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A Vital Verse for Dads

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If you asked my kids, “Is your dad nice or angry?” Their answer might be, “Oh, our dad’s nice, except for in the mornings before school and nights before bed . . . and Sunday mornings before church. During those times, he turns red and should have a pitch fork.”

My kids would be right. The devil seems to work on me at night when I’m most tired and in the mornings before school or church. The Bible is interesting though, isn’t it? It doesn’t give me an out just because my kids are slower than slugs when going to church. The Bible speaks—whether I like what it says or not. Ephesians 6:4 says this:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Let’s look at this vital verse for dads and let it speak to us. Is there hope for us dads, or should I add a reasonably-priced pitch fork to my Amazon wishlist?

Fathers . . .

This means that you, dad, have the leading responsibility in raising your child. Hear me out—not the sole responsibility, but the leading responsibility. I’ve heard my responsibility as a dad explained this way: If there was a problem with my kid’s behavior and Jesus knocked on the door, and my wife answered the door, Jesus would say, “Hello, Tonia, (my wife’s name), is Ryan home? We need to talk.”

Not that Tonia bears zero responsibility—of course not. But, I bear the leading responsibility in seeing that the children are brought up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

So, what does this look like on a daily basis? When you see yourself as the lead responsibility-holder, it means that you stop farming out your child’s discipleship and instead see others as assisting you in this process. Grandparents, teachers, pastors, coaches, you name it—even if they are experts—they are assisting you, not stepping in for you.

Now, this also assumes that I, as a dad, take the initiative. It means that I know what’s happening in my child’s life and teaching. Remember, the spiritual leadership qualification for leading in the church is whether a man manages his own children and household well (1 Timothy 3:4, 12). This means that we take the initiative to make sure that plans and processes and people are in place to teach our children about God.

Do Not Provoke Your Children to Anger

Realistically, I don’t think this verse means that you never get upset, annoyed, angry, or displeased with your child—ever. We still struggle with sin.

It does mean that we should not handle our child in a way that he will be encouraged to a wrathful kind of living. Note: the warning here is not about one incident of anger, but about a lifestyle of anger. Here’s the challenge: avoid raising a child like the one described in the following verses:

A man of great wrath will pay the penalty, for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again. (Proverbs 19:19)

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. (Proverbs 25:28)

Two different kinds of anger mentioned in the Bible can be found in 1 Samuel 15:23 and Ephesians 4:31:

  1. Flaring outburst of rage: open rebellion; hostility and temper tantrums (see Prov. 14:17; 15:18; 19:19; 22:24 and Eph. 4:31).
  2. Settled indignation: the slow burn; willing to wait for revenge; stubbornness; indifference; withdrawal; moodiness (see Gen. 4:5-13; Prov. 14:17; Eph 4:3).

Let me ask you: How much of the anger in your home is caused by you? As dads, we must take notice of God’s Word from Ephesians 6:4.

Now, for those reading with older kids, this doesn’t mean that all of your child’s anger is caused by you. Each of our children is personally responsible for his or her own sin. But, the warning is clear. One of the ways our sin shows is by provoking others to anger. And the easiest place to do that is in our own home.

What are the most common ways we provoke our children to anger? That’s a logical next question. I won’t repeat every way in this post, but here’s a helpful list called 25 ways to raise an angry child.

Bring Them Up in the Discipline and Instruction of the Lord

So what does it mean to bring children up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”? It means that our goal is to raise our children to maturity, not just physically, but in such a way that we equip them to live as a godly, mature adults.

This is my goal as a dad. I think it should be your goal—to be intentional about discipling your kids. Ask yourself: Do your kids know what the Bible says about . . .

  • biblical truth
  • a biblical view of manhood and womanhood
  • biblical leadership
  • work, mission, and purpose in life
  • how to face temptation
  • biblical stewardship

Think about it: children do not automatically grow up to be what God wants them to be. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” Your child needs you to disciple him intentionally. This is not one of many options for raising your kids—it’s the only option for the Christian dad. There is no time of day or night that is “off-limits” for carrying out your responsibility. There is no room for being disengaged when you’re a disciple-making dad.

So what’s the goal for the disciple-making dad? The goal is not success, ivy league education, or money. The goal is higher—to lead your child to love Christ, obey His Word, and function as an adult who thinks and acts biblically.

Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship used to say “faithfulness not success.” When I consider this, my rushed mornings and tired nights will be seen as disciple-making time, not disengaged-time or barking-orders time. Excuse me while I remove the pitch fork from my Amazon wishlist.

Ryan Sanders is the Director of Outreach at Manhood Journey, the ministry helping build disciple-making dads. He received the Master of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a Fellow at The Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and serves as Lay Pastor at McLean Bible Church. He is the author of 7 Sins of a Disengaged Dad and editor of the Field Guides for dads. He and his wife, Tonia, have three children, live in Washington, DC, and are diehard Redskins fans. Find Ryan on twitter and instagram @RyanSanders.
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