“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
The words of Paul in Ephesians 6 remind Christian fathers that our parenting has a great end towards which we must aim. God gave us the task of teaching, correcting, disciplining, loving, and training our children so that they come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and walk in a way which pleases him. We often feel unequipped for this task, but looking to the Scriptures and seeing the example of other godly dads give us instruction for this great task.
Our oldest daughter just celebrated her eleventh birthday, so I have now been a parent for over a quarter of my life. There have been sins, mistakes, wins and growth as we seek to raise our four children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. I have ransacked the Bible, read books, watched other godly men, and asked them lots of questions as I have sought to discover the answer to the question, “what does a godly dad do?”
A man can only be an effective father as he continues to grow spiritually. Our marriage and parenting will be impacted by our sin and lack of maturity. We will be impatient, temperamental, rude, thoughtless, and respond sinfully to being sinned against, so our only option is to keep growing in holiness and sanctification. Putting to death the sin in our lives and growing in Christlike maturity will have a practical effect on the way we lead our homes.
This means that fathers must spend time in our Bibles, in prayer, and actively seeking to walk in obedience by the power of God’s Spirit. Since we believe that the Gospel not only justifies us before God, but also is the means by which we grow as believers, we ought to meditate on the truths of the Gospel and live remembering who we are because of Jesus. When we see sin in our lives, we must repent and seek to grow. Where we see immaturity and foolishness, we take steps to grow in maturity and wisdom. The work we have been called to as fathers and husbands is too important for us to take a lackadaisical approach to our walk with Jesus.
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Men, before the call to parent our children is the call to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. We can so center our homes on our children that we neglect our marriages, and a neglected marriage will become an unhappy marriage. All of our parenting efforts can be undone when resentments and hurts build up between our wives and ourselves.
We need time together with our wives without our children around. Date nights will prove to be important, especially when our children are young. It can be freeing to get out of the house and have a meal without having to feed another person, and also gives you something to look forward to together. However, as great as date night is, time together every day is of greater importance. Just as you can’t work out once a month and expect to be in shape, you shouldn’t expect one date night a month to be sufficient for growing your marriage. Get your kids in bed or in their rooms at a decent hour so you can talk, read together, watch a movie together, or simply hang out in the same room. This will give you the time together you so desperately need for your marriage to grow and give you joy.
Moses tells fathers to talk with their children about the commands and statutes of the Lord as they sit in their houses and walk by the way. He uses this rhetorical device to underscore the necessity of fathers teaching their children in every instance of life. The wise father will see all of life as an opportunity to teach his children about the Gospel, walking with Jesus, and practical wisdom.
Family devotions are not the only way for a father to teach his children, but they certainly can play a key role in the formation of our children. These times of worship as a family don’t require hours of preparation and a sermon, but are simple times to read, pray, and sing with our children. When your children are younger, you can read through The Big Picture Story Bible or The Jesus Storybook Bible with them. As they grow older, read a paragraph a night from one of the Gospels or a chapter from Proverbs. Then sing an age appropriate song that will teach them about the character of God and the Gospel. Close out by praying together. If you can set aside the time to have family devotions four nights a week, you will read, pray, and sing with your children over thirty-five hundred times before they leave for college. There won’t be a major breakthrough or “aha” moment every night, but the consistency over the course of years will make a major impact.
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A few months ago I wrote a post titled, “The Joy and Pain of Consistent Parenting.” It was an extended meditation on Proverbs 29:17, “Discipline your son and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” Consistently teaching, correcting, and disciplining our children can be exhausting work. We can easily give in to the temptation to let things go we should address or to “parent” by simply barking orders, and neither of these is an acceptable option.
Instead, we must patiently and consistency discipline our children. When our children are wrong and need to be disciplined, it is imperative that we take the time to calmly and patiently talk with them about what happened. Rather than yelling or losing our tempers so that our kids are focused on our sin instead of their own, we have to take the time to calm down so we can have a conversation with our children about the discipline they are facing. We should talk with them about the foolishness or sinfulness of what they did, what the Scriptures say about what they have done, and remind them that we discipline them because we love them. This takes time and is definitely not the easy way out, but it will train the hearts of our children and be better for them in the long run.
“What I said to you and the way I said it was wrong. Will you forgive me?” I don’t know that there is a more difficult thing for a father to say to his children. We will sin against our children at some point in our parenting, either through losing our temper, accusing falsely, speaking harshly, or in a thousand other ways. When we sin against our children, we must repent to the Lord and repent to our children.
The greatest temptation you will face when apologizing to your kids is seeking to justify your sinful behavior based on their sinful behavior. Resist this urge with everything you have because you sinned and that is all that matters. Repenting and asking for forgiveness will model repentance, humility, and the Gospel to your children. It will also teach them that they will be hurt throughout their lives and must learn how to forgive. Also, this process of repentance and forgiveness builds trust with your children. They know that what you say about repentance is real, and they also know that you value your relationship with them enough to humble yourself and admit you are wrong.
Men, if what we have just talked about sounds like hard work, it is. We get up in the mornings, go to work during the day, come home to play with and spend time with our children, and then get them in bed so we can spend time with our wives. Then we fall in the bed ourselves so we can get up and get back at it again tomorrow. It doesn’t make for an interesting reality show, but this self-giving is central to what it means to be a father and a husband.
Because we must work hard and give ourselves in a way that is not natural to us, we need the power of God’s Spirit. We need his help to stay encouraged, to love, to exercise self-control, and to make our labors effective because we cannot change the hearts of our children. As Paul said, we labor in the strength that God provides, and pray that he would use our labors in our homes to change our children’s lives and bring glory to himself.
This article was originally published on ScottSlayton.net. Used with permission.
Scott Slayton serves as Lead Pastor at Chelsea Village Baptist Church in Chelsea, AL and writes at his personal blog One Degree to Another: scottslayton.net. He and Beth have been married since 2003 and have four children. You can follow him on Twitter: @scottslayton.