These two words are key: discipline and instruction. Between them they offer words of training and correction, words of admonition and rebuke, words that express both the positive and the negative sides of leadership. You need to correct your children, sometimes with a look, sometimes with a word, sometimes with a timeout, and sometimes with a spank. That is the negative side of parenting. But positively, you also need to teach them, explaining to them what is right, demonstrating how they are to live.
It’s a word, it’s an idea, that I have wanted to explore for some time. Within the New Testament there are two clear instructions to parents and this word features prominently in both of them. It is the word provoke. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” while Colossians 3:21 echoes “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Risking the wrath of expositors everywhere, I created a mash-up of the two that reads like this: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger lest they become discouraged, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” I’d like to suggest a number of ways that we, as parents, may sinfully, unjustly provoke our children. But before we do that, let’s walk through these two passages together.
Fathers. The first word in both passages is Fathers. While it is fathers who are addressed here, most commentators acknowledge that it is fair to see these instructions as being written to both parents. Greek society was patriarchal so Paul addressed the mothers through the fathers. We are on good ground allowing the verse to speak equally to both parents.
Do not provoke … to anger. Both passages contain the same exhortation: Do not provoke, though Ephesians adds to anger. Provoke is the kind of word you might use when you kindle a fire into flame—you begin with something small and provoke it into a roaring fire. Or from another angle, it is the kind of word you might use when you are getting your children all excited, chasing them around and tickling them until you provoke them to being all wound up. Here, of course, Paul is using it in a negative sense of stirring, exasperating, or irritating them toward anger or bitterness. Parents must not provoke their children to anger.
I want to make an important application: Parents can cause their children to become angry and bitter.