“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (Col. 3:21)
The first thing we notice about this verse is that God does not address this directive to parents but specifically to fathers. Why is this the case? Mothers obviously play a vital role in the raising of their children. In Titus 2:4-5, we read how the older women in the church are to teach the younger women.
“That they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.”
Clearly the focus of young wives and mothers is to be on their homes and families. They are taught to love their husbands, to love their children, and to be homemakers. This word “homemakers” is not a description of one who is merely a housekeeper or cleaning woman. The King James Version translates this word as “keepers at home,” an expression which speaks of one who keeps, watches, or guards the home. This is what young wives and mothers are to be: the guardians of their homes. Although society often downplays this role for women, in God’s eyes it is a tremendous work that is of great value to the family, to society, and to God Himself.
Why then are the instructions of Colossians 3:21 (as well as those of Ephesians 6:4) specifically addressed to fathers? In the same way that the husband is the head of the wife in the marriage relationship, the father is the spiritual head of his household. He is responsible for providing spiritual leadership for his wife and his children. While both parents can and should be involved in raising and providing spiritual training for their children, it is the father’s responsibility to see that this work gets done.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he gives the same instruction to fathers as he gives in Colossians 3:21, but he adds some responsibilities.
“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4)
The negative side of a father’s responsibility is: “do not provoke your children to wrath.” On the positive side, a father is instructed: “bring them up in the training (nurture) and admonition of the Lord.” We will examine the positive side first.
Bring Your Children Up
Fathers are directed to “bring them up,” an expression which means to raise or to rear, but particularly to nourish or to feed. In general it speaks of supporting them, providing for their needs. This same word is used in Ephesians 5:29 to describe how a man nourishes his own body and how Christ nourishes the church, which is His body. Oftentimes we hear the husband and father described as the provider for the home. Usually this is taken to mean the breadwinner, the one who provides for the physical needs of his home and family, things such as food, shelter, clothing, etc. There is no question that the Bible strongly encourages men to provide for their own families.
“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Thess. 5:8)
While many men are conscientious in providing for their family’s physical needs, there are too many who neglect an even more important area of their family’s needs—their spiritual needs. The spiritual and moral training of children is not the responsibility of the community in which they live; it is not the responsibility of the government (federal, state, or local); it is not the responsibility of the schools; it is not even the responsibility of the local church. The spiritual and moral training of children is the responsibility of parents, in particular the father! Husbands and fathers are charged by God with providing spiritual leadership for their wives and children in their worship of the Lord, their study of God’s Word, their walk with the Lord, and their service and work for the Lord. This is what it means to bring them up.
There are two key aspects to how fathers are to “bring up” their children: training and admonition. Each of these is qualified by the expression “of the Lord.” The training and admonition in view here centers around the Lord and His Word; it is spiritual in nature.
Training of the Lord
The word “training” (“nurture” in the KJV) is from a Greek word which means child training or instruction. It involves all aspects of bringing a child to spiritual maturity: education and instruction, but also discipline, correction, and chastening.
Most parents today emphasize their children’s education. They want them to do well in school; to learn to read, to write, to do math, to appreciate art and history. All of these things are important, to a degree, but training is needed in areas other than these school subjects if a child is to really grow and mature. The “training” we are to give our children is to be “of the Lord.” This refers to training in the knowledge of the Lord, knowledge which can only be found in God’s Word. Are we as concerned with our children’s knowledge of God’s Word (2 Tim. 2:15-17) as we are their ability to do long division? Do we spend as much time teaching them the gospel of God’s grace (Rom. 1:16) as we do the history of the United States? Are we as worried about their godly character (Titus 2:11-14) as we are about the characters in a so-called classic work of literature? The writer of Proverbs, in giving wise instruction to his children, stressed the importance of building the household or family upon such spiritual wisdom, knowledge, and understanding:
“Through wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; By knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” (Prov. 24:3-4)
Fathers, it is your responsibility to see that your children are trained in the things of the Lord and His Word!
An important part of this spiritual training involves discipline. When people see this word “discipline,” they usually think only of punishment. Though punishment is sometimes involved, the goal of discipline is training; it includes chastening and correction so that a child can learn from the experience. The need for discipline in children is pointed out in several passages in the book of Proverbs. Consider these two examples:
“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” (Pro. 22:15)
“The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” (Pro. 29:15)
While the use of the term “rod” may bring to mind physical punishment, the focus is on correcting and instructing the child, imparting wisdom and thus driving away the foolishness that is in him (or her) by nature. A child that is simply left to himself, with no rebuke or correction, will bring shame upon himself and his family.
Many these days believe that discipline is a form of cruelty, even child abuse. Certainly physical punishment (spanking, for example) can become abusive if misused or taken too far, however, a parent who truly loves their children will be careful to discipline them when it is needed, just as the Lord disciplines us as His children.
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; for whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Pro. 3:11-12)
“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” (Pro. 13:24)
While training is a vital part of bringing up children, there is another aspect to consider as well: the admonition of the Lord.
Admonition of the Lord
The word “admonition” literally means to set or place in the mind. It also involves training, but primarily through words, by encouraging, reminding, or warning. We see the word used in 1 Corinthians 10 where Paul, in verse 1-10, describes Israel’s sins against God in the wilderness and God’s subsequent judgments upon His chosen people. Paul then tells us:
“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Cor. 10:11)
These things happened to the people of Israel and serve as examples to us. They were written for our “admonition;” to teach us, to remind us, to warn us of the consequences of such sin against God.
Parents are usually diligent in teaching, warning and reminding their children about the dangers in the world around them: physical dangers such as touching a hot stove or running in front of a moving car, as well as the dangers of alcohol, drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, etc. However, most parents, including some Christian parents, give little thought about teaching, warning, and reminding their children of the spiritual dangers they will face throughout their lives. Parents, particularly fathers, need to admonish their children about Satan and his deceitful methods (Eph. 6:10-12), about the evils of the world system in which they live (1 John 2:15-17), about the danger of conforming to the world (Rom. 12:1-2), about the false teaching they will hear (1 Tim. 6:3-5), about the importance of guarding their minds and hearts (Phil. 4:4-9).
These are dangers which affect not only our children’s lives here on earth, but their lives for all eternity. Paul wrote the Colossians:
“Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” (Col. 1:28)
If children are to grow and mature spiritually, it is vital that their parents preach (or proclaim) the Lord Jesus Christ to them; not a religious system or denomination with its creeds and traditions, but a wonderful and glorious Savior and Head! Children need to be warned and taught in all wisdom if they are to become spiritually mature in Christ Jesus. Parents, and fathers especially, this is your responsibility!
What is the most effective way for parents to train and admonish their children? The answer is two-fold. To begin with, children must simply be told these things. The book of Deuteronomy contains God’s commandments to the nation of Israel as they prepared to enter the promised land. God reminded them of the importance of keeping His words in their own hearts and diligently teaching them to their children.
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deut. 6:6-7)
Parents do not need to establish a classroom or have formal lesson plans in order to teach their children. They just need to talk about the Lord as a normal part of their everyday life; “When you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” All of these times are what people today like to call “teachable moments.”
Yet, there is more to teaching our children than just telling them about the Lord. Parents also need to show their children the difference the Lord can make in a life. Fathers and mothers need to be examples, spiritual role models for their children.
Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians, spoke of the impact his manner of life had upon his ministry of the Word among them. It is interesting that he compares his conduct to that of a loving mother and a godly father.
“But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thess. 2:7-12)
It was not only Paul’s words and teaching, but also his gentleness in dealing with them, his labor and toil on their behalf, his devout, just, and blameless behavior among them, and his obvious concern for their welfare as he comforted, encouraged, and charged them to walk worthy of the Lord.
The importance of both telling and showing a child the things of the Lord can be seen in the life of the young man, Timothy. Timothy grew up in a home where he was taught the Word of God.
“And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15)
But Timothy was also influenced by the lives of two women of genuine faith in the Lord: his mother and grandmother.
“When I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.” (2 Tim. 1:5)
Do Not Provoke Your Children
Finally, we take note of the special caution given to fathers in Colossians 3:21:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
The word “provoke” means to stir up, to excite, or to stimulate. It is used in a good sense in 2 Corinthians 9:2, where Paul speaks of the Corinthians’ zeal provoking or stirring up others to minister to the needs of the saints. However, here in Colossians 3:21, the word is used in a negative sense of a father provoking a child to strife or contention, even anger. The same basic idea is found in Ephesians 6:4:
“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”
In this verse the word “provoke” is a different word which speaks specifically of rousing a child to wrath or excessive anger, even to the point of irritation or exasperation. This does not mean that a child will never become angry with his parents. Children have a sin nature which, in itself, can lead them to become angry, even when they are not provoked. God’s command to fathers in these two verses is that they not stir up these types of negative feelings in their children.
Fathers need to be particularly careful in the area of discipline. When a child is corrected or punished for something unfairly or inconsistently, this can generate strife between the child and his parents, even feelings of anger and frustration. If this situation occurs on a regular basis the child can reach a point where he becomes discouraged (Col. 3:21). The word “discouraged” literally means to lose heart or become disheartened. In a sense, the child’s spirit can be broken, affecting his feelings, his passions, even his courage. Children can become discouraged to the point they give up trying to please their parents.
Fathers need to let their “moderation be known unto all men,” (Phil. 4:5, KVJ) in particular to their children. The word “moderation” is often translated “gentleness” or “mildness,” but it also carries the meaning of fairness or reasonableness. It is important that fathers deal gently with their children, and that they treat them fairly and reasonably, especially in the area of discipline.
Fathers should deal with their children in a controlled manner. To do so, fathers must, themselves, be controlled by the Holy Spirit of God (Eph. 5:18). When this is the case, they will be filled with the fruit of the Spirit:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23)
Let’s consider how important each of these characteristics is in the way a father deals with his children.
Love: Fathers are to love their children unconditionally, with the same giving, caring love that God shows toward us. This type of love should govern and motivate a father in all his dealings with his children. Children need to feel this love from their parents because, when they experience it, they respond to it.
Joy: The word “joy” does not have the same meaning as the word “happiness,” at least not in the Scriptures. Everyone experiences happiness at times, but only those who know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior can have true joy. Fathers should show forth the joy of the Lord that is in their hearts, in all that they do. The home should be a place where this wonderful joy is seen, experienced, and appreciated.
Peace: The word “peace” is a word that speaks of relationship. Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God (or literally “peace toward God”) (Rom. 5:1). We are brought into a wonderful, close relationship with our heavenly Father. Being at peace with God and having the peace of God in their hearts, fathers should seek to maintain peace in their homes, the type of peace which builds solid relationships between all family members.
Longsuffering: Children can sometimes be exasperating and try the patience of their parents. Fathers must remember that their children are not adults; they are children and are therefore immature in many areas. Fathers must be longsuffering in dealing with their children, being willing to put up with the immature behavior and patiently correcting and training them so they may grow and mature in the Lord.
Kindness: The word “kindness” is somewhat difficult to define, although we know it when we experience it from others. Kindness basically means doing what is beneficial or useful for someone else. Fathers should be kind to their children, seeking that which will benefit their children’s growth and development, especially in spiritual matters. Fathers need to treat their children as Paul describes in Ephesians 4:32: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”
Goodness: The Bible speaks of the goodness of God. God desires good things for His children (Jer. 29:11), therefore He gives good gifts to them to accomplish His purpose in their lives. The nature of God’s gifts is described in James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” Fathers should seek to model their heavenly Father in their dealings with their own children, consistently desiring what is best for them. Children can learn about the goodness of God if their parents manifest this goodness in the home.
Faithfulness: Fathers should be faithful before their children. They need to demonstrate their faith in God and their faithfulness toward God, but they also need to be faithful toward their children. Fathers should be men of integrity, men who are true to their word. The writer of Proverbs gave this wise counsel: “The righteous man walks in his integrity; his children are blessed after him” (Prov. 20:7).
Gentleness: Fathers need to exhibit the trait of gentleness or meekness. The word “meekness” speaks of an attitude of humility, an acceptance of God’s dealings with us as always being good. When a person has this type of attitude toward God, it will be demonstrated in a life that deals with others in gentleness. Fathers who are filled with the fruit of the Spirit will have just such an attitude and will be gentle and mild in the handling of their children.
Self-Control: Finally, fathers must exhibit self-control, meaning they keep their passions under control, particularly their anger. This is especially important when admonishing or disciplining their children. Fathers must remember that harsh and unfair treatment of their children can cause great damage. This includes harsh words spoken in anger. James, chapter 3, speaks of the importance of controlling our tongues (our speech). Though the tongue is a small member in the body, it can inflict great harm, especially on a young and impressionable child.