Thursday, July 5, 2012

Grace Versus Anger

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

As I sat in my office this morning, I couldn't help but overhear a 'discussion' that was going on between a father and his daughter on the phone. Apparently, the daughter blatantly disobeyed the order of her father and had her car towed. The father refused to pay for this though the daughter likely was very sorry for her mistake and disobedience. I heard this 'discussion' that had turned into more of an argument for the better part of 15 minutes, all the while, trying to focus on my computer screen. After the phone call ended, my heart just broke. There was much cursing on part of the father, and I can imagine many tears on part of his daughter. One scripture came to mind: Ephesians 6:4. When I've read this verse in the past I have wondered and tried to imagine what this might look and sound like. I'm sure I have had experiences with my father in which I was disobedient and he yelled at me out of anger or frustration. But listening to the aforementioned conversation, I couldn't help but say in my head, "This is exactly what Paul says NOT to do!"

Why do you think Paul gives this command to fathers, to not "provoke their children to anger"? I think it is because where anger sets in, the root of bitterness begins to grow. Paul here in one verse, contrasts "provoking children to anger" and "bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord". He notes the difference in the way that the father acts, because he has just finished instructing children to "obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (6:1). For a child to listen to the disappointment and anger in a father's voice is much like being slapped in the face. No child likes to disappoint their parents, regardless of how rebellious the child is, there is that deep down guilt when one is "disobedient to parents" (Rom. 1:30).

So how should a parent respond to a child who has acted in disobedience and is seeking forgiveness? Grace. Parents need to extend the same grace that they have been given at the cross. This is not to say that discipline is not in order - in fact Paul commands this! But gracious discipline trains a child that a parent disciplines out of love, not out of frustration or anger. Just as the Lord disciplines his children, so parents ought to discipline their children in order that their children might grow up to fear the Lord and his commandments (see Hebrews 12:5-11). God's goal in disciplining his children is their "holiness" (Heb. 12:11) and parents' goals in their discipline and instruction should be first and foremost to glorify God, and second to teach their children to do the same. Grace can be extended by parents to their children through chastisement, as long as that grace is motivated out of a pure heart that recognizes the same undeserved favor that has been extended to them.

We must first learn grace in order to show it to others. This has been my prayer for the past few weeks: God, teach me your grace that I might show extend it to others! I wonder what this might have looked like in the conversation I overheard this morning. Let us never become weary in the task of being grace-giving, God-glorifying people.

[See also The Gospel Coalition's recent blog post about this issue:]

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