The reality of submitting your life to Jesus, and living under his authority has massive implications. When you become a Christian, all of your relationships are redefined by your relationship with Jesus.

In Ephesians 2-3, we see that people who had substantial personal differences because of the color of their skin or their country of origin were to be set aside in light of their shared relationship in Christ. Being a Christian takes priority. Now in God’s family, we are to be loving, gentle, forgiving, and gracious to one another. Later in Ephesians 5, marriage gets a facelift. A Christian marriage should look much different from other marriages in the world around us. This is because of the relationships the husband and wife have with Jesus.

But this isn’t all. Even the relationships between parents and children are different. They don’t march according to the drumbeat of the world around us but rather according to the tune of heaven. We salute the King, even in our parenting. When the gospel comes to the home, there are changes. God gives specific instructions for the family to reflect his authority. In verses 1-3, instructions for children. And in verse 4, instructions for parents.

Notice in verse 4 that it’s addressed to fathers. The word translated here as “fathers” is the common word for father. (Although, in Hebrews 11:23, it is used to describe both parents.) In light of the revolutionary and counter-cultural way Christian dads were to treat their kids, it is likely addressed to fathers to make the point about their accountability to God and the need for something different to take place.

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

Pretty straight-forward, don’t do this, do that. In this article let’s think about what not to do. Do not provoke your children to anger. The word here translated “provoke” has the sense of exasperating, instigating, or inciting. It’s the idea of pushing the children’s buttons and getting under their skin. Calvin says parents mustn’t “irritate their children by unreasonable severity.” In a parallel passage in Colossians 3, we read, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

Don’t exasperate your kids, lest you discourage them.

How can you exasperate your children? Here are 11 ways.

  1. Bullying: Parents are generally bigger, stronger, and more intelligent than their kids. Combined with the authority of parenting, this could be wielded with harsh and intimidating words that greatly discourage children.
  2. Showing favoritism: If parents favor one child over another discouragement is inevitable (think about Jacob and Esau).
  3. Question their salvation every time they mess up: Saying, “Are you even a Christian?” when your kids do something wrong will reinforce the (erroneous) view that Christians never do anything wrong and that the gospel is not for them.
  4. Unclear standards: Kids need to know and understand the standards they are being held to. If not, then they’ll be confused, surprised, and discouraged.
  5. Unexplained discipline: Discipline requires instruction. Even in Ephesians 6:4, there is a don’t do this and a do this. There is a need to explain what is right and what is wrong.
  6. Inconsistency: Parents need to be consistent with their kids. If something is wrong on Tuesday, it should be wrong on Thursday. Inconsistency sends mixed messages, and, when punished, they lose trust.
  7. Excessive or unreasonable discipline: Just as there are levels of rebellion, there should be corresponding levels of discipline. Also, parents can’t discipline for every single thing that the child does that is wrong. (Otherwise, they would never stop correcting.) Be careful of punishing too often or excessively. Discipline should be reasonable.
  8. Discipline out of anger: Parents who are out of control and losing their temper will hurt their children and discourage them. Think of how twisted it is to inflict harm in the name of love. It will also most certainly damage the child and the relationship. Be careful, parents. (Sometimes we may need a time out.)
  9. Humiliation: Parents are seeking to build up their kids. If they are humiliating them (in public, in front of their siblings, or even one-on-one) with words or discipline, they will most certainly exasperate them.
  10. Never admit you are wrong: Kids live with their parents. They see when they mess up. If the parent never admits they are wrong, especially when the offense is toward the child, then they will soon see through all of the Bible talk. Humility is required by parents who don’t want to exasperate their children.
  11. Over-protection and smothering: Well-meaning overprotection can cause discouragement and resentment. Remember, kids are people who need to grow. Their wills should be shepherded, but they can’t be controlled absolutely.

I’m sure there are a dozen more ways to do this, but you get the idea. God loves children. And so Christian moms and dads should too. This means not exasperating them.

In the next article, I’ll address the positive side of the command.