Vol. IX — No. 26 June 30, 1968
And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
In Christ Jesus, who holds fathers responsible for the training of their children, Fellow Redeemed:
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Gen. 2:7. So man was created. “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” Gen 2:l3. And the Lord God did just that. He caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. He took one of his ribs and fashioned a woman and brought her unto the man. So woman was created and so marriage was instituted. By the order of creation man was given the honor of being the head of the family.
The fall into sin did not alter the order of creation. The supporting role of the woman in marriage, which was meant to be natural and orderly, was made a burden as a result of the woman’s role in the fall into sin. To Eve God said, “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Gen. 3:16. The New Testament has not altered either the order of creation or the judgment upon woman because of her role in the fall. Wives are exhorted by St. Paul to submit to their own husbands. But the New Testament does soften this subordinate position of the woman by making it a fruit of faith, even as it tempers the position of head for the man by fashioning it after Christ, the Head of the Church.
So then, every man is the God-intended head of his family. That is an honor that God has bestowed upon the man. But every position of leadership and authority automatically bring greater responsibilities. There have been many men who have abused the position and authority that God has entrusted to them in the family. They become tyrants and monsters in the home. They shall one day be required to give an account of their misuse of authority and power. But there are also many men, who have accepted the honor and the prerogatives of being the head of the family, but who have shirked the responsibilities. All authority and every position of power over others bring increased responsibility. But the sinful nature of man tends to keep him from assuming and taking seriously his God-given responsibilities.
Yet God holds all those entrusted with positions of power and authority responsible. Scripture makes it clear that Eve was deceived by Satan, but Eve was not the head of the family. Adam was, and so it is that Adam is held responsible for the fall into sin. St. Paul writes, “By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” Romans 5:19. He doesn’t write, “By one woman’s disobedience.”
This morning we want to focus this scriptural truth that authority automatically involves responsibility upon an area that quite naturally comes to our attention this day. Today is Father’s Day. He’s being honored by mother and the children. Fine! But let us not lose ourselves in a flood of sentimentality. Let each father rather reflect upon the responsibility that God has laid upon him as the head of the family and father of his children. The verse of our text directs our attention to just this matter. It contains a warning and an exhortation which we can summarize in this way:
“And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.” That warning is necessary for us fathers, for we are far from perfect. Our natural sinfulness exerts itself in all our relationships—over against our wives, over against our own parents, over against the people we work with, and also over against our children. It is so common and so easy for a man to seek relief from his own frustrations and his own hostilities by taking it out on his wife or on his children. In so doing a father becomes a bully in his own home. He becomes unjust. The result is that he provokes his children to wrath. Against this God warns us fathers most seriously.
Another failing that provokes children to wrath is a lack of consistency in discipline. It is a common failing for both father and mothers to be extemely permissive, to let the reins loose and so let the children get away with almost anything until something crosses mother or father. Then they lower the boom and punish behavior that previously was permitted. Such inconsistent treatment confuses a child. If a certain action is permitted for weeks and months and then is severely reproved and punished, a child can be provoked to wrath. In such a case the parent, mother or father, may be at fault.
It is a principle of justice that all punishment must correspond to the crime committed. If in a fit of irritation or anger a father metes out punishment that is too severe for the wrong committed, he may well become guilty of provoking his child to anger. The position as the head of the family does not give father the right to become a tyrant or a slave driver. On the other hand when these injustices do occur, children sometimes become righteously indignant as though they are the constant innocent victims of parental injustice. Then let the son or daughter recall all the times that they escaped parental punishment when they had it coming.
In enumerating these various instances in which a father can so easily become guilty of provoking his children to wrath, we are presupposing that the father will be exercising discipline and admonition over against his children. He is warned against unjust, arbitrary, capricious discipline that will provoke his children to wrath. Some fathers may never become guilty of provoking their children to wrath because they just never discipline them at all. There are fathers that become so involved in the struggle to make a good living that they forget that their families need more than material things. A father who provides a good home, fine clothing for his children, all kinds of toys and gadgets, perhaps a car when they become older, and plenty of spending money in their pockets may not be guilty of provoking his children to wrath because he is never around long enough for the children to become acquainted with him, much less become angry with him. Let such a father not congratulate himself, but rather let him take heed of the exhortation to—
“Bring them up in the nurture or discipline and admonition of the Lord.” The word “discipline” implies that there are to be rules and regulations and the proper enforcement of the same. Admonition implies exhortation or training by word—encouragement, rebuke, blame, reproof, if and when needed. All of this is just the opposite of what is called permissiveness. Permissiveness has been the general mode of training children for some time. It means in many cases that there is no or little training at all—no or few rules and regulations, little or no enforcement. Children are left to grow up by themselves, to make their own decisions, to follow their own whims. The theory behind this method of child raising is that nothing should be done to hamper the natural development of the personality of the child.
What have been the results of a generation or more of permissiveness in the homes and schools and in society in general? We have the results about us on every side in the general breakdown of all respect for law and order. Studies have been made of assassins. One of the facts found is that in the majority of cases there has been a weak father image in the home or no father image at all. Consequently there was little discipline in the home. For some years I served on the mental health board of our county. He would have guest speakers—doctors, psychologists, judges—speak to various groups. When inquiries were made as to the general lack of stability in so many people, the basic problem was the home in which the father is weak and shirks his responsibilities. Then discipline breaks down, and that is a poor social environment for a child to mature in. Juvenile delinquency Can be traced back to the home—sometimes a broken home, sometimes to homes of wealth where the father became so engrossed in chasing the almighty dollar that he just didn’t have time for the children. When fathers fail to live up to their responsibility of insisting upon discipline and admonition in the home, the children are the victims and the entire hone and the schools and the churches and all society must suffer. You fathers who are here this morning—are you shirking or assuming your responsibility to bring up your children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord?
Now concentrate your attention upon the last two words—in the Lord. The unbeliever on the basis of observation and experience has arrived at the conclusion that children need to have their lives structured, that is, that they need discipline. But a Christian father has a greater responsibility. He has the responsibility of administering Christian discipline and admonition that center in and revolve about the Lord. Now what does that mean and what does it involve? That means, first of all, to impress upon one’s children that our God has set the standards for out behavior. Those standards are outlined in brief for us in the Ten Commandments. The modern idea is that society is to set the standards for behavior. So frequently there develops a clash between God’s standards and man’s standards. What is right in the sight of God man may think is wrong, and what God says is wrong man may imagine is perfectly all right. It is the responsibility of a Christian father to teach his children God’s standard of behavior. It furthermore is part of a Christian father’s responsibility to teach his child that God will hold him responsible for his behavior in time and in eternity. A child must learn that sin automatically involves guilt, and guilt brings with it punishment. This is a terrifying thing—when a child realizes that he has offended his Heavenly Father by his misbehavior.
So it is that Christian fathers must become preachers of the Gospel to their children. Christian fathers see to it that their children are brought to baptism and then that they are trained to know the Lord Jesus as their Savior. A child must learn to know that God has provided him with a Savior who came into this world to take away also his sin and guilt. The Lord Jesus received little children. He took them up in His arms and blessed them. So He wants to receive our children. He wants to bless them. He wants to make and to keep them as His own dear children. When fathers teach their children to know the Lord Jesus, to love His Word, to want to hear and learn it gladly, they are training their children in the Lord. When fathers bring their children to Sunday School and Worship Services and Vacation Bible School and LYO and Junior Choir rehearsal, they are serving their children much better than if they would get a second or a third job so that they could provide some extra luxuries or some additional spending money for their children.
Who is qualified to assume the responsibilities of fatherhood? I’ve often thought that it’s a good thing that the Lord has arranged for parents to have their children when they are younger, because they probably wouldn’t have the courage when they became older. All of us fathers have failed in our responsibilities over against our children. All of us— without exception! Sometimes we may plague ourselves because we feel we could have done or should have done more. Let us find comfort and encouragement in the proper place. Sometimes children do receive excellent training but still go bad. Samuel’s sons did not follow in his footsteps. The fault was theirs, not their father’s. So also today yet. Some children, to their own ruin and damnation, reject the efforts of their fathers and mothers. He grieve over them. But we need not make ourselves guilty of their sins. He may and we should take our own shortcomings to the throne of grace, confident that we will find healing and renewed strength to carry on, as we assume the full responsibility that God has laid upon us over against our children. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.