Yesterday I had the privilege to preach from Ephesians 6:1-4 with a focus on the fourth verse as we continued our series through Ephesians. As we consider the importance of a Christian father’s leadership, we must likewise look to the duty of the children to obey. Both have responsibilities that ebb and flow in the home and both matter.
Paul echoes the words from the Decalogue as he quotes the fifth commandment. Children are expected to obey their parents in the Lord and they are expected to go beyond obedience to honor. This is God’s plan for the Christian home and it provides order as the parents lead and the children follow and learn in the process. As Paul points to Exodus 20:12, he likewise explains that the command comes with a promise—one of a long life. Children who want to have a prosperous and healthy life should submit to their parents and honor them as the Lord commands.
The father is key to the health of the home. If the father checks out or walks out, the home will be damaged. This is not to say that faithful mothers can’t step up to the plate and take on the necessary responsibilities, but we must see the value of the father in the life of the family. If children are spending 35 or more hours per week on television and tablets, who is really discipling the children? This is the duty of parents—and Paul points out the father’s leadership in this area.
First, notice that Paul points out the negative by saying that fathers are not to provoke their children to anger. Fatherly leadership does not require a provoking attitude that rouses children to anger. The word used by Paul here is παροργίζω meaning “to rouse to wrath, to provoke, exasperate, anger.” Instead, the father is called to patient and loving leadership that disciplines and instructs.
Next, Paul points out the two positive aspects of the Christian father’s leadership. First, he points to the need to faithfully discipline children in the Lord. It is with Christ as the key point of reference that all discipline is carried out—otherwise it becomes moralism. There is a good balance required in this area as a father. We can’t be too weak or soft, but at the same time we can’t be too hard. We must balance a good toughness and tenderness as a father. The word Paul uses here for discipline is παιδεία—meaning “the act of providing guidance for responsible living, upbringing, training, instruction, discipline, correction.”
Last of all, Paul points out the necessity of faithful instruction that’s required by the father. This has more than a physical or general meaning. It points to the need for spiritual instruction. Often, fathers are great at teaching fundamentals regarding basketball or baseball or football or soccer or track, but not so good in the area of the gospel. The tragedy is that many students excel in sports but fail in spiritual areas and this shows up on the college campus. Voddie Baucham, in his book, Family Driven Faith writes, “70-88% of teens, who profess Christianity, walk away from their faith by the end of their freshman year of college.”
Today’s evangelical church has forgotten the catechism and replaced serious exposition of the Bible with slick sermonettes that are filled with comedy acts and inspirational stories rather than the gospel. When fathers sit under this type of preaching year after year, they learn to minimize the gospel depth in their own teaching in the home—and in most cases the teaching in the home is not emphasized from the pulpit of the local church. Peter O’Brien writes, “In contrast to the norms of the day, Paul wants Christian fathers to be gentle, patient educators of their children, whose chief ‘weapon’ is Christian instruction focused on loyalty to Christ as Lord.” 
Remember Joshua’s famous statement in Joshua 24:14, he said, “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua was 100 years old at the time he made this statement. He knew that it was his responsibility to lead his family. He was not providing options for his wife and children to consider. God honored it and his children and the generation after followed in his footsteps.
- Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 447.