Biblical Headship (03) - Fathers and the Family
Ephesians 6:1–4 - Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 6:2 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), 6:3 SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH. 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
In this series biblical “headship” we have already seen the foundational example of covenantal headship in Adam and Christ (Rom. 5:12ff) and how Christ is the head of a new humanity (Eph. 2:12). Also, the principle of headship is clear in the very first marriage (Adam and Eve). Adam’s headship is manifest in his roles of priest, king and prophet. Yet there is a complimentary relationship in marriage. Eve is made from Adam’s side and henceforth every man will be birthed through woman. This is a picture of Trinitarian interdependency in the created world. Headship extends also to leadership in the family.
We are God’s new Israel and dominion in the earth is due to the meek in Christ. This is clear in the flow of Ephesians. In chapter 1, we are heirs of all Israel’s blessings, in chapter 2 we are “raised” to full participation in “the commonwealth of Israel” and “the covenants of promise.” We are no longer “aliens and strangers” (Eph. 2:11-15) but part of a “new Adam/new humanity” with Christ as head. The term “commonwealth” is politeia and it means “national life” or “way of life” (4 Macc. 8:7, 17:9) in the LXX. We may be receivers of the blessings of the Fifth Commandment: “long life in the land/earth” if we are obedient to parents.
More to our purpose is to see the role of children who are to be receivers of the Land blessing. Children must obey both mother and father (parents, goneis). Such is the responsibility of children. Fathers must teach their children to heed the voice of their mothers, rather than competing with mom for leadership. “If you disobey Mom, you are disobeying Dad.”
Dad must accept responsibility. The change from “parents” (goneis, 6:1) to “fathers” (pateres, 6:4) is significant. It is the father’s role to administer discipline and nurture the child in spiritual things. Christian discipline (paideia) and instruction (nouthesia) are the father’s responsibility. “In both Greco-Roman and Jewish writings it is fathers in particular who are held responsible for the education of the children ...” (WBC). Please note that it is not Mom, VBS, Sunday School, AWANA, chapel, Christian Day School, nor “the pastor,” but it is “the father” who bears the responsibility of paedeia, though he may use each of these means and more. If the ship of parenting runs aground, it is the captain who’s held to account.
Thus Fathers are to raise their children in faithfulness and the key insight Paul provides is not to provoke our children to anger and “not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart” (Col. 3:21). The seething and sullen anger of our children is a thermometer of our effectiveness. We can easily drive our children to such anger leading to resentment and desperation in the following ways: 1) hypocrisy in our lives for which our children have a built in sonar detector, 2) a constant lack of approval of our children, 3) unreasonable demands of perfection, 4) harsh or severe discipline unequal to the “crime,” 5) pettiness, arbitrariness, unfairness, favoritism, nagging, and insensitivity to real and perceived needs.
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more