Sermon Excerpt: Fathers, Do Not Provoke Your Children to Anger
FATHERS, DO NOT PROVOKE
YOUR CHILDREN TO ANGER (Eph. 6:4)
INTRODUCTION: May we suggest, if there ever was a pernicious cause of family decline and character disintegration of children in America, it has been the absence of godly fathering in our home. Study after study reveal the important role fathers play in the life of their children. But, for at least the past two generations, our culture has mocked and marginalized men and fathers in the media, especially since the rise of the women’s movement. Over 40% of children are born into a fatherless home. Many professing Christian fathers are failing in their relationships with their children. So, we at Grace Bible Church pray that Pastor Phillips’ words will help you fathers fulfill your biblical role as the head of your marriage and the priest of your home.
In Eph. 6:4 Paul addresses fathers. The question is whether he intended this to be an address to the fathers exclusively or does this includes mothers as well. In 6:1, Paul specifically told the children to obey their parents – both father and mother. In 6:2, he told them to honor both parents. But, in 6:4, he singles out fathers. This leads us to think he specifically has fathers in view. Also, we should recognize that fathers are responsible for their families. Israel followed a patriarchal structure with the father having absolute control over his family, including his sons. The father had full control even over his married sons and their wives if they lived under his roof. According to Deuteronomy 13:6-11, he had the power to stone his brother, son, daughter, or wife if they enticed him to serve other gods.
As we have seen, a father could have his persistently rebellious son stoned. On the other side of the coin, the father was responsible for the education of his children in the ways of the Lord. We saw this with the account of the Passover in Exodus 12 and with the Great Shema in Deuteronomy 6.
So, in Ephesians 6:4, I believe that Paul primarily has the fathers in view. As such, the fathers are primarily responsible for the discipline and instruction of the children. Though, while the father is primarily responsible, he may delegate his authority to the mother in his absence. We need to understand this is a delegated authority, and this does not relieve him of ultimate responsibility. As such, in his absence, his wife acts as his proxy, with his authority.
As you may know, children will push the limits, especially with their mothers. When I was growing up, we pushed our mother to the limit. When we did, we heard, “Just wait 'til your father gets home!” My stepfather could be a hard man, so we usually straightened up at the threat of his arrival. I am sure my wife has used the same threat.
Men, you are responsible for your children. When you are home, you are the primary disciplinarian. When you are away, your wife’s discipline should carry with it the same weight and she should be supported with your follow-up, if necessary. I wince when I see a family where the mother is the one who disciplines the children. I don’t think I have ever seen this model work well.
Now, you may wonder about situations such as the death of the father. In those cases, godly uncles, grandfathers, and older brothers can step in to assist the mother. Best case scenario, younger widows should remarry so that their children will continue to have an earthly father – I believe this is one reason that Paul told Timothy in (1 Tim. 5:14), “I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach.”
Look back at our text in Ephesians 6:4 – “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, The word translated provoke to anger means “irritate or stir up to anger.” The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates this phrase, “Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children.” The verb tense gives us the idea of not making it your practice to stir up anger in your children. In Colossians 3:21, Paul adds, “. . . so they will not lose heart” to this prohibition.
Let me give you ten surefire ways to provoke your children to anger – these are in no particular order – You can stir them to anger by:
1. HAVING UNREASONABLE EXPECTATIONS!
We can display unreasonable expectations in a variety of ways. We may push them to grow up too fast. We may want them to be the star player on their sports teams. Or have the best grades, score high on their standardized tests, and attend the best universities. We may desire for them to keep their rooms perfectly clean and tidy. Or we may use them as trophies who should always be on their best behavior in every situation.
In Psalm 43:5, the writer says we should put our hope in God and not in worldly things which lead to despair. Friends, unreasonable expectations will breed anger in your children – unmet expectations will breed anger in us and lead you to the second way to provoke your children.
2. BEING UNREASONABLY HARSH!
We can display unreasonable harshness by employing overly legalistic rules.
In our family, we refrained from setting too many rules. We gave our children boundaries they were not to cross, but they had much freedom within those boundaries. I told my children that obedience brings about greater freedoms while disobedience always closes the noose. In other words, I could place more trust in children who obeyed me. We never wanted to give license to sin, but we understood harsh rules would invite rebellion.
In Romans 7:8, Paul says, “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.” In other words, when confronted by the Law, the sinner finds the forbidden thing more attractive. Therefore, the more I said no to my children, the more they were likely to rebel against my authority. The goal is to say “no” to things that would produce an understanding of the depravity in their hearts. Believe me, there is enough in this world that we need to say “no” to without creating unreasonably harsh standards of conduct. I believe this is the reason for Israel’s rebellion – They revolted against the Mosaic Law because they didn’t understand the heart of the Law which was to love their God and their neighbor.
Parents, as you deal with your children, point them to the heart of the Law and show them where they fall short. You don’t need to be unreasonably harsh to get them to understand their sinfulness and need for Jesus.
We can also by being overly harsh when disciplining our children out of anger, not love. We do this when we make their behavior more about us than about them. In other words, their behavior infuriates us because they do not live up to our expectations. So, we deal with them harshly.
3. THROUGH A LACK OF PATIENCE AND UNDERSTANDING!
When I was a kid, I constantly asked questions. I constantly wanted to know how things work. I would ask a question and my mother would patiently try to answer it. When she didn’t know the answer, she would say, “because.” To which I would say, because why? She would say patiently say, “Because!” I remember us going back and forth until I asked another question. This is one of the sweetest memories I have of my early childhood.
Brothers and sisters, we can stir our children to anger when we fail to show them patience and understanding. Remember that patience is part of the worthy walk. “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.” Church, these things should start in your homes with your spouse and your children.
Here is the fourth way we can stir them to anger –
4. FAILING TO SHOW GRACE AND FORGIVENESS!
Fathers, similar to the last two points, our Lord has shown us and continues to show us much grace. We need to model this as we interact with our children. It really is okay to say, “I am choosing to show you grace here because our Lord shows us grace.”
Your children are not perfect. You can expect them to fail. My sons both had small incidents when driving our cars. They were costly, but I chose to show them grace after those incidents knowing that the trauma of the situation was enough. I also realized they were not caused by recklessness but were truly mistakes.
On the other hand, one of my sons made a questionable choice in a vehicle and caused some major damage to it. We made him pay for the damage he caused. You should show them grace when you can, and that leads us to the fourth way we can provoke our children.
5. GIVING TOO MUCH GRACE!
On the other side of the coin, we can give them too much grace. This can lead our children to believe their sinful actions are okay. Ultimately, they will begin to experience the consequences of their sin that we failed to correct. This has the potential to breed frustration and anger.
You may have heard of a movement dubbed the hyper-grace movement. Its proponents stress man’s depravity and God’s forgiveness but fail to accurately teach the transforming power of grace. They make God’s grace a daily excuse for our sinful behavior.
Just this past week, there was an article concerning Byron Yawn, a TMS alum, who had an affair with a former MLB player’s wife. The couple had attended the church where Byron pastored for many years. Unfortunately, he had fallen for this errant teaching prior to this adulterous affair.
Other proponents of this theology have fallen in similar ways. Applied to adults, hyper-grace can lead to a failure to battle sin due to a faulty view of sanctification.
Applied to children, hyper-grace can lead to suffering the consequences for sin that has not been properly dealt with. Let me explain further – If we emphasize grace and minimize discipline, we will tend to let things slide and fail to teach our children self-control. This leads to children without self-control which will result in severe consequences as they grow older. This leads us to the sixth way we can provoke them to anger.
6. FAILURE TO DISCIPLINE THEM!
As a consequence of Hyper-Grace thinking, we will often fail to discipline wrong conduct that should not be given a pass. We can even neglect discipline out of laziness or a lack of care. Parents, our children need us to give them boundaries and reasonably enforce them. Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Depending on the circumstances, “the rod” can mean something other than a whipping. Think about it, when we fail to properly discipline our children, we are displaying hatred for them – because we are not lovingly intervening where they have diverged from the path of righteousness. Therefore, we are allowing them to endure the considerable consequences of sin. In some ways, this is worse than letting your child play with a cobra when we fail to correct them.
7. CRITICIZING THEM HARSHLY!
We forget how deep our words can cut especially to our young children. We’ve all heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This cannot be further from the truth especially coming from the mouth of parents. When we fail to control our criticism, our kids think they are never good enough for us. Maybe, you tease them for their weight or looks. Or you criticize them for their grades or how they don’t perform athletically. Their performance is never good enough, and you let them know how far they fall short of your expectations.
Notice that I said, “your expectations.” Your expectations are too often arbitrary and subjective. As such, they are based on your feelings and not on God’s objective standards. Always remember Proverbs 15:2, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
This leads us to the seventh way we can provoke our children to anger.
8. BEING INCONSISTENT WITH THEM.
When we judge our children based on our expectations and not on God’s standard, we tend to be inconsistent as we interact with them. As such, our discipline is too often based on our whims and emotions. One day, they get away with everything while the same actions bring our wrath the next time. This is highly frustrating to our children because they do not know our breaking point.
By the way, you are being inconsistent when you ignore sin until you reach your breaking point. We must consistently deal with their sinful behavior, or we risk provoking them to anger.
Our Lord deals with us in a consistent manner – James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given and every [perfect] gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” Our Lord does not change, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever – Hebrews 13:8, “Therefore, we can expect Him to consistently do what is good for us.” We should imitate this as we deal with our children.
9. NAGGING THEM
We nag our children because we have failed to set up clear boundaries and expectations or we fail to enforce them. We do so because we don’t like what they are doing, but we fail to follow through with discipline. We need to establish clear boundaries and consistently following through on the promised consequences.
We’ve all heard the mom or dad say, “If you don’t stop that, I’m going to spank you!” Yet, too often, they do not follow through. Mothers are especially susceptible to this failure. Proverbs 21:19 says, “It is better to live in a desert land Than with a contentious and vexing woman.” Ladies, if you find yourselves nagging your husbands or your children – STOP IT!
And, fathers, don’t let your wives continually nag. Help her deal with the source of the problem in private. And, don’t you nag your children!
Set clear boundaries and consistently and reasonably enforce them!
Let me give you one last way you can provoke your children to anger. I mention this one last, but it may be the most insidious –
A hypocrite is someone who doesn’t practice what they preach. And they don’t publicly admit what they practice. They wear a mask and play a role, pretending to be someone and something they are not. In public, they act out the image of a Christian parent with their good deeds, but at home, they are quite different.
Now, this can be as severe as an unbeliever parading around as a believer. Or it could be the believer living a fleshly life at home as they compromise in the little things.
Friends, your children know the difference. They can see the hypocrisy!
Be careful, you are having more impact than you think! Chuck Swindol has some wisdom here:
“You want to mess up the minds of your children? Here's how - guaranteed! Rear them in a legalistic, tight context of external religion, where performance is more important than reality. Fake your faith. Sneak around and pretend your spirituality. Train your children to do the same. Embrace a long list of do's and don'ts publicly, but hypocritically practice them privately . . . yet never own up to the fact that its hypocrisy. Act one way, but live another. And you can count on it - emotional and spiritual damage will occur.”
JC Ryle agrees, “Children are very quick observers; very quick in seeing through some kinds of hypocrisy, very quick in finding out what you really think and feel, very quick in adopting all your ways and opinions. You will often discover that, as the father is, so is the son.”
Brothers and Sisters, our children are watching us. And imitating us. Show them righteousness. Give them love. Live out the Gospel in your homes – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” By the way “your neighbor” includes your children.
“Teach your children the truth about God and His law all the time. Demand that they obey that law and punish them physically when they don’t.” John MacArthur
And when they want to know why they can’t stop sinning, point them to Jesus. Teach them Jesus suffered the wrath of the Father so they would not have to. Show them how Jesus shed His blood for sinners like them. Don’t hold back, explain the truths of His death on a cross, His burial, and His glorious resurrection. Tell them they are on the broad path that leads to destruction. Teach them Hell is a real place and eternity there is nothing to trifle with. More than anything, show them Jesus – they need Him more than anything in this world.
Let me give you four areas where your children need your help. We can see this illustrated by Jesus’s life in Luke 2:52, “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” So:
1. Give them Knowledge;
2. Give them Wisdom (the proper use of knowledge);
3. Meet their physical needs to grow; and
4. Facilitate their social needs to be humble, to love, and to serve.
Consider John MacArthur’s wisdom here,
“Mentally we want to stimulate them to know the truth of God. Physically we want to nourish them so that they can grow up. Socially we want to teach them humility and the love of others and to be servants. Spiritually we want to confront their sin and bring them to the place of repentance and faith in [our Lord] Jesus Christ”
AMEN! Fathers, let it be so in your parenting
Source: Sermon notes of Brandon Phillips, Pastor of Grace Bible Church in Gainesville, Fla. Check us out at https://www.gracegainesville.org.