My daughter is 17. While I’m not that old (at least I don’t think
that I’m that old) it’s sometimes difficult for me to remember what being 17
was like. I was given a heavy reminder yesterday when she shared some concerns that
she has about a very good friend who is making some risky, poor decisions about
sex. I’ve known this girl for years, and it made me sad. I’ve been thinking
about Ephesians 6:4 ever since.

“Fathers, do not
exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and
instruction of the Lord.”

I grew up in a household that was really heavy on the “obey
your parents” (Eph 6:1) part of this passage. We sort of overlooked the rest.
I was pretty promiscuous in my teens; in fact, I had my daughter when I was 17. I don’t blame my parents’ strict rules for my decisions. Those
were my choices. However, I do wonder if some of their rigid structure
contributed to their missing what had to be rather obvious signs. I see the
same pattern playing out with my daughter’s friend.

My daughter appears exasperated a lot of the time (especially
when she’s told to clean her room). I don’t think that’s the kind of exasperation
Paul is talking about in this verse. Being the nerd that I am, I looked it up. Here’s
what I found (thank you Merriam-Webster!):

Exasperate – Adj: Irritated or annoyed especially to the
point of injudicious action.

In other words, irritating someone until they do something
stupid. Obviously, we need to offer instruction to our children. Often that
instruction means communicating rules, guidelines, and boundaries. As parents, I
think that we need to be careful when we do the communicating. If we aren’t, we
can easily become exasperating and have terrible results.

So how do we do this? I think that the answer is in the rest
of the verse, “…bring them up in the
training and instruction of the Lord.”
I’ve always taken this to literally
mean instill in them the morals and values that the Bible teaches. As I’ve
studied this verse the past few days, I think that we should not only teach
biblical principles – we should teach them the same way Jesus taught them. When Jesus teaches
and instructs:

He is relational – Some of the best instruction in the Gospels
happens when Jesus is engaging in a relationship with people. Think about the
times that he is alone with the disciples, dining with the Pharisees and tax collectors,
visiting with Mary and Martha, or staying with Zaccheaus. He refrains from
asserting authority and prefers influencing through his relationships.

He is conversational – Jesus didn’t walk around spouting out rules.
He talked with people. A lot. He wanted to know what was going on in their
lives and taught them out of their experience. He took the time to let people
know that he knew where they were coming from and took the time to hear them
out. Think about his conversations with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.

He is direct – When Jesus is giving instruction, he is direct and to
the point. He doesn’t pull any punches or have a hidden agenda. He means what
he says and says whet he means, no beating around the bush. Think about every
conversation he ever had!

He has a clear message – When Jesus taught, he knew that his message
only mattered if it was clearly understood, hence all the parables. He made
sure that he put his words into a context that was relevant and easy to
understand. He used things that people were familiar with, like farming, to make
his point.

He is other focused – Jesus never said, “Follow this teaching
because I said so – period.” He gave his instruction and let everyone know how
it would benefit them to follow it. In other words, he told people what was in
it for them. Have faith and be healed; believe and have eternal life; seek the
kingdom first and all these will be added unto you.

Are we, as parents, following this model of instruction all the time?

Parents, teach your children in a way that will not exasperate
them or cause them to turn away and rebel. Relate to them by stepping into
their world. Have real, open conversation with them and hear them out. Be
direct without hidden agendas or ulterior motives. Make sure your words are easy
to understand and age-appropriate. Keep your focus on them and explain how what
you’re saying will benefit them in the end. Basically, teach them the way Jesus
would teach them.