Pastor David B. Curtis


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Fathers, Don't Exasperate Your Children

Colossians 3:21


As we continue to look at this very practical section of Colossians, I think it is clear that Paul was not laying down an order for society in general. He addresses the Christian community specifically on how husbands and wives and children and parents are to live in relationship to each other as visible expressions of true Christianity. He points out how Christians are to uniquely live under Christ's Lordship in the most intimate relationships of life. The simplicity of Paul's instructions offers clear guidance for family relationships. Paul really addresses each member of the family with a one word command that if followed will make a profound impact in our family, our church and our culture. To the wives he says, "Submit", to the husbands he says, "Love" to the children he says, "Obey," and this morning we will look at the divine directives for fathers, "Don't exasperate."

Colossians 3:21 (NASB) Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart.

Our text this morning is straightforward and simple. It divides naturally into three parts: First there is the address, "Fathers." Second, there is the command, "Do not exasperate your children." Third, there is the purpose of the command, "That they may not lose heart." We will look at these three parts of the text this morning.

The address: Fathers

There is a question as to whether Paul is speaking only to "fathers" or whether he is using this in a more generic sense to refer to "parents." The Greek word translated here as "fathers" is the word pater. I think that it's significant that this Greek word could be translated as "parents" as it is in:

Hebrews 11:23 (NASB) By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents [pater], because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's edict.

The plural of pater can be used to denote the mother and father. However, why Paul should change to this word when he's used goneus in the previous verse for "parents" seems strange. If Paul wanted this translated "parents," it seems to me that he would use the same word he did in verse 20.

Verse 20 said, "Children, obey your parents." This clearly teaches that mothers as well as fathers are to be obeyed. Mothers and fathers have a shared authority over the children. But in verse 21, it's better to accept the translation as "fathers," therefore, and to take Paul's words as relating directly to the heads of the families who were present in the Colossian fellowship, and who were responsible for the welfare and upbringing of children.

Why does he address only the fathers? Is it because mothers don't ever exasperate their children? No! Paul knows that mothers are as guilty of this as fathers. I believe that this verse is applicable to dads and moms. But Paul gives this command to the father, because he is the head of the home, and so he should provide leadership in the parenting of the children. This does not eliminate the responsibility of the mother.

The common practice of the Roman empire of Paul's day was for fathers to be considered Patria Potestes, i.e., "the power of the Father." Mothers did not have the same authority. By this Roman law, a father had complete power over his children to do with them as he desired. He could expose them at birth so that they died, or sell them into slavery, or even take their lives. Fathers often left the rearing of children to the work of his slaves. So, this would no doubt get the attention of the fathers.

Paul is telling the fathers that they play a very important role in the raising of the children. This would have been a shock to those of the Roman culture, and it seems to be just as shocking to those in our culture. Do you understand the importance a father plays in the upbringing of children?

Do you remember when Vice President Dan Quayle criticized Murphy Brown, the lead character of a CBS sitcom of the same name, for choosing to bear and raise a child without a father in the home? The sum of his critique was simple: It may be cool, chic, and a symbol of feminism's triumph for women to raise children without a father in the home, but it isn't good for kids, and it isn't good for our society. The response from the liberal cultural elite in this country was swift and savage. Quayle was heckled as a right-wing Neanderthal who wanted nothing more than to keep women bound in the stifling and servile drudgeries of wife and mother. Less than a year later, interestingly enough, a sociologist, named Barbara Defoe Whitehead, authored and published a 37-page article revealing the numbers, trends, and consequences on children of fatherless families for The Atlantic Monthly magazine. The title of the article was "Dan Quayle Was Right."

Listen to these numbers. Today, almost 1 out of 2 American children go to bed each night without a biological father in the home. And fifty-percent of our children today will spend at least some time before age 18 with only 1 parent. The poverty rate for children born to mothers who finished high school, got married, and waited until they were 20 to have their first child is 8%. The poverty rate for those who don't do those things is 79%. The average poverty rate for children of single mothers is currently 47%; it is 65% for black children. 60% of America's rapists, 72% of adolescent murderers, and 70% of long term prison inmates grew up without fathers. Do the math. What conclusion do you draw?

It is impossible to deny. Despite the messages of Hollywood and Madison Avenue, having a biological father in the home to help protect, provide for, and raise the children is an essential element of societal health and happy, well-adjusted kids.

Let me share a story with you that emphasizes the impact a fatherless household can have on a child. He began his life with all the classic handicaps and disadvantages. His mother was a powerfully built, dominating woman who found it difficult to love anyone. She had been married three times, and her second husband divorced her, because she beat him up regularly. The father of the child I'm describing was her third husband; he died of a heart attack a few months before the child's birth. As a consequence, the mother had to work long hours from his earliest childhood. James Dobson writes:

She gave him no affection, no love, no discipline, and no training during those early years. She even forbade him to call her at work. Other children had little to do with him, so he was alone most of the time. He was absolutely rejected from his earliest childhood. When he was thirteen years old, a school psychologist commented that he probably didn't even know the meaning of the word love. During adolescence, the girls would have nothing to do with him, and he fought with the boys.
Despite a high IQ, he failed academically, and finally dropped out during his third year of high school. He thought he might find acceptance in the Marine Corps; they reportedly built men, and he wanted to be one. But his problems went with him. The other Marines laughed at him and ridiculed him. He fought back, resisted authority, and was court-martialed and thrown out of the Marines with an undesirable discharge. So there he was­­ a young man in his early twenties, absolutely friendless. He was small and scrawny in stature. He had an adolescent squeak in his voice. He was balding. He had no talent, no skill, no sense of worthiness.
Once again he thought he could run from his problems, so he went to live in a foreign country. But he was rejected there also. While there he married a girl who had been an illegitimate child and brought her back to America with him. Soon she began to develop the same contempt for him that everyone else displayed. She bore him two children, but he never enjoyed the status and respect a father should have. His marriage continued to crumble. His wife demanded more and more things that he could not provide. Instead of being his ally against the bitter world, as he hoped, she became his most vicious opponent. She could outfight him, and she learned to bully him. On one occasion she locked him in the bathroom as punishment. Finally she forced him to leave.
He tried to make it on his own, but he was terribly lonely. After days of solitude, he went home and literally begged her to take him back. He surrendered all pride. Despite his meager salary, he brought her $78.00 as a gift, asking her to take it and spend it any way she wished. But she belittled his feeble attempt to supply the family's needs. She ridiculed his failure. At one point he fell on his knees and wept bitterly as the darkness of his private nightmare enveloped him.
Finally, in silence he pleaded no more. No one wanted him. No one had ever wanted him.
The next day he was a strangely different man. He arose, went to the garage, and took down a rifle he had hidden there. He carried it with him to his newly acquired job at a book storage building. And from a window on the third-floor of that building, shortly after noon, November 22, 1963, he sent two shells crashing into the head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Lee Harvey Oswald, the rejected, unlovable failure, killed a man who, more than any other man on earth, embodied all the success, beauty, wealth, and family affection which he lacked. In firing that rifle, he utilized the one skill he had learned in his entire, miserable lifetime. [James Dobson, Hide or Seek(Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1974), pp. 9, 11; as cited in R. Kent Hughes, Colossians and Philemon (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), pp. 121-122]

Relationships with our children are more important than we think. In the home we lay a foundation for all of life. We need to lay a good foundation that will serve our children well throughout their whole lives.

There is a peculiar role that the Scripture gives to husbands and fathers. Fathers bear a special responsibility for the moral life of the family. So I urge you to take that responsibility, fathers, and that you be involved in the lives of your children.

Let's talk for a minute about the Fatherhood of God. The Bible teaches us that God is a Father to believers. Jesus taught His disciples to call God their Father:

Matthew 6:8-9 (NASB) "Therefore do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him. 9 "Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.

Over and over in Matthew, God is called a "heavenly Father." Paul repeatedly calls God a "Father":

Romans 8:15 (NASB) For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!"

I believe all human fatherhood should be patterned on the divine fatherhood. The overarching guide for every father should be to live in such a way that his children can see what God the Father is like. They ought to see in their human father a reflection - an imperfect one of course - of the heavenly Father in his strength and tenderness, in his wrath and mercy, in his exaltation and condescension, in his surpassing wisdom and patient guidance. The task of every human father is to be for his children an image of the Father in heaven.

God purposely designed human fatherhood to be an illustration of his relationship to us. The whole reason that God even created something called "fathers" was so that we could better understand who He is. In other words, it wasn't as if God looked around at all the different kinds of human relationships He had created - father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin - and finally settled on this one as being the most similar to His relationship with His people. No, it goes back farther than that. In the very beginning, God fashioned the family, and the role of the father in the family, to serve as a living picture of who He is. Therefore, when He refers to Himself as our "father," it is not arbitrary or unimportant; it is highly intentional. It has great significance. And by the way, that's why contemporary assaults on the Biblical view of the family are so destructive. Not just because they harm the people involved, who usually find that alternative forms of family structure don't work very well, but also because they obscure the picture of God that human fatherhood was intended to reveal. They make it harder for people to understand what God is like.

Dads, we are to live set apart lives that give our family a model of God. We are to be able to look at them and say, "Follow me as I follow Christ." We are to be an example of godliness for our families to follow.

As a Christian, what is one thing about your heavenly father that you know for sure? Your answer should be, "I know God loves me."

Romans 5:8 (NASB) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

The "us" in this verse is believers. All you have to do is look to Calvary, and there you see a message of love written in blood. God's love is absolutely unconditional and irrevocable to his children.

So if God's love for us is certain, and it is, it should also be true of a parent/child relationship. Children should know for certain that the parent loves them - unconditionally. As a godly father, our kids should know that we love them.

One of my favorite pictures of God in the scripture is found in the parable of the Prodigal son. This parable vividly portrays God's willingness to forgive His children. If we are going to be like our Heavenly Father, we, too, must be always willing to forgive our repentant children.

You know the story: The son goes off into a far country and squanders all his money. And when he runs out of money, he runs out of friends and ends up with the hogs, eating from the slop that is fed to the pigs. This is the most humiliating place a Jewish boy could possibly be.

As he sits there, the Bible says, "He came to himself." And he starts thinking, "How many of my father's hired men have food to spare? And here I am, starving to death. I will go back to my father."

Now notice something important. He felt that he could go back to his father. The relationship might never be the same. But he knew the door was open to him. How did he know that? Most likely because all through the time of raising his son the father had communicated his love. It is a vital thing to communicate love to our children.

So he said, "I will say to my father, 'I have sinned against heaven and against you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired men.'" I think this was a speech he practiced every step of his way back home. He had it down pat. But before he could blurt it out, his father had run to him and thrown his arms around him and kissed him:

Luke 15:20-24 (NASB) "And he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him. 21 "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 "But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.' And they began to be merry.

You know, the beautiful part is that our Father in Heaven is always ready to forgive His sinning children when they come back to Him. Do you see any reluctance in the father to forgive? The father saw him coming, but he didn't just stand there and wait for him, he ran to him and embraced him and kissed him. That is incredible! And as dads, we need imitate our heavenly Father in this area of love and forgiveness. We need to teach our kids, no matter how deep their sin, no matter how much they hurt us, "You can always come home." And there'll be a father waiting to throw his arms around you, and to assure you of his abiding love.

The Command - "Do not exasperate your children."

The word he uses for "exasperate" means: "to provoke or to irritate, or to excite in a negative fashion, or to embitter." It is used one other time in the New Testament in a good sense of exciting others to great zeal (2 Cor. 9:2), but here the usage is definitely negative. Weymouth translates it: "Do not fret and harass your children." Phillips offers the translation: "Don't overcorrect." The word "exasperate" is in the continuous tense in the Greek: "Do not keep on exasperating your children."

Just what this "exasperation" might be seems obvious to many commentators. But the fact that Paul's words are particularly vague should warn us against being too specific, and we should allow the application of the instruction to be given us as we walk in dependence upon God.

That Ephesians 6:4 adds the phrase "to anger" may give us a hint at the sorts of attitudes of the father which may stimulate such a response, but we should rest with the interpretation that what Paul is urging upon all fathers is that they refrain from abusing their power and authority over their children. This seems to be the reason for his instructions; in order that the exhortation recorded for the children might not be taken as an absolute that the parents press home to their own advantage.

Let me share with you some ways in which a parent can exasperate a child. This list is by no means exhaustive, I'm sure you could think of some others. Fathers and mothers exasperate their children by:

Over protection - over protective parents never allow their children any liberty. They have strict rules about everything. No matter what their children do, over protective parents do not trust them. Because nothing they do earns their parents' trust, children begin to despair and may believe that how they behave is irrelevant. That can lead to rebellion. Parents are to provide rules and guidelines for their children, but those rules should not become a noose that strangles them. Above all, parents must communicate to their children that they trust them.

By lack of standards - this is the flip side of over protection. When parents fail to discipline, or discipline inconsistently, children are left on their own. They cannot handle that kind of freedom and begin to feel insecure and unloved.

By depreciating their worth - many children have been convinced that what they do and feel are not important. That is communicating to children that they are not significant. Many parents depreciate their children's worth by refusing to listen to them. Children who are not listened to may give up trying to communicate and become discouraged, shy, and withdrawn.

By failing to show affection - Parents need to communicate love to their children both verbally and physically. Failing to do so will discourage and alienate a child.

By setting unrealistic goals - parents can do that by never rewarding them, or never letting them feel they have succeeded. Nothing is enough, so the children never get full approval. Such parents are often trying to make their children into something they themselves were not. The results can be tragic. Some children become so frustrated that they commit suicide.

By neglect - a father who has no time for his child soon creates in him a deep-seated resentment. The child may not know how to articulate or explain the problem, but he feels unimportant and worthless. The classic biblical example is Absalom. David was indifferent to him, and the result was rebellion, civil war, and Absalom's death. Parents need to be involved in their children's lives.

By showing favoritism - parents exasperate their children by showing favoritism. That is often done unwittingly by comparing a child unfavorably to siblings or classmates. By making a child feel like the black sheep of the family, parents can create a terrible sense of frustration. We see the result of this is Joseph's brothers.

By criticism - Haim Ginott wrote: "A child learns what he lives. If he lives with criticism, he does not learn responsibility. He learns to condemn himself and to find fault with others. He learns to doubt his own judgment, to disparage his own ability, and to distrust the intentions of others. And above all, he learns to live with continual expectation of impending doom" (Between Parent and Child [New York: MacMillan, 1965], p. 72). Parents should seek to create in the home a positive, constructive environment.

By excessive discipline - this is the parent who abuses his children, either verbally, emotionally, or physically. Parents often say things to their children that they would never say to anyone else. They should never discipline their children in anger. Rather, parents should lovingly correct their children, just as their heavenly Father does them.

Indulging them - giving them everything they want. That soon will make them restless and dissatisfied. Children long for guidance and direction; for intimacy, not for superficial indulgence. Such indulgence will frequently create a deep-seated, sometimes lifelong feeling of resentment.

To the command not to provoke one's children, Ephesians also adds, "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

Ephesians 6:4 (NASB) And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

What is discipline? It means: "to teach." It is the same root word as "disciple." It has the flavor of pointing out what is wrong and correcting the action. Discipline must start at an early age. Why discipline?

Hebrews 12:11 (NASB) All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.]

We're not only told to discipline our children, but that we should give them instruction of the Lord. What is meant by instruction is both verbal information and verbal warning. The word literally means: "to place before the mind." Instruction contains the idea of teaching and also the element of confrontation. We must share with our children both the blessings of serving Jesus and the hazards of failing to do so.

We must spend time with children in teaching them and encouraging them; and instructing them, both verbally and by example, in the way of the Lord, pointing them positively to Christ; telling them that they have done well, and not only telling them when they have not done well; telling them that they have pleased you and pleased the Lord, and not only when they have displeased the Lord. Paul is calling fathers to rear their children in such a way that they will not feel only the rebuke of God, but they will also feel His approval.

One final point needs noting and bringing home to the Church of our present day society. Paul is clearly making it the responsibility of the father (and I believe that the mother should also be included in this) to both instruct and discipline their children and not leave it to any third party.

Purpose of the command - "That they may not lose heart."

"Lose heart" is from the Greek word athumeo, from a = without + thumos = passions, desire, spirit. It means: "to become disheartened to the point of losing motivation, to be dispirited or to be broken in spirit." This is the only occurrence of this word in the New Testament. Lightfoot translates it as; "to go about their task in a listless, moody, sullen frame of mind" [Linguistic Key, 582]. We might think of it as throwing water upon the flame for life. It implies that a parent is so cold, stern, harsh, and rigid that a child's strength is sapped, his drive for positive achievements gone, and his hope for the future shattered. He exists, and that is about it. His one goal in life is to get out from under such tyranny. Often, those who come out of such a setting become the most rebellious and wretched men and women imaginable.

God wants us to encourage our children. He wants us to praise them for what they do right. Constant criticism will discourage them. They may become disheartened in their attempts to please their parents.

The negative form of verse 21 really implies a positive command as well. It says, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart." But it means not only avoid one kind of fatherhood; it also means pursue another kind, namely, the kind of fatherhood which gives hope instead of discouragement.

A good father will ponder: "How can I be like my own heavenly Father?" We are taught in Scripture to imitate our heavenly Father. We are told to be holy as He IS holy (l Peter l:l6). We are told to be merciful as He IS merciful (Luke 6:36). To be a good child is to copy daddy. It honors a father to be imitated, and we are commanded to honor our fathers. And so the most important question a father can ask himself is not, "What shall I teach my children; But rather, who am I before the living God and before my children?"

It is important that we regularly evaluate ourselves as parents in how we are treating our children. A child might walk straight as an arrow due to fear of a parent, but if he has no spirit left in him, then the parent has failed to prepare the child for the future. Our goal must be much more than to get a child through high school and keep him out of jail! We must seek to "train him up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

Parents, children, since you have died with Christ, and been raised to newness of life in Him, live like it! Children, obey your parents in all things--in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God, YOUR FATHER, through Him. And parents, do not provoke your children, but teach them about their heavenly Father, through your words and deeds, shepherding their hearts even as Christ, the Good Shepherd, leads you both.

Please remember the necessity of grace as we seek to be Christians in the home. We could not do these things were it not for grace. Husbands and wives are sinners. Parents and children are sinners. We need the grace of God to establish this type of a life. This is not something for a human being to attempt on their own. Only the grace of God can help us here. Here, perhaps more then anywhere else, we are shown the depth of our sin. And though that's a discouraging thing, it's the first step towards encouragement; because when we realize that we can't do it on our own, we are precisely at the point where God wants us. We can reach out to Him and ask Him to help us to live the lives He has called us to live in the home. Living with each other in the family demands that we look to Christ to shape our lives and to enable us to treat one another with Christian love.

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