When we last got together, we looked at what the Scriptures had to say about youth and their responsibilities towards their parents. This time, we’ll turn things around and check out what the Bible has to say about parents and their responsibilities…
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 NIV).
To understand how radical this Biblical teaching was at the time that this Scripture was written, we need to go back to era of the first century and check out the culture that existed during that time. You see, the Roman Empire ruled over most of the known world in those days and children born within that culture really had no civil rights as we understand them today. The Roman society of that time considered an infant to be an actual, legal person only if the father officially recognized and accepted that child.
This meant that the parents of a baby or young child could legally abandon or sell their child into slavery if they didn’t want to keep their child for some reason. In fact, it was actually legal to murder an unwanted child during this time if he or she was disfigured or deformed in some way. So this Biblical teaching on parents and children was pretty revolutionary for the time because it told parents that they had a responsibility to consider the feelings and emotions of their children when making decisions that would affect them.
Beside the fact that this passage of Scripture represented a radical social change when it first appeared, it also tells us some important things about the way a God-honoring family should operate today. For example, the Scripture that we just read tells fathers not to, “…provoke your children to anger” (RSV). While children have the responsibility to listen to and treat their parents respectfully, parents have the responsibility to make sure that they don’t treat their children in a way that unnecessarily infuriates, enrages, or angers them.
Now before we go any further on this subject, we should be clear on something: this passage doesn’t say that your parents can’t do anything to make you angry. This Scripture tells us that parents should not treat their children in a way that only serves to build up anger and resentment within them.
This principle also means that things such as…
- Merciless teasing
- Cruel, unkind, and hurtful jokes or comments
- Humiliating or sarcastic remarks about physical appearance
- Excessive criticism
- Telling embarrassing personal stories in front of others
- Unrealistically high expectations that can never be achieved
…or other, similar things are not right for any member of a family that seeks to follow God’s rules. Now you may remember that we talked about this earlier in our look at the book of Ephesians where we saw that the Scriptures remind us to, “Say only what is good and helpful to those you are talking to, and what will give them a blessing” (Ephesians 4:29). A wise parent will be careful to avoid treating their son or daughter in a way that doesn’t do anything constructive but only provokes anger and frustration. In the same way, a wise son or daughter will be careful to keep up the kind of parental relationship that reduces that possibility as well.
So instead of treating a son or daughter in a way that just makes them angry, the Bible says that a parent should bring their children up “…with the discipline and instruction approved by the Lord” (NLT). This tells us that part of a parent’s responsibility involves communicating the Scriptures to their children and helping them live in a way that honors and respects God. This responsibility has two parts: training (or discipline) which involves giving direction and correction when needed and instruction, a word that means “to call attention to” and carries the idea of teaching or coaching someone in the things of God.
These are important ideas to understand because the Bible specifically tells parents that it is their job to train, coach, encourage, instruct, and discipline the children that God has given to them. In a sense, this responsibility isn’t very different from the one held by a teacher at school or a coach on a team. For example, imagine if you had a coach or a teacher who never instructed you or corrected you when you did something wrong. Think about what it would be like to be a student, athlete, or musician with a coach or teacher who didn’t care enough to discipline you to be your very best. You don’t need The Doctor to tell you that a coach or teacher who never instructed, trained, or disciplined anyone wouldn’t have their job for very long.
Well, this same idea is true when it comes to your relationship with your parents. Whenever you start to feel that your parents are too hard on you in certain areas, remember that Proverbs 13:24 says, “If you refuse to discipline your children, it proves you don’t love them; if you love your children, you will be prompt to discipline them” (NLT). Real, Biblical discipline isn’t abusive- it’s the sign of a parent that really cares about their child.
Or maybe it seems as if your parents are sometimes too critical of you. In this case, your parents may be trying to do their best to help you fully develop the abilities that God has given you, just as a great teacher or coach also refuses to accept less than your best. In any event, a Christian youth with these concerns can always use Ephesians 6:4 to prayerfully start a discussion to resolve these issues with their parents.
Finally, remember that things like training, instruction, and discipline aren’t just for youth. Every Christian (including your parents, if they are Christians) undergoes these things too. Hebrews 12:5-8 explains why…
“But you have forgotten that the Scriptures say to God’s children, ‘When the Lord punishes you, don’t make light of it, and when he corrects you, don’t be discouraged. The Lord corrects the people he loves and disciplines those he calls his own.’ Be patient when you are being corrected! This is how God treats his children. Don’t all parents correct their children? God corrects all of his children, and if he doesn’t correct you, then you don’t really belong to him” (CEV).