Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
As I was reflecting on the life of Augustine these words took on a little different shape for me. I have always read these words as if Paul is saying, “don’t be a jerk to your kids, but instead bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” As if Paul is saying here, “Be nice to your kids and make sure you tell them about Jesus”. I still think that is a good part of what Paul is saying. I think he is speaking of tender nurturing and discipline and admonition in the lives of our children.
But there is another side to this that I notice in Augustine’s life. You can access over five million words of Augustine’s online. If you perused over them less than .01 percent of these words would have been dedicated to his earthly father.
In his biography on Augustine, John Piper hypothesizes that Augustine’s silence towards his father is owed to his fatherly neglect. As Augustine once lamented that his father, “his father, "took no trouble at all to see how I was growing in your sight [O God] or whether I was chaste or not. He cared only that I should have a fertile tongue." And so Piper believes that, “the profound disappointment in his father’s care for him silence Augustine’s tongue concerning his father for the rest of his life”. (47)
One way to provoke your children to anger is to rip them off by bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the world. Teaching little Billy—even though mostly inadvertently--that the greatest part of his identity and efforts should be at becoming a top-athlete, brilliant student, fine politician, or shrewd money-manager may eventually provoke him to anger. Perhaps he will not even know what to call it, but he will look back on your fathering and there will be an aching void that cries out for answers; why didn’t you show me there was more, dad?
Dads, your little boy (and girl) is crying out to you “Show me His glory”. Everything else will be but a mere trifle. Enjoy sports, enjoy learning, enjoy spiders and bugs and mud and monster trucks, but enjoy them unto the glory of God. As Augustine later discovered:
But what do I love when I love my God? . . . Not the sweet melody of harmony and song; not the fragrance of flowers, perfumes, and spices; not manna or honey; not limbs such as the body delights to embrace. It is not these that I love when I love my God. And yet, when I love him, it is true that I love a light of a certain kind, a voice, a perfume, a food, an embrace; but they are of the kind that I love in my inner self, when my soul is bathed in light that is not bound by space; when it listens to sound that never dies away; when it breathes fragrance that is not borne away on the wind; when it tastes food that is never consumed by the eating; when it clings to an embrace from which it is not severed by fulfillment of desire. This is what I love when I love my God.
Yes, grace ultimately triumphed in the life of Augustine. God was not going to sit idly by and allow a passive, misdirected, unengaged father to eternally ruin one of his sheep. Grace triumphed in spite of Augustine’s father. And I pray that grace triumphs in the life of my children in spite of my own failings as a dad. But I also pray that grace triumphs through my efforts of bringing up my children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
I pray that the Lord will continue to raise up fathers all across the world that care more about the breadth of their children’s love for Jesus rather than they do the fatness of their children’s wallet.
I pray that the Lord raises up fathers whose everyday talk with their children is an overflowing of grace and joy in the abundance of all that Jesus has purchased instead of the bickering, whining, and despair of dads still dreaming about the national championship that almost was 15 years ago.
I pray that the Lord raises up dads that realize their greatest victory and greatest ministry will be children that love the Lord and not job promotions, social statuses, or worldly security—even when those things are “Christianized” and called ministry.
I pray that the Lord will raise daddy’s all over the world off their couches and into their children’s lives. I pray that these fathers refuse to think that showing up is enough to give them a trophy and that they stop delegating their child’s instruction to mommy, and start being intentional and passionate about daily living/sharing the gospel with their children.
I pray that the Lord makes me one of those daddy’s.