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.  Seven years ago, 33% of the children in America went to bed without their biological father in the home.  That has risen today to 43%.

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.”

Dads who are intentional make the greatest impact.

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.”

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.”  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 with no consequences.

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. 

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.

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 calling out dads in order get their attention. 

Paul is just addressing dads here because he knows that we especially need to hear this.  In essence we’re challenged 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.  In this passage, we’re given one caution and four commands.  I’ll be following an outline I’ve adapted from Alan Carr.

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.”  God starts 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 my daughter’s foot to break her concentration.  I quickly stopped when she reminded me that the Bible says to not exasperate my children.  

Remember that our children are commanded by God to honor us.  When we provoke them to wrath, we are causing them to break 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.

Laban, an Old Testament dad, was an overprotective and domineering parent.  He dealt dishonestly with Jacob in order to get him to marry Leah.  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?”

2. Overindulgence.

The flip side of overprotection is overindulgence.  Excessively indulgent parents are as likely to provoke them to wrath as much as those who stifle them.  Studies show 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.  Related to this, guard against commitments that take your children away from gathering with God’s people.  You don’t want them to grow up thinking that sports or other activities are more important than church.  

3. Favoritism. 

A third way to exasperate kids is by showing favoritism.  Isaac favored Esau over Jacob while Rebecca preferred Jacob.  As a result, that family fractured and two brothers became bitter rivals. 

4. Unrealistic Goals. 

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

5. Discouragement.

Dads, let’s cut out criticism and sarcasm and look for ways to celebrate and affirm.  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 always lashing out at them for everything they do wrong.  Here’s a simple rule of thumb: For every time you have to correct, equalize it with a word of encouragement.  

6. Neglect. 

Another way to exasperate your children is by neglecting them.  When we fail to show affection or 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 yet 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. 

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.

9. Anger. 

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

John Piper says, “Fathers cause their children’s souls to shrivel into small, hard, angry shells mainly by being like that themselves.” 

Men, do you need to repent of an angry and bitter spirit?  Do it now so that you don’t provoke your children to anger.

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 many years ago?  I found myself riveted to the story because it shows a dad intentionally sacrificing for his son.

I love what this son said, “It’s cool and brave for my dad to jump on a car and get his arm broken for me.”  This dad is not a passive parent: “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 to not let go.

1. Enrich.

The first thing dads are called to do is to “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.  Calvin wrote that children are to “be fondly cherished.”

Notice that we are to “bring them up.”  We are to bring our children up because they will not get there by themselves.  Proverbs 29:15 says, “A child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” 

Dads, how are you doing on this one?  Are you providing a nurturing atmosphere in your home in which your children can grow up to love and serve Christ?  

2. Educate. 

Notice the next expectation: “in the training.”   This word also carries with it the idea of a rebuke or a warning.  I like the way the New Living Translation renders Proverbs 13:24: “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 it’s unkind.  Actually, when you don’t discipline, you’re not loving them.  

Listen carefully.  Children need to be disciplined by their dads.  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.”

The purpose of discipline is to promote growth by looking to the future.

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.  At the core of discipline is discipleship.

There is joy in correction even though it hurts.  Job 5:17: “ Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.”  Proverbs 3:11 tells us to “not despise the chastening of the Lord.”  Dads, do you need to step up in discipline?

3. Exhort. 

We must enrich and educate and we’re also to exhort.  The word “admonition” has been equated with “to catechize.”  But it’s to be more than just tossing information to our kids.  One Greek lexicon defines it this way: “to counsel about avoidance or cessation of an improper course of conduct.”

We can admonish only after we’re living it out in our own lives as Deuteronomy 4:9 says, “Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.  And teach them to your children and your grandchildren.”

Dads, lets make sure we’re enriching, educating and exhorting.  There’s one more expectation.  

4. Evangelize. 

Notice that all of this is to be “of the Lord.” “Lord” is an extremely exalted title 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.

  • Bring them up to know that the path of sin is a dead end street and the only way to be saved and satisfied is through our Lord and Savior 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 find their place in the triumphant cause of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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 ever.  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 to live on mission by gathering, growing, giving and going.  Dads, you’re the leader.  Lead on!  Your kids are waiting for you to fight for them and to never let go!

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.  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…”

I know for me it’s really a heart issue.  When my heart is fully focused on my daughters, then I will do a pretty decent job of fathering because dads who are intentional make the greatest impact.   Dads, if your heart is not really into fathering, 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. 

But there’s something even more critical.  In order to be a father who leads his children well, you must be a father who has placed his faith in Jesus Christ.  If you want to be a good dad you must be a growing disciple.  There is no way to father in your own strength.  The only way to fulfill the family responsibilities found in Ephesians 5 and 6 is by obeying the command of Ephesians 5:18: “Be filled with the Spirit.”  Ephesians 6:10 says that we are to “be strong in the Lord.”  And in 6:11 we’re called to put on our “spiritual armor” because we are in a spiritual battle.  Satan is at war with your family and he will do all he can to take you down, and your family with you.

And all this presupposes that you as a father have put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation from your sins.  If you’ve not done that, you need to…now.  I love what Stephen Curry, the NBA MVP and star of the World Champion Golden State Warriors many years ago: “There’s more to this jersey I wear, and that’s Christ living inside me.”  Is Christ living inside you?

Fathers, before you leave this service feeling discouraged by your own failures, let me remind you of 3 things:

  • There are no perfect fathers, except our Heavenly Father.
  • You will be a better dad if you fully surrender to Christ and allow Him to work through you.
  • You do not father alone.  
  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.  He was terrified!

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 saw the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow.  It was the boy’s father who had been there all night long! 

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.  And you and I have the privilege of standing guard over our kids.  You can do it, because dads who are intentional will make a great impact.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?