Tools for Raising Kids

Parenting Tools: Discipline and Instruction

Ephesians 6:4


Before diving into this passage, I think it wise to review some of the information the Bible teaches about the children parents are to raise. In other words, we need a correct theology of kids (all ages).

Kids are sinners, not “innocent” creatures.  They are wretched sinners at birth, just like you (Romans 5:12, Psalms 51:5; Prov 22:15, Ps 58:3)! The world would have us believe that they are born naturally good and are not capable of or responsible for doing wrong.  They say that sooner or later the child’s good nature will just naturally happen.  Therefore they do not need punishment or restrictions and are given unlimited freedom of expression.  The parent is the child’s equal and friend. So what difference does this make? Here are some brief impact statements:

  • If you believe that your child is morally good and he will eventually be able to rule himself, you will have a totally different perspective on raising children, and it will be unbiblical.  However, it is quite clear that a child does not need to be taught to say “No.”  They do that naturally.  You don’t have to teach them to take a toy from someone else or to run away when you call them.  They often do not control their own desires.  So, a parent is needed to govern them and make decisions for them.


  • We must expect acts of sin. (Concept: how you react may betray whether you really expect them to sin? Are you shocked, angry, or embarrassed?)  Do you react differently if in public or in your home? 
  • Kids need to be evangelized. They can become new creatures. 
  • We must concentrate on redirection, not development. They need to be “brought up”.  Unrestricted self-expression is a horrible thing (Prov 29:15). 
  • We must value education but understand its limitations. We must teach them the scriptures faithfully. Yet, conversion, not education is the hope. (Example: solving teen pregnancy by providing more information and making birth control more accessible doesn’t work.)
  • Kids are image bearers, not mere “possessions” of parents. Just like you, they too are made in the image and likeness of God. So what difference does this make? Impact statements:
  • They are individuals of personal worth apart from any identity with their parents. 
  • Thus, child abuse is not acceptable. 
  • We must neither be overly proud of or embarrassed by the conduct of our kids. 
  • Kids are ultimately products of the direct creation of God, not products of evolutionary chance. This is the concept of the federal headship of Adam (Romans 5) and the fact of Adam’s creation by God. The syllogism is: a) Adam was created by God b) I am related to Adam by representation and procreation c) therefore I am ultimately a product of creation as well. So what difference does this make? Impact statements:
  • Kids are dependent beings (creatures).  So, they are not autonomous. They are not the center of their home, school, life experience – God is!  And the child is not the final authority!
  • Kids are unique beings.  Each one is different from the other. No cookie cutter mentality. Each of our five kids had different talents, interests, weakness, personalities, and spiritual sensitiveness.   It is possible for parents to do things that destroy their child’s uniqueness – he/she must be his/her own person. This is often evident in parents who try to live vicariously through their kids – such as sports, music, or academic. Better to ask what can you do to promote uniqueness? Your analysis of your teen should help you here.


  • Kids really are gifts from God, not burdens. Question; did you ever feel like you were a burden to your parents? In your darkest hour, perhaps when your kids despise you, try to remember Psalm 127. So what difference does this make? Impact statements:
  • They belong to God. He has just given them to you as an assignment. You are to be a good steward.
  • Thus we are accountable for how we execute our stewardship! It does make a difference how you raise your kids.  
  • We must demonstrate gratitude for these gifts from God. How can we do this? We can have a thankful spirit; we can enjoy our kids; we can treat them as special persons; we can tangibly show them we love them; we can take joy in providing for their sundry needs.


  • Kids are free moral agents in their own right who cannot hide behind their parents. So what difference does this make? Impact statements…
  •  are accountable to God for their life choices (Rom 14:12, Dt 24:16)). Thus, they are obligated to receive the gospel you present to them. 
  • If believers, they have the capacity to respond positively or negatively to God.
  • Kids must learn to accept responsibility for their actions without making excuses or blaming others (often you!). 
  • We must bring both accountability to God and personal responsibility to bear in our kids’ lives as we apply discipline and training. Be as specific as you can so that there is a lesser chance that they can make excuses or blame others. (Example: A careless accident with the car means increased insurance rates which the young driver pays)

    Grasping these introductory concepts is critical to sorting out parenting as presented in the NT. So now, let’s look at one Biblical interface parents are to have with kids.

    Ephesians 6:1, speaks of this interface from the child’s perspective and responsibility. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” We will address one issue raised by this verse later on. But our primary interest is the interface between parent and child from the perspective and responsibility of the parent as addressed in vs 4.

    NAU  Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.


  • Do not “provoke” your kids

    In strong contrast (alla) to provoking (παροργίζω), children are to be brought up (ἐκτρέφω).On the one hand, “provoking” children means exasperating them or inciting them.  Unfortunately, fathers, by some conduct or another, can easily stir up their kids or stimulate them to the point where they exhibit embedded anger or a settled disposition of anger (see Trench 130). In fact, Col 3:21 suggests that it is possible to cause children to “lose heart.” Without intending to do so, a father’s conduct can result in the child losing zest or passion for life (ἀθυμέω).

    I offer a few positive things that might be considered so as to avoid exasperating kids (you can add to this list):

    • Ask forgiveness as needed
    • Frequently thank God for your children
    • Express appreciation to your children for their personal identity
    • Communicate pride in being the parent of your child (if legitimate)
    • Frequently have personal conversations
    • Do things together
    • Often offer encouragement

     Do “bring up” your kids


  • Bringing up kids assumes practical authority

    On the other hand in contrast to provoking, bringing them up means nourishing them. The same term describes a husband who “feeds and cares” for his body (Eph 5:29). The basic verb (trefw) is used in the NT to describe nourishing and feeding people and animals (Matt 6:26, Luke 23:29). Also see “fattened” in James 5:5. The reference must be to the broad idea of child rearing.

    Here are a few observations regarding bringing them up:

    • Bringing them up is a command, not a choice.  
    • Bringing them up is a continuous process – it won’t happen in a day or a week or a year.  It requires a commitment from you till your child leaves home.
    • Bringing them up is your responsibility and God holds you accountable for the job He has assigned to you.
    • Nourishment conveys tenderness  or gentleness
    • Children must not bring themselves up
    • Bringing them up requires building a genuine relationship with them. An artificial “twelve hugs a day” formula won’t cut it.
    • Bringing them up means an effort will be made to meet all legitimate needs 
    • At the end of the day bringing them up means to raise them from childhood


    The desired result is children who are completely dependent on God and who are ruled by biblical principles and not by the impulses of his sin nature.  When we train our children to obey us, we are preparing them to obey God – our ultimate goal.

    As he learns to live under parental authority, he also sees what it means to live under God’s authority.   This is an important lesson for the child to learn – that he is a person under authority.  He has been made by God and has a responsibility to obey God in all things.  He learns obedience to God as he understands obedience to parents.  Children must learn to submit to authority when they are babies and it starts the day you bring them home from the hospital.


  • Fathers are the ones designated to bring up kids

    Following the direct address to children, Paul speaks directly to “fathers” (οἱ πατέρες) in 6:4. Even though he mentions mothers in v2, he does not address mothers in conjunction with bringing up children.  Did Paul simply have nothing to say to mothers regarding their responsibilities in general or their responsibilities in bringing up children in particular? He leaves mothers out in Colossians 3 as well. At any rate “the pointed shift from children being directed to obey “parents” (v1) and honor “father and mother” (v2) is a strong argument for the primary role of father in the child raising task” (Ready Set Go 27).

    Some suggest that the solution to this dilemma may be that in speaking to fathers, Paul was also speaking to mothers; thus parents are being addressed. In fact, “father” (πατήρ) is used elsewhere to refer to both mother and father (Moses parents hid him in Heb 11:23). If so, then rhetoric regarding the responsibility of fathers rather mothers bringing up the children must be toned down somewhat.

    However, it is noteworthy that in chapter 5, Paul does speak directly both to “wives” (v22) and to “husbands” (v25) rather than rolling them into one category. He does the same in Colossians 3. That appears to be the case here as well. In my view the general tenor of Scripture also supports the notion that fathers are responsible to bring up their children (Prov 4:1-4; Psa 78:4-6; Exo 12:24-28, et al). This also makes sense in light of the expectation that the husband is to be the head of the home.

    In either case, there is nothing prohibiting the father (or parents) from enlisting help from persons such as tutors, teachers, mentors, pastors, church leaders, older children, or others.  If the father is exclusively in view in v 4, then certainly he is free to delegate a part of his responsibility to the mother. In fact, the wise father probably will do so. And, in light of the immensity of the task of bringing up children, “a father must be encouraged to use resources at his disposal in order to accomplish this vital instruction – his wife, his church, the Christian school, individual experts, publications, informal teaching moments, and so forth.” (Ready Set Go 23).

    So, at the end of the day, I believe the father is the parent who is accountable for the task of bringing up kids. He must not abdicate his responsibility. The buck stops with him. However, as a practical point, a godly father who is committed to bringing up his children in the Lord need not always personally instruct them. In fact, he should be willing to acknowledge that there are times when someone else may be better equipped than he is or has greater opportunity than he has or more time than he has. Moreover, when he authorizes someone else to instruct his children or delegates authority to his wife, he need not always be present during the instruction.  And because he is willing to enlist the support of others, his commitment to his children and to pleasing God should not be questioned per se. Rather, we are talking about legitimate differences of opinion regarding how to best fulfill a responsibility.

    Furthermore, most godly fathers enthusiastically gather with their families for corporate worship at a local church.  If it is legitimate for someone other than the father, namely the pastor-teacher, to instruct his children in the worship service of the church, how then is this different from someone other than the father instructing children in Sunday School, or children’s church, or student ministry, or so forth?


  • Bringing up kids involves two undertakings


  • Discipline
  • Discipline (παιδεία) means to correct; to chasten; to discipline; to establish rules; to punish. Compare Hebrews 12:5-11  “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.  Endure hardship as discipline.” God is treating you as sons.  For what son is not disciplined by his father?  If you are not disciplined, then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.  
  • Moreover, many of us have had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.  How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits!  Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
  • This introduces the notion of rules and structured control imposed by one party upon another (Trench 111-114). Biblical discipline assumes the existence of house rules!  I offer some characteristics of good house rules:
  • Rules should be definable
  • generally no unannounced rules
  • clearly understood by the kid (Illust: 10 commandments are pretty clear!)
  • clear boundaries with consequences (if you are late for curfew, your curfew is reduced by double the next night)
  • don’t constantly change the rules
  • Rules should be reasonable
  • limit the number of rules (only 10 commandments)
  • don’t make rules about trivial matters
  • don’t make rules which can’t be kept (with few exceptions (be holy) we are capable of meeting God’s expectations of us; can kids meet yours?)
  • explain the rules
  • negotiate the rules
  • rules should have an “exception to policy” clause so that mercy can be extended
  • be careful about requiring conformity to your preferences
  • you cannot legislate spirituality 
  • Rules should be enforceable
  • you cannot act as a policeman
  • make no rule you can’t enforce
  • be realistic 
  • Here are some additional observations regarding house rules
  • Never make support of your rules by your child the criteria for implementing them (Gage 49-50)
  • Don’t change your rules in hopes that you will gain more control over your kids.
  • If your rules are biblical, don’t change them under any circumstances.  On the other hand, if your rules are preferences, you need to be open to negotiation.
  • “If world conditions ever had constituted a legitimate excuse to give up personal standards, Christianity would have died in its first generation. The problem of Christian living in a non-Christian world is as old as Christianity itself.” (Gage 53)
  • The catch is being able to distinguish between your rules that are convictions based on Scripture and your rules that are preferences. 
  • Most rules deal with wisdom issues (preferences).
  • Always try to put yourself in your kids’ “life situation” when making and applying rules. For instance, if you have teens:
  • It might be helpful if you try to determine what the most difficult aspect of the teen years is. 
  • And, it would be wise to ask what things are changing in the teen years. Physical, emotional, hormonal, and mental change is in the air. How is this playing out with your teen and how should you adjust or should you?
  • Always establish personal accountability for keeping the rules
  • Refuse to allow blame shifting or excuse making – don’t even allow such talk. 
  • You must be consistent in applying the rules
  • Inconsistency is a source of irritation Col 3
  • Consistency overcomes a multitude of errors – this is key
  • This does not mean you can’t exercise mercy however
  • Expect first time compliance – don’t get into a power struggle or engage in threats.
  • Remember, when you allow whining and manipulative push back to your directives, you lose and so does the child.
  • Always make the consequences appropriate to the crime
  • If necessary, consider using a behavior contract (this is a remedial tool)
  • Negotiate
  • keep it simple
  • sign and post 
  • Rules must be applied equally by both parents (a cooperative venture). 
  • Have a game plan for solving the problem of spouses not being able to agree on the rules. You must have a unified front.
  • Remember, it is imperative that you not allow your kids to play both ends against the middle. And don’t be shocked if they try!


  • Instruction

  • Instruction (νουθεσία) is more straightforward than discipline.  It means to put in one’s mind.  This is primarily preventative discipline.  It includes giving advice, encouraging, trying to build inner convictions, and teaching your kids. It also includes modeling – sometimes the most powerful form of instruction is living it out before them. 
  • I believe a valid assumption being made here is that the instruction of children should be systematic. What setting is best? What method? When? Who should instruct any given subject? 
  • The choice of curriculum should be systematic as well.  And, what is the subject matter? Everything! The “of the Lord” phrase is not really limiting in content.  Dividing knowledge into sacred and secular misses the mark. All facts are God created, God related, and God interpreted. So, a father’s task is to relate all truth and life experience to God. Thankfully, the Word has a great deal to say about a wide variety of practical living topics. (For example as pertains to kids especially: friends, sex, dress, language, thoughts, serving others, worship, work, leisure, prayer, money, care for the body, obedience, peers, and etc.) I think of 2 Tim 3:16ff or 2 Peter 1:3. 
  • Add to that a whole host of life skills that are not part of divine revelation per se but in which parents can help get their kids ready for life. (For instance, cooking, maintenance of vehicles and appliances and equipment, home repairs, computer skills, budgeting, organization and planning, interpersonal communication, vocational planning, and etc.). 
  • Here is the obvious catch. You, as the instructor, need to be further along that your kid, the student. So in the spiritual arena, what are you doing to grow in the grace of Christ and the knowledge of the Word? Do you take advantage of the opportunities presented to you? Do you privately read and study the Word?  
  • What is the relationship between discipline and instruction over the course of raising a child? In the early years, much more discipline is needed compared to instruction. As the child gets older the percentage of instruction increases and the percentage of discipline decreases so that when the child leaves home the relationship should be exclusively instruction. Why is that?  They can’t talk yet!  They are just beginning to learn right from wrong; self-control, etc.  As the child grows older, the goal is that he will become self-disciplined. Thus, there will be more instruction and less discipline.  Too much discipline and not enough teaching produce rebellion – a child with no inner convictions.  Too much teaching and not enough discipline produce kids who lack self-discipline.  Parents must strive for balance. 
  • So, God requires parents to proactively move their children to adulthood. And he expects them to use both structured control and teaching to do so. This is the very basic matter of parenting. We have to get this right in order to please God in our parenting. Notice that I did not say that if you do these things in healthy balance appropriate to your child’s needs that everything will turn out okay.


  • Bringing up kids in the church

    Now, briefly back to verse 1 as promised. NAU  Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.


  • There are those who dogmatically conclude that all meetings of the church in the New Testament were age-integrated (that is, the family was always together) and further, that this must be the pattern for all churches today (see Scott Brown statement in the video “Divided”). They base this view on Ephesians 6: 1 and the Colossians 3:20 counterpart. I will not comment on secondary OT passages cited for support (such as Dt 29:10; 31:12; Ex 10:1; Neh 8:1-3; 12:43; Josh 8:35; 2 Chron 20:13; Joel 2:16 ). Nor will I comment on other reasons used to support this view. Instead I will focus only on this verse.
  • The argument goes something like this:  because Paul uses the vocative case as a direct address to “children” (Τὰ τέκνα), it must be assumed that children were present on the occasion of the reading of the encyclical letter at the church in Ephesus. Furthermore, it is also assumed that children were always present when and wherever a first century church gathered. And finally, it is concluded that this practice of the family always being together is required in any and all New Testament churches in all eras and in all cultures.  
  • However, if use of the vocative “children” demands that all children were present whenever the church assembled, in similar manner the use of the vocative must demand that slaves (v 5) and masters (v 9) be present. I find it fascinating that advocates argue that the use of a vocative requires the physical presence of the addressee in connection with the “children” but do not similarly argue in the case of other vocatives in the letter.  
  • It is also interesting that Paul does not address mothers in conjunction with bringing up children.  Does this mean they were not present in the assembly when the letter was read (perhaps they were in the nursery!) and that they are always to be absent as a matter of normal practice? (Similar to the line of reasoning some make regarding the mention of children). Of course not. 
  • The point is that the vocative is not used to indicate physical presence or absence per se. For instance, one hardly believes that the use of the vocative in Galatians 4:19 (children) or 28 and 31 (brothers) requires physical presence. The same could be said of 1 John 3:2 (beloved) or 2 Peter 3:1 (beloved) or 1 John 2:1 (children).{For further look at vocatives in the NT, see David Lang, “Beloved, Let Us Examine the Vocative,”}
  • Yes, there are imperatives in this passage, but a command that all young children be in the worship service is not one of them. 
  • Furthermore, the use of “children” in this context may prove just the opposite. The term τέκνον is used for children of all ages, with the focus being on relationship rather than age. How old were these children? It seems there are two termini.  First, they must young enough to be “brought up.” Second, they must be old enough to comprehend and implement the directive to “obey” and “honor” parents in the same way that fathers must be able to carry out the directive given to them. It is also notable that this directive to children is couched in terms of consciousness of what is right and an awareness of a spiritual relationship with the Lord. Thus, the conclusion that these are “older” children makes the most sense contextually.
  • To emphasize who was present for the reading of the apostolic letters is to major on a minor. Does anyone really think that the point of the passage is that because fathers, children, slaves, masters, husbands, or wives are directly addressed they must have been present when the letter was read? And do not these directives apply to these categories of people even if they were not present? To make this a model for churches regarding children in the worship service goes too far. Thus, it is a mistake to view this passage as a directive when in fact it is a description, and not even a full blown family-always-together description at that.


    Certainly, parents have been given an amazing resource kit for the enterprise of raising kids. It’s called “the Bible”. Of course, implementing its guidelines is not as simple as we might hope. Why? Because parents are sinful humans just like their children! But I implore you not to give up. Just focus on the process – do what is right or in some cases what you deem best. God, in his good providence, will take care of the product. If you will do this, you can put your head on your pillow at night with a clear conscience. Perhaps not without tears, but certainly without guilt.

    Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2015. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.