“Where are the moms?” I asked a friend.
“Oh, they’re the slaves,” she quipped.
(Doubtful this is what Paul meant, but funny!)
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
My Bible notes suggest that the Greek term “pateres,” translated “fathers,” could also mean “parents.” I also consulted a few commentaries which suggest that there are two camps of thought on this one. While it remains inconclusive as to whether or not Paul is addressing fathers only or both mother and father, when we think about how we are “wired” from a gender perspective, it’s altogether reasonable that the focus here might, indeed, be dads only.
The other night, Todd was reading an article from a Christian group about the role of mother and father. Mothers, the article said, are by nature nurturing and empathetic. Fathers, meanwhile, are meant to discipline and instruct. Todd and I looked at each other knowingly as this is pretty much how it plays out in our own home. While there’s obviously some degree of blending as we consider gender economies—Todd, for example, will discipline and nurture—there is undeniably a leaning or internal “default” that seems to normatively make nurturing more predominant among women with the propensity to discipline, perhaps, a little more organic to men.
So, in this light, as we read Ephesians 6:4, it makes some sense that Paul might be speaking directly to men. Because in doing the job they are designed by God to do—discipline and instruct—there’s the risk of exaggeration here. When discipline creeps beyond the desired training goal and begins chipping away at the spirit of the child. We see this from time to time at youth sporting events when over-the-top “despot” dads verbally batter their children in public. I’ve seen in the eyes of some of these kids a raging silent emotion. Fear. Anger. Even a kind of vacancy as, perhaps, they’ve learned over the years to “check out” as a way of coping.