The gospel changes everything. It changes individuals, husbands, wives, parents, and kids. In the previous article, I focused on the negative part of the command, do not exasperate your children. Now I’ll focus on the positive side.
Paul instructs parents in Ephesians 6:4 to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
This verse should have a parent’s attention. We can package Paul’s teaching in three words: gentleness, discipline, and instruction.
This phrase “bring them up” doesn’t really communicate the personal nature of what the text is after. The idea is more about nurturing. In fact, it’s the same word is translated as “nourish” in Ephesians 5:29. There’s a calculated gentleness and carefulness involved with parenting.
God knows our frame. He knows children are vulnerable. They can be easily crushed. Or they can blossom and bloom. Calvin translated this command as, “let them be kindly cherished,” and then goes on to emphasize that the overall idea is gentleness and friendliness.
This is a sharp contrast to the common practice in Paul’s day. Fathers were quite insensitive, running over their children without a second thought. However, Paul shows the requirements of the new creation to be one of gentle nourishing. It’s the new order breaking through and shining in.
Along these lines, I like what Kent Hughes says: “Men are never more true men than when they are tender with their children, whether holding a baby in their arms, loving their grade-schooler, or hugging their teenager or a grown son or daughter.”
Before rushing on to anything else in their parenting, Christian parents must have a gentle hand and nourishing spirit. This reflects the Lord Jesus, who does not break the bruised reed (Matt. 12:20). What a convicting word for parents. You may not be a gentle person, but you must be a gentle parent. You can’t nourish someone carelessly or harshly.
You may not be a gentle person, but you must be a gentle parent. You can’t nourish someone carelessly or harshly.
On the other hand, there needs to be ongoing care given to guard the children against developing patterns that would be harmful to them and others, and dishonoring to the Lord. The word “discipline” means training and even punishment. It involves correcting the wrong behavior. It’s the overall, comprehensive instruction of the life of the child.
It’s not God’s will that parents, in the name of kindness and love, should spare their children of discipline. Clearly, to do this would be to harm the children in their development and training.
And so we have the Bible speak of the need for parents to love their children, even with discipline:
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Prov. 13:24)
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov. 22:6:)
Kindness does not neglect discipline and correction.
God knows that children need kindness, but he also understands that they need correction. Christian parents, you must see the difference between what our culture holds forth as parenting and what God says is parenting. You must discipline your children. They will not grow, mature, and gain wisdom on their own. God has appointed you in their life to discipline and train them.
This word means placing before the mind. It’s verbal instruction that corrects, admonishes, or confronts the behavior. But notice, it has everything to do with the Bible. It is the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Parents cannot neglect this. Remember Eli and his sons (1 Sam. 2:22-27). We must teach the Word of God to our children and apply life to the Word. Remember Deuteronomy 6:7:
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.
The Word of God should always be in the air, in the conversation. Like bread on the table or water in the pitcher, the Bible is to have its placemat on the table. To properly instruct, there needs to be a verbal and visible commitment to the Bible in the home.
When you put these together, you have instruction and discipline with a disposition of kindness and gentleness. Without instruction, discipline looks like abuse. Without a nurturing gentleness, instruction is unfeeling. Without discipline, parents are not fully instructing.
I’ve often thought of Luther’s balancing comment to parents: “Spare the rod and spoil the child—that is true. But beside the rod, keep an apple to give him when he has done well.”
Like bread on the table or water in the pitcher, the Bible is to have its placemat on the family table. In order to properly instruct there needs to be a verbal and visible commitment to the Bible in the home.
This puts the burden on parents. How can parents raise their children like God says unless they know what the Word of God teaches? How can they teach with wisdom unless they’ve personally learned in Christ’s school? Parents must be growing in personal godliness if they want to faithfully care for their children.
Yes, parenting is hard. Thankfully, God is gracious. The Bible is sufficient. And, the Holy Spirit indwells believers, making us more and more like Jesus. This encourages discouraged parents to be faithful and prideful parents to be humble.