Provoke Not Your Children to Wrath

The first three verses of Ephesians, Chapter 6, are directed toward children and tells them to "obey your parents" and "honor your father and mother." Then the spotlight shifts from children to fathers and says, "Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath" (Ephesians 6:4). Colossians 3:21 reads similarly, "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged."

"Anger" - "wrath" - these are devastating emotions in children and young people. Fathers, mothers, or others who have the oversight of children should understand the long-term ramifications of sustained anger in children. This short article will deal with causes of wrath and anger in children and how to overcome them.

The Apostle Paul who wrote Ephesians and Colossians was well aware that Roman fathers had the freedom to treat their children in any way they chose. One source says,

"A Roman father had absolute power over his family. He could sell them as slaves, he could make them working his fields even in chains, he could take the law into his own hands and punish as he liked, he could even inflict the death penalty on his children."

We don’t sell our children into slavery these days or put them in chains or kill them but believe it or not, there are fathers and mothers in our society who inflict emotional pain on their children equal to the cruelty of Roman fathers. Permit me to list some of the ways parents may injure the heart and mind of their children:

1) Rejection - some children seethe inwardly or explode outwardly because they feel emotionally rejected or have been physically rejected by one or both of their parents. Quite frankly, the wind has been taken out of their sails. They have lost heart and lack motivation to do anything. They are angry inside. When I was a child I can recall four children my mother took into our home because their parents had literally rejected them. They were emotionally devastated. They cried often. Our family helped them but there was not way we could fill the emotional vacancy left by their parents.

2) Destructive criticism - There is no doubt that children need reproof and correction. Identifying behavioral boundaries and insisting that children stay within them is the natural duty of parents. But insulting, destructive criticism that implies stupidity on the part of children is emotionally destructive. The apostle Peter wrote, "And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins" (I Peter 4:8). In other words, loving parents will not constantly remind their children of past failures or sins. If God forgives them, parents should forgive them as well.

In his book, Parents Passing on the Faith, Carl Spackman wrote: Some children cannot sneeze without their parents telling them they didn’t do it correctly. When all our children hear from morning to night is criticism of what they are doing or not doing, they will become totally disheartened before long. And they will probably develop a very negative self image and/or openly rebel against their parents and their parents’ faith.

3) Tension in the home - No parent wakes up in the morning thinking, "What can I do to create stress and tension for my children today?" We don’t think that way but we often achieve those same results.

When parents openly argue with each other day after day they create far more tension for their children than they realize. A child’s sense of security is bound up in the secure relationship of his or her parents. There is no question that a tension-filled marriage will produce tension-filled children. In his book, Five Cries of Youth, Merton Stromen wrote:

"The most poignant cry is the sob of despair or shriek of sheer frustration among youth living in an atmosphere of parental hatred and distrust. Often it ends in running away from home, delinquent behavior, suicide, or other self-destructive behavior."

In your mind’s eye trade places with your children and ask yourself, "If I were a child in my home would the predominant atmosphere be one of love and security or one of tension and fear?" Learn to look at the life-style pattern of your.’home through the eyes of your children. It could make quite a difference in the way you live.

We have briefly stated the problem that is found in many homes. The answer is found in the last half of Ephesians 6:4. After telling us not to "provoke our children to wrath" Paul writes, "but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Bible commentator Matthew Henry interprets that Scripture as follows: "In all cases deal prudently and wisely with them, endeavoring to convince their judgments and to work upon their reason." Children, of course, should not be trained like a dog where the usual commands are "sit." "speak," or "roll over." Immature children are thinking. rational human beings. They need and want clear direction from their parents. But the parental directives we give and the boundaries we set should be Biblical, rational, understandable, and appropriate to the level of maturity of our children.

If your children are to rise up and call you "blessed" (Proverbs 31:28) you cannot punctuate their childhood years with rejection, destructive criticism, and an tension-filled home. To do so will lead to grief, anger, and wrath. The answer is a loving home, a caring church, and an inspiring school where the name of Christ is honored.