Fathers Who Lead

Ephesians 6:4

June 20, 2015 | Brian Bill

I recognize that for many of you this day is difficult because your dad is no longer here or has dropped the ball somehow.  The U.S. Census Bureau has stated that we have become a fatherless nation.  Six years ago, 33% of the 72 million children in America went to bed without their biological father in the home.  Today, according to James Merritt, 43% of American kids live in a home without their biological father.

Some of us have been blessed with tremendous models of what fatherhood was meant to be: a reflection of our relationship with our Father in heaven.  But there are others who have been ignored, neglected, abused or abandoned.  And for you, Father’s Day is anything but happy.

I sincerely hope that you will allow our Heavenly Father to fill that void in your life.  May you experience the truth of Psalm 68:5: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”

Are you aware that men don’t always say what they mean?  I came across something called the “Men’s Thesaurus” that translates common expressions that men often say.

When a man says, “It would take too long to explain.”

He means, “I have no idea how it works.”

When a man says, “Uh huh, sure, honey,” or “Yes, Dear.”

He means, “Absolutely nothing – it’s a conditioned response.”

When a man says, “I can’t find it.”

He means, “It didn’t fall into my outstretched hand, so I’m completely clueless.”

I think I’ve used each of these expressions.

Joe Maxwell summarizes the state of fatherhood in an article entitled, “Dads: The New Endangered Species.”  “Guys really want to be good dads more than ever, but they aren’t changing much.  When the good news is combined with the bad, it seems that fatherhood in the United States is poised for either a great awakening or a gory collapse.”

I think he’s right.  Dads, we’re either headed toward a spiritual stirring or we’re looking at becoming an endangered species.  

Fellow fathers, it’s my prayer that through our study of God’s Word together that we might experience a great awakening – in both our person and in our parenting!  

I generally like things short and sweet (even though I’ve been known to preach long sermons).  Fellow fathers, I want to draw our attention to a verse that is only 22 words long.  As we unpack it, we’ll see that dads who are intentional make the greatest impact.

Cultural Background

Please turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 6:4: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”

Before we unpack this verse, it’s helpful to know the cultural setting in which this Scripture was written.  Rome had a law called patria potestas, which meant “the father’s power.”  Men who were Roman citizens were given absolute authority over their families.  By law, his children and wife were regarded as the patriarch’s personal property, and he could do with them what he wished.  A displeased dad could disown his kids, sell them into slavery, or even kill them if he wished.

When a child was born, the newborn was placed between the father’s feet.  If the father picked up the baby, the child stayed in the home.  If he turned and walked away, the child was either left to die or sold at auction.  Seneca, a contemporary of the apostle Paul, described Roman policy: “We slaughter a fierce ox; we strangle a mad dog; we plunge a knife into a sick cow.  Children born weak or deformed we drown.”

Friends, things are not much better today, are they?  Are you aware that more than 57 million babies have been aborted since abortion was legalized in 1973.  Children have become a disposable commodity in our society, just as they were in ancient Rome.

The Bible calls Christian fathers to a different standard.  Just as it was revolutionary for dads to lovingly lead their kids in the first century, faithful fathers today who do not provoke their children to wrath are counter-cultural.  Our kids are not property to own but image bearers of God who need to be managed and trained.  Dads, we are called to provide a proper nurturing environment where our kids can grow up to love and serve Christ.  Our primary responsibilities by which our fathering will be judged are set forth in Ephesians 6:4.

Notice how this verse begins: “And you, fathers.”  Paul laid out the biblical roles of husbands and wives in chapter 5.  In the opening verses of chapters 6, he spells out the importance of children obeying and honoring their parents.  And now he moves to fathers.  The word “you” is emphatic, as if he’s pointing to dads in order get their attention.

Paul is only addressing dads here because he knows that we especially need to hear this.  He doesn’t say “parents” or “moms and dads.”  He uses the word, “Fathers.”  Most of us dads are sloppy in our fathering, not giving much thought to what we’re called to do.  This verse brings us up short by calling us to some pretty high standards.

In essence, Paul is challenging us to see the word “fathers” as a verb, not just a noun.  It’s biologically easy to become a father, but biblically challenging to actually “father” our children.  The Bible very clearly challenges dads to become the point men in their homes because the ultimate responsibility for what a family becomes is the father’s.  In this passage, we’re given one caution and four commands.  I’ve adapted an outline from Alan Carr.

If you had 22 words to say everything that needed to be said to Christian fathers on how to raise their children, what would you say?  There are no inspired books on child rearing, but here is God’s inspired command stated briefly and yet boldly.  We’re going to discover that dads who are intentional make the greatest impact.


The first duty is negative – “Do not provoke your children to wrath.”  Another version says, “Do not exasperate your children.”  Dads, we’re put on guard so that we don’t stir up anger in our kids either deliberately or through careless provocations.  I think Paul started with a negative command because he knows that fathers, who are fallen creatures, are prone to abuse their authority in the home.

The Greek word translated “provoke” means “to rouse to anger, to enrage, irritate or embitter.”  The present tense of the verb indicates that we are to stop doing something that is common and continuous.  This warning is calling us dads to avoid anything that will eventually break the sprit of our children.  Colossians 3:21 expands this caution: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”  When we exasperate our kids, they can become bitter and bummed out.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, our daughters know this verse well and sometimes quote it to me when I get under their skin.  Recently we were playing a family game and because I may or may not be competitive, I decided to step on Megan’s feet to break her concentration.  I quickly stopped when she reminded me that I was not to exasperate my children.  

While there are times when kids become sinfully angry due to their own selfishness or immaturity, there are other times when dads are guilty of aggravating their kids.  We can do that by deliberately goading them, by callously neglecting them or by any number of other intentional or careless means that exasperate them.  When that happens, it is we dads who are sinning – and provoking our children to sin as well.

Remember that our children are commanded by God to honor us.  When we provoke them to wrath, we are causing them to sin against the Fifth Commandment.  In such cases we are guilty before God for disobeying Ephesians 6:4 and also doubly guilty for causing our children to stumble.

Here are some common ways that fathers can exasperate their children:

1. Overprotection.


You can anger your kids by fencing them in too much.  I can relate to this one because there are so many things I want to protect my girls from in the world today.  I have to be careful so that my daughters don’t grow up thinking I don’t trust them.

Laban, an Old Testament dad, was an overprotective and domineering parent.  He dealt dishonestly with Jacob in order to get him to marry Leah, his eldest daughter, even though Jacob loved Rachel, the younger one.  In exchange for a promise to work for Laban for 7 years, Jacob was allowed to marry Rachel as well.  His controlling parenting cost his own daughters a healthy marriage.

Ironically, despite Laban’s overprotective interfering, the daughters’ assessment was that their father did not really care for them.  Listen to what they say about their dad in Genesis 31:15: “Does he not regard us as foreigners?  Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us.”  What their dad had thought of as an expression of parental protection came across as evidence that he did not really love them.

2. Overindulgence.


The flip side of overprotection is overindulgence.  Excessively permissive parents are as likely to stir their children’s wrath as much as those who stifle them.  Studies prove that children given too much freedom begin to feel insecure and unloved.  Because our society has fostered increasingly permissive attitudes toward children, we are now reaping the harvest of a whole generation of angry young people who end up resenting their parents.  Dads, don’t give your kids everything they want.  It’s good to say no sometimes.  Related to this, guard against making commitments that take your children away from gathering with God’s people.  You don’t want them to grow up thinking that sports are more important than church.  

3. Favoritism. 

A third way to exasperate kids is by showing favoritism.  Isaac favored Esau over Jacob and Rebecca preferred Jacob more than Esau.  As a result, that family experienced terrible agony and two brothers became bitter rivals.  If you want to destroy your child, just make him feel inferior to everyone else in the family.

4. Unrealistic Goals. 

Dads, we can provoke our kids to wrath by constantly pushing achievement.  1 Thessalonians 2:11 shows us Paul’s fatherly concern for the church: “We exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children.”  Fathers, while it’s true that we’re called to exhort and charge our children, we’re also to encourage them.

5. Discouragement. 

Let’s catch our kids doing things right instead of lashing out at them for what they do wrong.  

As Colossians 3:21 challenges us, we are not to provoke our children to anger or they will become discouraged.  Dads, let’s cut down on criticism and sarcasm in the home.  Let’s look for ways to celebrate and applaud.  Let’s give our approval spontaneously so our kids don’t have to earn it – or look for it elsewhere.  Let’s catch our kids doing things right instead of lashing out at them for what they do wrong.  

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: For every time you have to point out something that your kids do wrong, try to equalize it with a word of encouragement.  

Haim Ginott wrote this: “A child learns what he lives.  If he lives with criticism he does not learn responsibility.  He learns to condemn himself and to find fault with others.  He learns to doubt his own judgment, to disparage his own ability, and to distrust others.  And above all, he learns to live with the continual expectation of impending doom.” (“Between Parent and Child,” page 72).

6. Neglect. 

Another way to exasperate your children is by neglecting them.  When we fail to show affection and act indifferently toward our kids, we can cause them to burn with anger.  We can neglect our kids by never being home; or we can do so by being home but absent from their lives.

7. Excessive Discipline. 

Too much punishment is another sure way to provoke a child to anger.  Dads, don’t ride your kids constantly.  The father who throws his weight around – whether physically or verbally – can be devastating to a child’s spirit.  Hebrews 12 says that God always disciplines us in love – and so should we.

8. Hypocrisy. 

One way to provoke your child to anger is by not being a man of integrity.  Kids have a hypocrisy meter.  They can tell when we’re faking our faith and that will end up filleting their faith.

9. Anger. 

If you don’t want angry offspring then make sure you are not an angry man.

John Piper, “Fathers cause their children’s souls to shrivel into small, hard, angry shells mainly by being like that themselves.  Anger is the cannibal emotion: It eats all the others till none is left. It does this first in fathers, and then this constricted soul is passed on to the children.”

This past Monday I drove to Pontiac because a new shipment of 100,000 copies of Anchor for the Soul arrived at the warehouse Keep Believing uses to distribute these books all over the world.  We have now printed 800,000 copies and they have been shipped to 48 states so far.  You might be interested to know that we’ve given away over 3,400 here at Edgewood!  Keep Believing is one of our Go Team partners.

I want to show you a couple pictures.  This is Ray Pritchard, the author of Anchor for the Soul, and president of Keep Believing Ministries.  I was his associate pastor and Ray’s been my ministry mentor for over 25 years.  Here’s a picture of Steve and Steve.  They ship orders out every week, providing free copies to prisons, pregnancy resource centers, the military, evangelistic outreaches and churches.  I had the joy of baptizing these two guys.  They’re poker playing buddies, who were led to Christ by another guy they have played cards with.

After we finished at the warehouse we stopped at a restaurant for coffee.  As we were chatting a guy showed up from my previous church and pulled up a chair.  My memory of him was of a gruff guy who was filled with anger, mistreated his wife and ostracized his offspring.  I urged him many times to be kind and gentle to no avail.  But something was different on Monday.  He thanked me for being a patient pastor and then with tears in his eyes, he said, “I’m a changed man.  I’m no longer angry.  I take my wife out for dates all the time, I’ve never been closer to my kids…and I’ve reconciled with my neighbor.”  I asked him what changed and he told me that he repented and fully surrendered to Christ and is reading his Bible every day.  

That’s the caution: do not provoke your children to wrath.  Now, let’s look at four commands from the second half of Ephesians 6:4: “…but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”


The word “but” shows a contrast between what we should not do and what we are to do.  

Did you hear about the father in Georgia who jumped on a moving SUV to save his son during a carjacking this week?  I found myself riveted to the story because it shows a dad jumping into action on behalf of his son.

I love what Rashaan said about his dad, “I would say it’s cool and brave for my dad to jump on a car and get his arm broken for me.”  This dad gets how important it is to not be passive in his parenting: “I was beating on the window…just holding on.  The thought never crossed my mind to just let him go.”  Here then are four ways God is calling us to be brave fathers.

1. Enrich.

Here’s the first thing we are called to do: “bring them up.”  This is the same phrase that is used in Ephesians 5:29 referring to the husband’s role of “nourishing and cherishing” his wife. 

Notice also that we are to “bring them up.”  We are to bring our children up because they will not get there by themselves.  Dads, we are to take an active role in shaping the character of our children.  Proverbs 29:15 says, “A child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”  John MacArthur puts it this way: “What ruins most children is not what their parents do to them, but what they do not do for them.

The phrase, “bring them up” also carries with it the idea of “tutoring” and “instructing.”  It has the idea of training, filling and satisfying. 

According to a 50-year study of Christian and non-Christian families, most young adults who follow Christ either come from non-Christian homes or from homes where they grew up in love with Jesus because mom and dad were in love with Jesus.  Their parent’s passion for Christ permeated their lives and passed through their pores to their kids.  Sadly, very few believers came from homes where there was a kind of indifferent, apathetic commitment to Christ.  It is sobering to suggest that the chances are better for a child growing up in a non-Christian home to become a sold-out believer than for a child growing up in a spiritually lukewarm environment.

Dads, how are you doing on this one?  Are you modeling authentic faith?  Are you providing a nurturing atmosphere in your home in which your children can grow up to love and serve Christ?  As someone has said, “One way to correct your children is to correct the example you’re setting for them.”

2. Educate. 

Notice the next expectation: “in the training.”  

This word is translated “admonition” in some of your Bibles and carries with it the idea of a rebuke or a warning.  Literally, it means to “place before the mind.”

Piper – This word signifies the actions a father takes to give his children the abilities and skills and character to live life to the glory of God. It is not synonymous with teaching. It is more full and more active. For example, it is used in 2 Timothy 3:16 for “training.”  One major Greek lexicon defines the word like this: “to counsel about avoidance or cessation of an improper course of conduct.”

I’m a dad, but along with Beth, I’m also a tutor and teacher for my daughters.  In fact, my most important job is to disciple my kids and to leave a legacy of faithfulness for them.

Proverbs 13:24 provides a strong challenge to us dads: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.”  I like the way the New Living Translation puts it: “If you refuse to discipline your children, it proves you don’t love them; if you love your children, you will be prompt to discipline them.”  You may hesitate to discipline because you think that you’re being unkind to your kids.  Actually, when you don’t discipline, you’re being more than unkind – you’re not loving them.  If we love our kids, then we must admonish, rebuke, and discipline them.

Listen carefully.  I’m not advocating that you beat your kids.  What I am saying is this: children need to be disciplined by their dads.  Our kids not only need correction, they want it.  If we don’t give it to them, we’re failing them and may cause them to fall away from the faith.  Hebrews 12:11 speaks of God’s loving discipline in our lives by showing how beneficial it really is: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

It’s important to understand the difference between discipline and punishment.  The purpose of punishment is to inflict penalty and focuses on the past.  The purpose of discipline is to promote growth by looking to the future.  Dads, our kids are looking for us to train them and love them by disciplining them.  At the core of discipline is discipleship.

Piper – But Paul is keen to make sure we feel the sweetness in the admonition he has in mind. Catch the feel of the word in these two verses: 1 Corinthians 4:14, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children”; 2 Thessalonians 3:15, “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” There is a warmth to the correcting, warning, and guiding that fathers are called to do.

3. Exhort.

It literally means to put in the mind.

4. Evangelize. 

Notice that all of this is to be “in the Lord.”

“Lord” is an extremely exalted title as Paul uses it in the New Testament.  To say that Jesus is Lord means that He is the rightful king of the universe, He is ruler over the entire world, He is commander of all the armies of heaven, He is triumphant over sin and death and pain and Satan and hell, and He will one day establish His kingdom in righteousness.

Dads, we are to bring up our children to hope in the triumph of God.  There are at least three ways that we can do this:

  • Bring them up to find their place in the triumphant cause of the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Bring them up to see everything in relation to the victory of God.  Do whatever it takes to make all of life God-saturated for your kids.
  • Bring them up to know that the path of sin is a dead end street because righteousness will prevail in the end.

Dad, you are the point man in your home.  You are the coach of your team.  You are the captain and your barracks is boot camp for training young soldiers for the greatest combat in the world.  Your residence is a launching pad for missiles of missionary zeal aimed at the unreached peoples of the world.

Our goal is not merely to get our kids to outwardly conform to a list of rules.  Our mandate is to develop children who seek to glorify God with their lives.  It is not enough to teach them to do good things; our job is to teach our children how to develop a lifestyle gathering, growing, giving and going.  Dads, you’re the leader.  Lead on!  Your kids are waiting for you to step up to the plate!

Steve Farrar, author of the book, Standing Tall, uses a strategic metaphor for a dad that is very helpful: “A godly father is the unseen spiritual submarine who lurks below the surface of every activity of his child’s life.  A man who has put on the full armor of God and with that armor, goes to warfare on his knees for his children, is a force to be reckoned with…we cannot be with our children 24 hours a day…through our prayers we have the ability to affect situations even when we are not physically present.  You may be undetected but that does not mean you are ineffective.” (Page 199)

Let’s be honest about something.  We have a problem, don’t we?  My trouble, more often than not, is that I’m not engaged as a dad.  I’m not always fully present.  My heart is not always in the job.

Dads, you don’t have to make all these changes on your own.  In the very last verse of the Old Testament, in Malachi 4:6, the prophet looks ahead to the ministry of John the Baptist and writes this: “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

I know for me it’s really a heart issue.  If my heart is fully focused on my daughter, then I will do a pretty good job of fathering because dads who are intentional make the greatest impact.   Dads, if you sense that your heart is not really into parenting, and you sense that your kids don’t have much to do with you, then make this verse your personal prayer.  Ask God to turn your heart to your children and ask Him to turn their hearts to you.  He will be glad to answer a prayer like this.


I take it to mean that the content of a father’s teachings and warnings, and the method of a father’s modeling discipline, and the goal of a father’s whole life with his children will be from the Lord, through the Lord, and for the Lord.

Dads, before you leave this service feeling piled and discouraged by your own failures and inconsistency, let me remind you of 3 things:

  1. There are no perfect fathers, except our Heavenly Father.
  2. We can all be better dads if we will work at it.
  3. We do not father alone.  That’s why we need to pray daily for our kids.  I hope you make a point to be here for our next series called, “Praying Through the Psalms.”
  Reed Lessing tells the story of a Native American ritual for training young braves:

“On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone.  Until then he had never been away from the security of his family and tribe.  But on this night he was blindfolded and taken miles away.  When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of thick woods.  By himself.  All night long.  It was terrifying!

Every time a twig snapped, he visualized a wild animal ready to pounce.  Every time an animal howled, he imagined a wolf leaping out of the darkness. Every time the wind blew, he wondered if a storm was coming. 

After what must have seemed like an eternity, the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest.  Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow.  It was the boy’s father.  He had been there all night long. It is a lesson in bravery … in independence. But it is an important lesson in DEPENDENCE as well.  Tribe and family matter.  You aren’t alone, even when you are most lonely.

Dads, you are not alone either.  Your heavenly Father is standing right next to you, urging you on, cautioning you to not provoke your children to wrath but also urging you to enrich, educate, exhort and evangelize.  You can do it, because dads who are intentional make the greatest impact.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?