The attitude of parents toward their children determines in a large measure the way they treat them. In those homes where children are not wanted, parents sometimes treat their own flesh worse than the beast. When children are desired and enjoyed, the whole atmosphere of the home breathes with a spirit of love and happiness. All of this is a mere natural and human relationship within the home.
When however, we apply the same principle to the spiritual response of parents toward their children, we see the same thing amplified many fold. If parents consider their children to be “chips off the old block,” their response is one of pride. O, how they like to see their children succeed in whatever they do, because after all, it is a reflection upon the parents that brought them into the world. If however, parents consider their children to be conceived and born in sin, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, and precious in God’s sight, their response is one of humble supplication to God that He may cause this faith to develop in their children and come to full expression to God’s glory.
It is the unique privilege of covenant parents to consider their children to be God’s heritage and therefore needing instruction in the way of the Lord.
The words of Eph. 6:4 can’t, help but make every father sit up and think, “And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” There are two things that strike home. First, the duty of instruction is directed to fathers; we might be inclined to dispute this and say that mothers have more to do with bringing up children. Secondly, Paul warns that fathers must not provoke their children to wrath: are they more inclined to do this than mothers?
In dealing with the first aspect, it will help us to understand that Paul advises concerning parental responsibilities on the basis of the, divinely appointed relationship between husband and wife. In the preceding chapter, he has carefully laid out the important truth that the husband is the head of the wife and the wife must be subject to her husband. In this text, he continues to articulate this relationship as it applies to the instruction of children., The calling to instruct children rests foursquare upon the shoulders of the father as head of the house. This is part of the authority which God gives to him. It is his responsibility to see to it that the children whom God has given unto him are properly instructed. Hence the exhortation comes to the father, “Ye fathers, bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The father has to see to it before God that this is done. This same idea is expressed in connection with baptism; the father is the one who secures a baptismal slip from the consistory in those churches where this is required. The father presents the child for baptism at the time of the sacrament.
A father, however, cannot smugly sit back and say that he heeds the admonition of this text if he sees to it that his children are properly instructed. Not only must he see to it that his children are instructed; he must also be involved in the instructing! Here many fathers fall short. It is a shame upon our homes, that many men are content to let their wives see to it that the children learn catechism properly, get their school work finished, study the Sunday school lesson, etc. Though it is true that mother is peculiarly adapted to being more intimately involved in this work, just because she is mother, and no father can possibly usurp that from her, this doesn’t mean that father has nothing to do with the instructing except seeing to it that someone else is doing it and his children are receiving it. As a father, he must also be involved. Mother and father are both parents, and this means they share the work of instructing their children.
It might be well also to remind ourselves that principally the work of instructing cannot be passed on to anyone else either. Without the involvement of parents, any instruction on the part of someone else is superfluous. This is made obvious in so many ways. A preacher can work hard on sermons and carefully spell out the Word of God as it deals with life’s problems, the whole family can sit under that preaching and receive it, but if father and mother do not implement that word in the sphere of the home, it profits nothing. For example, the preacher can warn about the dangers of television, which are very real, but if father and mother do not control the TV in the home and the children are permitted to watch almost any program and almost any time, the Word of God that has been preached is denied in that home. Similarly in connection with catechism instruction: if parents do not supervise the study of their children, the children will learn their lesson the last minute (and it might even be the wrong lesson) and the whole business is an empty show of piety which produces little if any fruit. School teachers confirm that the homes that have parents which are vitally interested and involved in the things their children are learning at school produce the best students. No one, and let me underline it, no one, be it preacher, teacher, Sunday school teacher, can take the place of parents when it comes to instructing the children. The parents determine the success of any means that may be used to instruct children. This determination is under the blessing of God upon their efforts.
PROVOKE NOT TO WRATH
It can’t be that Paul would imply that fathers are more inclined to provoke their children to wrath than mothers. In some instances this may be true. It is conceivable that mothers, who deal more with the children than fathers, are guilty of provocation to a greater degree than fathers. Here, too, it is directed to fathers by virtue of their divinely appointed role as head of the wife and home. All dealings that parents have with their children must be according to the Word of God, and every father must see to it that this takes place. If there is a provoking to wrath either by the father or mother, the father must deal with this problem so that it is overcome.
To provoke to wrath means literally to irritate, to cause adverse reaction. We think of the terrible effect of rubbing salt on an open wound: the result is only too well known. In applying this to the reaction of children to parents’ dealing with them, we should point out that the idea is not that a parent must always deal with his children so that the child will respond favorably. One could be a perfect parent and still get unfavorable responses from children. Rather, the idea is that parents must not deal with their children in such a way that they irritate their children wrongfully. This, too, is possible, for parents are sinners, and as our Heidelberg Catechism expresses it, children are to “patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand,” Lord’s Day 39. We find this same reference made in Heb. 12:9, 10, “Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us . . . For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit.”
We suggest five ways that parents can provoke their children to wrath.
First, by making unjust demands upon their children. This can be done either by expecting more from a child than that individual child can produce, or by treating a child as if he were our slave, simply ordering him around and expecting that he will jump at our every beck and call. How careful we have to be to recognize that God doesn’t give the same gifts to every child, and consequently we have to require of our children in the measure that they themselves have received. This also must be done with love and understanding; our homes are not fortresses in which father is the sergeant and everyone has to salute upon command.
Secondly, we can be guilty of unjust punishment. Wisdom in punishing our disobedient children requires of us a determination of a punishment that somehow measures up to the degree of offense. For greater offenses there must be a more decisive degree of punishment. Here, too, one cannot compose a chart and say that this will be our guide. Discipline of children isn’t that easy. Each child is an individual and has to be treated as such. An excellent guide in discipline is our own reaction to it; if we get some kind of personal satisfaction in getting even with our wayward child, we can be sure that the motive is not love, but revenge which is a motive of murder. Listen toPs. 103:13, “As a father Pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.” What is pity? “For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men,” Lam. 3:33. Our discipline has to reflect God’s dealing with us, and that is that God groans, grieves, and feels pity when He finds it necessary to deal adversely with us. If we discipline in any other way, we provoke our children to wrath.
Thirdly, if we deal inconsistently with our children, we deal wrongfully. This can be done by varying our demands one day from the next. This confuses a child to no end. It can also be done by having a different standard of conduct for our children than we do for ourselves. For example we can forbid our young people to attend movies and chew them out if they get caught, but watch movies over television ourselves. This provokes our teen-aged children to wrath.
Fourthly, we can be guilty of favoritism. This, too, didn’t die with Jacob. Some of our children have more pleasing personalities, some have more gifts, some seem to be able to do most things right, while others can’t seem to do anything right. How tempting it is for us to favor the one with the pleasing qualities and neglect or aggravate the other. This must be avoided.
Finally, we can also provoke our children to wrath by neglecting our duty over against them. Teenagers know what they may expect from their parents; when their parents fail them this aggravates and often hurts deeply. Permissiveness on the part of parents may seem to make young people, happy, but covenant young people desire parents to lay down the law to them and stick with it. If parents become willy-nilly, young people lose their confidence in them and feel terribly alone and uncertain. This leads to many harsh words and often times the parent is himself the cause. How easy it is for us to: provoke our children to wrath.
A DOUBLE RESPONSIBILITY
Recognizing the fact that this warning of the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul is no empty sound, but an urgent message to fathers and mothers, we do well as parents to examine ourselves in this connection. Just because we are the parents doesn’t make everything we do right; it could be that we are the cause of friction between ourselves and our growing children. Wherever we fail, we have to repent of this and change and seek God’s direction, that we may in turn remove all obstacles that would interfere with instructing our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
At that same time we must caution young people that the weaknesses and frailties of parents may not give license to trample under foot the authority of parents. The raucous band of teenagers that call for their rights in the home, that spew forth their venom in claiming that all unjustice and ill treatment must be resisted and every young person must have the right to determine his own life is surely not the attitude of covenant young people. Shall we quote it again, “patiently bear with their (your parents’) infirmities and weaknesses since it pleases God to govern us by their hand.”
Our strength is in the Lord.