[20] Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. [21] Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

Colossians 3:20-21

My father and mother were simple folk. Dad worked as a grocer in a corner shop, mum worked during term time in a local primary school helping to serve dinners. Home was uncomplicated, it was not perfect by any means, mum had diabetes, there was not much money for luxuries. Dad and mum died within a year of each other and are now residents of heaven. I miss them, and if I have any regrets it would be that I had not honoured them and obeyed them perhaps as much as I should have. They were firm and loving, I was disciplined and corrected, as well as affirmed and encouraged. Dad taught me that faith was real and I have never forgotten his uncomplicated approach to Jesus and church. I felt safe.

I have realised, over many years, that my family situation was not the norm and that for many family life has been complicated, dysfunctional or even abusive. Many children carry scars of the past into adulthood and marriage. For some their perspective of God as a father is distorted by their own experiences of their earthly father, this deeply grieves me. God is grieved even more. It’s obviously too late to change how folk were raised, but it’s only the beginning and not the end. We can choose in God to live differently by God’s Grace, his Holy Spirit and scripture helping us to figure out how to glorify God in our families.

Here in our passage Paul addresses the children in person. So we can confidently assume they are part of the body listening to the letter from Paul being read out. We can also assume that the children are able to understand and respond to what Paul is saying. We can also see that these are children that are still under the care of their parents, who are also listening to the letter being read out.

Paul has the Christian family in view, for he says that such obedience is pleasing “in” (not “to”) the Lord; i.e., “in that sphere in which the Christian now lives, that is, in the new fellowship of those who own Christ as Lord”. It is also set in the wider context of the church family.

When Paul says that children should obey their parents “in everything” or in “all things” he is reminding all the listeners that children are not the judges of what they should or should not obey. In the parallel passage in Ephesians 6 Paul says,

[1] Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

Ephesians 6:1

Paul does not contemplate the situation where parental instructions are contrary to Scripture, but he rather describes a God given order of authority. If you like, “this is God’s way.” It’s interesting that disobedience to one’s parents is included among the pagan vices that indicates a refusal to acknowledge and honour God.

[28] And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. [29] They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, [30] slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,

Romans 1:28-30

Paul also mentions disobedience to one’s parents as a mark of the last days.

[1] But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. [2] For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,

2 Timothy 3:1-2

So, this is no small or insignificant matter!

The responsibility of parenting can feel unending, with a pull towards frustration at times (why won’t they do as they are told?) This is never an excuse for insensitivity, being over bearing, angry or crushing of the child or children’s spirit. Paul says.

[21] Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

Colossians 3:21

Although “fathers” are singled out here, one can say that the word parents clearly states that parenting is a team effort, where the father and mother are of one mind when it comes to applying the spiritual guidelines by which the family will be shaped.

To “provoke” or “exasperate” refers to the result of words and actions

in the exercise of discipline where things are administered unfairly. It can also be a way of parenting using words and actions, like humour, sarcasm or criticism when disciplining that causes the child or children to become discouraged or in other translations “that they may not lose heart.”

This is crucial: an overly obsessive and exacting personality in parenting leads to emotional and spiritual irritation in the child. An inflexible, judgmental, and demanding temperament creates despondency in a child’s heart. Faced daily with this harshness, children often simply give up, convinced that nothing they ever do will be quite right or good enough to please their parents. Unattainable threats or even promise of rewards can lead to confusion and the child perceiving that to get something you either “attack” or everything needs congratulating.

This is very dated from Scottish theologian John Eadie 1810-1876

“If children . . . never please their father, if they are teased and irritated by perpetual censure, if they are kept apart by uniform sternness, if other children around them are continually held up as immeasurably their superiors, if their best efforts can only moderate the parental frown, but never are greeted with the parental smile, then their spirit is broken, and they are discouraged.”

Eadie makes a great point. One of the worst things we as parents can do is constantly talk about how beautiful, competent, successful, and smart other children are without being as complimentary of our own. If we are always quick to applaud other children without praising, affirming, and expressing our heartfelt pride in our own children, they can easily become disheartened and discouraged. On the other hand parents can over inflate their view of their child thus giving the child an unrealistic view of themselves and others!

Parenting is undoubtedly the most difficult, yet rewarding, endeavour any of us will ever experience. We need the wisdom of the Word and the patience of Job and the kindness of Christ and the authority of the Father and the power of the Spirit, and, well, just about all the help we can get!

Know this “you are not on your own.”