One of the more disturbing battlefronts of sin in my life is that of anger towards my children. Those whom I love the dearest can at times be on the receiving end of my worst outbursts. God knows this special temptation for fathers and their children. Through the apostle Paul, we are commanded, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). He has given instruction about children and parents (plural) in verses 1-3. But he narrows in with this specific challenge to dads (not moms) regarding anger in verse 4. Why does anger so quickly flare up between dads and their kids?
John Piper offers some sound instruction on this:
“In Ephesians 6:4, Paul begins by saying that fathers should not do something. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.” Of all the things Paul could have encouraged fathers not to do, he chooses this one. Amazing. Why this one? Why not, Don’t discourage them? Or pamper them? Or tempt them to covet or lie or steal? Or why not, Don’t abuse them? Or neglect them? Or set a bad example for them? Or manipulate them? Of all the things he could have warned fathers against, why this: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger”?
He doesn’t tell us why. So let me guess from what I know of Scripture and life. I’ll suggest two reasons. First, he warns against provoking anger because anger is the most common emotion of the sinful heart in when it confronts authority. Dad embodies authority. Apart from Christ, the child embodies self-will. And when the two meet, anger flares. A two-year-old throws a tantrum and a teenager slams the door—or worse.
So I think Paul is saying, there is going to be plenty of anger with the best of parenting, so make every effort, without compromising your authority or truth or holiness, to avoid provoking anger. Consciously be there for the child with authority and truth and holiness in ways that try to minimize the response of anger. We’ll come back to how.
The second reason, Paul may focus on not provoking anger in our children is because this emotion devours almost all other good emotions. It deadens the soul. It numbs the heart to joy and gratitude and hope and tenderness and compassion and kindness. So Paul knows that if a dad can help a child not be overcome by anger, he may unlock his heart to a dozen other precious emotions that make worship possible and make relationships sweet.”
He goes on:
“The point I am stressing is this: When Paul says in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger,” don’t just stop doing things that provoke anger; start doing things that remove anger—overcome anger. Start doing things that awaken in the heart of a child other wonderful emotions so that they are not devoured by anger—the great emotion eater.
The main task in all this is that you overcome your own anger and replace it with tenderhearted joy. Joy that spills over onto your children. When the mouth of dad is mainly angry, the tender emotions of a child are consumed. In other words, being the kind of father God calls us to be means being the kind of Christian and the kind of husband God calls us to be.”
My pastor, Howard Dial, also wrote some challenging words on anger in his weekly bulletin article.
“A father’s love for his children is to be supernatural and expressed in hundreds of ways. Fathers, God can make it possible for you to be patient beyond yourself by not giving up when your children disappoint you. You won’t reject them or yell at them when they embarrass you in front of others. You will tirelessly answer questions. Fathers with four and five year olds have some special opportunities to show their love toward sons and daughters whose imagination is at its height, who are meeting the challenges of learning to get along with others, and who have boundless energy.
A father’s love is not arrogant. It doesn’t attempt to bully his children into submission by brute force, threats, and the refusal to say I am or “I was wrong, will you forgive me?” Men, we do have a struggle with our pride don’t we? How easily it can get a choke hold on us and keep us from humbling ourselves in repentance and forgiveness.”
I so desperately want to be a kind, tender-hearted, joy-filled, and holy father to Cali, Carson, and Katie. But unfortunately, I just don’t have it in me. I can’t do it . . . alone. By the grace of God at work through the Holy Spirit’s application of the gospel to my life, I can shepherd the hearts of my children in such a way that does not unnecessarily provoke them to anger. Please pray for me, that “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander” would be put away from me, “along with all malice.” That I would be kind to my children, “tender-hearted, forgiving” them, “just as God in Christ also has forgiven” me (Eph. 4:31-32). May our home be a happy one because Christ is there and His love is experienced and displayed in extraordinary measure through the ordinary happenings of everyday life!