Summary: Applying Paul’s admonition of "submit ourselves to one another" to the parent-child relationship and to our relationship with our Heavenly Father.
Parent - Child Relationships
1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
2 Honor thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;)
3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
The Parent’s Responsibility
Recall that the overall theme of Paul in the larger passage is that we are to submit ourselves to one another. In these four verses we see the proper way to submit to one another in the parent - child relationship. The father is responsible to bring up his offspring in such a way that they know the Lord and are nurtured in not only the physical part of their being, but also in their spirits.
There is a warning to “not provoke to wrath” which has at least two facets. First, and most obvious, is to not treat children in such a way that they must rebel to survive. We should never be harsh. We should never smother them so much that we quench their personality development. (Comments related to I’m OK, You’re OK: Sometimes children, if treated harshly, will conclude, I’m OK and you are not. This can lead to serious anti-social behavior.)
The second, and less obvious, way to provoke children to wrath is to “teach them to be wrathful.” We do this by example, by the philosophies we share with them , and by allowing certain behaviors.
Examples We Set: My mother had a phrase she would often say with regard to behavior of children: “Boy, they got that honestly.” The implication was that the child was behaving exactly as their parents behaved. My mother was convinced that such similarities were genetically transferred. She had never heard of DNA, but she was convinced that people were genetically disposed to certain behaviors. While there is some truth to this concept, most of the behavior patterns of our children are learned and they will learn by example if they do not learn any other way. The people children are around the most during the formative years are the ones they will emulate the most. It used to be that the question we needed to ask was, “What kind of example are YOU setting for your children?” In today’s culture, we need to add another question and ask “Who is setting the example for your children and what is that example?” If you are going to use “day care,” then it is essential that you choose a facility that will set the right example for your children.
How can we provoke our children to wrath by example? I really don’t need to give you a list, you can develop your own. However, several things come to mind: Losing your temper, never making a decision and/or never sticking with a decision once it is made, griping and complaining, criticizing others, always looking on the dark side of things, never giving an affirmation, etc.
Philosophies We Share: Teaching our children to “get even” when they are wronged and teaching them to “hit back,” to stand up for their “rights” and to “win at all costs” are ways that are sure to provoke them to a wrathful lifestyle.
Things We Allow: A well proven way to provoke our children to wrath is to set them down in front of a violent movie or to let them play violence-filled video games. Letting children view movies of questionable “adult content” is another way to provide them with a pattern of bad behavior.
As every parent knows, children will do unacceptable things without having been given a bad example, without having ever learned a “bad philosophy” or without having seen violence in the media. Such things as greed, anger, and rebellion will surface as a child develops. The tendency of most of us is to think “Now, isn’t that cute.” The problem is that such “cuteness” can become acute and chronic behavior that will cause grief in your life, the life of the child, the life of public school teachers, friends of your children, employers, spouses and their children. Allowing such “natural tendencies” to go unchecked is an all too common situation in many families.
The other side of the coin of “not provoke to wrath” is the positive command to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
How important is it to God that we bring up our children in the proper way? Let’s look at what Moses wrote concerning Abraham and God’s choice of Abraham: Gen 18:19
For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.