The very first responsibility Paul gives fathers is a negative one.
In Ephesians Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger…” In Colossians, he says something similar, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, lest they become discouraged…”
I just want you to note what this shows us about how the gospel changes parenting.
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 a 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. We respond like that 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. 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. 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.
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. What we see in Ephesians and Colossians however 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.
As an example just take what we find in Ephesians 6, where Paul talks to fathers. 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.
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? This is part of by the way, why 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.