A Word to Fathers
In Roman society, a father’s power was all-prevailing. As William Barclay wrote, “A Roman father had absolute power over his family … He could bind or beat his son; he could sell him into slavery; and he even had the right to execute him … If ever a people knew what parental discipline was, the Romans did.”
Notice, then, that here Paul is not simply calling for the exercise of parental authority. Rather, he is both assuming its rightfulness and tempering it. His instruction is first negative: “Do not provoke your children to anger.” He urges fathers to exercise restraint in disciplining their children, lest they do more harm than good by exasperating them or causing them to become discouraged, resentful, or angry.
How might we provoke our children to anger? Through selfishness, severity, inconsistency, unreasonableness, favoritism, nagging, fault-finding, failure to appreciate progress… Yet such a daunting list shouldn’t discourage us; instead, it should remind us that this responsibility is entirely beyond us apart from God’s grace.
And yet Paul’s instruction is not only negative but also positive. The verb “bring them up” can also mean “nourish.” There is something horticultural about it—a reminder not only that we are to rear our children tenderly but also that doing so is no momentary task; rather, it’s a journey over many years. At the same time, this nourishment involves “discipline”—namely, the discipline of Scripture, by which the father himself is conformed to the image of Christ—and “instruction,” which involves gently bringing God’s word to bear upon our children’s minds so that their character is actually transformed.
If you are a parent, how can you accomplish such a task? It takes grace. It also takes patience. In stock-market terms, parenthood is not day trading; it’s long-term investing. It’s amazing how a monstrous four-year-old who is constantly treated with godly love and discipline can become a thoughtful and loving young adult by her late teens. So if you are not a parent, pray for those who are. They need it! And if you are a parent, consider your own approach. How are you establishing parental authority in the home? In what ways are you most in danger of provoking your children as you do so? How will you instruct your children in God’s word, and how can you see your own character being formed into Christlikeness through the experience of parenthood? In all this, remember that parenting is an act of grace. We are to discharge our responsibilities faithfully. But you will be crushed if you do not remember that grace is sufficient to overcome any and every mistake—a truth to build you up and keep you on your knees!
The Greatest Commandment
1“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules1—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, 2that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son's son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. 3Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
4“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.2 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7You 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. 8You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
10“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. 14You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— 15for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.
Get the Program, Devotional, and Bible Reading Plan delivered daily right to your inbox.