Biblical Fathering: On Being Firm

Part three of a four-part series on fatherhood.

As a kid, hanging out at my friend Steve’s house was great, because we could do almost anything. Housekeeping was, shall we say, loose, so we could cook hot dogs on forks over the open flame on the gas stove, shoot his BB gun in the house, and have a physics lesson by daring each other to touch the refrigerator handle and the cold-water faucet at the same time. The results were “electrifying,” especially if your hands were wet or your feet were bare.

We could do all of this because parental supervision was minimal. It’s amazing how wild and crazy twelve-year-olds can get when unfettered by normal parental restraint. It seemed like loads of fun at the time because it was so different from my parent’s orderly home.

As I look back, I am grateful for having been raised in a Christian home where rules existed and were firmly and consistently enforced. Mom worked part-time and was there when we arrived home after school. Dad was a Navy veteran and used to say he liked things “shipshape.” Of course, there were times when we broke things or fought until someone cried, but order was always restored. It may not have seemed to be as much fun as Steve’s house, but it was a whole lot healthier and safer.

In this four-part series on biblical fathering, we are using Paul’s instructions found in Ephesians 6:4 where he writes,

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Last time we looked at the phrase “bring them up,” which is translated from the Greek word ektrephete, which means to nourish a child with tenderness and compassion. Tenderness and compassion are not the first reactions many men have to the dynamics of child-rearing, but they are necessary traits that can be developed in a variety of situations.

Fathers are to “bring up” their children. 

Now, in part three of the series, we’ll look at the phrase “discipline and instruction.” Here Paul is instructing fathers on the need to be firm, but in a measured and biblical way. The Greek word Paul uses that is translated “discipline” (paideia) means to train someone in proper rules of conduct and behavior. The Greek word Paul uses for “instruction” (nouthesia) is an interesting word choice. Nouthesia does not mean to punish but rather to appeal to the moral consciousness and instill a sense of error—call it guilt, if you like—so that punishment is unnecessary. Paul uses the same word in 1 Corinthians 10:11 where he warns Christians that what happened to the disobedient Israelites in the wilderness was written down as a clear warning to instruct Christians of the danger of apostasy.

The verb from the same root describes the process of biblical counseling advocated by Jay Adams and many others called “nouthetic counseling.” Nouthetic counseling advocates using Scripture as the primary means to address behaviors to bring about “change by caring confrontation.”

Fathers need to both discipline and instruct their children.

When Paul says to instruct, he’s referring to what is said to the child. When he says fathers are to discipline, he’s talking about what is done to the child. Just as fathers can encourage by a pat on the back, so too they can correct by a pat to the “seat of learning” as Ken Taylor describes it in his book Quotable Quotations. Taylor adds this:

To refuse to discipline a child is to refuse the clear command of God. A child who does not learn to obey both parents will find it much harder to obey God. (p. 1182)

Fathers bring about obedience in their children by the proper application of discipline, when necessary, and instruction at all times.

Fathers need to set the example.

It is essential for Christian fathers to set the proper example by their obedience to the Lord. When fathers fail to demonstrate a Christ-centered life, then discipline and instruction can become a “do as I say, not as I do” proposition.

But when fathers are obedient to the command to be the spiritual leader of their family, when they live in obedience to Christ and are committed to being fair, flexible, and firm in a biblical way, the children begin to understand the need for obedience to the authority of their Christ-centered father. They may not always agree with their father, and they will not fully comprehend why his instruction is important, until they become parents. But when they do, you will have instilled the biblical example of discipline and instruction that is commanded of fathers—and essential in harmonious family relations.

Click here for Part 1: “Biblical Fathering: On Being Fair"

Click here for Part 2: “Biblical Fathering: On Being Flexible"

Click here for Part 4: “Biblical Fathering: On Being Forthright"

Related Article: The Gut-Wrenching Pain of Letting Go and Trusting God with Your Children

Recommended: Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp