Colossians 3:21 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.
We continue this morning with this very practical section of Colossians. Paul was addressing believers on how husbands, wives, children, parents, and servants are to live in relationship to each other in the New Covenant community. He tells us that whatever relationship we have, it is to be lived under the headship and leadership of our Lord Jesus Christ. And you are no doubt aware that there are simply tons of books available written by Dr So and So and Dr John Doe and Dr Jane Doe that have all kinds of advice on how to live more fulfilling lives… how to reach you full potential, and be all you can be. They tell us how to deal with this problem or that problem, and that the causes of many of our problems may come from bad relationships with parents.
But Paul comes to us with the simplicity of the Gospel. We are told that the root cause of all our problems is sin. It was there from the Garden of Eden. You can’t escape it. You inherit it by birth. But you can put that sin to death, because Jesus paid our penalty for it. Our sin and our guilt was placed on Jesus and buried in the tomb. And only when our sins are laid upon Jesus, can we begin to address the issues of family life in a real and lasting way. It all starts with forgiveness. Knowing that our sins have been forever removed from our record, never to be brought up again, we have the basis, the groundwork, and the obligation to treat others the same way we were treated by God: with Forgiveness.
Forgiveness is an attitude, a disposition of the heart. And if we don’t treat others in our family with this attitude, our relationship suffers, because it is not modeled after Christ. The simplicity of Paul’s instructions to families gives us very clear guidance. Paul addresses the Fathers, and says “Don’t exasperate.” Sin can cause us to be overbearing, and incredibly nit picky. But grace allows us to interact with one another in terms of love and forgiveness.
Like all good sermons, we can divide this verse into 3 parts: 1) the Fathers, 2) Do not exasperate, and 3) that they may not lose heart.
In verse 20, we looked at last week it says, “Children, obey your parents.” This clearly teaches that mothers as well as fathers are to be obeyed. Both parents share authority over the children. But in verse 21, Paul’s words are directed toward the heads of the families who were present in the Colossian fellowship, and who were responsible for the welfare and upbringing of children.
So why does Paul address Fathers? He is the head of the family, the one who is to demonstrate the love of Christ in his family. We talked previously about Roman culture in the first century, how the power of the father was absolute over his children. Mothers did not have the same authority, so Paul addressed the fathers. By Roman law, a father had complete power over his children to put them to death if he wished or to sell them into slavery. Fathers often left the raising of children to the servants. So, this statement by Paul would certainly get the attention of the fathers, in that culture.
Now, Paul is telling the fathers that they have a very important role in raising their children. This certainly went against the first century Roman culture. And even today, in our society, we are being told that our children belong the state, and they will raise our children for us. The time spent in school gets longer and longer, and the children start very young, so they are essentially raised by those who are full of Godless ideals. Is it any wonder why families are falling apart when the responsibility for raising children is given up by parents?
A few years back, the poverty rate for children born to mothers who finished high school, got married, and waited until they were 20 to have their first child was 8%. The poverty rate for those who don’t do those things was 79%. The average poverty rate for children of single mothers is about 51%; 60% of rapists, 72% of adolescent murderers, and 70% of long term prison inmates grew up without fathers. To me, that says there is a relationship between having a father in the home, and how the children turn out.
And in spite of what Hollywood says, relationships with our children are very important. In the home we lay a foundation for all of life. We need to lay a good foundation that will serve our children well throughout their whole lives.
Part of laying a good foundation in our families is to model the love of God to those around us.
Romans 5:8 (NASB) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
We know that God loves us, and that His message of love to us is written in the blood of His Son. The love of God for His own children is unconditional, and it can’t be taken away from us, because God doesn’t go back on His word. And that love is what we need to model in parent/child relationships.
The story of the prodigal son is a picture of how God views His own children. Our heavenly Father is always ready to forgive His sinning children when they come back to Him. In that parable, when the father saw him coming home, he didn’t just stand there and wait for him, he ran to him and embraced him and kissed him. And as fathers, we need imitate our heavenly Father in this area of love and forgiveness.
Point #2. “Do not exasperate your children.”
The Greek word for “exasperate” means: “to provoke or to irritate, or to excite in a negative way, or to embitter.” One translation says “Don’t over correct.” The word is in the present tense in the Greek, meaning: “Do not continue exasperating your children.”
Paul doesn’t exactly define what this here, but in Ephesians 6:4 he adds the phrase “to anger.” “Do not exasperate your children to anger.” Paul seems to be saying to fathers that they should not abuse their power and authority over their children.
When this verse is linked to the one before it, about children obeying their parents, it is the Apostle’s way of saying “make sure you don’t go overboard and abuse your authority as a parent.” Yes, you have authority, but exercise it in grace and love.
There are many ways that a a parent can exasperate a child. Some of these ways include:
Over protection – over protective parents never allow their children any freedom. They have strict rules about everything. No matter what their children do, over protective parents do not trust them. And because nothing they do earns their parents’ trust, children begin to despair and may believe that how they behave is irrelevant. And that leads to rebellion in the child. Parents are to provide rules and guidelines for their children, but those rules should not become a noose that strangles them. Parents also need to communicate to their children that they do trust them.
By a lack of standards – this is the opposite side of over protection. When parents fail to discipline, or discipline inconsistently, children are left on their own. They cannot handle that kind of freedom and begin to feel insecure and unloved.
By depreciating their worth – many children have been convinced that what they do and feel are not important. Parents communicate to children that they are not significant. Many parents just don’t listen to their children, and that results in children who may give up trying to communicate, and who become discouraged, shy, and withdrawn.
By failing to show affection – Parents need to communicate love to their children both verbally and physically. If parents fail to do that, that will discourage and alienate a child.
By setting goals that are unrealistic – parents do that by never rewarding their children, or never letting them feel they have succeeded. Such parents are often trying to make their children into something they themselves were not.
By neglect – a father who has no time for his child soon creates in that child a deep-seated resentment. The child may not even know how to explain the problem, but he feels unimportant and worthless. Parents need to be involved in their children’s lives.
By showing favoritism – “why can’t you be more like…” so and so (you fill in the blank).
By criticism – Criticism is destructive wherever it is, in a church, or in the family. Parents who criticize their children are not seeking what is best for their child.
By excessive discipline – Parents can abuse their children verbally, emotionally, or physically. Parents often say things to their children that they would never say to anyone else. They should never discipline their children in anger. Discipline should always be done out of love.
By spoiling them – Parents who give their children everything they want, have children who are not satisfied with what they have. Children really don’t need material things. But they do need the guidance, direction, and love of their parents.
In Eph 6:4 it says: And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Discipline means: “to teach.” It is the same root word as “disciple.” It has the meaning of pointing out what is wrong and correcting the action. Discipline needs to start at an early age, and it needs to be consistently applied.
Hebrews 12:11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
So parents are not only told to discipline, but also to instruct their children in the Lord. Instruction means to teach and also to confront. We need to share with our children both the blessings of serving Jesus and the dangers if we fail to serve Him.
The instruction of our children and of those in our care belongs to no one else but us. It is not the job of the village, or the schools.
The purpose of the command to the fathers is – “That they may not lose heart.”
“Lose heart” in the Greek means: “to become disheartened to the point of losing motivation, or to be broken in spirit.” This is the only occurrence of this word in the New Testament. It is like throwing water on a fire. Parents can be so cold, and harsh that a child’s hope is broken. He has no desire to do anything, except to escape the tyranny of his parents.
Parents certainly need to avoid being the type that provokes their children. But if you can avoid that, what kind of parent should you be? Parents need to pursue being the kind of relationship that gives hope instead of discouragement.
A good parent will always desire to be more like his heavenly Father. Scripture tells us to imitate our heavenly Father, to be holy as He is holy (l Peter l:l6); to be merciful as He is merciful (Luke 6:36). We teach our children and discipline our children by modeling Jesus Christ in our lives. That’s how we become good fathers, and that’s the advice we need to give to our children and grandchildren.
Since we have died with Christ, and been raised to newness of life in Him, we need to live that new life in every circumstance, in the presence of our children and grandchildren, in the presence of one another in the church, and in front of those we meet in the world.
We should always remember the need for grace as we seek to be Christians in the home and in the world. We can’t be the parents, grand parents, and great grand parents we should be, were it not for grace. We all sin and we need the grace of God to to do His will. We don’t become like our heavenly Father on our own power and wisdom. Only the grace of God can help us here.
When we realize how much we fall short of being the type of parent we should be, or should have been, we see the depth of our own sin. We look back on our lives, and we realize that we could have done things God’s way, instead of our way, but we didn’t. And though that’s a discouraging thing, it’s the first step toward encouragement; because when we realize that we can’t do it on our own, we are precisely at the point where God wants us. We can reach out to Him and ask Him to help us to live the lives He has called us to live in the world.
Whether it is with parenting, or any other relationship, if that relationship is based on the grace and forgiveness found in God’s love for us, then and only then are we truly pleasing God, and not living for ourselves.