Fathers . . .
bring them up (ektrephete auta)
in the discipline (paideia)
and instruction (nouthesia)
of the Lord (kuriou).
Last Sunday we spent almost all of our time on the first half of Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.” I built the whole message around the conviction that Fathers cause their children’s souls to shrivel into small, hard, angry shells mainly by being like that themselves. I saw the evidence for this and the remedy for it earlier in the book. Paul says to all of us, especially dads, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you [not just your children!], along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31).
Paul is concerned with our anger before he mentions the danger of our transmitting it to our children. So we focused not just on a few behaviors dad should avoid so as not to make kids mad (yelling, excessive discipline, boundaries that are too narrow or too harped on, bossiness, etc.). Instead, we focused on how dad can drain the low-grade, long-term frustration and anger that makes his soul shrivel into a small, hard, shell that has only two feelings: anger and emptiness. This, we argued, is the real killer of a kid’s soul.
Anger is the cannibal emotion: It eats all the others till none is left. It does this first in fathers, and then this constricted soul is passed on to the children. Anger is absorbed as the dominant emotion and all the tender feelings die. Paul says don’t let that happen. “Fathers, don’t provoke your children to anger.” The remedy is the gospel—“as God in Christ forgave you.”
That’s where we stopped. So here are a few thoughts on the rest of the verse.
Keep in mind that, even though both mother and father work together in raising the children (“children obey your parents,” v. 1), fathers are the special focus of verse 4. Fathers have a leading responsibility for raising children. This is a natural extension of the headship of the wife in Ephesians 5:23-25. Dad should take the initiative to make sure that plans and processes and people are in place to build a vision of God and truth and holiness into the lives of the children.
...bring them up... (ektrephete auta)
This word means most basically to provide for—especially with nourishment. But it comes to have a broader sense of rearing children with a connotation of care. The solicitous feel to the word shows up in Ephesians 5:29 where Paul says, “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” That word nourishes is the same word as bring up in Ephesians 6:4. So the focus is on the fact that, in all that a father does to bring his children to maturity there should be a provision and a care that assures the child that, behind all the discipline and instruction, there is a great heart of love. This earthly father is working all things together for the good of his child. And so God’s character is being displayed.
...in the discipline... (paideia)
This word signifies the actions a father takes to give his children the abilities and skills and character to live life to the glory of God. It is not synonymous with teaching. It is more full and more active. For example, it is used in 2 Timothy 3:16 for “training.” “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Notice that “teaching” is mentioned earlier in the verse. “Training” involves the action of the one being trained and then the helpful consequences of doing poorly or well.
So the word often refers to the painful part of training: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:7-8). Growing up with a Christian father’s help involves being shown how to do the things that a Christ-exalting life requires and being held accountable to do them as well as you can.
...and instruction.... (nouthesia)
This word is not the ordinary word for “teaching” (didaskalian). “Instruction” does not quite capture the force of this word. In fact, it is used alongside of the word teaching as different from it in Colossians 1:28: “[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” The idea of warning is prominent. One major Greek lexicon defines the word like this: “to counsel about avoidance or cessation of an improper course of conduct.”
We can see the corrective, warning side of this word in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 where Paul says, “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” What the idle need is something a little different than the fainthearted. That is called admonish—a corrective warning about the fruitlessness of this kind of laziness.
But Paul is keen to make sure we feel the sweetness in the admonition he has in mind. Catch the feel of the word in these two verses: 1 Corinthians 4:14, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children”; 2 Thessalonians 3:15, “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” There is a warmth to the correcting, warning, and guiding that fathers are called to do. You can even sing it. And fathers should sing it: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
...of the Lord. (kuriou)
This modifies the training and the admonition. “Bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.” I take it to mean that the content of a father’s teachings and warnings, and the method of a father’s modeling discipline, and the goal of a father’s whole life with his children will be from the Lord, through the Lord, and for the Lord. That is, a father will guide all his words and ways by God’s word, and depend on God’s wisdom and strength to apply them, and make everything serve the glory of Christ. In other words, the most important thing in raising children is that they come to see Christ, the Lord, as supremely valuable as Savior and Lord and Treasure of life. Everything is measured by how that might be biblically achieved.
O Lord, grant to all of us fathers to lead our children (even our adult children) ever more faithfully to love Christ above all.