“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” ~Colossians 3:21
Moving on further in Paul’s practical instructions for human relationships, we find a different sort of command. Up until this point, Paul has given positive commands. (Wives, submit; Husbands, love; Children, obey.) Now, we find that he has shifted gears and given a negative command, “Fathers, do not…”
His emphasis on what fathers ought not do should give us heed to stop, consider, and caution ourselves when in authority over children – be they physical or spiritual children.
Perhaps he speaks this way because what we must avoid is of greatest importance in the grand scheme.
So, what does Paul highlight as #1 for the parent to whom he has given ultimate leadership and responsibility over children?
“Do not provoke your children…”
Do not provoke them. Do not frustrate them. Do not make them aggravated, angry, irritated, exasperated, or upset if at all possible. If there is any other way to teach your children, do so. If there is any method you can utilize that does not produce these kind of feelings and attitudes in them, use that. Do not use these feelings and attitudes toward them either.
It seems that Paul is not so much concerned with what methods are used, save that they do not injure and discourage young souls entrusted to men. Apparently there are many right ways to raise up children in the Lord but this wrong way proves most tempting and dangerous for fathers.
Children are often difficult to be patient, kind, gentle, and loving toward. If they are particularly disobedient and obstinate, our greatest temptation is to become disobedient and obstinate towards God’s instructions right back at them. It is a vicious cycle which teaches them nothing less than hypocrisy. Little wonder why Paul gives the reason as to why we must avoid provocation: “…lest they become discouraged.”
Who would not become discouraged if every time they fail, someone treats them harshly and, being an authority, fails themselves to obey their own authority? Such discouragement gives way to apathy, indifference, and a general distaste and distrust regarding respect for authorities in general. Dare I say the church has lost much of its credibility as a result of dealing with God’s children this way.
When fathers – spiritual or physical – accuse, berate, belittle, and deal harshly with tender children who are seeking to learn and grow, those children doubtless become discouraged. The reason is not only the former faults, but also because they are not being encouraged. Authorities who only comment on bad behavior, who fail to recognize and encourage small steps, good work, and personal improvement – even when it is not perfect or spectacular – who overcorrect wrongdoing by harsh and repetitive accusation; who fail to praise and pray alongside calm correction, discourage.
Dads, do what you will by way of discipline, but do not discourage. Do not provoke. Deal kindly and gently. Encourage. This is one of the most important details in fatherhood.
“The bad temper and example of imprudent parents often prove a great hindrance to their children and a stumbling block in their way.” ~Matthew Henry