A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 6:4. 2) The duty of parents (continued).
How then should parents rear their children? Answer: *in the discipline and instruction of the Lord*. The second word (*nouthesia*), whether translated ‘instruction’ or ‘warning’ seems to refer primarily to verbal education, while the first word (*paideia) means training by discipline, even by punishment. ‘*Paideia (discipline*) is training with the accent on correction of the young.’ It is the word used in Hebrews 12 both of earthly fathers and also of our heavenly Father who ‘disciplines us for our good’ (Heb.12:5-11).
On the need for discipline and punishment the Old Testament was clear. He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.’ Again, ‘Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.’ (Pr. 13:24; 22:15. See also Pr. 23:13-14 and 29:15). Of course our Victorian ancestors used these verses from Proverbs to justify their excessively stern discipline. In our generation, on the other hand, we have witnessed an over-reaction leading to excessively *laissez-faire* permissiveness. To the one extreme we need to say: ‘The opposite of wrong discipline is not absence of discipline, but right discipline, true discipline.’ To the other extreme we need to say: ‘The opposite of no discipline at all is not cruelty, it is balanced discipline, it is controlled discipline.’ Above all, parents must be clear about their motives. It is always dangerous for them to discipline their children when they are annoyed, when their pride has been injured, or when they have lost their temper. Let me quote Dr Lloyd-Jones again, for his exposition of these verses is full of practical wisdom: ‘When you are disciplining a child, you should have first controlled yourself…What right have you to say to your child that he needs discipline when you obviously need it yourself? Self-control, the control of temper, is an essential prerequisite in the control of others.’
So far we have been thinking principally of the discipling of children. But the Christian upbringing of children is mental as well as moral. It includes instruction too. One popular contemporary fashion is to urge the parents to be totally ‘non-directive’ and to leave their children to find their own way. Paul is of a different mind. Certainly some parents are too directive, too domineering, and thereby inhibit their children from learning to make their own decisions and so grow into maturity. We have to distinguish between true and false education. False education is indoctrination, in which parents and teachers impose their mind and will on the child. True education, on the other hand, is stimulation, in which parents and teachers act as a catalyst, and encourage the child to make his own responses. This they cannot do if they leave the child to flounder; they have to teach Christian values of truth and goodness, defend them, and recommend their acceptance, but at the same time abstain from any pressure, still more coercion.
The discipline and instruction in which parents are to bring up their children, Paul writes, are ‘the Lord’s’. This has been taken by some to mean simply that the kind of instruction and discipline intended ‘belong to a Christian upbringing’ (NEB), and that Paul is specifying Christian as opposed to secular education. But I think it means more than this, namely that behind the parents who teach and discipline their children there stands the Lord himself. It is he who is the chief teacher and administrator of discipline. Certainly the overriding concern of Christian parents is not just that their children will submit to their authority, but that through this they will come to know and obey the Lord. There is always much rejoicing and thanksgiving whenever the teaching and discipline of a Christian home leads, not artificially but naturally, to a child’s acceptance of the teaching and discipline of the Lord Jesus himself.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians: Being a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.