Advice to Parents
Study #25 Colossians 3:21
by Bob Burridge ©2023
In Colossians 3:18-21 instructions are given for families.
18. Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
19. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.
20. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
21. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
I remember playing together as kids out in our neighborhood of South Buffalo, NY. Us boys mostly played street-baseball, roamed vacant lots as cowboys or soldiers, and drove our Tonka trucks over piles of dirt and mud.
I also remember when the girls got us to play house with them. It was mainly a “girl’s thing” so as pretend wives they were full of instructions about how we were to be dads. I remember them helping us saying things like, “No! You don’t hold a baby like that!” When they got frustrated with us they’d say “OK, time for you to go off to work.” We gladly obeyed.
Parenting is a big responsibility, and it should be done the way God teaches us in his word. It’s an awesome duty to be entrusted by God with the lives and well being of our children.
The Apostle had just explained the duties of children toward their parents in the home. Colossians 3:20, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”
So now a word to the Fathers: Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” In Ephesians 6:4 it says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” As heads of the home, Fathers are charged with making sure the children are not discouraged in the home, and that they should grow up respecting God’s truth and ways.
Both parents have an important job in raising their children. Eve was created to be her husband’s helper, but her work includes her part in parenting. God said that the woman’s struggle would be related to her family duties. Genesis 3:16 mentions her difficulty in child-bearing — which includes child-raising.
Wise fathers should encourage the mothers to contribute their special skills in the home. Fathers and mothers are to work together in raising their children.
Mothers are often the most regular influence on their children by their daily care. In Titus 2:4-5 there is encouragement to the wives about their duties. Notice the qualities these mothers in the home should have. They’re told to “… love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”
The 4th quality is specially interesting: mothers are to be workers at home. They play a large part in the role of Parenting. In 1 Timothy 5:14 God’s word instructs even younger widows. It says, “So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.”
In Proverbs 31 the ideal wife is very productive and creative for the family. She makes and sells clothing, supplies belts to merchants (31:24). She considers a field, buys it, plants it (31:16). But never does she neglect her own home duties while she does this work. She must keep up her first duty which is to the home and family. She makes sure her family is well clothed, fed, and the children raised well.
The busy mother as described in Proverbs 31 is one her children and husband praise and honor (31:28). The children generally remember their mothers as the ones who fed them, dressed them, picked up after them and taught them.
Just as the church is more visible to the world than Christ, her Head, mothers are often more visible to the children than the husband who is the head of the home. The headship of the father in the home is dispensed most of the time through the mother. This cooperation is the essence of biblical parenting.
This warning in Colossians 3:21 is mainly directed to fathers. As we saw in verses 18-19, God made them to be the heads of the home. Fathers are held responsible for the atmosphere in which the whole family lives. They should set the atmosphere and the boundaries not so that they get their way, but so that God’s ways are honored and loved in the home. He’s to make sure that all in the home can reach their full joy and potential in the Lord. Ephesians 5:23 says that he should oversee his home with the same love and unselfish care that Christ shows as he oversees the church as its Good Shepherd.
Men as loving leaders should responsibly represent God’s tender love, care and provision toward those for whom he is held accountable. Though he’s responsible for the child’s care, he’s foolish if he thinks he can do it best all by himself. God showed Adam that he was incomplete by himself. He needed a helper, a counter-part. Eve was made to be that helper.
Parents are warned not to provoke their children. The word Paul uses for “provoke”, or “exasperate” in some translations, is “ereTHIzo” (ἐρεθίζϖ). It means to provoke or irritate someone, or to embitter them. In Ephesians 6:4 he uses a different word to warn us not to upset our children. “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The word for “provoke” there is “paroroGIzo” (παροργίζω) which means to stir them to wrath or anger.
This provoking can show itself by parental Cruelty, Permissiveness, and Inconsistency.
1. Cruelty is frustrating to children.
Parental authority shouldn’t be abused. Some see every disobedience as an open challenge to their authority. They make overly rigid rules like tyrants instead of like caring parents. They make inappropriate punishments with big penalties for minor infractions. They often fail to help them find better ways to deal with things. They need to listen to the child and try to understand what they’re struggling with.
Parental cruelty fails to understand our fallen human nature as God describes it in his word. Children, like adults, are only sinners saved by grace. A harsh approach fails to teach them the real importance of godly behavior and attitudes. They need to learn to avoid punishments to please those God has called to love and lead them.
Children need our help. This certainly includes correction and appropriate punishments. They also need our patience and tenderness by word and example, even as we correct them.
We know that the Book of Proverbs approves some types of physical punishments. 13:24, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” 29:15, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” We need to take special caution in the use of physical punishments so children understand they need to learn.
The full context of Scriptures shows that this isn’t our main parenting tool. Dr. Hendriksen wisely points out, “Though the rod of correction may at times be necessary, it must be used with discretion, since wise reproof is generally better than a hundred stripes.”
God himself teaches us more by his mercy and instruction than by direct punishments. If we focus on our instruction and encouragement, and plan appropriate consistently carried out punishments we may never need to use corporal punishment very often.
There are examples in the Bible where godly parents grieve over rebellious children. Proverbs shows that children may rebel. 13:1, “A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” 30:11, “There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers.” 19:26, “He who does violence to his father and chases away his mother is a son who brings shame and reproach.” There’s no evidence given in those cases that the parents had failed to be good parents.
There are no perfect parents. It’s vain and foolish to imagine you can be one. But a parent is at fault when he hasn’t prayerfully tried to discipline biblically. The child who is raised well, bears his own blame when he rebels. A parent can’t remove the fallen nature of a child. Only our Savior can accomplish that by his work of grace.
Sometimes parents are cruel because they expect too much too soon. God tells us that it takes time to mature as Christians. Parents should be patient as they prayerfully and biblically teach their children.
Cruelty can be exasperating to a child instead of stimulating him by a parental example of love and good works. Hebrews 10:24 is a good guide for parenting as well as for all belivers, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”
2. Permissiveness is another sure way to provoke your children.
This happens when parents neglect the duties and advice God gives them in his word. Permissive parents either don’t care enough to discipline, or are afraid that correction and discipline will turn their children against them.
Parents might be mislead by so called professional experts who are not led or fed by God’s word. Theories that come from our fallen hearts often say that discipline harms a child’s spirit, or that the child won’t like the parents if they punish them when they do wrong.
Those fears are plainly untrue. They’re contrary to God’s word and real human experience. They come from the parent’s own insecurities and fears, not from informed concern for the child. Permissiveness confuses the child about what’s right and wrong.
The Bible lays aside those objections. Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Punishment isn’t supposed to be pleasant. That’s the whole point! It’s to help children learn that some things aren’t good for them. Punishments help the very young learn that there are limits to what they should do. When they don’t yet know and understand greater dangers in certain behaviors or attitudes, the more immediate threat of punishment may keep them safe until they mature more.
God assures us that, if given in love and kindness, correction proves our love to the child. That section of Hebrews explains that godly discipline is evidence of legitimate sonship and love. In verse 8 it says, “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” The implication is that if you are disciplined, you are a legitimate child, loved by your parents.
Puritan author John Owen said, “there are too many sons that are never chastised by their fathers; which commonly ends in their ruin.”
So Proverbs 19:18 says, “Discipline your son, for there is hope”, and Proverbs 29:17 says, “Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.”
Both extremes of Cruelty and Permissiveness can be exasperating.
3. Inconsistency can also be provoking to a child.
Rules that can’t be reasonably and consistently enforced are confusing. A few guidelines might help:
– Unclear or unannounced rules frustrate children. Don’t punish them for things you haven’t clearly taught are wrong.
– When rules are applied inconsistently it will confuse them. Don’t make rules you don’t intend to consistently enforce. Things shouldn’t one day deserve punishment and the next day be overlooked. Different age children often get different privileges. But other than that, one child shouldn’t be punished for things the others are allowed to do.
– The inability of parents to agree and support one another creates uncertainty in the child.
– When parents do the very things for which they discipline their children, it sends a confusing message. Children grow up thinking that good is only a relative concept.
To avoid frustrating themselves, and confusing the child, parents should set clear, fair limits, and be consistent in application and example. Teach them the ways of God. And, when you need to chastize them do it with love — tenderly, consistently, and without cruelty.
Paul next explains what happens if fathers provoke their children: they become discouraged. Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” In Ephesians 6:4 it says that this provoking can lead to anger.
The word for “discouraged” is “athumeo” (ἀθυμεω). Provoking your children is more likely to turn them to anger, than to the Lord.
The result of cruelty, permissiveness, or inconsistency in raising our children has tragic consequences for their future lives. A truly loving and godly parent will carefully study and pray about God’s instructions. He will order the home God’s way and love his children enough not to frustrate or provoke them.
There’s the negative part of this warning: Godly parents sin against the Lord if they discourage their children. But the positive side shows what we ought to do. Parents should guide their children and encourage them. Ephesians 6:4 ends with these words … “but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
In our translation, the first word about good parenting is “nurture”. The word used here literally means: training, discipline, upbringing, or instruction. It was used then for how instructors would school children and train them in their studies. So it includes the use of authoritative correction to keep the one being trained on the right path.
Preventive Discipline trains by guiding children by God’s word and a good example. Many times, negative correction becomes necessary because positive direction is neglected. We need to plan and make sure we show them the right way before we punish their wrong ways.
Biblical discipline points to a clear positive goal, helps then learn the right way to get there, and it encourages them when they are obedient and do well.
Pioneer missionary William Carey wrote, “if a little of the effort used to teach the children not to be naughty were devoted to training them to be gentlemen and ladies, parents would come nearer to fulfilling (the Apostle’s lesson).”
Discipline without love is cruelty, but love without fair and godly discipline is a fraud.
The second key word after “discipline” in this translation is “Instruction”.
Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” The kind of instruction here is more direct and personal than just giving information. The Greek word for “instruction” is “nouthesia” (νουθεσίᾳ) from which we get the term Nouthetic. Biblical counseling that teaches as God instructs us is called Nouthetic Counseling. It means to confront problems head on in love, encouraging and advising right attitudes and behaviors to replace the wrong ones.
Biblical instruction provides good activities for children and encourages good habits to crowd out the bad ones. With good teaching and examples to follow, there will be less rebellion and disobedience.
F. F. Bruce writes, “There must be either discipline and control or invertebacy (no backbone) and chaos, either Abraham’s seeds or Eli’s weeds …”
Proverbs 22:6 is often misapplied. It says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
This verse is not a guarantee that a child trained well will always grow up obediently. It means that a child cannot depart from or escape those good lessons of his youth. Even if he rebels, your lessons will haunt him.
Godly parents must encourage their children and help them grow up to be holy and happy.
Parents ought to show a consistent and united effort to encourage their children in godliness.
First of all fathers and mothers need to be maturing in Christ themselves. If children grow up seeing bickering, jealousy and neglect of duty at home, they will miss out on the lesson God teaches us in the structure of the family.
– They need to learn from their fathers, how Christ unselfishly loves and cares for his church.
– They need to learn from their mothers, how the church uses its talents in humble kingdom service.
– They need to learn from good parenting, how we help one another grow to be more holy and happy.
– And parents need to learn from their children, how to love learning new things that please God and how to grow into maturity, and they are reminded to enjoy the things our Heavenly Father provides for us every day.
Our discipline shouldn’t be cruel, neglected, or inconsistent so that Children aren’t discouraged as they’re growing up into adults. It should be instructive and encouraging so that all are growing together making the quest for sanctification a family adventure. Parents should let their children know that they as well, are sinners saved by grace, and are working to promote God’s glory as he forgives them and as he works in them to make them grow too.
Unlike the attitude of fallen hearts: Children should not be seen as things to control so they don’t get in the way or our plans. And children need to understand that parents aren’t hinderances to their freedom, but fellow Christians doing their job as best they can, even if its sometimes imperfect.
In the Christian home, we all need to …
– Pray for one another.
– Study and talk together of God’s word.
– Worship together as a family, and as part of the body of Christ in the local church family.
– And encourage each other away from sin and toward holy living.
This is the blessing God created for us in that which is called a family. It’s our privilege as believers to restore the family’s place in God’s world for his glory.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.