In Ephesians 5:21 and following, Paul has some stuff to say about the family–his “instructions for Christian households”. It’s the passage about mutual love and submission between husband and wife. Usually we leave the discussion of love and submission in Ephesians there, but the Tim Perry raised a significant point for me (either in his essay here or in class lectures): that there’s no reason to quit the discussion with the end of the chapter. Instead, the discussion of love and submission carries on into the section addressed to children and slaves at the beginning of chapter 6. This has significant repercussions when one considers family and how it ought to function.
Yesterday and today were not stellar in terms family relations in this particular Vandersluys household. I’m pretty sure we’ve never had a perfect day, but these two days were especially bad: disobedient and ungrateful children, impatient and angry parents, irritable spouses. It was bad news all around. They are days that leave me wondering just how families ought to function. I’m sure we’re “normal”, but I’m not sure we’re “right”.
At any rate, I’ve been thinking today of Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:4: “And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (NRSV). The NIV tradition softens it a bit, removing the more overt connection to discipline or correction (NEB), which implies something other than instruction: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (TNIV).
Here’s my problem: I suspect that on most days I provoke one or more of my children either to exasperation or anger. I have no idea how to avoid this, because they will naturally rail against any form of discipline they receive from me. I recognize that Paul is not necessarily talking specifically about discipline/punishment but about instruction, but there is an element of discipline involved in this. I certainly cannot imagine how else a father would drive his child to anger.
John Stott’s commentary on this verse has been useful to me in understanding what Paul is on about, but it hasn’t reversed the reality that I fail on this account–by exasperating my children, by “raising them up in the Lord”–on a daily basis. And the truth is, I’m not sure how to change this. Lord, have mercy.