Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Christian Family: Children and Parents (Colossians 3:20-21)

I want to share with you a man’s life story. 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.

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 as a gift, asking her to take it and spend it any way she wished. But she belittled his feeble attempts 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 fired two shots which killed President John F. Kennedy.

Lee Harvey Oswald, the rejected, unlovable failure, killed the 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.

Lee Harvey Oswald’s story stands out from others because of the infamy of the final days of his life. His miserable life experience is paralleled today by thousands of children who have known even greater lack of affection, discipline, and training because much of the American family experience is a relational desert.

So it is this morning that we turn to the two short verses of Colossians 3:20-21, verses which contain the God-breathed outline of what brings fullness to parent/child relationships. Here we are reminded, as with husbands and wives last week, that both children and parents live in a transformed relationship with one another because they live their lives under God’s reign.


The instructions were given to children first: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (v. 20). There is a parallel text in Ephesians that is almost identical to the one here in Colossians: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1).

Paul here is not saying anything new. That children are to honor and obey their parents is taught repeatedly in Scripture. It appears in the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you” Children are told in scripture to listen to their parents’ instruction and obey it (Prov. 1:8; 6:20). We're told that disobedience to parents marks the ungodly: “Men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy” (2 Tim. 3:2; cf. Rom. 1:30).

Here in Colossians, children are told to obey their parents in all things. The only limit placed on a child’s obedience is when a parent demands something contrary to God’s law. Now, the motive for obedience is that it is well-pleasing to the Lord, commendable before God Himself. As He was well-pleased with His own Son (Matt. 3:17), so He deserves to be with other children. If you are a young man or woman here today and you are struggling with knowing God’s will for your life, well,  obeying your parents in all things is the right place to start.

Now, make a note that Paul’s command is to “obey,” which is significant for two reasons. First, it is a different word than that used in verse 18 where wives are told to “submit” to their husbands. The word to wives suggested a voluntary submission, a choice; but here the command to children to obey is more absolute. The other reason this word is significant is that it means to hear and do what your parents tell you to do.

But not only that, but implicit in this word “obey” also is, not just hearing and doing, but doing it with the right attitude. You see, the Scriptures call for a heart obedience to parents.

The point is, we have here a simple and powerful command to all children to truly, from the heart, obey their parents. Neglect of this command brings great sorrow, if not now, then surely later in life. But if obeyed, it brings fullness.


The other half of the commandment is: “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” (v. 21). To help appreciate this, consider the following story from a minister named Kent Hughes. He writes…

“During much of my college years, I worked for a store serving rodeo cowboys in southern California. From the cowboys, I learned there are at least two ways to break a horse. One is with the progressive use of a halter, bit, blanket, and saddle. Done correctly, this can produce a full-spirited, obedient horse. Another way is sometimes used with especially difficult horses. The method is simple. The wrangler simply takes a 2 x 4 and knocks the stubborn horse to its knees. A horse, it is said, can be tamed this way, but with great cost. You will have a spiritless animal, an animal that though “obedient” will never be what it could have been. “

Dear friends, there are children who are like this. Their spirits have been broken, they are “obedient,” but something is missing. They have, to use Paul’s words in verse 21, “[lost] heart.” They withdraw and keep it all inside. Or they rebel when they get big enough. The results are painful either way.

Paul’s advice to parents who want to avoid this trap is: “Fathers, do not embitter your children.” Notice that the advice is primarily to “Fathers,” the reason being that this oftentimes is more typically a father’s sin, though mothers can be guilty of it too. The specific sense of the Greek word is to “irritate one’s children either by nagging or deriding them” — putting them down. The parallel to this verse is found in Ephesians 6:4 where it says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children” and has the same idea of irritating them through perpetual fault-finding. Parents, fathers, discipline is to be given, but so is encouragement. Obedience is to be nurtured by love and praise. We must never cause our children to “lose heart.” 

Now, that’s not to say that discipline is not an important factor in the Christian home!

According to a recent study, young men and women with high self-esteem shared several common childhood influences. (1) The high-esteem group was clearly more loved and appreciated at home than the low-esteem group. (2) The high-esteem group came from homes where parents had been significantly more strict in their approach to discipline. By contrast, the parents of the low-esteem group had created insecurity and dependence through their permissiveness. Their children were more likely to feel that the rules were not enforced because no one cared enough to get involved. (3) The homes of the high-esteem group were also characterized by democracy and openness. Once the boundaries were established, there was freedom for individual personalities to grow and develop. Thus, the overall atmosphere was marked by acceptance and emotional safety.

It is interesting to note that many psychologists are finding more evidence that discipline is, indeed, the great ingredient for domestic success and fullness in the home. Discipline is therefore a key to child-parent fullness! Now, having said that, a noting the importance of discipline in the home, I want to close with a list of ten ways I believe we parents can exasperate our children. 

First, parents can exasperate their children by overprotection. 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.

Second, 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.

Third, parents exasperate their children 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.

Fourth, parents exasperate their children 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.

Fifth, parents exasperate their children 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.

Sixth, some parents exasperate their children by not providing for their needs. Children need things like privacy, a place to play, clean clothes, a place to study, their own possessions, and good meals. By providing those necessities, parents show their respect and concern for their children.

Seventh, parents exasperate their children by a lack of standards. This is the flip side of overprotection. 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.

Eighth, parents exasperate their children 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.” Parents should seek to create in the home a positive, constructive environment.

Ninth, parents exasperate their children by neglect. 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.

Finally, parents exasperate their children 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.

Well, there it is. In just four sentences (Col. 3:18-21), Paul has brilliantly sketched the essential shape of marriage and family under the reconciling Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is only a sketch in bare outline. It leaves us to work out the concrete expression of these relationships in our own marriages and families. The essential and basic framework of family relationships is, however, vitally important. We need these words because our families and our marriages are as marred and distorted as we are as individuals. These are healing, redeeming and constructive words for wives, husbands, children, parents and all of us who care about Christian marriages and families.