Looking at on-target Christian parenting in Colossians 3:20-21

Note: The reader is invited to look at another version of this post at my other blogsite: http://pastormahlon.blogspot.com/2014/08/on-target-christian-parenting.html

Colossians 3:20-2120 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasingto the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” (NASB)


Normally in sermons or discussions on passages like the one above, people like to point out the significance of the need for children to obey their parents. Undoubtedly this observation is true, however it does not cover all that is being communicated in the passage. In the passage above and in what will be the parallel worded passage of Ephesians 6:4 below, there are highlighted words that are significant to consider in not only the intepretation of these passages, but also their application. Please note Ephesians 6:4 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Whenever we consider the things a father could do to disrupt the harmony in the home, Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:19,21 spell out the following things that a father ought not to do, followed by what he must do.


Ephesians 6:4 “Father, do not provoke your children to anger…”. (NASB)                   The phrase translated “do not provoke your children to anger” speaks of not doing something that would intentionally incite a person to be frustrated or to be moved to outburst and retribution. The command here in Ephesians 6:4 is warning fathers to not engage in a parenting style that could intentionally irritate their children and create within them a resentment. The verb with the negative in the Greek text (μὴ παροργίζετε = may par-or-gid-say-te) is a present imperative, indicating a specific, pointed command and can be rendered “don’t provoke to irritation”. Such activity speaks of a father whose parenting style and interraction with their child produces rebellion rather than right behavior.

The parallel worded passage of Colossians 3:21 reads in the NASB “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” The verbal phrase “do not exasperate” is rendered from the present imperative verb (ἐρεθίζετε = e-reth-i-ze-te), which is a synonym of the verb we saw in Ephesians 6:4. According to the Liddle/Scott/Jones Greek English Lexicon, this verb can refer to someone who is made so angry that they lash out in physical violence. A child who is “expasperated” by their dad represents a high tension spring just waiting to “let loose” by the slightest irriation. Perhaps we could say that in viewing both Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 together, both respectively warn against beginning to provoke the child, lest it leads to an all-out war later on down the road!

An illustration of parenting that is off-target

To illustrate, I can recall one time sitting in a doctor’s office next to a father and his adolescent son. The father kept pinching his son in jest, however he kept doing it repeatedly. Even though the boy begged him to stop, the father saw it has a way of passing the time and did not stop. The young man would then get upset and his father would have to get him under control, only to repeat the cycle again. Both verbs above carry the idea of coming alongside and “stoking the fires” of anger that are already kindled in that child’s heart.

If fathers are to expect their children to submit to their authority or if they expect to produce children who will heed and respect them, they must parent in such a way as not to knowingly frustrate their child. Not only can such outcomes result from willful, intentional acts of bad parenting, but also in the opposite extreme of neglecting to set boundaries. Proverbs 13:24 states – “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” 

Dr. Charles Quarles, Dean at the Caskey School of Divinity and Research Professor of New Testament and Greek at Lousiana College, writes regarding Paul’s warnings in Colossians 3:21 in LifeWay’s January Bible Study 2014 on Colossians, page 69: “When a father insists that his child fulfill impossible demands or disciplines him too harshly, the child may give up on ever being able to please his father and simply stop trying. Later on Quarles writes: “Paul warned that nagging children with impossible expectations may mmake them despondent. On the other hand, fathers can also encourage rebellion by being too lenient and refusing to discipline their children at all.”


In as much as Paul issues for these negative admonitions to fathers to “not provoke their children to anger” in Ephesians 6:4 and “to not exasperate their children” in Colossians 3:21, what then ought Godly father be aiming to do? Certainly there are sins to avoid in these texts, however, what kind of parenting ought a father being exercising toward their children as seen in these texts? I find it interesting that in the positive commands given to the children to “obey their parents”, the reasoning for doing so points to the Heavenly Father. Why is this signficant? Whatever the Heavenly Father does and Who He is ought to provide the standard for earthly fathers.

Jesus speaks of the correlation between earthly fathers and the Heavenly Father in Luke 11:11-13Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12 Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” Why is it that children are to obey their parents, as stated for example in Ephesians 6:2? Because in Ephesians 6:3 reference is made to the fifth command issued in Exodus 20:12  “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” 

How the Heavenly Father is the template for on-target Christian parenting

Being that the Heavenly Father loves his redeemed people and had done all that is necessary for their salvation, obedience and submission ought to be a no-brainer. Numerous scriptures give us insight into the charatcer and activity of God the Father towards His people. He knows how to give good and perfect gift (James 1:17) and takes care of His people with no thought of ever leaving them nor forsaking them in their time of need (Matthew 6:25-33). Why wouldn’t a son or a daughter love a father who is nothing but loving, nurturing and caring? Thus by implication and based upon the character of the Heavenly Father, earthly fathers ought to love their children with the love of God through and through. They will know when to lovingly apply the firm hand of discipline and when to show the proper measure of patient and mercy.

Five critical ingredients necessary for effective Christian parenting

As we think about how the Heavenly Father’s character and actions towards His redeemed people functions as a template for on-target Christian parenting, what particular on-hands actions are needed to bring such insights into how we parent our children? Dr. Timothy Clinton, President of the American Association of Christian Counselors and licensed professional counselor Dr. Gary Sibcy have written a very helpful book entitled: “Why You Do the Things You Do – The Secret to Healthy Relationships”. On page 197 of their volume, Clinton and Sibcy note: “We’ll walk you through what we call the T-factors – Temperament, Time, Teaching, Touch and Tenacity  five critical ingredients in parenting, ingredients we hope will become important techniques in your parenting repertoire.” Their discussion, coupled with the observations we have gleaned from the above  scriptures, should aid greatly in bringing our discussion of on-target Christian parenting to a point of practical application. Notice the five “T’s” they mention:

1. Temperament. In short, this first element has to do with recognizing how our personalities are wired and how they interract with one another. Clinton and Sibcy list four types of temperaments among children and adults: Easy kids (laid back); Difficult kids (grumpy, fussy, tend to withdraw, generally negative); Slow-to-warm-up kids (hard to adjust to new situations, once adjusted,, they become more pleasant) and mixed temperament (combination of all three). Think about how our Heavenly Father knows what needs we have, and knows everything about us. (Matthew 6:30-33) By grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the follower of Jesus Christ has been known by the Father before they were born and thus He has engineered everything we need to grow, and has factored in our temperaments as part of that process. As parents, we need to consider our children’s temperaments so as to avoid frustrating and unwittingly planting seeds to rebellion in their hearts.

2. Time. Spending not only quantity of time with our children but quality time that involves listening and interracting with our children. The Father has ordained that His redeemed people come to Him in prayer, and desires that we take all our needs to Him. (1 Peter 5:7) Just as our Heavenly Father always has time for us and gives the quality and quantity we need, as earthly parents, we too need to strike that perfect balance with our kids.

3. Touch. Clinton and Sibcy note that researc has shown that children need at least eleven touches per day (Page 212). Hugs, kisses, high-fives and nurturing are necessary for raising up secure children. Paul speaks in Romans 12:1 of the tender mercies of God. Whenever you read the first eleven chapters of Romans, you will discover 75 different expressions of tender mercy from God in the realm of redemption! As we look to our Heavenly Father and in how He deals so tenderly and forthrightly with His redeemed people, we too need to make “face-time” priority with our kids.

4. Teaching. Clinton and Sibcy’s point here is not just about transferring information from parent to child. They cite on page 213 of their book: “….we need to set limits on how our children behave when they’re upset; we need to teach them ways to manage their feelings and solve their problems. When we do this, we create a secure base from which our children can deal with negative emotions, and a host of good things begin to happen.” Think about how the Heavenly Father teaches us though the written word – the Bible, and sent His Son in full humanity as the “Living Word” – God with us. Whenever we impart to our children the relational, emotional and spiritual tools they need to take on the challenges of life, we are fulfilling our roles as the primary teachers in their lives.

5. Tenacity. This final “T” in Clinton and Sibcy’s book has to do with being consistent, hanging in their and being a stable presence in our kids lives. Scripture reveals that the Heavenly Father has promised to persevere with His redeemed people to the end. Philippians 1:6 notes: “He Who began a good work within you will bring it unto completion to the day of Christ.” As parents, we will know that we are on target as we follow through with our kids in small and big decisions and eventually see that trait transferred to them into their adult life.

Closing thoughts

Today’s post aimed to take a close look at on-target Christian parenting from Colossians 3:20-21. We did some key word studies and cross referencing to better understand what parents (mainly fathers) should never do and what they must do to be effective in their parenting. We also consulted some leading Christian counselor literature to bring home these truths and based our closing thoughts around how God the Father deals with his redeemed people. The hope is that this post has provided a launching point for considering how Christian parents can be more effective at on-target parenting.


About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
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