Sermon Notes

Ephesians 6:4 June 4, 2000
Walking Wisely: Christian Parenting

A man came home from work late again, tired and irritated only to find his young son waiting for him at the door. "Daddy, how much money do you make an hour?" Since he was in a bad mood, he shot back, "That's none of your business, why would you ask such a thing?"

"I just want to know, Please tell me, Dad."

So the man said, "Around twenty bucks an hour."

"Oh," the little boy replied with a downcast look. Then he said, "Daddy, can I borrow $10?"

The dad got rather upset and said, "If the only reason you wanted to know how much money I make is so that you can buy some silly toy then go on up to bed and think about your selfishness."

The boy quietly went to his room. But the longer the dad was downstairs, the more he thought that he may have been too hard on his son. So he went upstairs with a ten dollar bill in hand and said, "Son, maybe I overreacted. Here's $10."

The boy sat straight up, "Oh thank you, Daddy!" and he reached under his pillow and pulled out some crumbled up bills and began to count all the money. Then he said, "Daddy, I have $20 now. Can I buy an hour of your time?"

If you are a parent, what are you worth? The worth of a mother is quite often well understood and little debated. But what about fathers? What is their value, their worth to children? While some believe that advances in biology may render the male irrelevant to reproduction, simple procreation has never necessitated the continuing presence of a father.... While economic changes may have created a more level playing field among the sexes so that it is no longer an imperative to have a man in the house ...

And while The American Psychologist, in its June 1999 issue, includes a piece called "Deconstructing the Essential Father" whose authors, Louise Silverstein and Carl Auerbach, sum up its thesis by saying: "We do not believe that the data support the conclusion that fathers are essential to child well-being and that heterosexual marriage is the social context in which responsible fathering is most likely to occur." (Gene Edward Veith, World, 8./21/99)...

The importance of a father in the lives of children is clear.

Almost 75% of American children living in single-parent families will experience poverty before they turn 11 years old. Only 20% of children in two-parent families will do the same. (The National Fatherhood Initiative)

Children living apart from their biological fathers experience more accidental injury, asthma, headaches, and speech defects.("Family Structure and Children’s Health and Well Being," Journal of Marriage and Family 1991)

Compared with girls with intact nuclear families, girls who lost their fathers by divorce were overly responsive to males, were more likely to be sexually involved with males in adolescence, married younger, were pregnant more often before marriage, and became divorced or separated from their eventual husbands more frequently. (Rekers, George, University of South Carolina School of Medicine)

72% of adolescent murderers, 60% of America’s rapists and 70% of long-term prison inmates grew up in homes without fathers. (Dewey Cornell, "Characteristics of Adolescents Charged with Homicide," Behavioral Sciences and the Law 1987: 11-23. Nicholas Davidson, "Life Without Father," Policy Review 1990)

Studies reveal that even in high-crime inner-city neighborhoods, well over 90% of children from safe, stable, two-parent homes do not become delinquents. (Richters, John, "Violent Communities, Family Choices, and Children’s Chances" Development and Psychopathology 1993)

Our passage this morning, Ephesians 6:4 states in clear terms the centrality of fathers.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

While the term here for "fathers" certainly has applications to both mothers and father, just as when Paul addresses those in the church as "brethren" he includes the "sistren," the importance of fathers should not be glossed over.

At first glance what Paul says here could seem rather pedestrian, that he is merely repeated the common wisdom of his day, a time when father ruled the home. The power of the father in the ancient world, in particular in Greek and Roman society was that of a demigod. Roman Law made it clear that the father had absolute power over his family. He could sell them as slaves; he could make them work in his fields, even in chains; he could take the law into his own hands, and punish them as he saw fit. Further, the power of the Roman father extended over the child’s whole life, so long as the father lived. A Roman son never came of age. The father’s undisputed power is well illustrated in the common practice of exposing unwanted infants. When a baby was born it was placed before his father. If the father stooped and lifted the child, the child was accepted and was raised as his. If he turned away, the child was rejected and was literally discarded. Such rejected children were either left to die, or they were picked up by those who trafficked in infants. These people raised children to be slaves or to stock the brothels.

A first century letter illustrates this raw power. Hilarion, a Roman father working in Alexandria, Egypt, wrote back to Italy to his pregnant wife, Alis, to let her know that he would be detained in Egypt, thus preventing his arrival before the birth of their child. In the letter he writes; "If – good luck to you! – you have a child, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, throw it out."

Ancient Stoic writers thought it best that fathers never pamper their children. It was a disgrace to see a man playing with a child or sharing in his laughter. Stern and distant characterizes the father of the ancient world.

It is to that culture that Paul’s words are anything but expected. Remember the context here begins back in 5:15 where we are admonished to walk wisely. The acrobatic walk of the Christian life is then summarized in 5:21 as the call for mutual submission. We’ve examined how that is lived out in the complementarian view of marriage where the wife’s respect and the husband’s sacrificial love lives out the submission. The honoring of parents is clearly a form of submission, but in 6:4 we can not ignore the fact that biblical parenting is also rooted in submitting one’s desires to the benefit of the other. Rather than the common view that children exist for my benefit, that they should make my life easier, children are entrusted to us so that we serve them. The important question that comes then is, how are we going to do that?

We serve our children by not exasperating them

Paul first gives us the negative: don’t exasperate your children.

The word here means to provoke to wrath. It is used when the actions of one cause another to blow their lid. When the parent is a catalyst, causing frustration, a sense of injustice, or overblown expectations and the kid just can’t take it any more, that is what Paul is warning against. This need not be spiteful or sadistic, but well intentioned parenting which lacks sufficient understanding of what they are doing.

How do we, as parents, and especially fathers, provoke our kids?

Over-protection: If you want to really frustrate your child, fence him in, don't trust him, don't give him enough opportunity to develop his own independence so he can find out who he is. To really frustrate him, don't let him take any risks and you'll create an angry mood. This pampering process arrives at a point where we can almost imagine him advising his offspring, "Do not venture into the water until you have learned to swim." He must learn to face life on his own. Give children that rope, let them do that. They'll learn and they'll learn the best way they learn, by hitting the wall now and then. But if you over-protect them you'll exasperate them and an exasperated child is an angry child and an angry child isn't going to have a loving relationship with his parents. To be sure, children should be warned against great dangers. On the other hand, a modicum of risk-taking is necessary for their physical, moral, and spiritual development.

Favoritism: Favor one child over the other. That is very frustrating.

Don't ever compare your children. You want to see the tragedy of that, read again the story of Jacob and Esau. Isaac liked the masculine, hair hunter Esau while Rebekah promoted Jacob, the momma’s boy. Don't compare your children with each other. Each is unique. Each is a gift from God. Each is to be loved and be loved because they are special.

Make your love achievement oriented: Push them in the area of achievement. Just keep pushing and pushing and pushing until they never have a sense of having accomplished anything. Nothing is ever enough. If they get C's, you demand B's. They get B's, you demand A's. You demand A's, you demand all A's and they can't satisfy you. Some parents crush their children with pressure, school, sports, academic achievement, music. The child gets very bitter.

Over-indulgence: Give them everything they want; allow their tantrums to rule your life. Live in fear of their displeasure so never be able to say, "No." Soon they will be very angry. Over-indulgence leads to anger for they never learn that satisfaction comes not in wanting more but wanting what they have. Samson is a great illustration of the over-indulged child who, having never be taught to control his desires, was unable to control himself.

Discouragement: Just remind them all the time they'll never amount to anything. Just remind them all the time that they're not any good, they're useless, they're in the way. Don't give them any rewards. Martin Luther, repeating the old adage, "spare the rod, spoil the child," added the another important component: "Keep an apple to give him when he has done well." Don't give them any approval. Don't do any nice things for them. Don't honor them. You'll destroy their initiative. You'll destroy their incentive. You'll destroy their motivation.

Neglect: The story of Absalom points out the dangers of a father so involved in so much else, he has no time for his own children. David becomes furious at the report of incest among his own children, but refuses to discipline the heinous sin, but leaves it to Absalom to kill his own brother.

We serve our children by nurturing them

The goal in child rearing is nurture. That is meaning of the positive imperative. "Bring them up" is not just being sure they have a roof over their heads and food on the table. The word here is the same as up in 5:29. It speaks of nourishing the body.

Fathers especially may struggle with serving their kids in the way this passage instructs us. Like the little boy who felt he had to pay for time with his father, there are many kids who see far too little of their parents, especially their fathers. Parents today spend roughly 40 percent less time with their children than did parents a generation ago. According to one survey, in 1965, parents spent on average about 30 hours per week with their kids. By 1985, parent-child interaction had dropped to just 17 hours per week. Another study found that almost 20 percent of children in grades six through 12 had not had a good conversation lasting for at least 10 minutes with at least one of their parents in more than a month.

Research consistently shows that the most important protector against children developing serious problems is the quality of the relationship they have with their parents. A recent national study involving over 100,000 adolescents found that the most important factor associated with the avoidance of such high risk behaviors as alcohol and illicit drug use, smoking, violence, and sexual activity was connectedness with one's parents. And just how do children develop "connectedness" with their parents? It takes time. Why? Because when we give time to our children, we communicate in the clearest way possible that we care about them. Kids, it seems, spell "love" T-I-M-E. (Wade Horn, "Time With Children Is Investment in Future" Washington Post, 1/18/2000)

We serve our children by teaching them

This teaching is in the form of discipline

This word for training, paideia, has a more action orientation to it. It can mean "educate," but in the New Testament it most often is translated as "discipline." The problem is that we often think of discipline only as corporal punishment. It is important to keep in mind while physical consequences may be in view here, it is much more than that. The goal of discipline is that we make a disciple. It is to set the parameters in which the child is to live so that their life reflects God’s character.

What frightens us most about this, I believe, is that to discipline we ourselves must be disciplined. I see my own failures most clearly in my own children, so that when I try to train, what is most glaring is my inability. But, it is in that area where I can teach. I can not make them something I am not, so when I see my sin in them, my best discipline is that of practicing repentance before them.

You must not forget that you can’t impress on your child what you don’t possess yourself. Especially you fathers, you must have a rudimentary understanding of God’s Word; unless you are a student yourself, learning, you will not be able to train another.

Paul makes it clear what the basis of discipline is. It is not the arbitrary rule of a petty despot who randomly decides what will bother him that day. The basis is not the social mores of the age. In 2 Timothy 3 he reminds Timothy of his own training. Our instruction, our teaching is to be centered in God’s Word. Scripture is what is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training (paideia) in righteousness.

This teaching is also in the form of counseling them

The word for instruction is nouthesia, focusing more on the verbal instruction, the warning, the counsel given to a child. It means to place before someone’s mind. In 1 Samuel 3, God’s anger over Eli’s poor fathering is revealed to young Samuel. Eli failed to "restrain" his rebellious sons. The LXX translates that word from the Hebrew as "counsel." He did not teach them as he should.

If you want to anger kids: Over-discipline with no instruction, have rules with no personable guidance. Or - under- discipline, always talking, but never set boundaries. "Did that make you feel good to smash that plate on Billy’s head?"

There is much for us Dads to teach our kids. It is important that they know who Larry, Moe, and Curly are and be able to make the appropriate Stooge sounds and gestures despite their mother’s objections. It is important that they learn from your mistakes and grow up to be Cubs fans, so that they too learn to live with perennial disappointment and heartbreak. They will need to learn how to cut the grass properly, so as not to leave streaks in the lawn.

But while all this is important, it certainly pales in the light of eternity, when we realize that our children must also come to know the unspeakable love of Jesus Christ who welcomed children with open arms to bless them. How can we best teach them? Dads, you must take the initiative in catechizing your kids, teaching them God’s Word.

Concluding thoughts

This is an enormous responsibility. And of course, it involves an enormous amount of work and effort. But the Christian parent is called to this important task because that's what loving his or her children is all about. Remember: the government is not called upon to raise your children. The school, as valuable as it may be, is not called upon to raise your children. The church is not called upon to raise your children. Oh, the church is called upon to help the families within her midst. The church is called upon to be involved in the instruction of the children within her fellowship. Your wife is not the one here given the command. It is your responsibility; it ultimately rests on your shoulders. That is your calling.

Children are not looking for perfect parents; but they are looking for honest parents. An honest, progressing parent is a highly infectious person. Fathers, the task is in many ways bigger than you, but the good news of the Gospel is that we are not the final model of what the perfect father is to be. We are all very sinful and shadowy images of who our heavenly Father is. It is to Him we must look and it is to Him we must point our children.

There is a great story about Jonathan Edwards, who, shortly after becoming President of Princeton Seminary, became ill. He was away from home. Only one daughter was present with him as his condition became worse and it was evident that he would die. His wife and other kids were in New England. He knew he would not last the night out, so he turned to his daughter, Lucy, and told her to take a note:

"Tell my wife that the uncommon union which has so long subsisted between us is, I think, a spiritual one and therefore is one which will last forever. Tell your other brothers and sisters that it is about time they look to a father that does not die."

He was a great father. His children and grandchildren were powerful Christian leaders for generations. Yet he had to charge them to repent. I am not the real father you need. You must seek the real Father, the one who can bring you up, the one who will train and instruct you. In this way our training and instruction will be of the Lord.

Sermon Notes