“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

In some translations of the Bible, the phrase “do not provoke your children to anger” is translated, “do not exasperate your children.” This verse is an important modifier verse to the more familiar three preceding verses that admonish children to honor and obey their parents. From Ephesians 6:4, we learn that there is a type of parental discipline that is not helpful and not supported by Scripture, one that exasperates children or provokes them to anger. Colossians 3:21 says that this type of training brings discouragement to children.

The goal of our parenting is to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. It is His ways that we are to impart to our children. When the goal of our parenting makes obedience to us an end in itself, we are parenting out of our own selfish ambition. We are more concerned in that moment that our children not embarrass or disappoint us than that they love, honor and obey the Lord. Obeying parents is the means God uses to teach children to submit to His authority. It is never the end.

Here are some ways that parents can discourage their children:

  • Always point out the successes of friends and siblings and ask him to be more like them.
  • Be inconsistent with discipline, being tougher on them in public, so that others can admire your parenting skills.
  • Make sure that your children know that their behavior reflects poorly on you – and this is unacceptable.
  • Get visibly angry when your children willfully disobey you. How dare they?
  • Make sure that they know that it is extremely uncool for children to act childish.
  • Make all interactions about their outward behavior and how it probably looked to others.
  • When you encourage them, make sure to point out that good things are happening because they are such good, well-behaved children.

To avoid discouraging your children, make sure that you incorporate the implications of the gospel in your parenting. Make sure that your children understand that the goal of your instruction is obedience to Christ, not to make you look good. Encourage them often, not on the basis of the good things that they say or do, but just on the basis of their God-given gifts, talents and abilities – and that they themselves are good gifts that the Lord has given to you. Be consistent with your discipline and instruction and use it to point them to God. Make sure that they know that you are far more concerned with the motives and intentions of their heart than with outward behavior, even though outward behavior is important. Respond to them with both grace and truth in every situation, showing them the same grace that God has extended to you while also speaking truth into their lives. Above all else, make sure that your children know that they exist not ultimately for you or for others, but for the glory of God.

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