Colossians 3:21

Provoke Not Your Children to Anger


The Command: Provoke Not Your Children

A. Fathers

1. πατήρ – this is the normal word for father…

a. It is sometimes used of a remote ancestor or forefather.

b. However, sometimes in the plural, it is used of “parents.” (Heb. 11:23)

c. But the overwhelming usage of the term is that of a father – the male parent.

d. There is no good reason to understand this in any sense other than its most normal sense here: a father.

e. However, what Paul says certainly does apply to mothers as well.

f. And there is that possibility that he meant parents… mothers and fathers. Two translations of the New Testament actually translated this term “parents” in this verse.

B. Provoke Not

1. Defined: ἐρεθίζω

a. To stir up, excite, stimulate, to provoke, incite, irritate, exasperate

b. This term is used only twice in the New Testament, here and in II Cor. 9:2. (In a negative sense here; a positive sense in II Corinthians.)

2. The tense: Present imperative

a. Often a present imperative in the negative can mean “Stop” performing the action. Here, that would be “stop provoking your children to anger.”

b. That is possible… but it does not hold for every case.

c. The main thing to glean from this is that it is a COMMAND.

d. And the present tense indicates that fathers (or mothers) should NEVER do this…

e. If you are presently provoking them to evil, then STOP!

f. If you are not, don’t ever start! The command is ongoing.

3. To anger

a. These words do not appear in any manuscript.

b. They were added by the translators to make it clear that the kind of provoking Paul meant was the negative kind.

c. It is likely Eph. 6:4 had a bearing on the translation here. A parallel thought appears there and the word Paul chose there DOES mean “provoke to wrath.”

d. It is good to provoke them to love and good works!

e. There are ways in which parents SHOULD provoke or stimulate their children… to be curious… to be readers… to love the Lord… to want to serve others…

f. But Paul had something negative in mind here… (Because he said DON’T do it!)

g. While anger is certainly one of the things parents are NOT to provoke their children to, by adding this word, the translators may have actually LIMITED the meaning here for many readers.

h. Other translations did something similar here:
• Do not vex…
• Do not make them resentful…
• Don’t come down too hard on… (paraphrase)
• Don’t nag…
• Don’t exasperate… (NAS)
• Do not embitter… (NIV)
• Do not aggravate…
• Stop irritating… (Wuest)
• That is eight different English words used to translate the term Paul used: ἐρεθίζω
• I listed them here (not to promote all these translations) but rather to give us a slightly different shade of meaning.
• The King James Version translators added the words “to anger” and we should know that the word Paul used was much broader than that.
• What I love about the King James Version is that when they added a word, they were up front about it and they TOLD us… by italicizing it!
• The other translators did not! They limited the term Paul used and DIDN’T tell us.

i. All Paul wrote was “don’t stir them up… don’t incite them.” He doesn’t say TO WHAT.

j. That leaves the door wide open for MANY applications to this passage… certainly one of which is anger.

k. But there are LOTS of other ways in which fathers could stir up their children in a wrong way.

4. Other ways children could be “provoked.”

a. To anger…

b. To frustration

c. To silently simmer

d. To irritation

e. To rebellion

f. To want nothing to do with Christianity

g. To run away and join the circus… or something worse!

h. To violence

i. To humiliation

j. To seek comfort and a sense of belonging “elsewhere” – even to the cults… or worse… drugs… crime… a gang… materialism…

5. Now I hope that no young people listening to this will USE this verse as an EXCUSE for your bad behavior!

a. When we stand before God, NONE of our sins will be excused on the basis of “he provoked me to it!”

b. That excuse is as old as Eden! The blame game started with Adam and Eve…

c. But God has never accepted those excuses. We are all responsible for our own behavior.

d. Don’t forget the message of Col. 3:20: Children OBEY your parents in the Lord!

e. Even if your parents aren’t behaving the way they ought to, God expects YOU to behave as He has commanded.

f. To excuse our bad behavior by saying, “It’s not my fault: my father provoked me… or “I can’t help it… my father DROVE me to it.” Those lame excuses will never get you off the hook before the Lord.

Implicit in the Command: The Father’s Authority

A. The Father’s Authority

1. Fathers are the heads of the households.

a. He has authority over his wife (vs. 18)

b. He has authority over his children. They are to OBEY him and his wife… the parents. (vs. 20)

2. Eph. 6:4 – The father’s role

a. Paul uses a different word for “provoke to wrath” in this verse.

b. Bring them up…
• To nourish up to maturity, to nourish, train, to nurture, care for.
• Used in Eph. 5:29 – nourish one’s own flesh = provide for its needs; take care of; feed; nourish.
• Those are the only two places this word is used in the New Testament…
• In Eph. 5:29, Paul states that the husband is to love his wife in the same way he cares for his own body.
• In Col. 3:21, Paul states that the father is to nourish and care for his children in the same way! He uses the same word.
• We take good care of ourselves. We make sure we are warm, dry, fed, clothed, and comfortable.
• We are to do the same for our children. Nourish them: that’s what the word “bring them up” in Col. 3:21 means.
• This is the father’s job.

c. They are to be cared for (nurtured) in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
• They are to be brought up in a particular sphere: nurture and admonition.
• The father is to set the tone and atmosphere in the home…
• It is to be an atmosphere of nurture and admonition.

d. Nurture: παιδεία – child training
• Strong’s: “the whole training and education of children, which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals.”
• It also includes the concepts of chastening and discipline.
• Heb. 12:5, 7, 8, 11 – the term “nurture” is translated “chastening” here. The emphasis in this context is on discipline… “spanking!”
• Heb. 12:9-10 – the author notes that we have all been disciplined or chastened by our fathers.
» He also makes an interesting and relevant point here: sometimes fathers chasten their children for their own pleasure…
» In other words, the child’s best interest is not always in mind.
» Sometimes fathers discipline because it feels good to lash out at someone…
» Sometimes fathers get frustrated and angry and take it out on their kids… and sometimes going overboard… being cruel… insensitive… even hateful…
» Sometimes spanking crosses the line and turns into abuse…
» Sometimes fathers say the cruelest things to their children: “stupid; you jerk; can’t you do anything right; I’m going to break your neck.”
• Think about how that comes across to a little one.
» Your son or daughter comes up to your knees or thighs.
» Imagine if you met a man that much taller than you? (He would be about 20 feet tall!)
» Imagine if a man that size began to spank you and he lost his temper and went overboard… he could do a lot of physical damage to you.
» Imagine a man that tall yelling cruel things at you at the top of his lungs and threatening you…
» That can be absolutely crushing—especially to a little girl… who is supposed to look up to her father.
• Fathers are responsible to chasten their children… but this passage states that fathers don’t always do it well… or carefully… or in the Spirit… sometimes it’s done in the flesh. We’ve all been there as fathers. Fathers are sinners too.

3. Discipline is the primarily the father’s responsibility… but it must be done RIGHT.

a. Prov. 19:18 – chastening causes them to cry, but it is good for them.
• Explain what a rod is… (applied to the rear end only).
• It is to be administered in LOVE… and under the control of the Holy Spirit… not in the flesh or in anger.
• The wrath of man worketh NOT the righteousness of God!
• If you’re that angry, take a minute to pray first…

b. Prov. 22:15 – the rod drives away folly from a child’s heart.

c. Prov. 23:13-14 – use the rod… it won’t kill him. (But don’t go overboard!)

d. Prov. 29:15, 17 – Use the rod: it results in wisdom for that child… and keeps the mother from shame later on… correct your son and he will give you rest. No discipline means no rest… agony… a life of regrets…

e. While BOTH parents are to administer discipline, the father, as head of the household, is responsible to see to it that it is being done. Much of it will have to be delegated to the wife who spends more time with the young ones.

4. The Bible is clear that the father is to discipline his children.

a. The father is given authority in the home… authority to administer discipline.
• Sometimes authority can go to a man’s head…
• Sometimes as a husband, his authority over the wife can degenerate into a cruel dictator… when it is SUPPOSED to be a loving headship, which reflects the love and care Christ has for the church, His Body.
• But authority is easily corrupted into something it was never intended to be.
• It can occur in the husband/wife relationship.
• It can also occur in the parent/child relationship.
• The author of Hebrews states that as a fact in ch. 12.
• And I think this is what Paul is getting at in Col. 3:21.

b. A father’s authority and role as disciplinarian, when administered in the flesh, apart from the control of the Holy Spirit can and often does PROVOKE children in many unhealthy ways.
• Discipline is good, beneficial, effective, and spiritually healthy for a child.
• But it needs to be mitigated by the influence of the filling of the Holy Spirit on the part of the father.
• Love, gentleness, goodness, faith, self control… aspects of the fruit of the Spirit that are especially needed in administering discipline.
• When the flesh is in control… and the fruit of the Spirit is absent, a father is very LIKELY to provoke his children… to all kinds of evil!

c. Paul does not mention the father’s role as disciplinarian, but he sure does IMPLY it.
• Read vs. 20 – children are to OBEY their parents… and their fathers…
• That implies that the father is giving commands to BE obeyed…
• And that the father is administering discipline if the children do NOT obey.
• So though it is not an explicit link between the provocation in vs. 21 and a father’s role as disciplinarian, I think we see in vs. 20 an implicit link.
• Fathers are to teach, train, instruct, nurture, care for, command, and yes, spank, their children.
• BUT (Paul adds) – don’t go overboard and provoke your children to anger… or frustration…

5. In the process of administering discipline and training, DON’T be a drill sergeant! Be a father instead!

a. A husband is to be a LOVING head of his wife… careful to meet her needs and care for her… just as diligently as he cares for his own body.

b. A father is to be a LOVING child rearer too… careful to nourish, train, and discipline his children… caring for them just as diligently as you care for your own body.

c. A father—or any parent—mothers too—are to have a RELATIONSHIP of love with their children.
• They are not to be cold, heartless, distant, mechanical rule enforcers. (A mechanical automaton—like a hammer). That is not what a parent is.
• Authority needs to be in place and obedience to the rules is to be expected.
• But it is to be conducted in the spirit of love…
• Ps. 85:10 – “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”
• There is to be a healthy BALANCE between mercy and truth… righteousness and peace… keeping the house rules and grace…

d. I have met parents who treated their children as if they were their drill sergeants instead of parents.
• “I’m in charge. I’m the boss. These are my rules. It’s my way or you’re out of here!”
• The slightest infractions are pounced upon.
• The punishment does not equal the crime. (overboard… and unreasonable)
• Sometimes rules are demanded just for the sake of forcing the child into submission… having rules for the sake of rules… rather than for the good of the child. (Administering chastening for the parents’ pleasure, rather than the good of the child.)
• Expecting rules to be complied with to the letter of the law… without regard for circumstances or mercy… (late because of a flat tire… or late by 10 minutes…)
• That’s ok for boot camp, but home isn’t boot camp; home should be a friendly, warm, loving place…)
• Home isn’t boot camp and parents should not be drill sergeants… but sometimes they behave like that.
• I think that is Paul’s main thought in 3:21 – parental authority gone bad!
» Authority that has gone to the parent’s head… and is not accompanied by love…
» Authority and discipline that is not administered under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

6. When a parent (father OR mother—both can be guilty of this)… is unbalanced and behaves like a drill sergeant, the child is likely to REBEL…

a. Going overboard on the rules (suffocating the child by keeping them under your thumb) can be just as harmful as going overboard in the other direction: anything goes!

b. Prov. 4:27 – “Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.”
• This is advice given by Solomon to young men. Walk down the straight and narrow path and don’t go astray in EITHER direction.
• This is good advice for parents too: don’t lean too far to the left (overly lenient) and don’t lean too far to the right (overly strict).
• Be balanced…
• I take Paul’s words in Col. 3:21 to refer to discipline that is out of balance… not controlled by the Holy Spirit… overboard on the strict side… which PROVOKES a child to evil… anger… frustration… etc.

The Result of Not Obeying the Command: Discouragement

1. Discourage Defined:

a. This word for discourage is used only once in the New Testament.

b. It means: to be disheartened, dispirited, broken in spirit. To be despondent, disturbed in mind; burdened.

2. Prov. 17:22 – ?“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”

a. Here Solomon speaks of opposites: a merry heart and a broken spirit.

b. This broken spirit has lost its joy and encouragement… it is thoroughly discouraged… beaten down…

c. Prov. 15:13 – constant sorrow breaks the spirit… (If their father or mother) is constantly angry at them… constantly putting them down… constantly nagging… constantly haranguing… constantly irritating… overly critical… always pointing out the things they do wrong and never praising them for the things they do right…

d. Prov. 18:14 – He states that such a condition can be quite unbearable! His inner strength is gone… depleted…

e. If this condition is what Paul describes in Col. 3:21 (and I think it is!) — what a serious warning to us as fathers!

f. Our poor behavior as a father can result in dispiriting our children… knocking the wind of them, not physically, but inwardly… which is far worse!

3. No father… no parent in their right mind would set out to break the spirit of their child…

a.However, it DOES happen… God said so.

b. If we live in the flesh, and chasten according to our own pleasure (selfishly rather than for the good of the child), then there is a great danger that WE ourselves could be discouraging our children…

c. When a parent goes overboard with correction, discipline, and punishment, and keeps the child right under his thumb… the child could suffocate…

d. With a little breathing room, he would do much better…

e. And the older, more mature and responsible a child becomes, the more breathing room and freedom he should be given… age appropriate rules and discipline.

f. Treating a teenager like a toddler results in rebellion… just like treating a toddler like a teenager would result in chaos!

g. With no breathing room, kids tend to rebel and struggle to get OUT from under that oppressive thumb!

4. O how we as parents need WISDOM in fulfilling our responsibilities in the hardest job we’ll ever have: parenting!

a. The good news is that God does GRANT wisdom, when we seek it with all our heart! (Prov. 2:3-6)

b. O how we need to strike a wholesome, spiritually healthy BALANCE between discipline and love; law and grace; rebuke and encouragement; chastening and edifying…

c. Going overboard in either direction can be equally disastrous to the child.

d. Paul seems to acknowledge in Col. 3:21 that fathers (parents?) in Colossae are already aware of their role as disciplinarian.
• Hence, he seeks to add a balancing touch here… by warning us not to go overboard and thus provoke our children…
• Perhaps we ought to take a look at the Scriptures concerning how our Heavenly Father treats us…
• He chastens us when necessary… sometimes severely!
• Psalm 103:13-14 – He also knows our frame… He knows our frailty. He understands our condition and thus shows pity and mercy to us…
• God has a RELATIONSHIP with us… as an earthly father should!
• He is our example. God help us to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord… and that our goal might be to BUILD THEM UP… not to knock them down.
• We need to discourage them from evil… but an overly oppressive approach can also discourage them from good… just leave them discouraged!
• Our job is to ENCOURAGE our children to know God and walk with Him.
• And let them know that walking with God is a JOY and a delight… not a burden… not oppressive…

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