Authority and Nurture at Home
Topic: Expository Passage: Colossians 3:20-21
Read vv. 18–21
Colossians 3:18-21 (NKJV) 18 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them.
20 Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.
21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
You don’t have to be in church long to know that certain sermon topics grab you more than others. For example, when you’re 15, and the preacher announces he is going to be talking about parenting, you feel relief because, “I’m not a parent, so he’s not coming after me.” Or maybe it’s a topic that you feel like you have mastered. As a teen I distinctly remember at times thinking, “I’ve got this one down, so I’m good for today.” But I also remember having a mental list of topics that I knew would be difficult to hear. I was always convicted by sermons about evangelism and missions or about honoring and obeying your parents.
I would imagine that when I read today’s text and you saw that I’m going to talk about parent/child relationships, some of you had some of these reactions. Maybe you’re an empty nester, and you felt relief because, “Pastor isn’t coming after me today.” Or maybe you thought, “sic, em, pastor” because your teen really needs to hear v. 20. Maybe it hurt, because you want to have a family and don’t or because you think you failed as a parent. Or maybe you’re eager to learn about an area where you need direction.
Obviously, vv. 20–21 address two fairly specific life stages and give important instructions for those groups. And so if you are a child or you are in the child-rearing phase of life, I hope you will be especially attentive. But even if you are not, there is something we can see about God in every text, and since the church is an interdependent body, we should all be concerned about how we can support each other in living out God’s expectations. So no matter what life stage you are in, listen attentively, ask God to speak, and trust God’s Word to minister grace. There are 2 pretty obvious major challenges in this text. First…
I. Children must obey their parents (v. 20). Let’s talk first about…
Context of the Command: In particular, we need to define who God is addressing because some would argue that God is saying we must obey our parents as long as we live. On the other hand, teenagers like to think that they aren’t children anymore, so this doesn’t apply to them.
But sorry teens, no matter how our society defines child, God is speaking to you in this verse. I say that because the context is talking about the household, so as long as you are dependent on your parents and haven’t transitioned into your own home on your own budget, this command applies to you, so you must obey what it says. But once that transition takes place, the Bible nowhere demands obedience to parents. On the contrary, the normal biblical expectation is that children transition from childhood to marriage, and God said at the beginning that marriage establishes a new home with a new authority structure (Gen 2:24).
As a side note, if both parents and newlyweds would just pay attention to the part about leaving, it would relieve a lot of tension in families. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all obligations cease. The Bible gives no time limits on how long we should obey the 5th Command to “honor your father and your mother.” And 1 Timothy 5 teaches that obeying this command requires caring for elderly parents. So becoming an adult does not end all obligations, but it does end the obligation to obey. With that in mind, notice as well…
The Meaning of the Command: This is pretty simple. God commands children who are in the home to obey their parents. As I said last week, this verb is stronger than the one used for wives in v. 18. God pictures a wife’s submission as voluntary. She has some choice in the matter, but he doesn’t say the same for kids. The Bible is clear that God put your parents over you, and your responsibility is to obey, not to question. Do what they tell you to do. Do it immediately, and do it gladly. And notice also…
The Extent of the Command: Children, God commands you, “Obey your parents in all things.” Notice what God doesn’t say. He doesn’t say obey them when it’s convenient, when it makes sense to you, or when you feel like obeying. Nope, God makes it very simple so that you don’t have to worry about all of these conundrums. He simply says, “Obey all the time.”
Of course, the biblical ethic teaches that there are some narrow exceptions. For example, if your parent tells you to steal something or to curse God, you have to obey God rather than your parent. But especially in a Christian home, these exceptions are so rare that they should hardly register on your radar. Rather, by the grace of God, just embrace God’s command, and commit to obey at all times, in all circumstances.
I know that’s not always easy. I remember getting so frustrated at times with some of the things my dad told me to do on the farm. It didn’t always make sense to me, and sometimes I was convinced that I knew better. And at times you might know better, though it probably doesn’t happen nearly as much as you like to think that it does. Your parents have been around much longer than you, and generally speaking it’s pretty arrogant to think you have more wisdom than someone 25 or 30 years older. Your perspective on life is simply far more limited.
Therefore, children and teens, humbly acknowledge that your parents are the authority and that almost always they know best, and then keep it simple and obey “in all things.” This is ultimately because of…
The Motivation for the Command: Verse 20 gives the ultimate reason why children must obey. “For this is well-pleasing to the Lord.” God is happy when you obey your parents. And of course, the opposite is also true. God is displeased when you disobey. And if you are a believer, this statement should be very sobering. When you disobey your parents, you aren’t just disobeying them. You are disobeying the Lord. And you may be able to convince yourself that your parents don’t know what they are talking about, but you know that God does. Yet every time you disobey your parents, you are essentially slapping God across the face and saying that you know better than him, and that’s a problem. But when you obey, God is pleased and that’s incredible, so work to keep a Godward focus as you obey.
And then remember that God didn’t set it up this way to make your life miserable. God makes this clear in the 5th Commandment, and notice how Paul expands on the 5th command in Ephesians 6:1–3. It is for your good to obey your parents because your parents are a gift of wisdom and guidance.
Therefore, you need to ask yourself, “Whom do I trust more? Do I trust myself, or God?” And then see the importance of obeying your parents because at this stage of your life, it is a significant test of your godliness. I don’t care how spiritual you may feel or what other good things you may be doing. If you consistently ignore this command, you aren’t godly. Obey your parents, and obey God. So what does this verse mean for the rest of us and especially for parents. I’d like to make 3 applications.
Embrace God’s design for the authority structure of the home. The Bible teaches that God built parental authority into the very fabric of creation. It’s at the heart of a structured society, and it is vital to the development of children. And all of us should give thanks for the wisdom of God in this design. In light if this it’s significant that Romans 1:30 lists “disobedience to parents” as a significant marker of a broken society. We can see this today.
Adults, not just kids, increasingly rejects the biblical authority structure of the home. V. shows paint parents as foolish and dumb, and secular psychology believes a parent’s basic job is to let kids discover themselves. It sounds really good, but it’s nonsense, because we are born sinners; as a result, notice the obligation of parents (Prov 22:15). Our job is to drive sin out, not let it blossom. God knows what he is talking about, and we need to see the rebellion against God’s design and the utter foolishness in so much of what our culture says, and then we need to embrace God’s design. This brings us to a 2nd application.
Serve your children by providing structure and demanding obedience. The fact that God repeatedly commands children to honor and obey implies that God expects parents to provide good leadership and a structured environment. This is so important because chaos and disorder generally says more about the leader than it does about those following him. If the flock is a mess, it’s the shepherd’s fault more than the sheep’s fault.
Parents if you are constantly frustrated by your kids’ disobedience, but there’s no structure to your home or you don’t consistently demand obedience, you’re the problem, not them. And you are doing a great disservice to your children. Provide structure, demand obedience, and drive foolishness out of the heart of your child. A 3rd application is…
Keep a Christ-centered focus to your discipline. God says the ultimate reason why children must obey is because it pleases the Lord, which is especially Christ in the context of Colossians. And parents, it’s so crucial that you keep this focus especially as your kids get older because your ultimate goal is not to keep them in line but to build into them a heart of godliness and integrity that will last long after you are out of the picture. They need to see that heart in you, and you must constantly push them to Christ more than anyone else. The second major challenge of this text is that…
II. Fathers must provide a fertile environment (v. 21). We need to begin with…
The Recipients of Command: It should catch our attention that v. 21 is addressed specifically to fathers. And this is clearly intentional because 20 uses a different word when it says children must obey their parents. Therefore, Paul assumes that fathers are responsible to take the lead in setting the structure of the home and providing discipline for children.
This doesn’t mean that mothers aren’t also responsible. Verse 20 just said that kids must obey both parents. And the NT assumes that mothers will primarily manage the day-to-day discipline in the home. First Timothy 5:14 instructs younger widows to get married, “bear children, (and) manage the house.” And this is a good thing because women are better multi-taskers, more nurturing, and more verbal. And dads, we all ought to be very thankful for the good work our wives do on a daily basis.
But God says that you are responsible to take the lead in instructing and discipling your children. And this is an area where many men fail miserably. When they get home, they aren’t really home. They say “hi” to the family but then they are off in their own world doing a task or chasing a hobby. I understand that life is busy and exhausting. Many days I pull in the driveway, and my boys are running toward me before the car is shut off. And I have to consciously leave all the junk of my day in the car and just be engaged no matter how tough my day was.
Dads, you need to be engaged with your kids. You need to know where they are doing well and where they are struggling. You need to know what your wife is seeing, and you need to take the lead in parenting your kids. Don’t make excuses, and don’t be lazy. Be a man and lead your family.
And if you are a single parent or you are practically one because of how uninvolved your spouse is, I feel for you. Heidi left me with the boys for a week last month, and my goodness it was tough. I don’t have any easy solutions for you, but I hope you know that you are with family And we want to come alongside you and fill the void as best we can. Please let us know how we can serve. And then trust that God knows what he is doing, and his grace is more than sufficient. And I hope that all of us will be aware of these kinds of needs, and that we will take initiative in filling that gap. Moving on, notice as well…
The Content of the Command: God commands fathers, and by extension mothers, “do not provoke your children.” The basic meaning of the verb is “stir to action.” But when it is used in a negative context such as this, the idea is really “stir to resentment or rebellion.” The LXX uses the same verb in Deuteronomy 21:20 where it is translated as rebellious. And so the idea in our text is don’t parent your kids in such a way that you provoke them to rebel against your authority and ultimately against God’s.
And the warning that follows adds color to what God means. God says don’t provoke your children so that “they become discouraged.” The idea behind this warning is that you don’t want to parent in such a way that your child loses heart and ultimately gives up on trying to please and obey you.
When you put these ideas together, Paul is warning parents that they need to be very careful not to parent in a way that provokes rebellion in their kids and drives them to despair and to giving up on obeying mom and dad and ultimately God himself.
It’s interesting that this a very different charge than from contemporary secular household codes. Greek writers challenged kids not to provoke their parents. But a Christian parent isn’t ultimately focused on his own interests or even on keeping his house in order. A Christian parent wants to raise godly kids who love the Lord from the heart and will obey him the rest of their lives. Therefore, a Christian parent should be giving intentional thought to how to lead their children to that point.
And so Paul doesn’t give us a specific formula for successful parenting, like so many writers today who claim that if you follow my steps, you are guaranteed to raise godly children. Instead, he sets before us a general principle or goal that is true in any generation or setting, and then he leaves us to think about how it applies in our day, to our family, and even to each individual kid, because they are all different.
Therefore, parents, you need to give serious thought to how do I raise this particular child in a way that won’t provoke rebellion or discouragement and will instead lead to obedience and a desire to please the Lord. But with the rest of our time I’d like to give 9 quick applications of v. 21 for you to consider based on my observations of where parents struggle or succeed.
Do not abuse, berate, or embarrass your children. The Bible clearly advocates for spanking and discipline because especially small children need to feel the consequences of sin. But a good spanking hurts and then it’s over. If you spank or use other forms of physical punishment that leave bruises, damage health, or create long-term pain, you are asking for a discouraged child. Especially for small children, discipline should hurt and then be over.
This is why I added, “berate.” You have to instruct your kids when they sin, but then let it go. Don’t keep hitting them over the head with how they failed. That wears anyone out. And don’t embarrass your kids either. All kids but especially teenagers are very conscious of what people think of them, so don’t embarrass them by disciplining them in front of others or by bringing up their failures to their friends or in public. Some of what your kids do may be really funny, and describing it on FB may get you a lot of laughs, but your kids probably won’t think it’s funny. Be sensitive to your child’s spirit (again, they’re all different), and for the most part keep discipline private.
Do not be distant. A great way to discourage your child is to not be involved in his or her life or to not care about the things that matter to them. Give time to your kids. Go to their games and recitals because they are really important to your kids. Talk to them like they are real people. And then get your kids involved in your life. My dad sometimes worked 70+ hours a week on the farm, but I never felt neglected because I went everywhere with him. I loved it, and I learned a ton in the process. It may slow you down a bit but take your kid along on errands, and involve them in projects. My boys had so much fun “helping” me change the oil in the cars a couple of weeks ago. I was spending time with them, they were learning, and I was still getting something done. Be engaged.
Do not parent for appearances. All too often when our kids have problems, we are far more concerned about how it reflects on us than on the needs of the child. I’ve seen parents tell their anorexic daughter not to tell anyone because they were embarrassed or tell their daughter who was cutting herself the same thing for the same reason. What does it communicate to a child when you are more concerned about saving face than their good?
As well, we are all proud and competitive. We want to look like good parents, and so we can discipline for the sake of appearance more than for the good of our child. Kids see right through it. Do what’s best for your kid, because who cares if you win “Mommy of the Year” if your child ends up despising you.
Do not be a hypocrite. A really easy way to discourage your kids is demand things from them that you don’t do yourself. Your greatest gift to your kids is your own walk with Christ. Lead by example. And when you fail, acknowledge it and apologize. They need to see that you are sinner to and that you are struggling harder than they are to please the Lord.
Major on the majors and minor on the minors. You aren’t going to fix every detail of your child’s character overnight because sanctification takes a lifetime. So don’t try to set up a billion rules that regulate every little detail. Your kids won’t remember them all, and they wont keep up. It’s up to you to set them up for success. Therefore, focus on growing a heart of godliness, and set reasonable expectations that are focused on developing important aspects of godly character. And then set reasonable consequences that drive home the heart issues that are most important.
Be Consistent: I’m sure that all of us can remember that authority figure from our youth who would randomly lose his top and blow up. And later, he’d calm down nothing would change. How seriously did you take that person? You’d just role your eyes, and say, “Here he goes again.”
Parents, if your discipline is based on your emotions or if some days you are really strict and hold them to the rules and other days, you let it go, you are going to frustrate your kids and lose their ear. They need to know what is expected for them and what happens when they fail. I don’t care how hard your day was or how tired you are; your kids need consistency. So discipline your own heart first, and then do a good job of building discipline into them.
Balance criticism and compliments. When I was coaching, I quickly learned that there are two kinds of parents. Those whose kids can’t do anything right, and those whose kids can’t do anything wrong. Neither has a good perspective, and they don’t communicate a good perspective to their kids. Parents, you really need to work to keep perspective on your children. Don’t just lock in on how wonderful they are (that’s for grandparents), and don’t get so locked in on their faults that you miss how they are growing and all that’s good. And then make sure you communicate both to them in a way that builds. And be sensitive to the particular sensitivities of each kid. Some need you to really be in your face, and some need a lot of reassurance.
Model the Fatherhood of God and the grace of the gospel. As I already said, the goal of parenting is not to churn out perfectly behaved kids who reflect well on your parenting skill, because your kids can have a lot of character and still go to hell.
Paul’s ultimate heart in this verse is that we must parent in such a way that we drive our kids to the Lord and to the goodness of his Law, not away from it. And the reality is that especially for younger children, their understanding of God is largely shaped by what they see in their parents. If you are a softy that can’t demand anything, what kind of God will your kids believe in? If you are harsh and unreasonable, and they never experience grace and compassion, how will your kids perceive God? As I said earlier, your greatest gift to your children is your own walk with Christ, so pursue him, and then let it show in how you manifest love, demand righteousness, and display grace. And this is true for all of us. There are lots of little eyes watching everyone in this room, and we need to show them a true picture of Christ.
This is hard stuff isn’t it? Ultimately, when it comes to producing godly kids, you can’t do it yourself. I’ve seen wonderful parents end up with ungodly children, and poor parents end up with godly, high character children. This is because ultimately only God can change the heart of your child. And so parents, we must work hard, and we must pray hard. And this includes all of us. We need to pray for our kids, and we need to support our kids and our parents. And then we should anticipate the great things God will do with this generation.