4 imperatives for raising up children in the Lord

‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.’ — Ephesians 6:1-4 (ESV)

What is your parenting approach? Where did you learn how to be a mom or dad? Was it from your parents? From friends, or a book? Or are you just winging it? What is your parenting style?

In Chip Ingram’s book, Effective Parenting in a Defective World, he relates the research of sociologist Reuben Hill who conducted a study of thousands of families and how their parenting style affected their children. He put his research results on a grid that measured discipline and relational affection and discovered four parenting styles:

The Permissive Parent. Represents parents who are high in love but low in discipline. The study revealed that permissive parents tend to produce children with very low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority. The kids feel loved, but they are never sure of their limits. Their parents are generally fearful, afraid of messing up and damaging their children’s psyche, so they never set firm boundaries. 

The Neglectful Parent. This kind of parent doesn’t express much love and also doesn’t discipline. Their children tend to grow up with no lasting relationship with Mom or Dad. The parents’ neglect may not necessarily be intentional. They may simply be in the midst of their own traumas and chaos, like an addiction or an abusive situation. They don’t purposely desire to neglect their kids, but they don’t know how to deal with their own issues adequately and don’t have the tools to be healthy parents.

The Authoritarian Parent. This kind of parent doesn’t express love and affection well, but is high on discipline. They raise children who are provoked to rebellion. The bar is always high and the “musts” are always abundant, so there’s a strong sense of safety. But this kind of parent isn’t content just to win the war; they have to win every battle too. Communication between parent and child takes the form of arguing and fighting, especially when the child is old enough to fight back. Authoritarian parents squeeze their kids until the kids can’t wait to leave home, and as soon as they do, they rebel.

The Authoritative Parent. Those who land in the upper right quadrant provide the best combination of love and discipline. This kind of parent is authoritative, not an overbearing authoritarian, but a compassionate yet firm authority. They have clear boundaries but are also very loving. Ingram calls them “fellowshipping” parents; everyone knows who the boss is, but there’s also a connection between parents and child, a consideration that respects and honors who the child is while not compromising his or her disciplinary needs. The result is a child high in self-esteem and equipped with good coping skills.

It just so happens that the “authoritative” parenting style that sociologists found to be most effective, is very similar to the one the Bible teaches. God’s Word teaches the importance of balancing discipline and affection in child-rearing.

In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul taught believers how to raise up their children in the Lord. As Christians, we can follow God’s Word in the training of our children and raise them up to maturity according to God’s intent.  When we look closely at Ephesians 6:1-4, the text gives four imperatives for raising up our children in the Lord.

4 Imperatives for Raising Up Children in the Lord:

1. Give them the right standard to obey. In Ephesians 6:1 we read, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  The word “obey” is the first imperative verb. In the Greek, it literally means “to come under hearing.” Of course, this implies that parents are giving their children something to follow or obey. Parents must teach their children to obey. This means being their father, being their mother, rather than trying to be their buddy or friend. If parents fulfill their God-given role as father and mother when their children are young, then they will be friends when they are grown.

And what standard should parents give their children to obey? Regardless of the worldly view that all things are relative, there is a right and a wrong. The standard for right and wrong is revealed in the Bible. Give them a biblical standard to obey. Help them to see that you are authorized by God to raise them up to maturity. Give them the Bible as your standard, but don’t use it only for correction. Show them how to hear from God themselves through His Word for their encouragement.

2. Show them the way of honor. In Ephesians 6:2-3, Paul quoted the Decalogue’s fourth commandment, “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” The second imperative in Paul’s instruction is found here in the word “honor.” Parents must teach their children to honor them. This involves two steps: 1) Teach them to recognize the God-given authority of parents, and 2) Teach them to give the honor due their parents. This commandment includes a promise. So, children who learn to honor their parents will grow up to live under God’s blessing and care. Those who don’t honor their parents, grow up outside of God’s blessing.

Children are not born honoring their parents. It must be taught. It also must be caught. In other words, parents must model it in how they treat their children in an honorable way themselves.

3. Encourage them with sensitivity and consistency. In Ephesians 6:4, Paul commanded, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger…” The verb translated “do not provoke” is the third imperative in this passage. It means that parents should avoid driving their children to anger, discouragement, and frustration in their parenting. This means that there is to be a balance to a parent’s authority. This balance comes from knowing a child’s nature and being consistent in discipline.

What provokes children to anger? There are several ways parents might sin against their children in their parenting style, such as too much fault-finding, or by not spending enough time together to know the child, or by negative labeling of the child (i.e. Calling them “lazy, stupid, etc.”). Other ways that might “provoke” them is comparing them to other children, being inconsistent in discipline or being hypocritical (i.e. “Do as I say, not as I do”).

Parents are to be sensitive to their child’s personality and to be consistent in their rules and discipline. Their job is not just good behavior. It’s to bring them up in the Lord. Parents should aim past the behavior. They must aim at the heart.

4. Train them with appropriate discipline and instruction. The last part of Ephesians 6:4 says, “but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This verse contains the fourth and final imperative, which is translated, “bring them up.”  In the Greek original, the imperative verb means to nourish or train up to maturity. Parents should have the goal in mind to represent God’s authority to them until their child reaches the age where the role of authority shifts to God alone.

Parents are to bring up children according to two godly methods: 1) “discipline,” which implies physical training and correction, and 2) “instruction,” which implies verbal training and warning. In other words, parents are to use a two-pronged approach of both physical and verbal correction and instruction in bringing their children up in the Lord.

Parenting is a stewardship and a gift from the Lord. Let us determine, with God’s help, to raise up our children according to the four imperatives found in God’s Word.

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