Bible Exposition

The One Verse Job Description for Dads

by Chris Lynch

balloon of the word dad with neck ties in the background

A few weeks back our family did some traveling. Along the Interstate system you’ll often see exit signs for small towns, each of them trying to lure you onto the exit ramp to pay a visit. Some advertise a “historic downtown” or “historic district”.

Now I know that many of these towns have been around for a while and have features that are special to residents. But sometimes those advertisements are a little misleading, as if every downtown were a miniature Plymouth Plantation or Williamsburg, just dripping with history. In most cases, it’s probably true that those downtowns may technically be historical settings, but there’s no guarantee for passersby that it’s worth stopping to see something special, just because the sign says so.

Something Special

A Christian family can be “Christian” in name only, or it can grow into something that is so adorning that passersby can’t help but notice something special. It can be a beautiful model that impacts its surroundings for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only that, it impacts its participants for the gospel too—its members, the husbands, wives, dads, moms, and kids.

But in order for the family to be a place where that happens, the role of the Christlike parent—particularly the Christlike dad—is essential. And Ephesians 6:4 sums up our calling succinctly and memorably. It’s a one-verse job description for us, guys! Believing dads must adorn the gospel of Jesus to our children. Your role is not surviving them. Your role is proclamation and instruction of the gospel to them.

Paul doesn’t mention fathers by accident here. Dads, in Christ’s structure you model his headship in your home. Just as in your love for your wife (5:25-33), you model Christ’s patient care and instruction for his church with your kids. You are the one ultimately accountable.

Put off overbearing authoritarianism

In Ephesians 4:22-24 Paul presents the put off-put on principle to his readers as key to the new life all believers pursue in Christ. And the whole second half of Ephesians presents example after example of that, and that’s what we have presented in our verse here.

So what are parents to put off? “Do not provoke your children to anger.” We would all agree that that sounds bad, but if we’re honest as dads we’d have to say that also sounds pretty typical.

We resort to overbearing, authoritarian tactics to conquer our children when our selfish desires are being challenged by the frustrations of family life.

When we set unreasonable rules just so we can have peace and quiet. When we lash out in anger at accidents at the dinner table. When we shame their fears or social shortcomings because they embarrass us. When we impatiently demand adherence to our demands instead of instructing and explaining the why where appropriate. When we hypocritically demand attitudes or guidelines for them while selfishly modeling the opposite in our own actions.

All these and many more we can identify with to our shame. That’s part of the daily walk that reflects who we were before the Gospel’s impact. These are traits of spiritually dead people. Paul says put them off.

Put off selfish provocation

How can dads unnecessarily provoke? We can provoke our children to anger and frustration with too much discipline—resorting to mindless, reactionary punishment when patient instruction is needed.

Conversely, we can provoke them with not enough discipline or inconsistent discipline. We can shame instead of protect. We can jump to conclusions instead of patiently analyzing a situation before acting. We can fail here by not taking each child’s unique makeup and struggles into account by lazily treating each one alike.

Colossians 3:21, a parallel passage, commands parents not to provoke their children, “lest they be discouraged.” So it’s not just anger we can provoke them to, right? Bottom line here: Instead of imitating God by walking in love before our children, we’re instead teaching them a twisted, harmful perspective of God himself and failing to model their Savior.

Put on patient disciple-making

Instead, Paul says to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Meet your children’s greatest need—their spiritual growth. Dad, your job is to equip them to serve Jesus in every way possible. That’s discipleship—making and training Christ-followers and Christ-reflectors. And the tools we’ve been given are discipline and instruction. These terms have lots of overlap, but there are some features that separate them.

Provide discipline with the Word

Equipping our children and enabling them to serve Christ includes revealing and correcting what is wrong. Hebrews 12 compares this calling to God’s own working in our lives. “The Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Heb. 12:5-6). For a parent to avoid correction because it’s too hard or for fear of harming your relationship with them is to deprive your children of one of the vital aspects of their growth—and to fail to teach them a vital aspect of their God’s great love.

Our greatest tool in our correction is the Word of God. Show them why something is wrong—how it dishonors God, disobeys him, attacks who he is, and belittles what Jesus did to pay for it.

Provide guidance from the Word

This is the “instruction” Paul references. Your kids don’t need to hear your thoughts as much as they need to hear God’s. Dad’s, how central is God’s Word in your home? How high of a priority do you place on family discussion time centered on Biblical truth? How much does what God thinks about a decision or situation come up in your home?

This requires everyday talk combined with regularly scheduled study together with our children. Let them know what you are learning. Let them know what God’s Word commands of them. Remind them of reasons to praise Him. And expose them to the Gospel—let them know what Jesus has done and is doing to make you and them a new people. His words that lead to His glory through that child’s life.

Paul uses the term bring them up—this is a process that requires long-term patient commitment. Like your kids, we as believers are immature, slow learners. We fail. We don’t listen the first time. Our growth to spiritual maturity is slow. But Christ’s approach to that growth is full of patience, love, and forgiveness. And it’s also successful. Parents, through your discipleship of your children you model Christ’s work in his people.

Called to Adorn!

As believers, we are made alive to good works (Eph. 2:10). To love one another (5:2) and submit to one another as we imitate and revere Christ (5:21). And those Christlike good works must start in our homes. It’s where we portray most clearly who we really are. In your home, you preach Christ to yourself, to the members of your family, to your church, to the lost, to everyone around you.

Your family is a place where Jesus has chosen both to model the work of His gospel and to continue the work of His gospel. To adorn it—to reveal its impact and attractiveness. And the best part is that this is his work—he can do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us for His glory. What a privilege to be a Christian dad!

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