Parenting can be a little bit like a Rubik’s cube.
When I was in school Rubik’s cubes were all the rage. Now the thing about a Rubik’s cube, what makes it so maddening, is that it looks so simple. Everybody knows what you want to do with a Rubik’s cube. The goal is to have each side the same color. It’s not like the objective is all that complicated. But ah, actually achieving that goal, now that’s the rub. That’s where it gets hard; at least for me. In fact, I have to admit that in spite of the hours I spent playing with a Rubik’s cube as a kid, I never was actually able to do it. When it comes to Rubik’s cubes, there’s a difference between knowing what you want and knowing what you are supposed to do.
That’s also true for parenting.
I mean it’s easy to understand that God wants for your children to learn obedience and be joyful and demonstrate courage, but when you go up to your child’s room to wake them up from nap and you smell something and you notice that they took off their diaper and went around their room leaving their mark all over the place, or when you go into the kitchen and you discover that your son took out a pair of scissors and chopped off his sister’s hair, or when you go to the grocery store and your child gets so upset about not being allowed to have a twenty five cent ring that they throw such a loud temper tantrum in the grocery store that the manager has to help you carry them out to the car; or when you ask your teenager to take out the trash and you receive a sarcastic reply about how he’s the only one who has to do any work around the house, now that’s where it gets tricky.
Which is why you need to not only know what Jesus wants from your children, but also what He wants from you. You need to know your responsibilities. Although we’re not going to find everything the Bible has to say about our responsibilities as parents in these verses, by paying attention to the context and looking carefully at exactly what Paul does and says, we can draw at least six practical insights which will help us understand what Jesus wants from us as parents.
First, the context of these verses helps us remember what parenting is all about.
We need to step back and get a view of the big picture. Why do I do what I do as a parent?
Some people are self-centered parents. If I’m a self-centered parent, ultimately, I do what I do for me. I’m the main person I’m thinking about. When their child does something I don’t like, I freak out. Son, you are making me late! Daughter, I can’t believe you messed with my things!
Some people are child-centered parents. If I’m a child-centered parent, ultimately, I do what I do for my children. Now these kinds of parents are often incredibly sacrificial. They amaze me. Their lives revolve around their children. Whatever their child wants, they get. And these parents will go to great lengths to make sure they get it.
As Christians, Paul gives us another motivation for our behavior. We need to do what we do for Christ.
The verse which really sets the context for everything we are talking about this morning in verses 20 and 21 is verse 17 where Paul says, “…whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…” Whatever you do, do as a representative of Christ. That’s got to be your main priority as a Christian parent. You parent for Christ.
Instead of being a self-centered parent or a child-centered parent, strive to be a Christ-centered parent. Do what you do for Christ.
That’s where Christian parenting begins. You must understand you are a person under authority. In the end it’s not about what you want, or even what your child wants, it is about what Jesus wants. You may be so laid back that you do not give a rip if your children ever listen to a word you say, or you may be this authority freak and you want your children when you say jump to say how high. But what I want you to understand, either way, it’s not about you. It’s about you as a parent realizing that Jesus is Lord even over your family and what He wants is more important than what you want. You act as his representative. And understanding that must dominate everything you do. When you go to instruct your children, when you go to discipline your children, when you go to comfort your children, you have got to do so remembering that you are acting on behalf of Christ.
Second, the fact that Paul addresses children indicates that we need to hold children accountable.
We are living in a culture that wants to excuse all sin. Knowing that, it shouldn’t surprise us that our culture goes to especially great lengths to excuse children’s sin. For almost every sinful behavior there is a ready-made excuse.
When a child doesn’t show love to others, they are shy. When a child is angry and nasty to others, he’s tired. When a child consistently refuses to listen to his teacher when he is asked to settle down, he’s just got a lot of energy.
When it comes to our children, it’s easy for us as Christian parents to fall into the excuse-making trap.
I remember we had a friend of ours over a while back, a Christian friend, and her child just took a big old bite out of one of the kids. Stepped right up and ate a chunk of stomach. Totally malicious. It wasn’t like, “Oh man sorry I accidently ate a bite of your stomach.” No, this was planned. And the mom sees all this, comes running up, and she feels bad about the whole thing, she becomes apologetic and says it’s because he has a poopy diaper. A poopy diaper? What’s a poopy diaper have to do with taking a bite out of that kid’s stomach.
This same parent, sometimes her children would start bashing each other with a particular toy. Not fun and games, we’re talking full out war, using Barney as a weapon. And the mom would come running up, and you know who would get in trouble? Barney! She’d put Barney on time out. And I always felt bad for Barney, because it’s like what did he do wrong?
Like many others, she seemed to forget that her children were responsible for their actions. Now, obviously it’s important for understand that children are children and that they struggle with sin like us and besides that that they are growing and that we need to be gracious with them as they learn. But understanding all of that and being gracious doesn’t mean that we have to act as if they have no responsibility to obey God’s commands.
That certainly isn’t Paul’s attitude. Although we talked about the importance of you as parents calling your children to obedience, who really is the command verse 20 addressed to? Not parents. Children. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Obviously Paul wanted these children to know that they had a responsibility to act in a way that honored Jesus. He viewed them as capable of having a genuine relationship with Jesus on their own. He viewed them as being able to hear and understand a command. And he viewed them as responsible to obey it.
There’s no way they could simply excuse themselves, saying “Well I’m a kid.” And their parents shouldn’t either.
As I look at my children and as you look at your children, we need to understand that they are human beings who have a relationship with God, apart from us. When they stand before God, we’re not going to be there to make excuses. They are going to be held responsible for their actions. And we are responsible to help them understand that.
Third, the fact that Paul includes this command implies that we need to teach children what God desires.
If you are looking at verses 20 and 21 and wondering where’s that in the text, I would just say to you that it is the text. The very fact that the text is here at all, that Paul has to tell children what they need to do and tell parents what they need to do, indicates that he viewed children and parents as needing instruction if they are going to live in a way that honors God. He’s not writing just to fill up space, but rather because he sincerely believes that this is information they need to know. The point being, we aren’t born knowing everything we need to know about being a parent and children aren’t born knowing everything they need to know about their responsibilities before God. If the importance of instruction is taught implicitly in our text, it’s made very explicit in Ephesians 6. Paul writes, “Fathers do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
I hope the importance of actively teaching and instructing your children is obvious to you. It’s not to a lot of people.
There are many parents who forget their children needs instruction and instead take the “my child is a mini-me” approach. They get frustrated when their child acts like a child and when their child doesn’t know everything that they as parents know. Their child doesn’t do something the way they are supposed to and man, whack, they are in a whole pile of trouble, because the parent thinks well I know how to do that so they should know how to do that, when in fact the child has never been taught how to do that. Although our children are accountable and responsible, we do need to remember that they are children.
There are other parents who forget that their children need instruction and take the “hands off” approach. They seem to think that when that baby comes out it is everything it will be, and that their main responsibility is not to get in the way of it growing up and turning out right. Their child is grumpy and they are alike oh no, I just have a grumpy child. No you have to teach your child not to be grumpy. Your child needs instruction. He or she needs to learn obedience.
Fourth, the fact that Paul points children to Christ teaches us that we need to use the proper motivation for obedience.
He writes, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Paul wasn’t only concerned that the child know what to do, he also wanted the child to understand why. He wasn’t only interested in action, he was also interested in motivation. He wasn’t only interested in externals, he was also interested in internals.
We should be concerned about those issues as well. Christian parenting isn’t behaviorism. You can get your children to do what you want them to do pretty easily. I mean you are a lot bigger than them. The issue is the heart. I know some people think that their parenting is successful because they have these children who do everything that they want them to do, when in reality all they have is a bunch of little self-righteous Pharisees. Their children do the right thing, but not for the right reason. Like Paul, we need to keep pointing our children away from themselves and back to Christ. It’s not about them, it’s not about us, it’s all about Him.
Fifth, the fact that Paul addresses both children and fathers, reminds us that we need to take the right kind of personal responsibility for our actions.
It’s possible to take too much responsibility as a parent. Ultimately your children are responsible before God for their behavior. That’s made clear by the fact that Paul calls them to obey. We know from other passages of Scripture that we can’t get into our children’s hearts and force them to do what they do because they want to please the Lord. I say that because sometimes parents judge their success as parents solely by their child’s behavior or attitudes. That’s a faulty way to judge success because your child is an individual moral agent who stands before God on his own two feet and has a choice to make about whether or not he is going to obey Paul’s command from the heart or not.
It’s also possible to take too little responsibility as a parent. Paul says “Fathers do not provoke your children…” If Paul commands fathers, and we can broaden this out to parents, the Greek word ‘fathers’ is sometimes even translated parents in other passages of Scripture such as Hebrews 11:23, if he commands parents not to provoke their children, you know what that tells me, it tells me that parents can provoke their children. The result being here in Colossians three that they get discouraged. The result if you look over at Ephesians 6:4 that they get angry. Seems to me that Paul is saying there are times when a child is discouraged and angry and the parents are a major reason why.
The point being there’s a balance. Although you can’t get in there and actually obey for your children and you can’t get inside of their hearts and force them to become Christians and want to please Jesus, you do need to understand that you can create a family atmosphere that makes obedience and loving Jesus a whole lot harder.
Which is why finally, we can say that the command Paul gives fathers in verse 21 tells us we must be very careful about how we treat our children.
Provoke in this context is not a nice word. Here it means to irritate, to make angry, to embitter, to exasperate. We could imagine a provoked person as saying “Aaaaah! I can’t do anything right…” Or “Maaaan! There’s no hope.”
If you are paying attention to how Paul is giving instructions in this passage you’ll notice that he begins with the person who you could say is in a weaker position in terms of authority and he calls them to fulfill their responsibilities. Wives, submit. Children, obey. Slaves, obey. That’s what you need to think about. Regardless of what the other person is like. But he doesn’t stop there, here’s the beautiful balance, he then addresses the person in the stronger position, and basically says you need to be careful not to abuse the position God has given you. Husbands love your wives. Father’s don’t exasperate your children.
We as parents need to be sensitive to the position God has placed our children in. He’s given your child a simple but difficult task, to obey you in everything. Now if you have a heart, you are not going to be rubbing your hands together and thinking oh man whoopee I get a chance to completely dominate another person and force them to do my will, but rather, man how can I care for this child and make it as easy as biblically possible for them to obey. I mean, your child is a human being, not a piece of property. And although pretty much every parent knows that, the way in which many parents relate to their children seems to indicate that they’ve forgotten it.
If you are like me, the day you first held your baby in your arms was one of the happiest days of your life. There’s no way you could have ever known how much joy and how much struggle could come in such a small package. Parenting is an incredible privilege, but it’s hard work. Many parents are tempted to throw their hands in the air and give up. They agree with Bill Cosby who once said, “In spite of the six thousand child raising manuals in bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything.”
Bill Cosby’s wrong.
God knows a whole lot about child-raising. Actually, everything. And while it’s true He doesn’t offer you a fail-proof three step plan for raising perfect little angels, He does clearly explain the two fundamental things you have to know and always keep in mind; what He expects of your children and what He expects of you.