says that the parents are responsible for the child. As important as a good Christian school is for our children, and as important as a faithful church that preaches the truth is, in the end, these are simply tools that God gives to believing parents. The responsibility, the task, of raising the child, belongs first to the parent and takes place primarily in the home. That is what Ephesians 6:4 means when it says, “And, ye fathers [ye fathers], provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The primary responsibility for the raising of the child falls on the father.
In an earlier message we said that the man is the head of his wife. In the same way, the father is the head of his home and family, of his children. And as such, he is called to provide for all their needs, especially their spiritual needs, and to devote himself to this work with the heart of a faithful servant. Ye fathers.
Now, of course, this does not mean that the mother has no role or even a minimal role in the raising of children. Generally speaking, the mother will spend more time with the children than the father. Usually she is the one who is there when the children get out of bed and eat breakfast. She gets them off to school. She greets them when they come home from school. She is the parent who is most likely to be there for them to go to when they are hurt or when they have a question. She is there with instruction and rebuke, with encouragement and comfort. Probably, when all is said and done and the child has grown up, it is the mother who had the most direct influence on the child. And, biblically, that is the way it should be. In Titus 2, younger women are instructed to love their husbands and to love their children and to be keepers at home. A woman with young children ought to devote her life to their care and upbringing. And so the raising of children is a joint responsibility of father and mother.
But the ultimate responsibility before God falls on the father. He must, as head of the home, not only be involved, but set the tone and give the structure and lay down the expectations and enforce the standards and especially be the teacher and disciplinarian of his children. You, father, must not put all this on your wife or leave it to the Christian school or the church. “Ye fathers.” This is your responsibility before God.
Someday God is going to ask you about this. What did you do as a father? And He will not be open to excuses. You cannot say to God, “Well, I was too busy.” Or, “It was too difficult.” Or, “I didn’t know how or what to do, so I left it to my wife.” Or, “I didn’t have a good father to learn from.” No, God will simply say: “Ye fathers, did you bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord as I commanded you?”
This is a very important message for young fathers, because there are many other things that will demand their time and take them away from their family. We do not live anymore in an agricultural society, where fathers and children work alongside each other in the field or the barn. Instead, men are pursuing careers, they are working long hours out of the home in order to provide for their families. Or, perhaps they have a number of recreational activities that take them away from their family—hunting, golfing, fishing, vacations. Or maybe it is even church work or work related to the Christian school that takes them away from their families. But let us get this clear. Not one of those activities, however legitimate it may be, is an exemption from the duty, laid on fathers here, to raise their children. A father’s first priority and calling from God is to bring up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
So, fathers, let us get our priorities right. The time that we have with our children is very short. And God calls us to use that time as fathers.
You see, being a father is much more than simply having a physical connection to your children. For a Christian, fatherhood is recognizing the kind of father that God is to us and patterning ourselves after that. As our heavenly Father, God provides for all our needs, physical and spiritual. He instructs His children. He disciplines His children. He hears the prayers of His children. He never abandons or forgets them or treats them as unimportant. And, above all, He loves His children. And if you know God as your Father, you will want to be this kind of father to your children. “Ye fathers.”
Now, we ought to recognize that this does not come easily or naturally. And so, fathers, there are two things that we must do. First, we need to repent of our selfishness and to get our priorities right—to work on having a servant’s heart toward our children. And, second, this is something about which we ought to pray. God gives us, and God will give us, the ability and the dedication that we need to be good parents only through prayer.
So how do we go about raising our children? What is involved in this? In the text we are considering (Eph. 6:4) , both a negative and a positive side are given. Negatively, parents are commanded not to provoke their children to wrath. What does that mean? It means that raising children is a delicate exercise, something that we need to do with the greatest of care. To provoke your children to wrath means that you, by your sinful behavior as a parent, make them angry and bitter and you cause them to be exasperated and irritated. Now that does not mean that a parent may never do anything that might upset his child. Sometimes as you raise your children in a godly way, they are going to be unhappy. They are going to be displeased and angry. And that is because children, by nature, are sinners. They are not little angels. If you never go against their will, they will be spoiled, and you will breed selfish and rebellious children. Proverbs 29:15 says, “a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” God does not mean peace at all costs.
But there are ways that parents can make their children unnecessarily angry. And if we do not recognize that in our daily life with our children, we will end up with children who are bitter and angry against us as adults and who will turn on all our instruction and, perhaps, even on the church and the things of God. That is what Colossians 3:21, the parallel passage to this one, means when it says, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” Paul is saying that unless you take a serious look at this and work on it, you will discourage your children long-term. You will embitter them against you and the gospel of Christ.
So, again, parenting is delicate business. Father should not have the attitude, “Well, I’m the one in authority, so regardless of my faults, my children are going to listen to me and submit to me.” No, we have to see that we are parents under God and we must let His Word govern our conduct toward our children.
So, what are some ways that parents, and especially fathers, might sin against their children so as to provoke them to wrath? Let me suggest a couple of ways.
One. We can provoke our children to bitterness by over-indulging them. If children can always get what they want from their parents, and if they never learn to respect their correction and advice, those children will never love their parents. Proverbs 13:24 says, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son.”
Two. Another way to provoke our children to wrath is by unreasonable rules and discipline. The demands that we place on our children must be reasonable and ought to be clearly communicated. If they are not, then when our children are disciplined, they will become angry. And there are times when we ought to listen to our children before we hurry into correcting them. Proverbs 18:13 says, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” We ought not be distant disciplinarians. We should never discipline our children in anger, that is, our emotions must be in check and we must not let our being tired or having a bad day dictate our reactions to our children. Discipline should be done consistently. It should be done in private. The rule of Scripture is that if you have something against another, you deal with it between you and him alone. We ought not to shame our children by our public discipline. Discipline must be reasonable.
Three. If parents play favorites and compare their children one to another or to others, they will provoke them to wrath. You remember Isaac, who favored Esau, and Jacob, who favored Joseph. The result was bitterness in their families. God makes each child unique. You ought not compare them. That means, too, that children should not be pressured to achieve beyond their capacity, especially in areas of sports and music and academics. Yes, they have to be faithful in the use of their gifts. But our goal should not be to raise children who are wealthy or educated or successful, but rather, children who love and serve the Lord and are faithful to Him. God has not given us children so that we can be proud of them, so that their achievements can reflect on us and boost our ego. Children are given to us for God’s glory, not ours.
Four. Another way that we might provoke our children to wrath is by always and only being negative, never encouraging them. We are condescending. We make jokes of their mistakes. And we humiliate them because, well, they are kids and they act like kids, and we are embarrassed by them. But there is a place for children to be children. Paul says in I Corinthians 13, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child.” Children do not need “put-downs,” but they need love and encouragement, a love that bears and hopes all things, a love that never rejects them. God communicates His love towards us. And that is what our children need from us.
Five. A final way that we might provoke our children to wrath is by our hypocrisy. We might look like the best of Christians on Sundays, and to our neighbors, family, and friends. But the children know what goes on behind the scenes in the home. If our own life does not match the expectations that we have for our children, they will not only follow our example and live like us, but they will become embittered by our hypocrisy. Parents need to practice the godliness that they preach to their children.
Provoke not your children to wrath. That is the negative in the text. It means stop these sinful behaviors. Stop them. Do not do them anymore. Instead, positively, parents are to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
To bring up means to nourish. It is a word that we would use in connection with growing plants. We nourish a plant by giving it just the right care and environment for it to grow into a strong and healthy plant that produces fruit. There is a careful, delicate balance that is needed. Not too much water, not too much heat, not too much light, not too much fertilizer. Yes, the plant needs all these things, but there must be a careful balance.
And so it is with children. We bring them up. We nourish them with the goal that they will mature as believers, bringing forth fruit, taking their place in the church, and living as godly men and women someday. And to that end we nourish them. They need the constant care and the right environment. In parenting, there needs to be a careful balance of love and admonition, of instruction and correction, of expectations and guidance. And that careful balance comes out in the next two words that are given in Ephesians 6:4.
We are called to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The word nurture refers to discipline or correction, that is, to punishment and consequences for incorrect, sinful behavior. The other word, admonition, refers to instruction and counsel, that is, to verbal instruction. You talk with your child. And here the Holy Spirit is saying that these two things must go together. They belong together in the raising of the children. There needs to be a careful balance and blending of correction and instruction.
On the one hand, a child needs more than just instruction. Foolishness is bound in the heart of the child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him. On the other hand, a child needs more than just corrective discipline. The child also needs loving instruction. An animal is trained by manipulating its behavior with rewards and punishments. But our children are not animals. Our children need both discipline and instruction.
The word admonition in Ephesians 6:4 means to place something into the mind of another, or to counsel and teach him. It has to do with verbal instruction. Paul calls it the “admonition of the Lord.” By that he means that the instruction that we give to our children must be from the Word of God, from the Bible. This admonition of the Lord, this instruction from the Scripture, can be broken down into three areas.
First, our children must learn from Scripture the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone. This is their greatest need. Our goal with our children is not simply to raise good children who become good citizens, or to give them a good intellectual understanding of doctrine. But all doctrine and all teaching from the Word of God must lead them to Christ, so that they see their sinfulness and their need of Him as Savior. Bringing our children up in the admonition of the Lord means that we bring them to Christ so that they are sorry for their sins and their sinfulness, that they understand the meaning and the necessity of the cross and death of Jesus Christ, and for salvation they trust in Him alone and not themselves and their worthiness.
Second, this instruction from the Word of God must shape their entire world and life view, so that they look at everything in this world through the eyes of Scripture. They must learn the history of the Bible, so that they can see God’s hand in all of the history of the world. They must see God’s creation through the eyes of Scripture, so that they praise Him as Creator and Owner of all things. They must be grounded in the truth of the Word of God, so that when they encounter the lies of the devil in later life they are able to combat them. This means that children need a consistent diet of the Word of God, that we open the Bible and teach it to our children from beginning to end, over and over again.
Third, this instruction from the Word of God must shape their behavior in this world. It is very important that when we correct the sinful behavior of our children we do it from the Word of God, so that they learn to respond biblically to different situations in their lives. We do not just tell them to do certain things because those are the right and accepted ways to do something. But we need to set them down and give them biblical reasons for why they must live a certain way. We need to nurture our children from the Word of God.
Coupled with this instruction must be corrective discipline for their willful disobedience. This corrective discipline must begin early in their lives. It needs to be consistent and reasonable. It should be done out of love, for the good of the child. And because its goal should be to conform them to the image of Christ, it must be accompanied by appropriate instruction from the Word of God, as well as forgiveness and reconciliation for sins they have committed. Pray with your children as you discipline them.
As we carefully raise our children this way, God will bless our efforts with children who fear and love Him. Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it. God will give us, not bitter and angry children, but respectful and loving children, who will be a blessing in years to come.
Let us pray.
Lord, again we thank Thee for the privilege to bring up our children. And today we thank Thee also for the careful instruction of Scripture that helps us in this great task. Bless our labor, we pray, for the glory of Thy name, and for the salvation of our children, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.