In many ways, I write this knowing full-well that I do not live up to what I am about to write, though I will say that I am seeking to do better. I do believe that we will never be perfect this side of heaven, but we are being sanctified, so I ask of you (as believing men) and expect of myself: progress, not perfection.
That being said, while many look at the New Testament and believe the writers to be bigoted, enslaving, misogynistic, brutes who were all about the patriarchy and keeping women and children down, the New Testament writers, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, actually elevated the status of both women and children immensely. Back in Roman times, fathers had nearly every right to do with their children as they thought right, good, or in order. It was not uncommon for children to be berated, abused, beaten bloody, or--if baby girls--be left out to die of exposure. The New Testament writers elevated the status of wives and children. Paul told the husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, giving themselves for their wives and nourishing and cherishing them as their own bodies. Peter told husbands that their wives are their fellow-heirs, sisters before wives, and so live with them in understanding way, lest their prayers not be heard.
This blog post however is about our duty to our children. It is two-fold. First, we don't provoke our children to anger. Secondly we train them in godliness. As Paul wrote, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord," (Ephesians 6:4, ESV). What does this mean for us dads? It means easing up a bit. Most dads (not all) are the "fathering-type" as opposed to the "mothering-type." If one of the kids scrapes his knee, we are more likely to tell him to rub some dirt on it and keep going. We don't hug him and kiss the boo boo. We leave that for mom. That's not a bad thing. God made men to be fathers and made women to be mothers. Mothers mother and fathers father. It's a different job description by God's design.
But like all good gifts that God has given, our personality and job description can go too far. Our pushing our children to go beyond what they think they are capable ("rub dirt on it and keep going") can push them into exasperation. To this end, Paul warns us. Don't take our parenting-style too far. He's not calling us to be mothers, but he is calling us to self-control. He continues to affirm our authority in the home, but he warns not to abuse that authority. He reminds us that these are "your children." These aren't just children, but rather your children. They are part of you. In many ways, they imitate you without even knowing it. What exasperates you about them is most likely you in them. How many of us have suddenly realized as an adult that we've turned into our fathers or sound just like our fathers? That's because we are a part of them; we are their children. Those are your children. So we must treat them as though they are part of us because they are. Thus we are to respect them, while also fully expecting them to respect us. We do not nag them as we do not expect to be nagged by others. We push but we don't crush. We expect, but we do not exploit. We do not provoke them to anger, but love and good deeds. If we pay close enough attention, we will soon find out what our children get angry over. It may be a school subject, teasing, some game, or just something they can't get right. As fathers, our job is to know and to adjust. We, after all, are the adults.
But we are to train them in godliness: "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." This really is nothing more than a repeat of what Jesus said before he ascended. This is the great commission toward the child. "Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you," (Matthew 28:20, ESV). As dad, you are to disciple (discipline) your child to observe all that Christ commanded (instruction of the Lord). How are you doing that? Are you doing family worship? Are you praying with them at more than dinner time? Are you teaching them how to read and study God's Word on their own? Are you explaining hard topics? Catechisms? Creeds? Confessions? It's time consuming, I know. Again, I'm not perfect at it. We miss family worship nights almost as much as we make them. But that doesn't mean we don't continue in informal ways. Car rides, batting practice, playing house, when we rise, when we walk, when we lie down.
Both Don Whitney and Jason Helopoulos have written very good books on Family Worship. They are short and sweet, but deep and powerful. If you don't know how to do it, pick up a copy. You'll be on your way in less than a week.
Good talk, Dads. Let's do it again soon. Of course, I've done all the talking. Feel free to chime in with a comment, question, etc. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Chris is a pastor at Highland View Baptist Church in St. Charles, Mo. You can find him on Twitter (@c_doyle_hughes) or on his website (www.cdoylehughes.com).