Similar to a sports team, one of the most important aspects in developing our family team is to formulate a training program for the participants. A power packed verse in the New Testament regarding our family training program is Ephesians chapter 6, verse 4. Understanding the key Greek words that underlie this verse adds great depth to its meaning. The English version (NASB) reads like this with the Greek counterpart to the bold words shown in parentheses.
“And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up (έκτρέφετε) in the discipline (παιδεία) and instruction (νουθεσία) of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4.
- EKTREPHO translated “bring up” means “to nourish or feed“
- PAIDEIA translated “discipline” means “training that regulates character“
- NOUTHESIA translated “instruction” means “putting in the mind“
So an expanded or amplified version of Ephesians 6:4 might read like this, “Fathers, do not provoke, antagonize, or exasperate your children to the point of harming your influence. Instead, nourish them by establishing a training program that puts into their minds the ways and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Our training goal is two-fold. The top line, “do not provoke”, is about establishing a relationship. Generally speaking, your positive influence in the life of your child is directly proportional to your relationship. The bottom line, “instruction”, is about establishing a training program that puts the ways and knowledge of our Lord into the minds of our children. Both lines are important. The top line starts with a sincere interest in getting to know your children. The bottom line starts with examining God’s Word together as a family in a pattern that is regular, planned, everyone involved, and parent-led.
Ephesians 6:4 is a balance of relationship and instruction. Just like the balance of celebration and responsibility, love and control, grace and truth.
A group of tourists went to visit a marble quarry in western Vermont. As their tour progressed around the quarry, one of the visitors called out to a jack hammer-wielding worker below, “What are you doing down there?” The worker snarled back, “I’m cutting this stupid rock into a square!” Seeing another worker who appeared to be doing the same thing, the visitor called out to him, “What are you doing?” The second worker, obviously happy in his work, called back, “I’m on a team building a cathedral!”
When we view family life through the eyes of the first worker, we are just a group of people living under the same roof. Your contribution to the effort may go unnoticed in the busyness of day to day activities. Conversely, you may not acknowledge the contribution of others to the family’s well-being. In short, we are just cutting rocks into squares.
But when we embrace family life through the eyes of the second worker, our family becomes a team that is building a cathedral. Each one in the family has a contribution to make. Our job as Mom and Dad is to require a contribution, recognize the contribution, and celebrate the contribution. Part of developing our family identity is getting your kids on your team. If we require them to join the team with all responsibility and no celebration, family life becomes defined by rules; cold and rigid. When we celebrate and reward without responsibility, we fail our kids. We haven’t taught them the value of self-discipline, loyalty, and service.
As in all things family, building a cathedral requires balance. A balance of responsibility and celebration. A balance of love and control. A balance of truth and grace.
Yesterday we saw our daughter and son-in-law, Annie and Matthew Dorin, and their girls, Danielle and Lily off at the airport in Houston. With their stack of boxes, footlockers, and suitcases, you would have thought they were moving overseas; and they were! Yes, they are off to France for language school in the village of Chambéry on their way to a permanent assignment in West Africa with the mission agency of Wycliffe Associates.
It was sad to see them go. Rhonda and I were getting spoiled with trips to the Houston rodeo, the museum, and the park with the Dorin clan. And sharing breakfast with those precious girls. But I have to honestly say there was something almost palpable in the air that lessened the pain of their departure. Annie and Matthew have heard the voice of Jesus and are following the mission that God has specifically for them. That assurance was enough to turn their parting into an anticipation of the adventure that awaits. What adventure of faith is waiting for you? Developing your family identity, hearing the voice of Jesus, and following where He leads is not something to write and read about. It is a plan to put into action. Let’s live the message we teach.
Bon Voyage to Matthew, Annie, Dani, and Lily and may God bless the work of your heart and hands.
When I was a kid growing up in a small Indiana town, my father would send me to the local market to buy a loaf of bread. Sometimes I would pass an old man sitting on a city bench with my dollar bill flapping in the wind. If he were to ask me “where are you going with that money?” I would have had a ready answer. “I am going to the store to buy a loaf of bread for my father.” I knew exactly what I was doing with the money because I knew exactly what my mission was. In the same way, we should be just as clear in our answer when someone asks, “What are you doing with these children that God, the Father, has given you?”
When we set out to establish our family direction, we hear voices. Our friends, our extended family, our neighbors, our pop culture, our school, and even our church all have an opinion of where you should go. As we strike out on the path of establishing our own family identity, we need to be able to answer two questions. First, “What do you think the voice of Jesus is saying to you at this point in your family life in the context of the challenges and opportunities you are facing?” Second, and just as critical, “What indicators give you some measure of confidence that it is indeed Jesus speaking to you rather than someone or something else.”
When Rhonda and I set out to discover our family identity, we had no desire to elevate ourselves or our family. Our desire was to elevate Christ. Our desire was to elevate God’s Word as our guide for faith and practice, our guide for marriage and parenting, our guide for developing our family identity. When we did this, our family identity of loyalty, service, giftedness, and character found us. It wasn’t something we specifically went looking for. We soon developed the phrase, “This is what the Lehmans do” to help our kids understand the type of family we were becoming as we followed God’s leading. This was not designed as a point of pride or a judgment on other families, it simply became a way to explain our actions to our children.
May I encourage you to think about this topic with your family. What identifies you as a family? Do your children know what habits, what character qualities are important to Mom and Dad? Do they know there is a biblical basis for the family decisions you are making? Open the Scriptures, ask God to guide you, and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit inside. Then follow where God leads.
The balance of truth and grace in a family setting is the theme of The Christian Family, a highly-recommended book by Larry Christenson. I especially like the process that brought Larry and his wife, Nordis, to the principles explained in the book.
The Christensons were part of a small group of families who in 1963, as parents of young children, came to the realization that standard approaches to family life (at that time centered around a mixture of Dr. Spock, pop psychology, intuition, Sunday School, expediency, Ann Landers, and the-way-I-was-raised) led to a result that was “ten parts frustration to one part satisfaction.” Let Larry himself pick up the story of what happened next from the preface of his book.
“So we took a very simple, and, as it turned out, a very radical step. We decided to see what the Bible said about family life, and try to put it into practice. The result astounded us. At once we found a new way of relating to one another as husband and wife, a new way of relating to our children. It was like putting a new clutch in an old car: the gears began to mesh the way they were designed to, and the vehicle began to move forward with much less clashing and grinding!”
“Two key concepts emerged from this experiment in family living. These later provided the basic structure for the book: the first key was divine order, and the second was practicing the presence of Jesus. The first showed us the biblical structure for family life, the way that husband, wife, and children are meant to regard each other and relate to each other. The second pointed us to the power that would enable us to live this kind of life in our families.”
I like the author’s focus on the divine order (God’s truth) and the divine power (God’s grace and all that comes with our new identity) to put it into practice. Another example of the balance of truth and grace, the balance of love and control that is so important to life as a new identity family.