Now let’s talk about verse 4, addressing “fathers.” Literally that’s whom Paul is addressing: Fathers. Now, does this mean that what he says doesn’t apply at all to mothers? No, it can. And the original language can apply to both parents (in the same way that “brothers” in the N.T. usually is referring to believers of both sexes). But I think that fathers particularly need to listen to this.
In the 1st century when this was written, and throughout history right up until the present day, fathers/husbands were considered to have absolute authority over those living in their home. Their word was law and never to be questioned by anyone living under their roof, including wives, not to mention children. This is something we didn’t go into with much detail before, but it’s something to consider. For him to command husbands to love their wives, to be willing to die for them, to treat them with gentleness and compassion and kindness, etc., was incredibly countercultural for that time. If a husband raped his wife, that was considered his right. If he beat her, well, obviously she deserved it. If he divorced her and threw her out with nothing, well, that’s his prerogative. Same things with one’s children: Severe beatings by one’s father were often par for the course. So for Paul to call upon fathers to give any consideration of their children’s feelings, to prescribe any limitations on how fathers can treat their children would be revolutionary. We need to see just how radical his message was.
So what does he tell fathers? “[Do] not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” How can a father exasperate his children?
Well, off the top of my head? I’d venture some suggestions:
· Capriciousness, not sticking to the same set of rules, not knowing what he’ll do.
· Hypocrisy. Wow, this is a big one! If a son sees his father tell him to something while not doing it himself, that'll build up anger like nothing else.
· Not showing compassion and mercy when appropriate.
· Being quick to anger, slow to forgive.
· Punishing out of a sense of retribution, not out of a desire for discipline. A judge is there to dish out punishment. A father is there to discipline his child, to make him better.
· Belittling the child, insulting him, not treating him as an image-bearer.
Do you see a pattern here? A father on earth is supposed to model himself after our Heavenly Father.
As he does frequently in sections like this, he presents instructions in antithesis of each other: Don’t exasperate (some translations render it as “provoke to anger”) your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. What does this mean? Not rocket science, folks:
· Read the Bible to and with them. Talk about the Bible with them. Once they get old enough, teach them to apply God’s word and to think things through biblically.
· Pray over them and with them. Teach them by example to pray.
· This might be the most important part: Let them see you do things God’s way. I know you’re not perfect; none of us are. But they must see that as the general pattern of your life. Otherwise, your Bible teaching will do little but “exasperate” them.
· And when you screw up, as you will, seek their forgiveness, as you would with any brother you’ve offended. Part of the “training and instruction in the Lord” is knowing when you’ve fallen into sin and seeking forgiveness from 1) the Lord, and 2) anyone who might have been harmed by what you’ve done.
Whether you’re a parent or just somebody’s child, there’s something for everybody here. The Bible’s really an equal-opportunity offender, isn’t it?