Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. —Ephesians 6:4 (ESV)
Paul says, “Don’t provoke your children to anger.” What does he mean? He doesn’t mean don’t cross their will. He doesn’t mean don’t deny their desires. He means don’t cross their will for no good purpose. Don’t deny their desires without making it a part of some great vision of God’s purposes in the world. Show your children something great to live for, so that when you cross their will and deny their desire, it’s because you are fitting them for some great purpose of God!
Anger comes from feeling that a parent’s rules are petty and trivial—that they don’t have anything to do with something really great or important. But a child who sees that the rules of the home and their consistent enforcement are connected to some great vision of life and some great cause to live for will not harbor resentment toward their parents. They will be like young soldiers who may complain now and then about the toughness of the training but would die any day with the captain, because the cause he stands for is so great. Parents who don’t see discipline as part of some great vision of what their children might become for God will wind up using discipline to increase their own private comfort. And children will see that and eventually become angry.
So I think it is in the spirit and wording of our text today to say that the great challenge for parents is to give their children a vision of God’s triumph in the world, and to instill in them the thrilling hope of fighting on the side of truth and righteousness and joy and victory.