Being a parent is perhaps one of the greatest challenges any human being can face, and we have all probably fallen short in this area. And here as in other areas of life God’s Word offers valuable guidance. If there was ever a time when it was needed, it is now.
“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4; NKJV). Significantly, this is addressed specifically to “fathers.” Mothers obviously have an important role in parenting, but as the head of the household the responsibility for childrearing falls squarely on the shoulders of the father. He bears ultimate responsibility for the upbringing of his children.
And like so many biblical exhortations this one contains both a negative and a positive. The negative command is this: “fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath . . .” Or, as it stated in the parallel passage in Colossians, “Fathers, so nor provoke your children, lest they become discourage” (Col. 3:21). Tragically this is where many fathers fail today. How many adults still bear the emotional scars that resulted from the abusive treatment they received as youngsters from their fathers?
But no child likes being disciplined; how is a father supposed to correct his children? Obviously a spanking would cause short term pain, but what leads to lasting anger and resentment is the perception of injustice. If the rules have not been made clear, if punishment is haphazard and inconsistent, if the children are treated differently from each other, this will naturally lead to anger and resentment. This the father should never do.
On the positive side fathers are instructed to “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” It is not exactly clear how Paul intended to differentiate “training” and “admonition.” The two words mean nearly the same thing. The Greek word translated “training” (paideia) originally meant childrearing, and then by extension education in its broadest sense. But in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, it is used to translate the Hebrew word musar, which carries with it the distinct meaning of chastisement, punishment, correction and discipline. The difference is significant. For the ancient Greeks the root of man’s difficulty was ignorance, and the aim of paideia was to impart knowledge, and its highest form was found in literature. But the Bible presents a different view of things. Man is partially ignorant because his will is stubborn. He does not want to behave righteously, and therefore he more or less deliberately distorts his view of reality. He uses a false worldview as a cover for his rebellion. Child discipline, then, involves changing both the mind and will, and this in turn requires the skillful use of rewards and punishments. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; / The rod of correction (musar) will drive it from him” (Prov. 22:15).
But there is more to child-rearing than just corrective discipline; there is also “admonition” or verbal instruction as well. And that raises the question of what we should be teaching our children. Significantly, in this passage says “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” In other words, parents have a responsibility to provide their children with an education that is Christian.
The reason is simple. First of all, the purpose of an education ought to be more than prepare one for a job. It should equip one to live life. Solomon outlines the purpose of education in the opening verses of the Book of Proverbs:
“To know wisdom and instruction,
To perceive the words of understanding . . .”
Wisdom, in the Bible, is the ability to manage one’s affairs in every area of life, and it involves both technical skills and human relationships. To that end the aim of education should be
“To give prudence to the simple,
To the young man knowledge and discretion . . .” (v. 4).
(The word “simple” here refers to a person who is gullible and naïve.) Thus the aim of a sound education is not just simply to be able to earn a living, but to make wise decisions in every area of life.
This, in turn, requires a well-defined set of values based on a Christian worldview. If we live in a world that was created by God, the only way we can make sense out of it is to understand it as God’s creation. Everything has meaning and purpose because of the way that God created it. Once God is removed from the picture all we are left with is a jumble of unrelated facts. This is why Solomon could say, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge . . .” (v. 7a).
Never have the stakes been higher. American family life has crumbled. We have raised a whole generation that does not know what a stable family life is, has no sense of morality, and has been fed a steady diet of consumerism. As society around us goes to hell in a handbasket, it is up to Christian parents to preserve what is left of Western Civilization by bringing up their children “in the training and admonition of the Lord.”