On Instructing our Children part 1

16 Nov

What is the responsibility of believing parents, and especially, hear that, especially, believing fathers?

We can break Paul’s answer down into two parts.

1. We see that we have a responsibility not to parent in such a way that makes it easier for our children to sin.

That’s the negative part of our responsibility.

In Ephesians 6:4 Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger…”

And then also in Colossians, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, lest they become discouraged…”

And I am not going to talk about this for too long because we spent so much time on it previous posts, but I just want you to note what this shows about how the gospel changes parenting.

I want to at least highlight that.

Because if I say to someone who doesn’t know the gospel, that this person over here needs to obey you completely, what would be the typical way for that person to respond, at least in their heart?

I think the typical response would be to think that’s awesome and to begin thinking about the different ways you can use that person to do what you want.

And that is because no matter how nice we may appear on the outside, we are by nature as human beings, extremely self-centered and that is true of the best of us. Our primary core interest is self-interest. And this is why time and time again when a person gets into a position of power and especially if there are no limits on that power, he ends up abusing that power. How many stories have we heard of men who before they were in positions of power were working for the good of their country changing direction once they were given power over that country and using all the power they had been given for their own good. That is the typical way people use power, and when it doesn’t happen, it’s very surprising and those people usually become heros who stand out because we are all surprised that they didn’t use power to pursue their self-interest because that’s kind of just what we expect to happen in this world.

It is very typical for us to take power and use it for our own interests.

And if you have any doubt about that, you can just think about the way many fathers father in cultures act when they are given unlimited power over their families. Does this position of power and respect make them more caring and servant-hearted towards their families? Not usually. How common is it to find lazy, self-seeking fathers who are demanding respect that their actions don’t deserve? These kind of men are everywhere.

And because of that, the world’s response to these kind of abuses of power and authority is to try to attack the very idea of power and authority; and that is why you see in the United States as an example that fathers no longer really have the kind of respect in their families that they do in many places in Africa, and if men ask for that kind of respect they usually are looked on as dictators automatically.

I know that’s not quite the way it is here in Africa, yet; but I am sure that kind of attitude is coming, if you just wait for it.

But what we see here in Ephesians is that the gospel’s way of dealing with this problem is radically different.

Because the gospel doesn’t deal with abuses of power and authority by getting rid of the idea of authority but instead by challenging and changing the way people in authority view their position of authority.

And as an example just take what we find here in Ephesians 6, where Paul talks to fathers.

Because you see in verses 1 through 3 that Paul does not minimize the child’s responsibility to his parents. In fact, he very clearly tells children that they are responsible for obeying their parents in everything as a way of honoring the Lord and he encourages them that this is something that pleases God by pointing them to the promises God attaches to these commands.

But what makes this passage so different is that Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on in Ephesians 6:4 to challenge fathers not to use the authority they have been given in self-centered ways by telling them that they too have a responsibility before God and that is not to use their positions of power in ways that provoke their children to anger or discouragement.

And what that means is that when Paul tells us that our children are to obey us completely, we should not respond by thinking to ourselves this is awesome that God has given me slaves for eighteen years, how much can I get out of them but instead by thinking, wow, this is a real responsibility, oh God, help me not to use this power for my own selfish interest but for my child’s long term good.

Now can you imagine if parents really were like that? Fathers, especially? What would happen to this country?

Which is part of by the way, I am convinced that if you really want to make an impact on Africa and change Africa, you should be first and foremost committed to the local church and to the proclamation of the gospel and especially to the hard work of making disciples who are applying the gospel to their lives. You know one reason why we have so many leaders in positions of power in Africa who are using those positions of power for their own good instead of to serve the people? It’s because we have so many fathers who are setting that kind of example in their homes. Where you have self-centered fathers and mothers, you have self-centered leaders and governments. If you want a different kind of government in your country, you need to start by having different kind of leaders in your homes. Leaders who take this first responsibility Paul gives seriously, to not parent in such a way that makes it easier for their children to sin.

2. Though.

Because Paul doesn’t stop with the negative command.

We have a second responsibility as parents.

And that is to deliberately and intentionally disciple our children for Christ.

“But bring them up…”

And what I want to impress on you is your need to take an active role in teaching your children the fear of God, the gospel of God and the ways of God.

It is not enough that we simply do not provoke our children to anger, if you look to verse Ephesians 6:4 4, Paul goes on to say that we must “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

And I am highlighting this because sometimes we might think if only we don’t do terrible things to our children, then we are doing enough. If I am not coming home and yelling at my wife and smacking my children around, then I have fulfilled my responsibility as a father.

I feel a little like saying what the writer of this passage says in another place, ‘may it never be!’ No way, not even close. There is more than one way to mess your family up. There are as many “nice” do nothing kind of guys who have done terrible damage to their families as abusive jerks. Maybe more.

We all know if I have a garden outside my house, there is more than one way to ruin it. One way to ruin a garden is to take a shovel or some other tool and go out and start swinging and chopping and cutting and tearing until the whole thing is completely destroyed. There’s another way to ruin a garden however and it takes a little less effort. You can ruin a garden just by doing nothing. If I sit on my couch and look outside at my garden and do absolutely nothing, it won’t be long until I don’t have a garden at all but just a bunch of overgrown weeds.

And the same is true with your families, your children. It is not enough to simply sit back and smile and do no harm, fathers, we must bring our children up!

Now, this translation, bring them up, there’s a sense it is helpful because it helps us get a sense of the active concern we are to take in our children’s lives.

We don’t just let them grow up.

We bring them up.

I don’t know if you have ever heard of bonsai. Most trees you just plant and then let them grow however they want to grow; but when you do bonsai (if that is how you say it, I only know what I know about bonsai from movies about karate); but what you do with a bonsai tree is cut and shape and mold that tree so that it will take a certain shape.

It’s actually an art form.

You don’t just let a bonsai tree grow. You actively shape it.

And that’s the way it is to be with parents and their children, there is to be an active shaping going on.

When I was a new father, I was sometimes surprised by some of the sin I would see in my daughters. They are so cute when you are holding them in the hospital but it doesn’t take long to begin to see their sins and weaknesses coming out.

And I will be honest, my first reaction when I would see these kinds of things, like for example if I had a daughter who was very fearful of new people, was to step back and say oh no is this who this child is going to be, is she just doomed to being very afraid of people and that’s when I realized, that actually it was my God-given responsibility to help her with that.

When I was a child, I was so afraid of people that I would want to hide behind my parents. I was very unfriendly when I met new people, I wouldn’t want to look them in the eye, I would sometimes scowl, but you know, and I am so thankful for this, my parents didn’t accept that as just a personality trait, they looked at it as an opportunity for training and so they got involved and they started working with me day in day out to become a more gracious and loving child. Sometimes they would work with my heart and help me think about why I was so afraid and then other times they would just work with me in terms of skills, I remember driving places and practicing how I would look at people who were strangers and how I would greet them but the point of all that, is that my parents didn’t just let me grow up, they brought me up and even though that tendency is still there in my natural personality, I have developed for the most part, a different way of living than I would have if they left me to myself.

The one thing I guess I don’t like so much about translating this word that Paul uses, bring them up is that it doesn’t really to do justice to the softness and concern in it. The word Paul uses is actually the Greek word for nourish. Fathers, nourish your children. It is the same term actually that Paul used back in Ephesians 5:29 when he talks about Christ nourishing and cherishing the church. This was a word that could have been used to describe a nursing mother! And here it is use of a father! And what Paul is saying is that you as fathers, you have a responsibility to be that involved and concerned about your children’s spiritual maturity and long term good.

And can I ask you guys, are you?

I know it is normal in some of our cultures for the father to be a little bit distant when it comes to raising children and to take a hands off approach, to the point where sometimes a father won’t even have a problem with leaving his whole family for months and years even at a time and let the mother do all the work of caring for their children, BUT IT IS NOT NORMAL BIBLICALLY. Doing things like that would be direct disobedience to Paul’s command to bring your children up.

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