Summary: In God’s Call of the Father for disciple and instruction, He presents it through 1) The Negative Command (Ephesians 6:4a) 2) The Positive Command (Ephesians 6:4b)
Defying the outdated image of absent fathers, today’s dads are more visible than ever, both in sheer numbers and in domestic life. Whether biological, adoptive or step, fathers recently reached a record 8.6 million in Canada — enough to populate Toronto more than three times over. They’re also a stronger presence at home, with Statistics Canada reporting that dads are logging more time with their kids, doing a greater share of housework, and engaging in family life like never before.
In spite of the benefits of increased time and participation with children in general, there is one factor that governments, schools, social institutions and public opinion in general want to eliminate: discipline. The argument from so called parental experts like Montessori and Spock, is that disciplining children will just provoke them to anger and violence. They should be allowed to develop on their own without parental interference.
Much like a garden that develops on its own, in such a case we quickly see weeds overcrowd healthy growth. Without disciple and godly instruction, the foolishness and natural rebellion in children, unchecked, will only escalate.
But in dealing with discipline, if we are all honest we must admit that we have all made mistakes. At times we have either let our anger get the better of us and disciplined harshly, or through business or distraction, failed to discipline. We may have had poor role models, conflicting advice or if we don’t have kids think that this is not a topic of concern.
What God says to the Church of Ephesus and to us is that for all who are called the covenant community of faith, that discipline and instruction must be encouraged in the family. We are to teach and model the traits of godliness while lifting up the role of Fathers to fulfill their God given responsibly.
1) The Negative Command (Ephesians 6:4a)
Ephesians 6:4a Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, (but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord). (ESV)
Note the fairness of these admonitions in Ephesians. The duty of wives is not stressed at the expense of that of husbands, nor that of slaves to the neglect of that of masters. So also here: the admonition addressed to fathers follows hard upon that directed to children (Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 7: Exposition of Ephesians. New Testament Commentary (261). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.)
Paul’s first command to parents is negative: fathers, do not provoke your children to anger. That was a totally new concept for Paul’s day, especially in such pagan strongholds as Ephesus. Most families were in shambles, and mutual love among family members was almost unheard of. A father’s love for his children would have been hard even to imagine. In contemporary society the Roman patria potestas, that is, the authority of the head of the house, gave the father unlimited power over his children, and this law exercised a considerable degree of influence in the Hellenistic culture generally. In Hellenistic Judaism severe punishment could be meted out to disobedient children. He could cast any of them out of the house, sell them as slaves, or even kill them—and be accountable to no one. A newborn child was placed at its father’s feet to determine its fate. If the father picked it up, the child was allowed to stay in the home; if the father walked away, it was simply disposed of—much as aborted babies are in our own day. Discarded infants who were healthy and vigorous were collected and taken each night to the town forum, where they would be picked up and raised to be slaves or prostitutes. (This command in Ephesians 6:4) was new, and in this household table (cf. Col. 3:21) fathers are told nothing about their power of disposal over their children. Instead, their duties are spelled out (O’Brien, P. T. (1999). The letter to the Ephesians. The Pillar New Testament Commentary (445). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).