Have you ever felt frustrated in dealing with your children? Have you found yourself complaining to your spouse that your child “just doesn’t listen well”? Why is it that children misbehave, and what is it that we can do about that? The first few verses of Ephesians 6 offer some guidance.
Paul begins by addressing children’s side of the issue in Ephesians 6:1: “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Then, in verse 4, he focuses on the fathers.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Patience and more patience
The apostle wants fathers to be actively involved in the lives of their children. How? In a positive way. So he begins, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.” Children can sometimes become angry with their parents without having a good reason for this. But sometimes parents can be unreasonable with their children. That’s what Paul is referring to.
How old is your child? Are you keeping that in mind? If you don’t there may be a backlash. Children have a lot to learn. Don’t assume that it’s enough to teach them something just once or twice. Some things will stick in their memory very easily. Other things will need to be repeated again and again. Are you patient when you do this?
Pay attention to how you express yourself in your interaction with your children. Are you loud and overbearing or gentle and considerate in your dealings with your children?
Fathers in particular need to be careful in their dealings with their children. Little ones are like soft wax, very impressionable. Harsh words can leave deep scars that may last for a lifetime.
Keep your real goal in mind
Do you sometimes get very worked up about small details in the lives of your children? Paul warns against making a big deal about something trivial. Stay focused on your main goal. What is it? He explains, “Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
What does the word “discipline” bring to your mind? Punishment? Although that may be part of an interaction between a parent and a child, that’s only part of the picture here. The term Paul uses is broader than that. It includes such concepts as upbringing, training, instruction. It’s goal-oriented, as becomes clear in what Paul says further.
What’s your ultimate purpose in raising your children? To be “nice” to everyone… and especially to you? To please you? To just stay out of your way when you are in a bad mood?
It’s not enough to provide for their basic physical needs. Are you focusing on their spiritual development? What do they know about God as their heavenly Father? What do they know about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, their Saviour? Do they know what joy it gives to live as his Spirit-filled and Spirit-led followers, people who know and love him for who he is and what he has done for us?
In it for the long-run
Think in this connection of the idea of “training” your child. A “trainer” or coach really has to focus on the person being trained. This is a long-term commitment. You need to be aware of a child’s motivation as well as abilities. Talents have to be developed and bad habits need to be eliminated.
The apostle Paul gives well-rounded advice to fathers. He not only speaks about “training” children. He also speaks of the “instruction of the Lord.” The Greek word translated as “instruction” can be unfolded in a positive and negative sense. Children need to know what the Lord regards as “right” in our life for the Lord. They also need admonitions or warnings as to what is “wrong.” You can find many examples of this in the book of Proverbs. So remember to focus on both, so that your children will learn to discern what loving the Lord looks like and what he hates.
So, fathers, how are your children coming along? Are you coaching them properly? You have a beautiful and challenging task! Approach it prayerfully with an open Bible. Teach your children to know the Lord and to serve him with love in the light of his Word! That will help them to deal with the many questions and the many difficulties and challenges of life.
Dr. Pol is a retired minister of the Carman West Canadian Reformed Church in Manitoba.