God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians: God’s New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (LV) God’s Household Rules: Marriage and Family (10) The Nurture and Admonition of the Lord

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on September 24, 2006

Ephesians 6:4

Download Audio

The Lord’s Day
September 24, 2006

Ephesians 6:4
“God’s New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (LV)
God’s Household Rules: Marriage and Family (10):
The Nurture and Admonition of the Lord”

Dr. J.
Ligon Duncan III

Amen. Please be seated. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite
you to turn with me to the Book of Ephesians again, chapter six, as we continue
through this section on household rules. Last week we were looking at Ephesians
6:1-3, a section in which the Apostle Paul gives God’s commands to Christian
children, and we said that Christian children, in order to live out the gospel
in the home, in order to live out their personal embrace of the lordship of
Christ, must obey their parents for three reasons…three motivations Paul gives
them: Because it’s right; because it’s commanded; and because obedience to this
command is connected to…it comes along with a gracious promise from God.

Now Paul continues to talk to parents and children
in the passage we’re going to look to tonight in Ephesians 6:4, but now his
focus is on Christian parents; and, interestingly, having acknowledged the full
parental authority that children are to obey and respond to with an obedience
that is grounded in their understanding that that obedience is right, and it’s
God-commanded, and it’s good, and it’s gracious; having already asserted that
kind of awesome parental authority that has been vested into mothers and fathers
by God, Paul speaks to Christian parents, and especially to fathers, giving them
a profound directive about their Christian parenting and asking them to exercise
restraint in the way that they parent.

It’s a very interesting passage. It begins with a
negative command, and it proceeds to a positive command. That’s a very typical
Pauline way of talking about things. You remember in First Timothy when he’s
talking to Timothy about pastoring, the very first command that he gives to
Timothy is negative, and then he moves to the positive command. It’s a way that
the Apostle Paul says ‘Don’t do this; this is not a good thing to do, don’t do
that; but on the other hand, do this.’ It’s a typical way that he teaches, and
it’s a good model for us.

Well, we come to Ephesians 6:4, then. Let’s give
attention to God’s word. And before we do, let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, as we consider this
privilege and responsibility of Christian parenting, we ask that You would
encourage us. Just as Mark prayed tonight, there is indeed a broken heart in
every pew, and how many of us have experienced broken hearts in relation to our
children? How many of us question our parenting…the job that we’re doing? We
cry out to You, O God, and look for help. As we study Your word tonight, we
pray, O God, that You would grant by Your Spirit much encouragement to faithful,
earnest, Christian parents. We can always find things in which we have fallen
short, O Lord, and tonight give us wisdom and give us encouragement, for we ask
it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear God’s word in Ephesians 6:4.

“And fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the
discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

In this passage, the Apostle Paul gives a
two-sided directive…or, if you will, a negative and a positive command to
Christian parents.
On the one hand, they are not to parent in such a way
that exasperates their children. They are to exercise wisdom and restraint in
their parenting so that, rather than being provoked to anger, their children are
encouraged to righteousness. On the other hand, they are indeed to rear their
children, to bring them up, in the discipline (notice again the negative and the
instruction) of the Lord. There are to be constraints, and there is to be
instruction. Let’s give attention to the two sides of this directive tonight.

Let’s begin in the first part of verse 4 where the
Apostle Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.” Here,
Christian parents are given the instruction by God through the Apostle Paul to
take care not to provoke their children. It’s a very interesting way to begin to
address parents. And notice especially that this command is laid upon fathers,
even though in the passage preceding children are called upon to obey their
parents. This particular direction is pushed towards fathers. This may be for a
number of reasons.

For one thing, in Paul’s day, especially in the
Roman world, a father had something akin to absolute authority in his home. His
children were just another among all his possessions. You can imagine with that
kind of a situation that there may have been a temptation to abuse that
authority. We in fact know that that authority was abused very regularly in the
Roman world by fathers. For instance, little boys were preferred over little
girls, and very often when a little girl was born to a mother and father, that
father with his absolute authority would decree that that little girl should be
set out and exposed and left to die. It was a common practice in the Roman
world. Christians bravely and prophetically challenged that particular practice
in Roman family life, and in fact would very often go and rescue the children
who were being exposed to death and bring them into a loving, nurturing
Christian home. Perhaps for this reason, because of the power of the Roman
father, perhaps for that reason the Apostle Paul especially gives this direction
to fathers.

Of course, there may be other reasons as well. In
our own culture, there can be a temptation for fathers to have a passive role in
the parenting and nurturing and instruction of children, because the mother is
with the children more, and the father less often with the children because the
mother is involved in a regular regimen of discipline and instruction, and the
father is popping in incrementally at specific points during the way. There may
be a temptation for fathers to cede some of their responsibilities, to dump some
of those responsibilities, on their wives…to let their wives take the ball and
run with it, and leave their own responsibilities personally unfulfilled. This
again is a good passage to correct that kind of tendency to passivity.

But whatever the case is, the Apostle Paul
especially directs this to fathers, because fathers will give an account for
this before God. They are, in the final analysis, the ones who are responsible
for the spiritual well-being of their whole families, and they, like the elders
of the church, will give account for the church of the living God, so also
fathers will give an account before God for the nurture that has gone on (or has
not) in their homes.

And in this passage the Apostle Paul is calling
fathers (and parents) to a wise use of parental power. There’s a parallel
passage that you may already know of. I invite you to turn with me to it, to
Colossians 3:21, which may help expand. These words are so brief, they’re so
terse, they’re so packed with meaning it may be helpful to you to look at the
parallel passage in Colossians 3:21: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children,
so that they will not lose heart.”

You see again the negative command there given to
Christian fathers, that in the rearing of their children they take care not to
discourage, not to dishearten them, not to exasperate their children. Perhaps
again this command is given in the context of a destructive kind of pattern of
parenting, a kind of criticism or perhaps harshness which breaks the spirit of a
child. And the Apostle Paul is concerned that Christian children not lose heart,
so that he’s encouraging fathers to exercise a kind of restraint in their
parenting, so that punishment and correction is balanced with time spent with
children, and positive nurture and nourishment, teaching and entertainment, and
encouragement both by verbal instruction and example, pointing them to Christ.
And this passage perhaps helps us to understand a little bit about what Paul is
saying when he says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.”

This is not a passage, by the way, that is saying to
Christian fathers and mothers that you must never ever for any reason make your
children mad. That’s not what this passage is saying…sorry, kids! This
is not what this passage is saying. There will be times, dear young Christian
children, when you want to do things that your parents will say “No” and it will
make you mad, because you want to do it. Sorry. Paul’s not telling your parents
that they can’t do that. They can do that any time they want to do that, OK?
It’s their job. It’s their job to exercise their best discernment about your
activities for your eternal well-being, and there will be times when they tell
you that you cannot do certain things and it will make you mad; and other times,
they will tell you that you must do certain things, and that will make you mad,
and that is perfectly OK! That’s not what the Apostle Paul is getting at.

No, the Apostle Paul is talking about a kind of
care in the parenting of children that prevents a context being developed in
which children are exasperated, or provoked to frustration and anger.
Let me
try and put some feet on this particular command by giving ten applications of
this particular general principle (and I want to thank Dr. Wayne Mack and his
wonderful book, Strengthening Your Marriage, for these ideas).

First of all, Christian parents, in obeying the
command “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger,” should take care not
to expect more or less of their children than they are capable of giving and
Have you ever seen a parent that wants a child to do something
because that something is very important to that parent, but it is beyond the
present capacity (and maybe beyond the interests) of the child?

I was reading a story in one of the commentaries of
a man who was a very, very accomplished horse rider. He had, in fact, told his
wife, “I learned how to ride before I learned how to walk.” And when his son was
three years old, he put him up on a horse, dressed him as a cowboy, and wanted
him to ride like he had ridden when he was a very young child. And his son burst
out crying and hated being on the horse and was upset–and the father was furious
at his son. He wanted his son to be able to do what he had done when he was a
little boy. His wife said to him, “Your son is not you.” It’s a very important
thing for parents to remember. So often parents want children to do things that
are very, very important to them personally, but which are part of the unique
gifting that God has given to the parent — the mother or the father — but may or
may not be part of the unique gifting or abilities that the Lord has given to
the child. Anybody have a father who’s a great athlete, and a son who’s not
particularly good at athletics, but he’s great at piano or art, or communication
or some other aspect? And we want to make sure that we don’t expect more than
our children, or other than our children, are capable of doing and giving.

On the other hand, you don’t want to expect less.
How many parables of parenting have we seen in the last fifteen or twenty years
in the popular media which drive home the point that parents shouldn’t
underestimate the abilities of their own children? That’s a hugely significant
thing. So often parents will underestimate the capacities of their children,
either at some aspect of learning or of accomplishment, and this is one way that
Christian parents can exasperate or provoke to anger, or frustrate the children:
by expecting more of them than they are capable of doing or giving, or by
expecting less of them than they are capable of doing or giving. The Apostle
Paul is encouraging wisdom in a wise use of parental power in this regard.

Secondly, this passage means that Christian
parents need to be careful about the way that they reprimand or correct their
Christian parents need to be careful about the way that they
reprimand or correct their children. This should be done so that it’s very clear
that the reprimanding (that the discipline, that the correction) first of all is
for the best interest of the child. The child’s best interest is always at
heart. Secondly, and behind and under it all, is that the glory of God is behind
this, not just parental frustration; not simply parental exasperation about
something, but the child’s best interest and the glory of God. And a failure to
reprimand and correct with these kinds of godly interests in mind can promote
the frustration and the exasperation of children.

Thirdly, and this may be the most important thing
in this list, in order to not provoke our children to anger, as parents we must
practice what we preach.
Children seem to have built in “bunk detectors,”
and when they see us telling them to do something that we don’t do ourselves,
they can smell that hypocrisy a mile away. And it works deeply into their
hearts, and they do not forget it. And from time to time it will pop up and we
will hear it. Perhaps we will have it presented back to us in the course of
engaging with them; but practicing what we preach, avoiding double standards,
avoiding hypocrisy is vitally significant in our nurture of Christian children.

By the way, this impacts even the way we minister to
your children as a church in the context of the Youth Program. Let me just give
you one example of this. If our youth workers have a tremendous impact on your
child…and we have some wonderful people here…I wish I could introduce you to
all the youth staff at First Presbyterian Church, so you can see the quality of
people that are involved in our young people’s lives on a regular basis. It’s a
privilege to work alongside these folks, these young men and women. But if they
have a profound effect on a child who is in a home where the parents themselves
are not taking the lead in the nurture and admonition of Christian children,
they’re not taking the lead in setting an example for godliness and the priority
of God in life, then one of two things will happen.

Either the young people, seeing that distinction —
‘I’ve got these youth workers that are saying it’s all about God, it’s all about
God’s glory…you know, live for Christ, going to serve Him; we’re going to bear
witness to Him, we’re going to have His word impact every area of our life, our
marriage, our vocation, our school, everything.’ And then, they look back home
and Mom and Dad don’t share those interests, don’t share those priorities, don’t
share that worldview, that outlook…then one of two things is going to happen.
Either that young person is going to say ‘You know what? This is all bunk,
because Mom and Dad don’t do this. Mom and Dad don’t care about this. Even
though this very intelligent, attractive young person that works in the Youth
Department is telling me that this is the real thing, it must not be the real
thing, because Mom and Dad don’t care about it.’

Or, the other thing that can happen is that they
look at Mom and Dad and they say ‘You know what? Mom and Dad are pagans. They’re
hypocrites. They have me doing this, but they don’t really care about God. They
don’t really care about the gospel. They don’t really care about Christ.’

And look, folks, neither of those things is the
scenario that we want as we come alongside of you with the Youth Program and
with the nurture and help and assistance of the church. That’s all we can offer
you, is nurturing help and assistance. We can’t replace the responsibility that
parents bear in this regard. We come alongside to be a help and an
encouragement, to provide a context of positive nurture and positive peer
pressure, and to complement what you’re doing in the lives of your children; but
if we’re doing a good job and you’re not, then your children are going to
analyze the situation in one of those two directions, and that’s not what we
want. We want to see whole families following after Christ, following after the
gospel, growing in grace together, and we want to be complementing and
augmenting and supplementing what is happening in your home. So practicing what
we preach is vital.

And in connection with this there’s a fourth
thing, and that is simply this: the best way to not provoke our children to
anger, to exasperate our children, is to impart the faith via prayer, personal
example, and precept, in that order
…to impart the faith via prayer,
personal example, and precept, in that order.

Now I’m going to come back to this at the end when
we get to the positive side of the Apostle Paul’s direction, but don’t forget
those words: The main way we as parents advance the faith in the lives of our
children is through prayer, our personal example, and through instructing them
in the truth of the word.

Fifthly, we ought to aim to cultivate good times
with our children.
It ought to be an agenda on our part to create settings,
situations, time and environments in which there can be positive nurture. I’ve
often said to students in the past, “Have you ever noticed how Jesus related to
the disciples? If Jesus had corrected the disciples every time they deserved
correction and it had been recorded, do you know how the Gospels would have
read? ‘Stop that, Peter! Don’t do that, John! That was a stupid thing to do,
Matthew!’ The whole interaction between Jesus and the apostles would have been
one litany of criticisms. He could have legitimately criticized them at every
point, every day, every hour, every week. But the Lord Jesus found numerous
opportunities to cultivate positive encouragement with His disciples, and
parents ought to, as well.

Sixthly, parents must freely communicate love and
That looks different in different homes. I don’t want to build
any particular stereotype. This was something that my Dad had a hard time
knowing how to do, early on. But I saw Dad grow in this area. Dad was a Marine.
He was from the Second World War. He was the child of an alcoholic father who
would disappear for two or three days on a two or three day drunk. He’d go off
fishing with his handyman, who worked with them at the house; and Dad and Mom
and the rest of the children wouldn’t see him, and then he’d show up again. He
showed very little affection towards my Dad. He was very critical of him. Dad
had no good example in the realm of showing affection to a son. And so when my
Dad began to be able to say “I love you” to us, I can remember that. I can
remember that impact. His hugs, his verbal expressions of love, meant an
enormous amount to me. And the more I knew about his upbringing, the more they
meant to me. But without making any particular stereotype about how we’re going
to freely communicate love and affection, it ought to be the agenda of every
Christian parent to do so. It’s one way that we keep from provoking our children
to frustration.

Seventh, we need to allow our children to fail
and to make mistakes, and to know that our love for them is not conditioned upon
their perfection.
We’re serious about their godliness; we’re serious about
their achieving everything that they’re able, because we want them to exercise
the gifts that God has given to them. We expect them to be able to perform at
the level of their own capabilities, but our love is not conditioned upon that

Eighth, as we make expectations and rules and
regulations known to them, make sure that they’re reasonable.
Make sure as
we make expectations, rules, and regulations known to them, make sure that
they’re reasonable.

Many of you know the story of Robert E. Lee’s going
to Washington College (now Washington and Lee). When he got there the honor code
was about “that” thick. He announced to his staff and faculty that the honor
code was out. Now, this was Robert E. Lee–announcing ‘The honor code is out, now
that I’m president.’ You know what he replaced the honor code with? One
sentence: “We will at all times act as Christian gentlemen.” Because Lee’s
philosophy was this: Don’t make more rules than you can enforce. It is a very
wise philosophy that at all times there’s one rule: at all times we will conduct
ourselves as Christian gentlemen. Well, that pretty much covers it all! But make
sure as you make expectations, rules, and regulations known that they’re

Ninth, one way that Christian parents can keep
from exasperating their children, one very important way, is to admit our own
mistakes, our own sins, and to ask forgiveness when we fail them.
How are
our children going to learn to ask forgiveness when they have really messed up,
if they have never seen us ask forgiveness when we have really messed up?

And tenth, make it easy and desirable for them to
approach you.
Make it easy and desirable for them to approach you. The older
they get, more and more the one thing that you have is your relationship with
them. That’s the one persuasive, disciplinary, instructive device that you have,
that power of relationship. So make it easy and desirable for them to approach
you. (I would encourage you, by the way, to pick up Wayne Mack’s book,
Strengthening Your Marriage
, and look at the Scripture references and the
study questions that he attaches to these particular ten points of application.
I think they are very, very helpful.)

Now let’s move to the positive side of the

Christian parents, especially fathers, are to take
care not to provoke their children. On the other hand, the positive side,
Christian parents are to bring their children up in the discipline and
instruction of the Lord.
Listen again to Paul’s words:

“Fathers, bring them up in the discipline and
instruction of the Lord.”

Now, I know no better way of outlining what Paul is
asking us to do there than to point to the third vow that every Christian parent
in this congregation takes at baptism. And early on when I was here, I read a
note from Dr. Baird to a Christian parent in which he said, “You know, if we
would only fulfill the third baptismal vow, we could do nothing more significant
in the lives of our children than that.” And that has stuck with me ever since.
Every parent that has a child that is brought for baptism at First Presbyterian
Church, I share that wisdom that I learned from Dr. Baird, and it’s so true. I
only remind you of that vow; you hear it said Sunday after Sunday, at least six
times a year at the time that we bring covenant children for baptism, but it
goes like this:

“Do you now unreservedly dedicate your child to God, and promise in humble
reliance upon divine grace that you will endeavor to set before him a godly
example; that you will pray with and for him; that you will teach him the
doctrines of our holy religion; and that you will strive by all the means of
God’s appointment to bring him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?”

And I want you to look at six parts of that brief question,
and think through these as a part of your fulfillment of your responsibility as
Christian parents.

First of all, notice that first phrase: “Do you
now unreservedly dedicate your child to God…?”
That particular part of
the question has echoes of the dedication of the firstborn in the Old Testament,
doesn’t it? The firstborn was presented to God, and a sacrifice was offered in
his place. Now, whatever that ceremony meant, one thing that it was meant to
drive home was simply this: Our children do not belong to us; they belong to
God. We have been given the enormous privilege and delight and duty and
responsibility of being stewards for God of them, and that first phrase just
reminds us to remind ourselves over and over: This child is a gift from God to
me, whom I care for for such a short period of time–18, 19, 20, 21, 22 years–not
very long. (It may feel like it’s long, if you’ve got a 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 year
old right now, but it’s not very long.) For many of you, you’ll look back in
just a couple of years and you’ll say, “Where did the time go?” When she’s
walking down the aisle with you, or when he’s walking down the aisle towards you
or from you–where did the time go? It’s not that long. But we remember that
these children belong to God, and it’s our privilege, our joy, our duty, our
delight to nurture them in the truth of the Lord.

Secondly: “Do you now unreservedly dedicate your
child to God, and promise in humble reliance upon divine grace…?”
Let me
just stop right there. That’s one of the most precious parts of that vow for
Christian parents, because it reminds us that it all depends on the grace of
God. Even our best efforts depend upon the grace of God in our young people,
because we’re being called to do something that’s beyond our ability to do.

Wouldn’t every Christian parent love to have a magic
wand, where they could wave that magic wand and their children would always do
right, and they’d marry the right person, and they’d make the right choices, and
they wouldn’t fall in with the wrong crowd, and they wouldn’t mess up at
school…and wouldn’t you love to have that wand? And you know, I’ve never found
it. I’ve been looking for it in a shop, all over the place. I’ve never found it.
And so one of the things that the Lord teaches you in parenting is that you have
to be utterly dependent upon Him. I’ve talked with so many folks whose kids are
already out of the home, and they say, “You know, it’s no different now. I still
have to continue to trust in the Lord as I watch my children go through
difficult things, even now that they’re off on their own, and I can’t fix the
situation, I can’t change the situation.” We have to learn to depend upon the
grace of the Lord.

Then here are the things that we promise to do:

(1) To set before him a godly example;

(2) To pray with and for him;

(3) To teach him the doctrines of our holy religion; and,

(4) By all the means of God’s appointment, to bring him up in the nurture
and admonition of the Lord.

[I have a friend who, when he was giving his
testimony before the Presbytery to become a gospel minister, he said, “I was
reared in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but mostly the admonition!”]

Well, in those four particular parts of the
baptismal vow we see a beautiful outline of exactly what the Apostle Paul is
asking Christian parents to do when he says that we’re to bring them up in the
discipline and instruction of the Lord. And remembering that pattern of example,
prayer, teaching, nurture and admonition is one of the vital keys of godly

A few weeks ago Matt Lucas, who I think works with
RUF at the University of South Carolina…he’s on staff at First Presbyterian
Church in Columbia, South Carolina, was commenting in the First Pres newsletter
from First Pres/Columbia about a book that he’s been reading by William Still,
called The Work of the Pastor. William Still was the pastor of the
Gilcomston South Church of Scotland in Aberdeen for many, many years…over 50
years. And Mr. Still, in the course of that book on the pastoral ministry,
shares this comment, and I think it’s very telling in light of what we’ve just
said about the baptismal vow and about Paul’s instructions in Ephesian 6:4. He

“Every autumn I have a spate of letters from fond parents, teachers,
guardians, and monitors appealing to me to follow up on such-and-such a
youngster who is away from home at college for the first time, and who needs to
be hunted, followed, shadowed, intercepted and driven to Christian meetings. I
have scarcely ever known this desperate technique to work. I understand the
panic of parents and guardians, but it is too late then to try high-pressure
tactics.” [Listen to what he says.] “Prayer, example, and precept, in that
order, are the means of bringing up children and young folk in the faith; nor
will high pressure tactics and brainwashing techniques avail when young folk
have gone off on their own. Some young folk, alas, will have their fling. They
will sow their wild oats, and come at last to heal, sadly, just like the
prodigal son. It is where Christians pathetically put their trust in external
techniques and artificial stratagems that young folk go astray. Nothing takes
the place of the realism of holy living and secret wrestling before God in
prayer for our young people.”

I think Mr. Still has a point there that all of us
need to listen to, and it all goes back to the baptismal vow, which all goes
back to Ephesians 6:4.

Prayer, example, and precept–the nurture and
admonition of the Lord. This is what Paul asks of us as Christian parents as we
bring ourselves up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, give us grace to desire
above all to see our children love Christ and walk with Him, and know the gospel
and love Your word, and live as Christians. And then with that desire in our
hearts, grant that we would live those same priorities, those same desires,
ourselves. Grant that we would be faithful in prayer for our young people, grant
that we would be faithful in reading the word to them, in bringing them to
worship, and taking care that they’re put into contexts where they’re encouraged
in the faith, whether it’s in school or youth group. But then, O God, help us to
entrust our children to You, because in the end, they’re Yours anyway. We ask
these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Please stand for God’s blessing.

Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, until the day break and the shadows flee away.

transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the
web page. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic
extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically
accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established
style template. Should there be questions regarding grammar or
theological content, the reader should presume any error to be with
the transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For
full copyright, reproduction and permissions information, please
visit the

FPC Website, Copyright, Reproduction & Permission

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.

To view recordings of our entire services, visit our Facebook page.

Print This Post