Yesterday, I preached on Ephesians 6:1-4. These verses command children to obey their parents and give instructions to fathers for child training. In this post, I’d like to give some of my thoughts from yesterday on one of those instructions.
And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
I discussed three ways in which fathers / parents provoke their children to wrath.
This is relatively obvious. If someone is cruel to us, it tends to make us angry, so it is easy for us to understand how cruelty to a child can tempt / provoke him to anger.
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
One of the signs of a decadent society is cruelty to children, even by their own parents. Part of the work of the Saviour and His forerunner was to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children. The further a society goes in rejecting our Lord, the more it will tear apart families, and the greater will be the cruelty. Yet, if we take the verse above at face value, such behaviour brings a curse from the Lord. A cruel parent tempts his child to sinful wrath, and brings God’s judgment on himself.
Little Johnny runs into the house, excited to be home — and slams the door. His parents say nothing. He hasn’t broken anything or hurt anyone, there is nothing morally wrong with slamming the door, and they let it pass. The next day, Johnny comes running in and slams the door, and all is well.
The third day, Johnny slams the door. His mum was taking a nap, or his dad was on the phone, or there was a visitor in the house who winced when it slammed. Johnny gets in trouble — and his parents just provoked him to anger. They taught him that it was permissible to slam the door by allowing it, and now they have disciplined him for it, and they have tempted him to anger.
Fathers, just ask yourself how you would feel if you were driving below the posted speed limit and were cited for speeding. “The sign says I can go that fast!” It would tempt you to anger. When you allow a behaviour, by explicitly saying it is ok or by simply letting it pass when a child does it, it is as if you posted a sign saying the child can go that fast.
If you tell a child not to do something, but then do not discipline when the child violates that standard, you have established an inconsistency, and that will provoke a child to anger. He will think you are being unfair, because you have taught him to expect that it is ok. Is it right, then, for the child to be angry? Of course not. But you have tempted your child to sin in anger when this happens.
How to Guarantee Inconsistent Discipline
- Base it on whether or not your child’s behaviour annoys you.
- Base it on whether or not your child’s behaviour embarrasses you.
- Base it on whether or not the behaviour brought negative consequences.
These are all deadly to consistent discipline. Consistent discipline has to be based on the principle that wrong or inappropriate behaviour is unacceptable and will be disciplined, whether it annoys or not, embarrasses or not, or brings negative consequences or not.
Door slamming is not morally wrong, but if Johnny’s parents decide it is inappropriate for their home and forbid it, it is a matter of principle to discipline Johnny if he does it. They must discipline, whether or not it annoys or embarrasses them, or whether or not he broke something when he slammed it. On the other hand, if they decide to allow door slamming, then annoyance, embarrassment, or broken items are not grounds for chastisement.
- Whether or not your child’s behaviour annoys you often depends on you, not the child — whether you are feeling ill or well, feeling happy or upset by other things. If you base discipline on whether or not you are bugged by what the child is doing, you will be inconsistent, because your level of “buggability” will not always be the same.
- Whether or not your child’s behaviour embarrasses you often depends on you and the circumstances, not the child’s behaviour. The need to discipline should never be determined by how embarrassed you might be. It needs to be based on principle, on the standard the child violated.
- Whether or not the child’s behaviour brings negative consequences is determined by circumstances. Discipline should be determined by principle. If your child is not allowed to throw a ball in the house, you need to discipline when he does it even if nothing broke. If you allow ball-throwing, you can’t discipline for it just because he broke your wife’s best vase. You allowed it. Disobedience is disobedient, even if nothing broke. Accidental breakage caused by permitted behaviour is not disobedience.
Note, though, that if you are often annoyed or embarrassed by your child’s behaviour, you may have been teaching them, either actively or by neglect, that annoying / embarrassing behaviour is acceptable. It may be time to change the standards, teach them, and consistently hold them to those standards. But if YOUR feelings become the standard, it brings inconsistency, and another danger — an annoyed or embarrassed parent may act in anger and cross over into cruelty.
All the parenting experts in the world will tell you to be consistent. With many, you’d be better tossing their advice in the rubbish bin — but they are right on this point. What we often overlook is that it is sound Biblically — an inconsistent parent will provoke his children to wrath, violating Ephesians 6:4. Don’t do it.
Lack of Firmness
I asked yesterday, “How do you provoke a child to anger?” and the first answer I got was along the lines of, “Tell him no to something he wants.”
Show me an angry child, and almost certainly I will show you a child who has never been taught that he does not get his own way, never learned that “no” means “no” and that having a temper fit is only going to make things worse for him.
See that little angel? He is constitutionally a tyrannical dictator. He is the most important person in his world, and you are merely a provider of the things he wants. If you don’t provide what he wants when he wants it, he will express his displeasure, and as he gets older, he will get louder and more demanding unless someone teaches him that he doesn’t, after all, rule the world. The more he is reinforced in his view that he is the boss, the angrier he will be when he is crossed.
Our prisons are full of people who became angry when they didn’t get what they wanted, because they never learned to cope with that inevitable occurrence. The long-term unemployed include some who can’t hold a job, can’t even get one anymore. Why? Because they are angry people. Their anger, when an employer didn’t build his world around them, destroyed their career (if they even managed to train for it — anger stops a lot of people before their career even starts). Divorce lawyers make most of their money from angry people who simply need to grow up.
Children need to learn that they aren’t always going to get their own way, that they often won’t get their own way, and that anger is not an acceptable response when they don’t. If you allow your child to have a temper fit, without consequences, when he doesn’t get his own way, you are teaching him (by neglect) that temper fits are an acceptable / permissible response to disappointment. You are tempting him, provoking him, to anger.
A child who has a crying fit in the shops because he saw something he wanted is a child on the path to being an angry person. A parent is responsible to teach that child — if you don’t, you are provoking him to anger. It is inconvenient to leave a shopping trolley full of groceries and take a child to the car to deal with the problem — but if it needs done, you have to do it. Your child’s future is more important than the inconvenience of the moment, and it will be much more inconvenient when his anger destroys him. Don’t provoke him to wrath by teaching him that anger is permissible.
There are many people who will tell us, if we are firm, that we are not kind to our children — but for some reason, the children of parents who are consistently firm (not harsh, but firm) tend to be much happier and less angry than children who have been taught that a temper fit works.
Kind, not cruel; consistent, not arbitrary; firm, not yielding. There is a lot more that could be said on this topic, obviously, but if we as parents work to carry out those policies in our homes, we are well on the road to obeying Ephesians 6:4 — “provoke not your children to wrath.”