Sermon: Ephesians 6:4: Fathers, Bring Them Up In The Lord

Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 6:1–9

“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:1–9, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Ephesians 6:4

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4, ESV)


[Please excuse any and all typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church, but without the benefit of proofreading.] 


I would like to begin the sermon today by asking the question, why did Paul say, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”, and not fathers and mothers, or parents?

Clearly Paul is now shifting his attention to parents as he addresses each of the members of the Christian home. He has addressed husbands and wives, he has addressed children, and his commanded them to “obey [their] parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (Ephesians 6:1, ESV) And now Paul is addressing the parents. But instead of saying parents, or fathers and mothers, he says only, “fathers”.

To state the question in a different way, was it Paul’s view that only fathers have the responsibility to “bring [their children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”?

Clearly, this was not Paul’s view. 

The previous verses make that clear. Again, the children were commanded by Paul to obey their parents. This must mean that both father and mother have authority over the child — both are to discipline and instruct. And children are to offer up obedience to both mother and father in the Lord.

Paul then sited the fifth commandment to prove that this is right: “‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land’” (Ephesians 6:2–3, ESV). According to the law, honor is to be given to both father and mother, for both have authority over their children.  

And certainly Paul agreed with the Proverbs which describe both fathers and mothers as being active in the discipline and instruction of the children. Proverbs 1:8: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck” (Proverbs 1:8–9, ESV).

Stated succinctly and bluntly, when one considers what the scriptures say in the Old and New Testaments concerning the role that mothers play in the raising up of their children, it would be absurd to interpret Paul’s mention of “fathers” only to mean that mothers have nothing to do with the “discipline and instruction” of their children. 

So the question remains, why did Paul say, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”, and not fathers and mothers, or parents?

I think the answer is this: to emphasize the headship of the husband and father within the home. 

While it is obviously true that neither fathers nor mothers should provoke their children to anger — and while it is obviously true that both fathers and mothers are to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord — a father, as head of his home, has the unique responsibility of making sure that it is so. It is the father who, as head of the home, must see to it that his children be not proveke to anger, but instead that they be brought up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. The father must engage, take the lead and oversee the raising up his children, for it is his God given responsibility. 

This, I think, is the reason why Paul commands fathers specifically, and not parents in general concerning the raising up of children in the Lord. It is not to minimize the role that mothers are to play, but to highlight the headship of husbands and fathers within the home and to insist upon their responsible engagement in the task of child rearing.

I probably don’t need to tell you that this is an issue within our society. Many children are raised in homes where the father is absent. In some cases he is absent entirely. In others, he is absent partially. And in some homes the father is present physically, but is absent practically speaking, being disengaged from the children and negligent in regard to his responsibility to lead within the home. This is not the way that God designed the family to function. God’s design is that children would be born to a father and mother joined together for life in the covenant of marriage. His design is that children would be carefully raised by both mother and father, and that fathers would be faithful to lead within the home, raising their children in the nurture and addition of the Lord. 

Before I go further I should say that although this is God’s design — though it is ideal that fathers be faithful to “bring [their children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”  — one should not forget that we serve a God who uses situations that are less than ideal for the good of his people and for his glory. We serve a God who in the beginning brought order from chaos, spoke light into darkness, and brings life from death. Those who are being raised, or who were raised, in homes that fall short of this ideal should not despair, therefore. Instead they should trust in God who causes “all things [to] work together for good to those who love [him], to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NKJV). Children who are being raised in a home where their father or mother is absent should not despair. It is right for them to understand that the situation is less than ideal. It is even right for them to wish that it were otherwise. In fact, the Lord may use this awareness and longing to move them to do things right when they have a family of their own someday. But one thing they must not do is despair. They must know that God is able to bring much good out of the difficult circumstances of life. Children must not despair, and neither should the mother or father who has been left to carry the burden of raising children on their own. Though the situation is not exactly the same, Pslam 68:5 applies when it says,,  “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” (Psalm 68:5, ESV). God has a special love and concern for his people who living through challenging situations that fall short of the ideal.

With that said, I hope that all would agree that it is important for the Christian to know what the ideal is. The Christian should be eager to understand God’s design for the  family so that they might live according to that design. In the family, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, for the husband is head of the wife just as Christ is head of the church. Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. Children are to obey their parents in the Lord, for this is right. And parents — particularly fathers — are to but bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.


Do Not Provoke Your Children To Anger

But before we come to the positive command to bring children up in the Lord, we find a negative command to not provoke them to anger. Parents, and particularly fathers, are warned by the Apostle to not provoke their children to anger. 

Something similar is said in that Colossians passage which mirrors the text we are now considering in Ephesians. There the Apostle says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21, ESV). 

To provoke is to stir up. Parents, and especially fathers, must take care to never stir their children up to anger.

Now, it should probably be said that a child might be angry, not because their mother or father has stirred them up, but due to the sinfulness of their own heart. Mothers and fathers are not responsible for this unrighteous anger. In fact they should warn the child against it and discipline them appropriately. Sometimes people are angry for no good reason. Perhaps they are greedy, selfish and discontent. A parent is not wrong to refuse to give in to the angry rants of a toddler, teenager, or immature adult.  Paul does not say, appease the anger of your child at all costs. Instead he says, “do not provoke your children to anger.” Again, to provoke is to stir up. 

So how might a parent, and particularly fathers, provoke their children to anger? The Apostle doesn’t say. He simply issues a broad command and then trusts that we will reflect upon this command to identify the specifics. 

Truly, there are many ways for a father to prove a child to anger. If a father us absent, overly harsh, inconsistent, or unfair a child may be provoked to anger. If a father is overbearing, has a critical spirit, is unloving or hypocritical a child may be provoked to anger. I’m sure this list would grow very long if we were to take the time to develop it.  

The child might be too young to express with words what has angered them. But children — even young children — can perceive when things are right and wrong. This is because the law of God is written on their heart as image bearers. A child can perceive injustice. A child can identify hypocrisy. A child knows the difference between constructive criticism and a critical spirit. They know the difference between punishment that is fitting, and punishment that reckless and harsh. A child knows when they are being neglected. This is true even of relatively young children, but it is especially true of older children and teenagers. 

When Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your childen to anger”, he does not mean, fathers, don’t ever discipline your children, critique or rebuke them. He does not mean, parents, never ask your children to do something that they don’t want to do. Your child might  grow angry when you say “no” to ice cream. They might grow angry when you assign chores. But this is not the fault of the parent, provided that chores are reasonable chores, and that the dispostion of the parent is loving when the answer “no” is delivered. 

Parents, we need to reflect carefully upon the command of the Apostle here. His instructions to parents are very, very brief — only one sentence, in fact! And yet he takes the time to warn parents, and especially fathers, against provoking their children to anger. It must be that the Apostle saw this as a common problem. 

So I ask you, parents — fathers — do you provoke your children to anger? Do you stir them up by your absence, your lack of love, and by failing to affirm them? Do you frustrate them with unrealistic expectations and by your hypocrisy? Do you discourage them by being harsh and overly critical? What Paul said to all Christians back in Ephesians 4:29 is to be applied by parents as they relate to their own children: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV)

To state it differently, there is a sense in which parents must honor their children and treat them with respect as their exercise their authority over them. The fact that parents have authority over their children must not be ignored. Parents, and particularly fathers, must not neglect their responsibility, therefore. But children are to be honored as human beings, for they too bear the image of God. 

Notice that this is how the Apostle addresses husbands who have authority over their wives. They must not be harsh with them, but are to love them as Christ loved the church, being ever mindful of the fact that they are one with them, and co-heirs in Christ Jesus. And earthly masters are exhorted to in the next passage to honor their servants, to stop their threatening, “knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him” (Ephesians 6:9, ESV). So in Christ those with authority are to honor those who are in submission to them. They are to wield their authority with the heart of a servant. And this applies to parents too. You are authority is real. You must be faithful to fulfill your God given responsibility to raise your children. But they are to honored as they live in subjection to you, for they God is their Maker and yours. They too bear his image. 

Parents, mimic God the Father in you parenting. Be kind, consistent, fair and just. 

Parents, treat your children in the way that yourself would want to be treated. I’m sure that you want those to who have authority over you to treat you fairly and with respect. Do the same unto them. 


But Bring Them Up In The Discipline And Instruction Of The Lord

After the negative command, we find a positive command: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

The Greek word translated as “bring them up” carries with it the idea of nourishing something. In fact, the word appears only one other time in the New Testament, and that is in Ephesians 5:29 where Paul urges husbands to love their wives on the basis of their one flesh union with them, saying, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Ephesians 5:29, ESV). So husbands are to nourish and cherish their wives. And as fathers they are to have the same disposition towards their children. Husbands and fathers are to look upon their wives and children and they are to see them as precious, they are to be mindful of the responsibility and privilege that they have to nourish them — to see to it that they are protected, provided for, and encouraged in the Lord. Brothers, it is a high calling. 

Notice that the command to “bring them up” or to “nourish” stand in contrast to the command to not provoke to anger. A father who proves to anger is harsh, condescending, lacking in love, and negligent. In contrast to this, fathers are to bring their children up. They are build them up, and not tear them down. And this they are to do through discipline and instruction.

The word translated as discipline means to train or to reprove. The Greek term was used frequently in the Greco-Roman world to refer to the education of children in a wide rage of subjects and disciplines. Parents, and particularly fathers, are responsible to train their children to live well in this world. Now granted, a father may delegate some of these things to his wife or to tutors, but he must be engaged — he must see to it that his children are taught how to work, how to manage money, how to tend to the responsibilities of life. They should be taught how to read and write. They should be taught personal higine. This list would grow very long if we were to develop it. The point is that parents are to discipline their children, not out of anger, not punitively (because you have been somehow inconvenienced), but always to build them up into independent, good and productive members of society. We are to remember that this is the purpose of discipline: not to make the child pay, but to train them up! We are to train them up so that we might, in due time, send them out to establish households of their own where they will do the same thing for their children. 

The word translated as “instruction” means to teach.  In the scriptures this word is often used to refer to religious instruction — instruction concerning God, his ways and a  life that is lived according to wisdom. Parents, and particularly fathers, must be diligent to bring their children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, ESV).

Parents, how are you doing in this regard? Are you disciplining your children so that they have the skills that they need to live a good life in this world. Are you preparing them for adulthood? And more than this, are preparing them to live for God in this world by instructing them in the Lord?

Are you teaching them the Gospel?

Are you teaching them to receive with meekness the word of God?

Are you teaching them about who God is?

Are you teaching them about who we are, and what our purpose is?

Do they know about sin and its consequences?

Do they know that God has been gracious to provide a Redeemer? 

Do they know who he is?

Do they know what he has done to accomplish our salvation?

Do they know how we come to benefit from the salvation that he has earned?

Do they know God’s law?

Do they understand that we have broken it?

Did they know what faith is?

Do they know what repentance is?

Do they understand how it is that God nourishes those who are is?

Do they know how to pray?

Fathers and mothers, we must teach these things to our children. 

And how should we teach them? 

By including them in the assembly of the church to hear the word of God preached.

Through systematic instruction, commonly called catechesis. 

Through casual and spontaneous instruction. 

Perhaps you noticed that the Deuteronomy 6 passage that we read at the start of this sermon seems to encourage instruction that is both structured and systematic and also casual and spontaneous. Concerning the law, God spoke to Israel saying, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

And lastly, by example. Your children need to see you but the faith that you profess into practice, friends. Perhaps nothing is more frustrating to a child that hypocrisy.

We are all stumble in many ways, friends. Even the best of parents are not perfect parents. One of the most important things for a Christian parent to do is to repent before God, and even before their children, when they sin. Fathers, if you are harsh to your children— if you have provoked them to anger because of your critical spirit or your unjust treatment of them — the very best thing that you can do is repent. Repent before God, and even be willing to ask your children to forgive you for the wrong does to them. I have had to do this many times. Sin is to avoided at all costs, but it is also inevitable. May the Lord grant us humility so that we might repent truly before God and man.



Let me conclude with this simple but very important observation. In each and every one of these relationships involving authority and submission, something of God’s relationship to his people is put on display. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. Masters (as will see) are to honor their servants, being mindful that God is the Matter of them both. And bondservants are to “obey [their] earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as [they] would Christ” (Ephesians 6:5, ESV). Both in our positions of authority and submission we are to give glory to God, therefore. We are to submit as unto him, and we are to lead being imitators of him, that is to say, in love.  

This principle has already been established by the Apostle in this epistle, and it is to be applied here in each of these relationships: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2, ESV)


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