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Behold, how good and how pleasant is the laughter of a happy home. It is not the laughter of hilarity or frivolity but the laughter of a home filled with love and joy. Blessed is the one who lives in such a place. There is a heavenly fragrance there.
No right-thinking Christian parent would ever want to raise angry children, but some unintentionally steer them in that direction. An angry child will likely become an angry teen, and an angry teen will likely become an angry adult. People like that are known for their volatile temper. They are like a ticking time bomb.
In Paul’s epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians we find a sacred “Table of Household Duties” (Eph. 5:22–6:9; Col. 3:18–4:1) giving succinct instructions to each member of a typical household in the Roman world. Part of those instructions are directed to fathers (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21), specifically because they are the God-appointed heads of their households, particularly relating to the discipline and instruction of their children. The focus is twofold: what not to do, and what to do.
That children are in need of discipline and correction is obvious because they came into the world as sinners (see Ps. 51:5), and it did not take them long to give clear demonstration of that fact. This needful discipline is a demonstration of parental love (Heb. 12:5–11). In Ephesians 6:4, a safeguard is given to those who are meting out the discipline: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.” The parallel passage in Colossians 3:21 adds, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Perhaps fathers are mentioned not only because they are heads of the home but also because they would be more prone to excess in these matters.
There are several ways that a father (or parent) may provoke a child to anger. The first is by showing partiality or favoritism. It seems that Jacob showed that toward Joseph, which contributed to the hatred of the older brothers toward Joseph. James bluntly says that “if you show partiality, you are committing sin” (2:9). The second is by being inconsistent. Beware of dealing with a heavy hand one day and a wink of the eye on another day—both for the same infraction. The third is by being unwarrantedly harsh. There are times when the rod must not be spared, but there are other times when wise, corrective words are sufficient. Be careful when you are tired or irritated with other matters, lest you take out your frustrations on your children when you discipline them. The fourth is by unrealistic expectations. A failure to recognize that the child may not be wired exactly like his dad or may not be inclined toward the same sport or pursuit has caused many parents (especially fathers) to place unwarranted pressures on their children, resulting in frustration and anger in them. The fifth is by neglect. The fractured relationship of David and his son Absalom was not entirely on Absalom’s side. David’s neglect, no doubt, played a big part (see 2 Sam. 14:13, 28).
Pray, and think, before you exercise discipline. And remember Paul’s words. Be careful not to provoke the children to anger or discourage them.
Note well: There has never been a child who hasn’t needed discipline. But neither has there ever been a perfect parent who has never erred in disciplining. Although the two Greek verbs translated “provoke” are different, their syntactical constructions are the same, stressing the idea of stopping an action already in progress or preventing an action from becoming habitual. Consistent and correct child discipline is no easy task. It requires a wisdom greater than our own, but God has supplied that in His Word. Charles Hodge wrote, “A parent had better sow tares in a field from which he expects to derive food for himself and family, than by his own ill conduct nurture evil in the heart of his child.”
There is always a flip side to a coin, and there is no exception here. Thus Paul adds “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Correct disciplining is to be coupled with consistent discipling. Nourish the hearts and souls of your children with sound doctrine. Make sure that their spiritual diet is consistent and well balanced. William Hendriksen summarized this very well: “The very heart of Christian nurture is this: to bring the heart of the child to the heart of his Savior.”
May God help us as fathers and parents not to provoke our children to anger but rather to provide that which promotes true joy in our homes.