Bringing Up Children

By Mark D. Roberts

December 11, 2019

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)


After urging children to honor their parents, Ephesians includes a short verse specifically for fathers. In the Roman world, fathers were uniquely responsible for the raising of their children, though mothers usually played a crucial role as well.

Silhouette of a dad swinging his daughters aroundThe first exhortation, “Do not exasperate your children,” assumes that fathers can exercise their parental authority in a way that unjustly stirs up anger in children. Of course there are times when fathers (and mothers) will upset their children even though the discipline they exercise is fair. But parents should be aware of the possibility of acting toward their children in ways that are not just.

The positive exhortation for fathers is to bring up children “in the training and instruction of the Lord.” This phrase could refer specifically to instruction in Christian doctrine. But it’s more likely that this verse teaches fathers that they are participating in the Lord’s work of training and instruction of children. Yes, fathers and mothers are responsible for bringing up their own children. But, more broadly, this is God’s work.

Why is this important? First of all, it reframes the ancient notion of absolute paternal authority. Fathers exercise their authority under the supreme authority of God. Moreover, since they are to be submitted to their brothers and sisters in Christ, they can be held accountable to raise their children with love, justice, and grace.

Second, the fact that children are to be brought up “in the training and instruction of the Lord” implies that this is something to be shared by the Christian community. You don’t have to have children of your own to participate “in the training and instruction of the Lord.” My own children, now in their twenties, are who they are today because of the gracious and wise influence of many other adults, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, mentors, and many others.

So, even though Ephesians 6:4 addresses fathers directly, it also speaks to mothers and to all who, as members of the body of Christ, share “in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Something to Think About:

If you are a parent, how are you doing with the “not exasperating your children” part of Ephesians 6:4?

Who helps you to parent your children in a way that honors the Lord?

Whether you are a parent or not, how do you participate in bringing up children “in the training and instruction of the Lord”?

Something to Do:

Whether you are a parent or not, look for an opportunity in the next few days to affirm a child.


Gracious God, today I want to pray for parents, both fathers and mothers. Give them wisdom, patience, love, and grace. When it’s right for them to discipline their children, help them to exercise justice and mercy. May they recognize that they are participating in your own work of training and instructing their own children.

May we all, no matter whether we are parents of children or not, join together to bring up children in your truth and love. Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project:
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Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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