Every mom and dad is a ministry team, starting right in their own living room.
Ephesians 6 contains instructions to children, and for children. The commandment to children is that we honor our parents:
“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.”
This word about children is more relevant than you might think, because whether you are married or single, whether you have children or don’t yet have children, whether you are old or young, male or female, everyone is someone’s child. The command to honor parents was lifted directly out of the Ten Commandments, where it was grouped together with Commandments concerning how we treat God. It’s a serious command to run afoul of. People have invited a lot of trouble into their lives by dishonoring their parents. That’s what the verse seeks to avert when it promises in verse 3, “that it may go well with you.”
Honor does not mean we exonerate parents of all bad behavior, nor does it mean we varnish our family history, pretending everything was fine. Odds are, everything was not fine. No, honor means to revere parental rank–that they came before us. Those two imperfect people were the ones God chose to bring us into the world and shape us, for better or for worse, so we could glorify God in some particular and unique way.
Now, having covered instructions to children, I’d like to spend some time on the instructions for children.
In an age currently rife with foolishness, people tend to think kids are born with a fully developed range of reasoning and decision-making tools. They think of children like goldfish. You put them in a tank, sprinkle some food flakes, and allow them freedom to explore and do whatever they want. This so-called enlightened mindset tends to tell them, “Find your own answers. There’s the internet, the library, television, friends, and teachers.” This attitude is a direct contradiction of what God told us to do with children.
God’s number one choice for spiritual, moral, ethical, and character-based guidance is parents–not a school, nor even a church, or ministry (as helpful as those things can be).
And before anything else, we are supposed to bring them into the knowledge of God’s word.
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Though both parents certainly provide instruction to their children, this verse especially speaks to fathers, because fathers, sometimes due to their impatience, pick at and provoke their kids more than help them. We are often tempted to check out, leaving the role of teacher to our wives. But fathers are to be involved with the spiritual formation of their children.
Men can certainly wield considerable influence. For instance, Junior is overheard saying, “My dad can throw a football really far, and he built our treehouse, and he believes that Jesus died on the cross and resurrected!” This may seem funny, but it demonstrates the considerable influence an involved dad can have upon his son. Obviously our children’s view of us will change, but when they’re younger they tend to see their parents as God-like figures who know all things. That means we need to get in there early with discipline and instruction.
The two words “discipline” and “instruction” have some level of overlap, but instruction has more to do with the transfer of information, while discipline is more act-oriented, with live reinforcement and correction.
A popular belief of our current time says that we shouldn’t violate our children’s human autonomy by seeking to shape them. But This is terribly naive. Forces all around them are constantly shaping them. Neutrality is an illusion. God expects us to be completely involved with our kids in the development of their beliefs and values. When it comes to what is right and good, we guide them into the way. When it comes to evil, we get in their way.
Deut 6.4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
We often quote this verse by itself, but it has a context. Namely, our love of God naturally flows into our attitude toward the word of God:
6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
When this is the case, that word will flow even further:
7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
This isn’t merely family Bible hour. It is life as it happens–sitting, walking, lying down, getting up. There will come a time when your child attends his or her first wedding. What does that ceremony mean? Why do Christians subscribe to the idea of one man and one woman? why not alternative combinations? That’s a cue, even a request, for instruction. What does a funeral mean, and what happens after people die?
When seven-year-old Susie comes home with a broken heart because she found out Billy wasn’t “the one,” How would you use the gospel to intersect that young life disappointment? What about when your child steals something for the first time? What do we tell them when they get into a habit of lying? How about money, issues of justice and fairness in the home, forgiveness, and love? Then of course, there’s the question of service, that is, helping out around the house, and then the larger issues of service in the church, and even in the community.
How about respect issues–when they curse at you, or have that attitude, with that tone, and how do they interact with adults outside of your home? Then of course, there’s the matter of respect toward legal authorities. Life provides the opportunities. You provide the instruction. If you take some time to reflect on these situations, and many others I have not mentioned, the words of verses will come back to you. As implied in verse 8, God is serious about those words:
8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
Ancient Jews took this command literally, and began to strap small leather cubes containing verses on their hand and and to wear them on their foreheads. They were called tefillin.
I don’t know if the Jews were supposed to have taken this so literally, because the essential thought is far more important. The hands signify deeds. The forehead signifies thoughts. Our deeds and thoughts should be dominated by the truth of God’s Scripture. It’s interesting that in the Book of Revelation, Antichrist puts his mark of 666 on people’s hands and foreheads, as he seeks to control their deeds and thoughts. Apparently, whatever God’s word does not rule, becomes fair game for the devil.
That includes the entire household:
9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
The word of God should rule and administrate our homes. Some things will happen in your house just because the Bible says so. Then again, some things will not happen in your home ever, because the Bible says.
When we instruct and discipline our children in the word, it establishes certain boundaries of doctrinal truth and even reality itself. God is not whoever we want Him to be, nor do we do whatever we want to do, even if we really want to do it. If you cross these boundaries, you will begin to experience real-world consequences. We see them around us everyday.
Recently I caught a handful of episodes from the series Thirteen Reasons. I was hoping the show would shine some light on the suicide epidemic among young people. As it turned out, I didn’t watch much of it, because I found it so hard to stomach. For one thing, it seemed to give the impression that if a maladjusted high school kid wants to be listened to, celebrated, and talked about, he or she can get it by killing themselves.
Another thing that stood out to me were the show’s clueless parents. I saw kids cursing out their moms and dads with f-bombs, while the parents just stood there looking like whipped puppies. The parents and kids alike seemed on the same level of ignorance. They were all looking for the answer to big life questions down in their own hearts, as though the darkened human heart is where truth comes from. Wisdom doesn’t proceed from the same sordid place in man as rape, suicide, sexual promiscuity, narcissism, and disrespect. You don’t hunt for caviar in a sewer pond.
Nor is the television program too far away from reality. In some homes, kids today are beginning to ask whether they’re boys or girls, and they can’t look to their parents for answers. The parents have been programmed to believe in every bizarre emerging social trend, rather than submit to the timeless truth of God’s word. Otherwise, the Bible would easily show Junior that God created male and female, and He didn’t get confused when he was doing it.
Based upon this, a parent could say with authority, “Now Junior, you may not be feeling that you’re a boy, but the Bible is sure of it, and I’m sure of it, so I’m going to help guide you into what’s real. In fact, there will be a whole lot of other things in life that you’re not going to feel, either, but you’ll have to deal with them, too.” In other words, we don’t assist our children in some silly attempt at changing physical reality; we help them to accept it from God’s hand, and move on into a productive and normal life.
We are to be people of the word and our children are to be as well. God has charged us to facilitate the process. Kids will experiment with sin, and they’re going to test boundaries, partly wondering what we’re going to say, wondering whether we have wisdom for them in varied areas.
I realize you don’t know the answers to all these things. None of us do, but we still must do our best. You can look up verses in your Bible, you can ask people for godly viewpoints, you can seek recommendations for good, Bible-based literature.
On a more practical note, how we handle the instruction and discipline of our kids has to do with how old they are. Where young children are concerned, we need to be creative, simple, and straightforward. With older children, we’re entering more of a dialogue, telling them not only what we believe but why we believe it. Over time, you’ll find your own beliefs becoming progressively honed, as you reason them out with your kids.
Please don’t fall into the trap of assuming you need to be perfect before you instruct and discipline. Your qualification is not your perfection, but the simple fact that God has made you a parent. Now obviously you want to be as behaviorally consistent with the word as possible, to avoid confusing your children, but learn to be honest about your own failures. If you acted out, confess your sin rather than excuse it. This will demonstrate not only your humility, but that you also are a person under higher authority.
My daughter got in trouble once when she was in grade school. During our “outbriefing” together, I admitted to her that I was a sinner as well. Incredulous, and with eyes as big as poached eggs, she said, “You too?” I took advantage of the moment to teach, telling her, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). I explained to her how repentance worked in my own life of fellowship with Jesus. “So,” she said, with a sly look, “You’re a sinner.” “Yes,” I replied. “And I am the sinner who is in charge of this house.”
As we instruct, we don’t forget to discipline. It is tempting to adopt a passive parenting style, telling our children if they don’t listen, there will be consequences later, when they grow up. Little Johnny who is eight years old, will hardly find compelling your warnings about jail, or not landing a good job, or even the judgment seat of Christ. No, we tell Johnny there will be consequences now, and if he doesn’t catch on, they will be much more severe later, when he grows up and leaves home.
Don’t be terrified of your child being mad at you. As parents, we don’t take our cues from the PC Parents Playbook, but from Scripture.
We all hope God will use our children in a great way, and we’re called to be part of the process. However, none of us gets to control the outcome. At a certain point, our children mature and make their own decisions.
If they choose another way, we hope it will be in spite of all our love, instruction, and discipline, and not because we let them raise themselves.