This is my final post in the Gospel-Shaped Families series. Here I want to finish looking at this section of Colossians 3. What we will see is Paul’s final description of Christian families.
The Gospel-Shaped Family Will Be Seen in Encouraging Parents
As we saw in the previous verse, children are supposed to obey, but notice how Paul ends this section: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
In each of these areas, you may wonder why point gives essentially one command to each group. I think it’s because he is putting his finger on the most common problems for each group.
When we read the opening chapter of Genesis, we can see that the design of creation was for the husband to serve the wife as the leader, provider, and protector. The wife was to help him fulfill his duties. Now, however, all of that becomes twisted because of sin. Now, the wife desires to be the leader. She wants to be in control over her husband and the husband doesn’t want to lead. He doesn’t want to deeply care for his wife. He wants to give up his responsibility. Yet he resents the advances of the wife on his responsibility. So, instead of leading, he bosses and bullies. What does Paul say to them? Exactly what they need to hear: wives submit, and husband love them.
Likewise, for children—they are meant to go up under the care and authority of their parents. But they follow the example of their parents all too well—just as they rebelled against God’s authority, they and rebel against their parent’s authority. So, what does Paul say to them? obey your parents.
Now, what about parents? First of all, Paul addresses the fathers intentionally because they are meant to take the lead with the raising and disciplining of the children. When they get in trouble, and know discipline is coming, it’s not mom they should be fearing, but dad. Nevertheless, they shouldn’t just fear him. They should also love him.
And this is where puts his finger on a common problem. The temptation for parents is to grow slack in their discipline. I don’t mean grow slack in that they don’t do it—although that is also a problem. Rather, they grow slack in remembering why they are disciplining their kids and slack and remembering what the goal is supposed to be. Raising kids becomes a chore and the result is parents who stop working hard at and actually make it harder for their children to obey by discouraging them.
John Newton, the writer of “Amazing Grace” and many other hymns, lived with this kind of father who provoked the young John. His mother was a godly lady who sought to teach him properly, but she died when John was seven years old. His seafaring father returned home, married again, but without Christ in his life, he had little to offer young John. Though he taught him a basic morality for the day, he had very little to do with helping to shape John’s life for good. Of this Newton writes, “Though my father left me much to run about the streets [this was the supposed freedom I spoke of earlier], yet, when under his eye, he kept me at a great distance. I am persuaded he loved me, but he seemed not willing that I should know it. I was with him in a state of fear and bondage. His sternness, together with the severity of my schoolmaster, broke and overawed my spirit, and almost made me a dolt; so that part of the two years I was at school, instead of making a progress, I nearly forgot all that my good mother had taught me” (Works, vol. 1, 4).
From the time he was about eleven years old, John Newton went to sea with his father and then later with a family friend. Though his mother had taught him the catechism, hymns, and other truths, he had no spirit left in him so that he went the way of wickedness. He was blasphemous in his speech and wayward in his behavior. Much of the reason was due to his father’s harshness towards him. Here is just one example of the way parents can discourage their children to disobedience. And to them, Paul says ‘don’t provoke them.’ Make it easy for them want to obey, encourage them rather than discouraging them.
In his commentary on this passage, pastor John MacArthur has a lengthy treatment on the various ways that parents can discourage and provoke their children. Let me give you the bullet point version. Parents can discourage their children:
- by overprotection;
- by showing favoritism;
- by depreciating their worth;
- by setting unrealistic goals;
- by failing to show affection;
- by not providing for their needs;
- by a lack of standards;
- by unhelpful criticism;
- by neglect;
- by excessive discipline.
Parents, the goal is raise disciples of Christ who love and obey him. Do not discourage that by provoking them to anger and disobedience. Discipline and teach them with love, encouraging them in their growth.