“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1-4)
“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:20-21)
To say that parents strongly influence their children is an understatement. Good parenting can give a child a strong biblical foundation on which to build godly morality, integrity, and wisdom. Poor parenting robs a child of this opportunity, providing instead an unstable, shaky (if not immoral) basis for life to come. Of course, no parenting is either all good or bad, since we are fallible human beings who teach from what we know and believe. But Scripture instructs us to do our best.
Ephesians 6 begins with an instruction to children to obey the commandment, honoring their parents. It relates to the exhortation to fathers in verse 4 (which also applies to mothers); children who are abused or treated harshly find it very difficult to obey their parents. Likewise, “obedient children are especially vulnerable to domineering” parents. (1) Provoking has the connotation here of stirring up anger, and there are many ways that parents incite children to anger, depending on their age. Younger, neglected children may become especially frustrated at not having basic needs met. Older children who do not receive the attention, relational support and instruction that they require as they move through their developmental stages may become angry. Grown children who are cut off from their families because of differences in beliefs or unforgiveness will suffer. All children become frustrated by parents who are overly-critical and demanding, with unrealistic expectations of them.
Paul presents both a warning about doing what is harmful and encouragement to do what is helpful. Instead of provoking children to frustration and anger, parents are to bring children “up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” John Gill explains that we should be “instructing them in the knowledge of divine things, setting them good examples, taking care to prevent their falling into bad company, praying with them, and for them, bringing them into the house of God, under the means of grace, to attend public worship; all which, under a divine blessing, may be very useful to them; the example of Abraham is worthy of imitation [in] Genesis 18:19.” (2)
Parents, do you have unrealistic expectations of your children because you have them of yourself and your parenting? Since unbelief may be the greatest provocation to sin, will you teach your child about the grace of Jesus Christ, as the foundation for their entire lives, rehearsing the gospel for yourself as a reminder of God’s plan for your family?
(1) ESV Study Bible Notes (digital edition), Crossway, 2008, Ephesians 6:4
(2) John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ephesians-6.html