“Father, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
As a father of three boys, this verse has always struck me with a particularly strong force. The first part of this little section important, to be sure. My children should obey me because that is right and life will go better for them if they do. But, am I being the kind of father who invites obedience?
Have you ever been in a situation where you were under a leader who invited obedience? It was a leader who so inspired and motivated the people under his authority that they were willing to do whatever he said because they had such trust in him. It seems there are two ways for leaders (parents) to see that their followers (children) obey them. They can either invite obedience from them, or they can terrify it out of them. Both get the job done, but the former does so while building up a relationship that will last long beyond the point that obedience is no longer necessary or even right.
That’s what I think Paul is calling parents, but specifically fathers to do here. The kids should obey you, yes. But, if they do so more out of fear than out of trust and love, you’re not doing it right. Now, sometimes kids are strong-willed or are sufficiently motivated against whatever you’ve asked them to do that it becomes necessary to outline what will be the consequences of disobedience as an addendum to the original instructions, but if this is the only tool in our toolbox, we need to go to the hardware store.
As a dad (and as a mom too), ask yourself questions like these on occasion (and then stick around long enough to answer them): Am I the kind of parent who invites obedience or the kind who has to coerce it? How much time am I giving to parenting interactions versus relationship-building interactions with my kids? What can I do to intentionally tip the balance in favor of the latter? Am I disciplining after the pattern of the Lord, or the state? For example: Is the discipline aimed at building up the relationship, or merely punishing the offense? Is my goal to be just and loving or complete when I put in place consequences? Are my punishments properly reflective of the offenses or a reflection of my own anger and frustration? Am I showing them the right way both through my personal example and my words, or holding them to a standard they know I don’t often meet? Let us make sure the empowering, sacrificial love, and servant leadership of Jesus is our model for being parents, not whatever else the world offers instead.