“Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” Colossians 3:20-21.
In our last article we treated the calling of our children—the calling to obey their parents in the Lord. However, our Lord also gives the word of exhortation to parents with respect to the family relationship This calling of the covenant parent is very important for us to hear, and also to understand. Our Lord, in the text quoted above, commands us to provoke not our children to anger. Hear this Word, parents; it is the Word of Christ addressed to us. We are admonished, we are commanded concerning our relationship toward our covenant children with whom we dwell. Both children and parents, therefore, are directed in a life’s walk that is not optional, but is given us by commandment of the living God of our salvation.
We are struck by the fact that to hear this exhortation of our Lord may cause us as parents to face persecution in our day and age. Our Lord teaches us to provoke not our children to wrath. The opposite is implied, that we must provoke our children unto the fear of God. That is the positive truth of our text. But this means according to Scripture that sometimes you have to “beat your child with a rod.” Literally this is the instruction of our Lord in the Proverbs. And sometimes we as parents will find it necessary to do this. Sometimes it is also true that we refrain from doing this when we ought to do it. But one thing is sure: the world despises this Word of God! The world says, we may not correct, we may not limit our children, we may not punish them, whether literally by a rod or with other punishment. For, say they, “children have equal rights.”
For example, one finds himself striking his child in correction. I have done this by spanking my child out in our yard—spanking him hard, because he needed the correction. Further, this was necessary, for I would not treat my child as a bastard but as a son (Heb. 12). So I spanked him very hard on the behind, correcting him. But do you realize the days are coming, even now are, when I could be put in jail for doing this, for doing what the Lord commands me to do? The powers of Antichrist already begin to say, “You may not correct your child. You may not restrict your children in punishment. You may not tell your older children what they may or may not do.” And even, “you may not indoctrinate your child in certain beliefs.” This, they say, we may not do because our children have equal and independent rights. These days are upon us. There are laws like this in existence. And, indeed, we may suffer greatly when we heed the words of our text. Beloved, we live in the days in which Antichrist grows in power and stature. We must admit and see this. But know also that our God will abide with us, with rich and sustaining grace as we are put under the fires of persecution. In that grace we must hear and heed the words of our Lord in the text we consider now.
The teaching of our text is that parents are called unto a specific calling as parents of covenant children. “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger.” Mothers are also included in this calling. We should see that also. First of all, that is evident from all of Scripture. We referred to a text from the Proverbs earlier, which told children to hear the instruction of their father not only, but also to obey the law of their mother. Mothers, too, must not provoke their children to anger; and likewise mothers must instruct their children in the fear of the Lord. However, our text speaks to parents in the head. Fathers are here addressed as the head of the home. And it should be obvious to us that the primary task of the instruction of the covenant seed does indeed fall upon the head of the home—the father. The father is the prophet in the home, from the point of view of that headship given him of God. It is his task to bring the Word of God in the home. He it is that is to guide the family by the Word of God. He it is who has the primary responsibility to see that his children are under the preaching of the Word of God for their nourishment. He it is that is to lead and guide his family in the ways of life. But in this work the mother of the covenant home is the help meet for the man. And it is often that the mother exercises the instruction of the children under the head. She is often busy with the spiritual care of her children, in teaching them their catechism work in preparation for class, in guiding them in their prayer life, etc. And she must also therefore be obeyed by the covenant children in the home. And she also has the calling in this labor of love to provoke not her children to anger. Thus we see that the exhortation of the Lord in our text comes to both fathers and mothers.
Our calling, of the Lord, toward our children is that we are to exercise a rule over them. We have been given to rule our covenant children by the grace of God through our Lord, Jesus Christ. This rule we are to exercise over our children in a way that is right. And the rightness of that rule is determined only by one thing, and that is that it be in harmony with the Word of God. That God calls us to rule our children rightly implies that our children are children in Christ. In your rule, therefore, fathers and mothers, it is needful that you view your children, not as those who may or may not be God’s seed, but as covenant seed in Christ Jesus. This means then we do not treat our children as a miscellaneous bunch of seed that we must do missionary work with. Then we could not baptize our children until they became confessing members of the church. But this is not right, this is not Scriptural. As godly parents we look upon our children as the heritage of God, as the psalmist puts it in Psalm 127. The heritage of God is how we view our children! Children, therefore, which are reborn children, which live in and out of Christ, are children who have the Spirit of our Lord dwelling in them. We look upon our children as those who are made new, made alive in Christ, and who sit with Him in heavenly places. Our children must be viewed as created in and through Christ Jesus unto good works which our God has pre-ordained that the church should walk in them. This becomes the ground, too, that we should instruct them in all and unto all good works. One cannot so instruct the dead. Our calling is to instruct the living in the truth. A dead tree can be watered and nourished, but all that happens is that it more quickly decays and rots. I may never treat my child as though he may be a dead tree. This does not mean that my children do not sin. They do, and I have to call them to repentance. This does not mean either that one of my children may not be a dead tree. Godly parents also face the fact that a child may manifest himself, after being instructed, as having not heard the word, of not holding the truth, and as one that goes lost like Esau. But even then, as we can not discern the heart, we as parents cease not to pray that if it be in harmony with God’s will, our God might bring this erring child to repentance.
But in our treating of our family, in our correction and our instruction of our children, we may not treat them as dead seed. Rather, we must always instruct, admonish, correct, and nurture them as living heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Our text demands that, the Word of God demands that! This means that our children ought to hear our instruction in this light. They must hear and know that you instruct, that you correct, that you admonish, and that you nurture them in the name of Jesus Christ and for their spiritual welfare.
Our duty is then, according to our text, to provoke not our children to wrath, but to excite them in the fear of the Lord by a right rule. To provoke our children to anger is to break their spirit by a wrong rule. Parents can do this. They can do this in the first place by treating them as reprobate seed. They can do this by making up all kinds of cruel or unjust requirements for their children. Such is the fruit of the cruel ways of the wicked. Understand, our rule is not to be one of mere might or power. It is true of course that I am more powerful than my children, and that I could make them obey me by sheer force. And it is true that sometimes I must use physical might to correct my child by spanking him. But if that is all my child sees, if our children only fear our might, if they only fear the awesome hand of father, then our rule is not right or good. They must know why we use the hand to spank, they must see that we love them, they must see that the requirements that are made of them are made on the basis and in the authority of God’s Word. Of course, this does not mean that they are to be given a reason for every little thing that we tell them to do. A child is likely to ask us, “Why must I do that?” And we as covenant parents may answer, “Because I say so, and as your parent given you of God, that is enough reason.” The child is to obey the parent, because this is right in the Lord. However, even in this case the parent’s attitude, word, and deed must evidently be that of love for his child for Christ’s sake. Our rule then will be and must be a rule that has its foundation and basis in God’s Word. It shall then be a wise rule, a rule of truth, a rule that shall serve as a means in God’s hand for the salvation of the church.
In Ephesians 6 we read that to provoke not to wrath is to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Parents, that means that you are to correct and instruct and chasten and rebuke your children in love, by bringing them always before the Word. You are to bring before them and set before them the rule of Christ through His Word. For the Word of God builds up—it builds up the holy faith of our children, even unto the good works which God ordained that they walk in. And as one is well fed and nourished, he obeys the Lord in the new obedience in Christ. Our children will so walk in grace through the means of grace—that is, through the admonition and instruction of God-fearing parents.
Our children must be put in mind of the things of God! We are to excite them unto this. We are to do this by our example, by our study of the Word, by our alert attendance unto the preaching of the Word, by our prayers together as a family, and our prayers in their hearing for them. This is our calling as covenant parents.
Fathers and Mothers, this our high calling is one which we can accomplish only as we live out of Christ, Who is our strength. It is only as we live from faith, faith worked in us by our Lord, that we can and will so rule over our children. May God grant us that grace.
The fruit of all of this is that there is a blessed means of grace working in our families. Indeed, we could break the spirit of our children. And our children could be displeasing unto God. Our old natures would lead us in the ways of sin. But when by the grace of God we heed this calling, then by that same grace we experience the rich blessings of Jehovah. Our covenant God shall bless us, He shall bless our children, and they shall grow into spiritual manhood, perfectly furnished as men of God to praise and glorify God in His service. Further, we as godly parents, in the way of an upright rule, shall have the assurance of the Psalmist that we shall see our children and children’s children. And this means that we shall see them grow in faith, we shall see the church of Christ grow ever nearer to the day of our Lord’s coming. The right rule manifest in our midst means that Christ is in our midst. For the proper nurture and admonition by covenant parents is a blessed means of grace, under which the powerful working of the Holy Spirit is exercised, and Christ’s children are brought out of darkness into the marvelous light of God’s fellowship. The church is gathered and built up and the kingdom of Christ comes!