It’s fascinating that of the many verses in Scripture for parents, there are only two commands directed exclusively at fathers: Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21. It’s interesting that both contain the same root concept: don’t frustrate or exacerbate your kids.
Ephesians 6:4: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Colossians 3:21: Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
What is it about this concept that becomes so foundational? And why do they resonate so clearly with my own heart and my parenting struggles? These verses were written to dads almost two millennia ago, and I can’t imagine that “dad jokes” were as popular in 1st century Ephesus as they are now.
It seems I regularly “provoke” or “exasperate” or “irritate” my children (translates render these words differently). Whether it’s an overreaction by responding too harshly to their misbehavior, or a constant bombardment of lame jokes, or the temptation to pick fun at something they’ve said or done, I can see provocation in a lot of what I do. Why? And why is this worth pointing out, twice, for Paul?
What’s the Word?
The original Greek word that’s translated, “provoke” in Ephesians 6:4 is different than that in Colossians 3:21. Both words share similar meanings, and interestingly, both are only used one other place in the New Testament. They share the connotation of “stirring up to anger” or “causing reason for frustration and rage.”
There are two “dad moments” to which this concept applies:
The first would be a one time action, response or phrase that would immediately take a child from ‘simmering’ or ‘neutral’ to full-fledged anger, such as sharp answers to a request to leave the table or an angry response to a poor report card. These moments of “provoking” usually come when dad is already upset, but they immediately change the atmosphere in the room.
The second dad-moment is a more long-term, subtle picking that increases tension over time. This is incessant joking, or flippancy during serious conversations. This could also apply to empty promises or continual irresponsibility that doesn’t improve.
I think both “dad moments” are within view of the New Testament commands. Ephesians 6:4 seems to apply to the first – a harsh word or phrase, that would shut down a teachable moment or discipline opportunity. The ongoing, incessant provocation seems to fit better with Colossians 3:21 – provoking our kids in a way which results in discouragement and disappointment.
Why Is This a Deal?
These seem like important topics, of course. But why would Scripture highlight these ideas over all the other issues related to being a dad?
The answer, of course, has to do with our Heavenly Father, who neither discourages us nor provokes us to anger. He is patient and kind, forgiving and loving, whether we’re walking closely with him or choosing to disobey (2 Tim 2:11-13). He is gracious. He disciplines perfectly. And he responds to our rebellion with righteousness.
Our Heavenly Father models fatherhood for us. Scripture’s direct commands in Ephesians and Colossians show that the easiest place for us to misrepresent our Father is through frustration, anger, or a selfishness that places our enjoyment above our kid’s happiness. We must take to heart the Bible’s command to “not provoke our children to anger,” but instead help them see the goodness and joy of following God.