Discipline is God’s tool for holiness. When God wants to make something holy – that is – set apart and pure, He uses the tool of discipline. But God rarely wields the tool of discipline directly in our lives. In fact, he most often uses other people – divinely appointed authorities – to carry out this work. This is especially true when it comes to children. In God’s wisdom and very good design, children have a father and a mother who are tasked with nurturing them. And while both parents are essential, God’s Word teaches that Fathers have a sacred calling to represent God’s discipline and instruction in the lives of their children.

Fathers have a sacred calling to represent God’s discipline and instruction in the lives of their children.

This is not just a good idea, it is a divine mandate, a sacred calling, an immense privilege, and a great, great weight of responsibility. Ephesians 6:4 says it most clearly. It says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

It’s often said that an individual’s perception of God – that our perception of God the Father – is primarily shaped by our experiences with our earthly fathers. I want to tell you, that’s not a mistake. That’s not an accident. God has divinely appointed fathers to represent him – and specifically his discipline and instruction – to their children. Unfortunately, everywhere we look there are many examples of how this good design has been handicapped by sin. We have people struggling to trust in God’s promises because their dad never kept theirs. We have people struggling to see God is kind and just because their dad was an inconsistent, angry man. We have people struggling to understand God’s desire for relationship because their dad was absent. We have people believing God is casual with sin and pretty chill because their dad was content with the spiritual depth of a kiddie pool. And possibly most damning of all, we have people working themselves to death seeking to earn God’s approval because their dad’s relationship to them depended entirely on good works and performance.

Do you feel the weight of this? Men, do you see the devastation we leave in our wake when we neglect our duty or abandon our post? That I could affect my son, my daughter’s view of almighty God the Father!? The risk is huge! But then let me remind you – so is the reward.

It would probably be much easier to preach this sermon in 20 years when my kids are adults and I have 20 more years of experiences to draw from, but my concern is that it would be 20 years too late. Many of you know that my wife and I are in the midst of nurturing 4 children from 2-7 years old, and I know we need God’s Word now. I need the hope of the Gospel in parenting right now. Chris Eelman doesn’t have the answers, God’s Word does. And I know that each father in the room, regardless of the age of their children, needs to hear what God is saying this morning because this is so important.

Write this down:

Fathers we have a sacred calling to represent God’s discipline and instruction in the lives of our children.

When I hear that, the pressing question that demands an answer immediately is “How?” How am I going to possibly do that? I’m so shaped by my father, my culture. You and I might very well ask, What does it even look like to be a representative of God’s discipline? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that. I’m not sure I can even do that. I haven’t done it for years, why start now? I’m not sure I even want to do that. I’m not even convinced I’m supposed to do that.

Wherever the conversation is headed in your head is right now, I want you to turn over to Ephesians 6. There are two verses that I memorized early on in my parenting days – Ephesians 6:1 and Ephesians 6:4. I prefer to quote Ephesians 6:1, but my conscience reminds me more often of Ephesians 6:4.

Ephesians 6:1 says, “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” That one-liner is a gift from God on the tip of my tongue almost daily. But the Holy Spirit always brings Ephesians 6:4 on its heels, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ouch…

We are going to dig into this one short verse – verse 4. The very first answer to our “how” question is the very first word: Fathers. Make a note of this.

Fathers, it’s your responsibility to set the culture of discipleship in the home.

Fathers, it’s your responsibility to set the culture of discipleship in the home.

The discipline and instruction of the Lord that is mentioned in verse 4 is directly tied to the Father. Unfortunately, several English translations have misrepresented the text and written here “parents” instead of “fathers” even though the Greek word is clearly that of “fathers” and is distinct from Ephesians 6:1 where a different word is used to indicate “parents” – not to mention that the Ephesian recipients of this letter would have universally understood this responsibility to be the Father’s even if Paul had not said it. And as a quick side note, this is an important insight for studying the Bible. We don’t get to bend and flex words to mean whatever current culture says is popular. We don’t get to read Ephesians with our modern lens and make it say whatever is palatable. We understand what it said to them and then apply it to us by extension.

So this is helpful, let there be no confusion – it is that father’s responsibility before God to set the culture of discipleship in the home – to take the lead on this. When God set about the design of bringing about holiness in his people, he chose a human agent – not assembly lines. Human agents with human relationships. And specifically, Fathers – not youth pastors, not Christian schools, not Christian friends – those are all useful and have their place, but God chose fathers. And if he chose you as a father for the task, you can be assured that he will supply all that is needed to carry out that task.

But it means an investment from you dads. There is no bad theology about, “Well, yeah it doesn’t really matter though, because God is sovereign and can do whatever he wants even without me.” None of that. Seriously, only fools talk like that, because while it is true that God CAN do whatever he wants, he has revealed RIGHT HERE that what he wants is for YOU to do what he wants. He wants YOU to be the chosen instrument of discipline in your child’s life. He wants YOU to take responsibility for the culture of discipleship in your home. Working for this may be an uphill battle, but the Lord is on your side! You may have failed 100 times before and you may want to skip this verse and say “It’s too late for me”, “My kids are too far gone.”, “That ship has sailed.” May I urge you, in the Lord? Get back in the saddle! Seek the counsel of wise godly men, and get… back… in the saddle. Satan’s tactic is to get us to say “That’s not my job”, “I’m not qualified.”

If you are a father, you are qualified, and you are called. Don’t abandon your post.

If you are a father, you are qualified, and you are called. Don’t abandon your post.

Now certainly mothers are also called to discipline as well. This message does not undermine your calling. Proverbs makes it clear – as does Ephesians 6:1 that children are to obey their mother and that the mother has great wisdom and insight to offer. I firmly believe that God has created men and women to complement one another in many ways including in the way they nurture children, but this passage of Scripture is key to understanding that the primary weight of responsibility lays first on the father. They set the culture.

To those mothers in the room in the unfortunate situation of discipling your children alone – be that because of death, divorce, a husband who is not a believer – know that God’s grace is sufficient for you and for your children, and that your situation has not condemned your future to failure. Timothy – one of Paul’s great apprentices could point back to a mother and grandmother who were instrumental in his discipleship. While the focus of this text is toward the fathers, the principles can be applied in your situation as well, so lean in and receive what God’s got for you this morning.

Now is probably a good moment to also say that I recognize many of you in the room are not fathers or even parents, so a text like this might be tempting to ignore, but here is what we all do have in common. We are all the children of fathers somewhere, and listening to God’s Word here can show us where our dads got it right, and where they didn’t and can provide incredible insight into the way we perceive our heavenly Father. And while this might not be immediately practical for your family relationships it is immediately practical for your worship of God as your Father, so again, lean in and listen to what He has here for us. (it is also beneficial as you think about discipling those outside your immediate family).

Fathers, it’s your responsibility to set the culture for discipleship in your home. Perhaps the greatest threats to setting a culture of discipleship are these two things: lack of time and lack of consistency.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 records for us the words of God’s great commandment to the people of Israel – a people that had been enslaved for years in Egypt, who he had brought out and was delivering to the promised land. This command reads as follows, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

As I read through that, one thing that stands out is the scope of time that is mentioned. This is not speaking about having a good family devotion time at 7 AM every morning and then unplugging God from the rest of the day. This is speaking a volume of time and about consistency. You are talking about the Word of God when you get up, at meal times, on the way to the grocery store, on the way to a friend’s house, when you are emptying the dishwasher, when you tuck them in. That creates a discipleship culture. And it can be as simple as asking questions.

One of my favourite things to do lately when I put our kids to bed is to ask questions. They might be as simple as “what is one of the ten commandments?” or they might be more proverbial/wisdom questions like, “If you could choose between having 1 good friend and having as many new toys as you wanted, which would you choose?” I like music so sometimes I make up random songs about Scripture and sing them around the house – my personal favourite is the song “Go to the ant, you sluggard” straight out of the Proverbs lol. My wife Julianne is very gracious in reserving her judgements on the songs! But man does it make me grin when I overhear my kids singing it when they don’t see me.

For older kids, I know one of our elders has found a great way to connect is to take one of their kids to see a movie and then build into the experience a conversation about the values represented and the way most movies seem to borrow elements of the Gospel story.

There are tons of simple ways to integrate the communication of the gospel message into our daily lives, but don’t neglect the simple need for time and consistency. Probably every single parent that is further along in the journey than me has told me, “It goes fast”, and I don’t doubt it for a second, so I urge you brothers, get time with your kids – regardless of their age – and start small but consistent at creating a discipleship culture.

As we continue to consider “how” we accomplish this monumental task of representing God’s discipline and instruction in the lives of our children, we come to the inevitable reality that we are sinful people tasked with disciplining sinful people and we will often get it wrong.

The second thing we see in Ephesians 6:4 is that Fathers, we must not discipline in a way that causes our children to sin.

Fathers, we must not discipline in a way that causes our children to sin.

Look back at the text, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.” I probably don’t have to explain this much. Basically, Paul is saying, “Don’t push your kids buttons.” Don’t give in to that sinful tendency to want to drive your child to anger. Man, this is hard. One way I’ve failed is hasty or irrational discipline. Our child is sitting at the table, not eating their dinner, and out of nowhere I go overboard and say, “if you don’t finish that full plate of dinner in the next 30 seconds you aren’t getting dessert” and then they blow up because they know it’s impossible. What did I think was going to happen? I just provoked them to anger with my unreasonableness. And now the words are out of my mouth, and I’ve made a mess of things.

It could be inconsistent standards that are impossible to predict. It could be careless discipline that “shoots first and asks questions later.” It could be favouritism. It could be asking a child to act 10 years older than they are. Whatever it is, it’s not loving, and it’s not helpful. The goal in disciplining our children is not to make them angry, it’s to make them holy; and if you provoke them to anger, you may be trying to solve one issue and in the process causing them to sin in anger.

The goal in disciplining our children is not to make them angry, it’s to make them holy.

You could think of it like a boiling pot on the stove, the hot water is bubbling over and the steam can be quite painful, but sealing a lid on the thing won’t address the rising temperature. You need to remove it from the heat source. If you don’t, the pressure will build and eventually blow.

Similarly, with our discipline, if we ignore the source of the problem and simply add factors that build the pressure, it’s going to blow. We haven’t addressed the source of the problem; we’ve just tried to cover up the symptoms. And if this pattern progresses, you will actually push your children away from Christ rather than toward Him. You could be the stumbling block in their life.

A parallel passage to Ephesians 6:4 is Col 3:21 which says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Perhaps depending on the personality of the child, one may become angry, one may become deeply discouraged. Either way is not a win because anger and discouragement don’t move them to holiness. On that note, I’ve noticed with my own kids that each one is different not only in age but in disposition and responds to discipline differently. And as a dad, I need to have my finger on the pulse of their heart to know how the discipline is being received and how to dispense it accordingly. And I claim no perfection in this area, but I have learned a great deal from talking with many of you parents further along in the journey who have dealt with similar dispositions of children.

Now we need to pause and consider for a moment that no one is born liking discipline or instruction. Because of that children will often get angry and will often be discouraged – not because your discipline was inappropriate but because their interpretation of it was skewed. That’s why it’s so important that, along with proper discipline, we teach and explain to our children the reason for discipline. This is exactly what God the Father does for us. Turn over to Hebrews 12:5-11

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

God tells us, don’t be weary when receiving discipline. It’s a good thing. It actually proves you are His son.

Let me tell you, as an adult, I still don’t like the feeling of discipline or constructive criticism or correction, but I like the result. Just this week I was talking with one of our students who is starting in a new area of ministry, and I told him ahead of time, “Be ready for constructive feedback and don’t take it as a personal attack. Your leaders want you to succeed and want you to be better. If you lean in and listen, you’re going to grow.” I wanted to prepare him because if we know the reason for correction and discipline our hearts can be ready to receive it, and we are far less likely to be discouraged or react in anger. So prepare your kids to receive discipline by explaining the purpose.

Before we move on, I want to address a related issue that I believe is significant. It has to do with anger. While we talk about anger, some people have the notion that parents are to discipline in love and not in anger but this is a false dichotomy. Anger and love are not opposites or mutually exclusive. Thinking like that is reductionistic. Now, there is certainly unrighteous anger that is fueled by selfishness that is, of course, inappropriate; and there is certainly a need for self-control in discipline – absolutely. But there is also a righteous anger that is fueled by desire for God’s glory, for the good of our children, and for the upholding of justice. Anger is a type of value expression expressed as emotion. So the greater issue is not “are you angry?” by “why are you angry?” and “is your anger in control?” And “is your discipline proportionate to the offense?” An accidental bike handle scrape to the side of our vehicles is not the same as a child blaspheming God’s name. And you do a great disservice to the value shaping of your children if you treat them the same. In fact, you would not be loving to your children if your anger is not kindled at times.

So the greater issue is not “are you angry?” by “why are you angry?”

A couple of years ago I came to the realization that I had an issue. I was not getting angry at the things that God was getting angry at. It seems weird to say, but I believe this is a significant issue in Christian circles today. We may have been taught from childhood that anger is entirely wrong, but the Bible does not teach that. The Bible does teach that getting angry quick is wrong, that we should not sin in our anger, and that the anger of man doesn’t accomplish the righteousness of God, but there is a kind of anger that is right. And it is being angry at the things that God gets angry at.

If we are going to represent the discipline of the Lord to our children, then we had better be tracking with God’s value system.

And this brings us to the final point of the passage, Fathers represent the Lord in discipline and instruction.

Fathers represent the Lord in discipline and instruction.

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

At first glance many of us would read the last part of the verse to say, Fathers should bring up their children in the discipline and instruction that belongs to the Lord – bring them up in the Christian faith. But to the original reader, they wouldn’t read it that way. This verse highlights the limits of translation. The construction of the sentence and particularly the case of the word “Lord” (subjective genitive) is such that the “Lord” is actually the subject who is doing the disciplining and instructing by means of the human Father. So the father is, in a very real way, to be a conduit or representative of the Lord’s discipline and instruction in the life of your children.

This makes total sense when we step back and realize that our children don’t ultimately belong to us, they belong to God – we are simply stewards. God has distributed His children among us and is using fathers as his vice-regents – his representative to act on his behalf. We must faithfully do our job to ‘bring them up’ – that is to nurture them and encourage growth’, but then the real success is attributed to the Lord who is working through us. So if we think to ourselves, “I’ve got this, I can get results on my own.” Then we have underestimated the task before us.

Now turning back to the verse, you’ll notice the word “Discipline” that shows up there. Again at first glance, you might imagine that to mean simply using correction to train people – and that would be the nuance of the meaning in Hebrews 12 which uses the same word. Certainly there are elements of that here as well, but to really grasp this concept we need to remember again who Paul is writing to. He is writing to the church in Ephesus. Ephesus was a very significant city in the Greco-Roman world on the coast of what is now modern-day Turkey. It has some of the best-preserved architecture and is well worth a quick Google search as you read about it in the Bible. The city of Ephesus was heavily influenced and shaped by Hellenistic/Greek thought and this word “discipline” – the word “Paideia” – was a very well-known word to them. It meant the cultivation of the whole person into the ideal citizen that could be a servant of the city-state. It was a primary focus for them in raising their children – they were looking to develop people into the most a commonly accepted “ideal” – not any particular person, but a well-established pattern. It was holistic in approach – nourishing them physically, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and socially. There was a great emphasis in developing in virtue and character.

Into this culture, Paul used their very well-known term “Paideia” to speak of the Christian Father’s responsibility. This then did not merely mean discipline as we know it – it was far more developed than that. It meant a whole-person development patterned after an ideal – but not just any pagan ideal. Because it was the Lord’s discipline and instruction, it was to be patterned Jesus Christ himself and, the servant was not to be a servant of the city-state but of the Kingdom of God.

This is significant because in our day and age, there is likewise an “ideal” that many of us are pressured to form our children into. And yet Jesus calls us to direct our children not after that ideal, but after himself.

It is remarkable how similar a child is in mannerisms to their parents. Just a few weeks ago in the hallway, one friend commented that my son was like a photocopy of me. We look and sound so much like the primary influencers in our life, and when we in turn begin to raise the next generation, they too will look and sound much like us. And I have found that often my default parenting style is either a basic repetition of the parenting I received or a reaction to the parenting I received.

Here the Lord is calling us to something different. He is calling us to thoughtfully embrace the mission of replicating his discipline and instruction. That means our template is his, not ours, and certainly not the world’s. That means our approach must be his approach, not our default approach, not the world’s. This actually serves to simply things greatly.

Here the Lord is calling us to something different. He is calling us to thoughtfully embrace the mission of replicating his discipline and instruction.

Several years ago, I started an excel sheet of everything I wanted to teach my children. Some of you know that I love organization, so it was natural that I’d do something like this. I started to find categories and flesh them out, but before long I realized I was in over my head. There is way too much out there, and how could I possibly every get everything necessary in – especially since time is limited and different children need different areas emphasized.

But slowly I realized, that the best guideline to parenting is right here (points to Bible), and that our greatest example and hope is not in an exhaustive list, but in a person – Jesus Christ.

We are going to fail, but if we’ve pointed them to Christ, they have all they need.

They might not have all knowledge, but if they have Christ, they have a sure foundation of truth to build on.

They might not be superstar athletes, but if they know Christ, they will honour the Lord with their bodies.

They might not be part of every club, but if they are part of Christ and His Church, they will develop virtue and character.

They might not see the whole world, but if they know Christ, they will love the people of the world wherever God places them.

Fathers, it is our responsibility to represent the Lord’s discipline and instruction in the lives of our children.

But there is great risk.

Some of the most brilliant, godly men in the history of God’s people have failed catastrophically in this area.

Eli failed miserably because of passivity.

Samuel failed miserably because of negligence.

King David failed miserably because he failed to rebuke them.

Isaac and Jacob failed miserably because they both played favourites.

How about you?

Some of you have given up hope and prayers for a wayward child. May I urge you, in the Lord, to redouble your efforts. May it not be that your prodigal child returns home to find you watching TV or on vacation. May they see you running to them at the sign of their repentance.

Some of you are about ready to give up on the straight and narrow path that you’ve set out on. You are ready to toss in the towel. I urge you, in the Lord, don’t give up. Don’t grow weary of well-doing.

Some of you have already given up, you’ve stopped disciplining your children, afraid that you would lose them. I urge you, in the Lord, apologize to them. Repent and get on track.

Some of you are here and are being disciplined by your parents. Listen to me closely. They might not get it right all the time, but the fact that they are disciplining you means they love you and the discipline that you are receiving is a gracious gift from God.

Some of you are doing well, praise God! Keep it up and keep your eyes on Christ!

Fathers, it’s a calling for you. Watch that your discipline does not cause sin in your children and represent the Lord well.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father – the only true and perfect father. The only one who is truly good. We live for you alone. Lord, may we never forsake your Word. May we never fail to teach it to our children. May we never abandon the station you have given us. May we never lose hope for the wayward child.

In Jesus name we pray, Amen