In this verse, God speaks to fathers. The task He gives them is to raise their children in such a way that they bring the child’s heart to the heart of God. Ultimately the children born to us are not our children. We are stewards of God’s children. A father’s task is to raise his children in such a way that they see the majesty and glory of God, experience God’s love, and learn to trust and follow Jesus for themselves.
We have a short window of opportunity to raise our children. We must transmit living faith by example as well as instruction. You fathers have authority delegated to you by God to do this, but you do not have the power to guarantee the outcome. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to convert and to transform a heart; so, your fathering must be done in humble reliance upon God. You do this by guarding your own heart, praying for your children and claiming God’s promises for them. Sometimes it takes a long time and you can become discouraged. Don’t give up!
Paul assumes that he is speaking to Christian fathers and he speaks to them as one who is over them in the Lord. Even Fathers are under authority! All Christians are called to nourish God’s children, not only those who are technically fathers; but fathers are probably addressed here because fathers have been given spiritual authority as the head of the family and fathers are the most likely to embitter their children. We need this command because Christian fathers are still sinful and we won’t see our own parenting faults unless the Holy Spirit opens our eyes.
Paul gives authority to Fathers over their children, but he immediately restricts this authority with a limitation. Fathers, don’t frustrate your children by provoking or goading them to resentment! Your ultimate goal is not to get your children to submit to you but to God. Nourish them with God’s truth. Don’t try to make them over in your own sinful image! You can provoke your children to anger by being overprotecting and over controlling, by showing favoritism between siblings, by pushing your children to success in order to fulfill your own dreams, and by expecting either too much or too little from them. You can also provoke your children by exercising poor discipline, by being overindulgent or needlessly discouraging, and by parental selfishness.
We are not free to discipline our children by any means we consider useful or necessary; we are to “bring them up.” This means to nourish and cherish them, to tenderly raise them with affection and nurture. Wayne Mack lists the following things that Christian fathers should do. Expect of your children what they are capable of accomplishing. Discipline them for the glory of God and for their good. Practice what you preach. Lead your children with prayer first, personal example second, and then rules for them to keep. Cultivate joy in your family life with family fun and togetherness, which will bind the family together with cords of love. Freely express love and affection as a married couple and for your children. Allow your children to try and fail, to learn and grow, and make it clear that you still love and accept and forgive them. Make reasonable rules and be consistent in enforcing them. Live the gospel in front of your children by admitting your own mistakes and asking forgiveness for them. Be approachable for your children so that if they have a problem, concern, doubt or fear, they will come to you first for help.
Fathers, you are to nurture your children by providing for them economically, emotionally and spiritually. You are to teach them the Word of God and also to correct, challenge, confront and admonish them when necessary. You are not an independent authority; make sure that all of your training and teaching is consistently Christian and consistent with the will of God. Fathers, give your children yourself and your time. Value your children and value the truth.
There is no perfect father except God, and He is your father. Even if you have failed in your fathering or your father has failed you, your Heavenly Father will not fail. He is not only our model for fathering; He is the one who fathers us.