by Issa Haddad

Many Fathers desire to be part of their kids lives growing up. Many desire to have  a significant role in their training them and bring them up. But the confusion sometimes happens when the fathers don’t know what their role and responsibility in raising their kids.

Here in this short article we will unpack a verse in Ephesians where Paul speaks about the role of the fathers in bringing their children up.

Paul in Ephesians 6:4 states,

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

In this verse we have two commands in this verse, one is “do not provoke” and the second is “bring them up”. In the Greek text Both of these verbs  are parsed as present, active, imperative. The present tense in Greek, primarly, is progressive (Wallace, abridge, p. 219), i.e. the action is on going. What Paul is saying here then is, that the Fathers, are not to provoke their children on an ongoing habit, but rather they are to continually bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Now we want to outline the verse and give some practical applications on each point of the text.

Outline of the Passage

Theme of verse: Instructions for parents to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. How will they do that?

1. Negatively: They are to abstain from provoking their children to anger

2. Positively: They are to rather raising their children

3. How? by discipline and instruction in the Lord

Context of this Passage

This verse come in a context where Paul is giving the church instructions on relationships (Ephesians 5:22-6:9). Paul starts with speaking about the relationship between a husband and a wife (Ephesians 5:22-33). Then following he gives instruction to children who are to honor and obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3). Then instruction to fathers who are to raise their children (Ephesians 6:4). Then the closing of this section he gives instructions concerning the relationship of slaves and masters (Ephesians 6:5-9).

Exposition of Ephesians 6:4

1. Negatively: They are to abstain from provoking their children to anger

Although these instructions are directly speaking to the fathers, they may include the mothers as well. For the immediate context of this verse is vv. 1-3 in chapter 6. Where Paul speaks about the responsiblity of children to obey their parents. He switches from parents in v.1 to here v.4 fathers. Further, Paul is probably talking to fathers as leaders of their families and not as a separate category from mothers. Moreover, the Greek word used here for “fathers” is pateres. It’s usually the word for the male head of the family but sometimes is used to speak of the parents, encompassing both the mother and father (e.g. Hebrews 11:23).

Now let us unpack the word “provoke” in order to understand what God is saying to the fathers. The word “provoke” in Greek is parorgizo which means “to anger, irritate, to provoke to anger, irritation or resentment. The word is used twice in the New Testament, here and in Romans 10:19. In Romans 10:19 it is used of God in a positive sense where God is seeking the salvation of the nation of Israel but they are not turning to God so God used another nation (Gentiles) in order to provoke or stir to jealousy the nation of Israel to come to salvation.

However, here Paul use the word in its negative sense where the fathers are being rebuked by Paul not to provoke or irritate their children. The historical context of these words make these words more relevant. There was a law concerning father children relationship in the Roman Empire laws called the patria postestas, which literally meant “the father’s power.” Fathers in the Romans empire where hard even cruel sometimes with their children.

So Paul was speaking to a world where the children were severely abused. The parent-child relationship was as sick as it is in our society.

How can parents provoke their children?

John MacArthur in an article “Ways Parents Provoke” writes eight ways the parents could possibly provoke their children with. These ways are:

1) Well–meaning overprotection is a common cause of resentment in children. Parents who smother their children, overly restrict where they can go and what they can do, never trust them to do things on their own, and continually question their judgment build a barrier between themselves and their children—usually under the delusion that they are building a closer relationship. Children need careful guidance and certain restrictions, but they are individual human beings in their own right and must learn to make decisions on their own, commensurate with their age and maturity. Their wills can be guided but they cannot be controlled.

2) Another common cause of provoking children to anger is favoritism. Isaac favored Esau over Jacob and Rebekah preferred Jacob over Esau. That dual and conflicting favoritism not only caused great trouble for the immediate family but has continued to have repercussions in the conflicts between the descendants of Jacob and Esau until our present day! For parents to compare their children with each other, especially in the children’s presence, can be devastating to the child who is less talented or favored. He will tend to become discouraged, resentful, withdrawn, and bitter.

Favoritism by parents generally leads to favoritism among the children themselves, who pick up the practice from their parents. They will favor one brother or sister over the others and will often favor one parent over the other.

3) A third way parents provoke their children is by pushing achievement beyond reasonable bounds. A child can be so pressured to achieve that he is virtually destroyed. He quickly learns that nothing he does is sufficient to please his parents. No sooner does he accomplish one goal than he is challenged to accomplish something better. Fathers who fantasize their own achievements through the athletic skills of their sons, or mothers who fantasize a glamorous career through the lives of their daughters prostitute their responsibility as parents.

I once visited a young woman who was confined to a padded cell and was in a state of catatonic shock. She was a Christian and had been raised in a Christian family, but her mother had ceaselessly pushed her to be the most popular, beautiful, and successful girl in school. She became head cheerleader, homecoming queen, and later a model. But the pressure to excel became too great and she had a complete mental collapse. After she was eventually released from the hospital, she went back into the same artificial and demanding environment. When again she found she could not cope, she committed suicide. She had summed up her frustration when she told me one day, “I don’t care what it is I do, it never satisfies my mother.”

4) A fourth way children are provoked is by discouragement. A child who is never complimented or encouraged by his parents is destined for trouble. If he is always told what is wrong with him and never what is right, he will soon lose hope and become convinced that he is incapable of doing anything right. At that point he has no reason even to try. Parents can always find something that a child genuinely does well, and they should show appreciation for it. A child needs approval and encouragement in things that are good every bit as much as he needs correction in things that are not.

5) A fifth way provocation occurs is by parents’ failing to sacrifice for their children and making them feel unwanted. Children who are made to feel that they are an intrusion, that they are always in the way and interfere with the plans and happiness of the parents, cannot help becoming resentful. To such children the parents themselves will eventually become unwanted and an intrusion on the children’s plans and happiness.

6) A sixth form of provocation comes from failing to let children grow up at a normal pace. Chiding them for always acting childish, even when what they do is perfectly normal and harmless, does not contribute to their maturity but rather helps confirm them in their childishness.

7) A seventh way of angering children is that of using love as a tool of reward or punishment—granting it when a child is good and withdrawing it when he is bad. Often the practice is unconscious, but a child can sense if a parent cares for him less when is he disobedient than when he behaves. That is not how God loves and is not the way he intends human parents to love. God disciplines His children just as much out of love as He blesses them. “Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Heb. 12:6). Because it is so easy to punish out of anger and resentment, parents should take special care to let their children know they love them when discipline is given.

8) An eighth way to provoke children is by physical and verbal abuse. Battered children are a growing tragedy today. Even Christian parents—fathers especially—sometimes overreact and spank their children much harder than necessary. Proper physical discipline is not a matter of exerting superior authority and strength, but of correcting in love and reasonableness. Children are also abused verbally. A parent can as easily overpower a child with words as with physical force. Putting him down with superior arguments or sarcasm can inflict serious harm, and provokes him to anger and resentment. It is amazing that we sometimes say things to our children that we would not think of saying to anyone else—for fear of ruining our reputation!

2. Positively: They are to rather Raise their Children

But many of us reading this article thinking I don’t want to provoke my children or you where the victim of such treatment but you want to raise your children in the Lord. So Paul transition in his instruction to the positive instruction where parents are commanded to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Before we discuss these two nouns “discipline” and “instruction”. Here in this second point of our outline I would like to emphasize the importance of active and intentional involvement of the parents in the raising and up brining of their kids.

As I always heard it said, “If we will not be involved in raising your kids, the world and satan will.” The need for raising godly kids are urgent.

The verb “bring them up” again is an imperative verb in the Greek. Parents are to continually and on an ongoing basis are to be involved in the raising of their kids. The word speaks about the responsiblity of the parents to bring up their kids to maturity. In the sense of to train or educate till your kids are mature and able to be on their own.

Now we need to know specifically how can we train our kids.

3. How? by discipline and instruction of the Lord

Paul gives the parents two nouns that describe our responsibilities as parents in raising our kids. First we are to “discipline” our kids. This is the Greek word paideia and means “training, learning, instruction.” This word is used in Hebrews 12:5, 7-8, 11 and is translated “discipline” or “chastening.” There must be rules and regulations that lead to reward or punishment. The child is rewarded for keeping the rule and punished for breaking it. To nurture, then, is to train by rules and regulations enforced by rewards and punishments. And, of course, always in a context of love.

Second, parents are to instruct their kids. This word in Greek is nouthesia and means “verbal instruction with a view to correct.” For example, it’s saying, “If you keep doing that, you’re going to run into problems,” or , “I’ve got to counsel you about that.” Throughout Proverbs we read that the wise son will hear what his or her parents has to say.


God’s desire for us as parents to grow in our ability to nurture, train, discipline and instruct our children. If you desire to be a godly parent, I urge you to study this passage and apply it on your own life and style of parenting.

Recommended Reading

John MacArthur, The Fulfilled Family.

Tedd Tripp, Instructing a Child’s Heart.

Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart.