Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
In the name of + Jesus.
So which is it? Are we to bring our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, or are we to avoid making our children angry? At first glance the passage above seems to encourage the impossible. At first glance, we might think that the very thing Paul encourages fathers to do teach their children (the discipline and instruction of the Lord), is also the same thing that will provoke children to anger? So which is it?
Or, maybe, there’s a better question to ask.
Let’s give Paul the benefit of the doubt. After all, we do believe that he wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So it must be that the instruction Paul gives to fathers above is not contradictory, but good and sound. Which means, we don’t have to choose one or the other. On the contrary, we must dig a bit deeper, and unpack his words a bit—especially his words about the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
You see, when we see the word discipline, we our first inclination is to think about rules and regulations—those things we want to teach our children, so that they will know what to do, and what not to do. But in Paul’s encouragement, discipline isn’t alone. In Paul’s encouragement, discipline goes with the “instruction of the Lord,” and that is the key.
To be sure, there must be discipline. After all, what son is there whom his father does not discipline (Heb. 12:7)? But for discipline to be helpful; for discipline to be fatherly; for discipline to be godly, it must also be accompanied by the “instruction of the Lord.”
And what is the instruction of the Lord? Nothing less than the application of Law and Gospel. That is to say, a child who is disciplined will also be forgiven. After all, Christ died for the sins of the child as well. Fathers will not shy away from pointing out a child’s disobedience. But faithful fathers will not leave children to wonder if their disobedience will keep them from being loved—by their earthly and heavenly fathers alike.
Discipline, when it is accompanied with the Gospel—the forgiveness of sins in Christ—is not unloving at all. In fact, it is the very thing they need. The instruction of the Lord is the proclamation of Christ’s saving work, by parents, for their children—who will definitely need to be forgiven!
And so you can see…children might be angry in the moment, and parents will have to have a sort of think skin. But children who grow up in a household where discipline is never apart from the Gospel, but is always given in the context of the Gospel, will grow up to be thankful for the love they have been shown by their parents, both fathers and mothers alike.
Lord, no matter how I serve in my family or society, I am Your child and servant through Your Holy Child, Jesus. Grant that I fulfill my calling among my children, and before you. Amen.