“If you don’t make worship the center of your home, you will raise Pharisees.” These are the haunting and motivating words my wife’s pastor spoke to us during premarital counseling late in the summer of 2007. Our premarital counseling was intense and thorough. We read multiple books, took personality surveys, and had many meetings — both individually and one-on-one — with Bethany’s pastor. I’m thankful for every minute of it! From all of that, the one thing that has stood out to me above all others over the years is the necessity of family worship. I recall Bethany’s pastor drawing concentric circles, one inside the other, on a piece of paper. Moving from the outermost to the innermost ring, he wrote, in order: work and general life, church, family, and God. Family worship exists on the second ring of this circle but is intertwined with the first ring, of relationship to God, and affects every other ring of the circle by its influence on children. This is why family worship is an essential family rhythm.
The Biblical Command
Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” A litany of appropriate passages instructs parents to train their children to worship the Lord: Deuteronomy 6:4ff; Psalm 127; Proverbs 1-9; 22:6; 2 Timothy 3:15. The imperatives in these verses compel us to make every effort to ensure our children both believe and bear fruit in their lives. Especially when they are considered next to the number of godly parents in the Scriptures with rebellious children like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Samuel, David, and many biblical kings.
What does Ephesians 6:4 command exactly? First, let’s notice that the emphasis is on fathers. This does not shortcut the essential role of the mother. Proverbs 1:8 commands: “Forsake not your mother’s teaching.” Timothy was taught the “sacred writings” (2 Tim 3:15) by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Tim 1:5). Yet, just as Adam was responsible to teach Eve the command not to eat from the tree of good and evil, so the tradition continues that men are to lead and take initiative in the worship of God.
Fathers and Husbands — if your wife must initiate worship in your home, you are disobeying God.
Wives and Mothers — ensure your children are brought up in God’s instruction, but do everything you can to support your husband in his God-ordained role.
Young men — if you do not develop healthy spiritual habits now, you may not lead well when you have a family. Young ladies — marry a man who has healthy spiritual habits today or put a pause on the relationship until he can show you that he can lead himself. He will not lead you if he does not lead himself.
The verb “to bring up” is used in 5:29 to speak of the nourishing and tender care a husband is to show his wife. The word’s primary meaning is “to provide food, nourish.” The metaphorical extension of this meaning is “to intensely care for” or “to bring up, to bring to maturity.” In the extant Greek literature, this word can refer to a nursing mother or the entire training process to adulthood. The word points to the goal of this command: adulthood. While not direct, the clear implication is more specific: raise children to be God-worshipping adults.
The Technical Foundation
The two terms “discipline and instruction” are fascinating words. Each word carries the meaning of “discipline” or “instruction.” By joining the two ideas together, the apostle Paul is commanding a wholistic approach. Colloquially, Paul might have said, “Teach your children everything about the Lord and what he requires.” The first word is paideia̧ in Greek, which refers to lifelong training of a child. The second word, nouthesia̧, is more focused than paideia and often indicates the process of instruction or discipline. It pairs the word for “mind” (nous) with the verb “to put” (tithēmi).
In other words, give them the “put-in-the-mind” stuff. Children require exhortations to proper behavior, warnings, and even rebukes. The word hints at the natural resistance that children are going to give and thus the required force it will take to inculcate God’s commands and ways into the mind of a child. It’s going to take hard work, every day, over a long period of time. If we want to turn our children from their natural bent to worship themselves and rebel against God, then we must help them through biblically-shaped admonition, advice, warning, reminding, teaching and spurring on. When I say “biblically-shaped,” I mean parents must speak Scripture to them and parents must do it with a godly and Scripturally-warranted attitude
Interestingly, Scripture never commands: have a daily routine of family worship. However, when Ephesians 6:5 is paired with the exhortations of Deuteronomy 6:6-7, the implication is that parents—especially fathers—are to make daily, intentional, informal and formal efforts to train their children. These daily efforts are what is usually called family worship.
The Tradition’s Exhortation
If you are wondering whether my interpretation of Ephesians 6:4 is too strong, I’d refer you to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which states plainly: “Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the Gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed: but God is to be worshipped everywhere, in spirit and truth; as, in private families daily, and in secret, each one by himself; so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or willfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by His Word or providence, calls thereunto.” The public display of worship and obedience always has a corresponding, private counterpart. Just as we worship and obey corporately at church, we are to worship and obey privately at home.
The Practical Imperative
The imperative of family worship has clear technical and historical foundation, in addition, there is an element of common sense. Scripture teaches us that faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). If we want our children to faithfully follow Jesus, we must be faithful disciples and our following of Jesus must be centered on reading, knowing, singing, memorizing, and most importantly, practicing the word of Christ in our daily lives. If you are not a person marked by God’s Word, let me encourage you to start fresh today. Of equal importance, let me encourage you to take up the Word and read it to your family today. It was recently said to me by our Vice President, Lance Howerton: “Nothing really matters but your relationship with Christ and your care for your family.” Do what matters today.