Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
For the first three verses of this passage, Paul instructs how we are to honor our parents. Regardless of your age or situation, God expects us to honor our parents.
Then he gets to verse 4.
At this point in the passage, the Apostle Paul writes something a little unexpected. After Paul instructed the manner in which children should obey their parents, he then turned his focus to the role of fathers specifically concerning discipline and instruction (Eph 6:4). Paul’s distinction between obedience and instruction must be noted. He instructed children to obey both their fathers and mothers, but he exhorted solely fathers to instruct their children.
While both parents should be involved in a child’s spiritual education, Paul placed the ultimate responsibility upon the fathers (Eph 6:4).
Throughout Scripture, God expected fathers to train their children in the way of the Lord. God’s disgust with Eli the priest was due to his indifferent attitude toward his godless sons (1 Sam 3:13). In God’s plan, a father is responsible for instructing a child, but a child is responsible to obey both a father and a mother.
While fathers are singled out in this passage, Paul looks out for both sons and daughters. Paul’s use of the term “children” instead of “sons” (Eph 6:4) is also significant since traditionally girls were not educated like the boys. Although girls were not allowed the same type of societal education as boys, Paul implied that they deserved the same type of spiritual education.
God intends for fathers to discipline their children (Prov 13:24), for God himself as a father disciplines his children as indication of his love (Heb 12:6; Prov 3:12; Ps 119:75; Rev 3:19). While discipline is necessary, God intends parental discipline to bring about Christlike character and not angered resentment (Eph 6:4). If fathers discipline too severely, children could respond with rebellion rather than desired obedience.
More often than not, hostile homes produce hostile children.
Paul urged fathers not to become angry themselves, which reiterated his previous instructions concerning anger (Eph 4:26, 27, 31).
In Paul’s society, the father had no real restriction upon how he should manage his household. While mothers were granted no legal rights at that time, fathers actually had the legal right to drown their weak or disfigured children and even maintained rights over their grandchildren if they were not living in the same home.
Fathers were also permitted to punish as harshly as they deemed necessary, and fatherhood of the day unfortunately avoided pampering, playing, or laughing with one’s children.
In contrast to the common practice of the time, Paul urged fathers not to discipline too severely or irrationally.
Scripturally, parents are to view children as a gift from God (Ps 127:3).
Christian fathers should never merely endure their children, but they are to nurture their children joyfully.
Paul desired that healthy fatherly relationship would help stimulate healthy relationships with their father God. Many children will turn away from the Lord, but it is unfortunate when the harshness or the hypocrisy of a child’s father is one cause of their rebellion.
Paul expected fathers to discipline themselves before they discipline their children.
When fathers raise their children in the instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4), children should develop Christlike characteristics. A father’s rational and compassionate discipline should produce a gentle child (2 Cor 10:1).
This godly type of instruction is also reminiscent of Paul’s earlier teaching on Christian instruction (Eph 4:20-21).
During this time, children were beginning to go to school for formal education, but fathers were still viewed as the primary teacher.
In homes where children are not growing spiritually, one will often unfortunately discover apathetic parents not living up to their God-given responsibilities.
Paul desired this church to instruct one another in Christian teaching, but he never saw that task as isolated to the religious institutions.
Parents were expected to do their job. Paul’s instruction is reminiscent of the words in the book of Proverbs which state, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6).
God expects fathers not only to discipline their children, but they are also to disciple their children. Fathers are to discipline their children according to God’s standards and disciple their children using God’s commandments. For successful biblical parenting to take place, parents must live according to their God-given authority coupled with their God-given responsibility.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.