The Parents Instructed


1. The negative

“Provoke not your children to wrath.” (Ephesians 6:4)

The word provoke means “to irritate” or “to make mad or angry.” Sometimes it refers to a lashing, open rebellion, and sometimes it refers to an internal smoldering. But a parent, first of all, is not to provoke his child to wrath. How do you make your children angry? How do you provoke a child to become unruly, rebellious, or smoldering? Let me give you some suggestions.

a) Overprotection

Smother them, fence them in, never trust them, and always wonder whether they’re telling you the truth. Never give them an opportunity to develop independence. In their environment, where everyone else takes certain risks and has certain opportunities, if they are compressed into a confined area, they’ll begin to resent you and become angry. Parents, your children are people, and little by little they need to face the world and learn how to deal with it.

b) Favoritism

Prefer one child over another. Isaac favored Esau over Jacob, and Rebekah favored Jacob over Esau—you may know what terrible agony that caused. Don’t ever compare a child with his siblings. You’ll discourage him, make him angry, and break his spirit. Don’t say things such as “Why can’t you be bright like your sister? You always get C’s and she gets A’s” or “I never have to tell him twice to do anything” or “Why don’t you act like your brother?” or “I only wanted two kids; why did you have to come along?” If you want to destroy your child, just make him feel inferior to everyone else in the family. You can test for this problem easily: ask your children how they feel about each other, and find out if they have preferences toward each other. If they do, they’ve probably picked them up from you.

c) Pushing achievement

Shove your child so hard to fulfill the goals you never accomplished that you destroy him. You can push so much that the child will have absolutely no sense of fulfillment; nothing is ever enough. Many parents pressure their children to excel in school, sports, or other activities, and it causes them to become bitter.

d) Discouragement

Provoke your child to wrath by discouraging him. That occurs if he’s never given approval, reward, or honor; and if all you ever do is tell him what’s bad, not what’s good. I believe, in my own life, for every time I tell my child about something he’s done wrong, I ought to equalize it by telling him something he’s done right. Now, sometimes you have to look hard and be creative, but find something to praise him for. A child responds just as you do to reward, encouragement, and approval.

e) Failure to make sacrifices

Make them feel like an intrusion in your life. Children are sensitive. They know what you mean when you say, “Well, we’d love to go with you, but we’ve got these kids, and we can’t get anyone to stay with them. It’s this way all the time,” or, “Well, we’d like to get away, but what are we going to do with them?” If you make them feel unwanted and let them know there are many things that you’d like to do but can’t because they’re around, they’ll soon begin to resent you.

f) Failure to allow for childishness

Make sure if they do anything that isn’t adult, mature, and intellectual that you put them down for it. Don’t let them say stupid or silly things. Make sure everything they do is always perfect. If you do that, you’ll provoke them for sure. But on the other hand, it’s exciting to just let them say what they want—even if it’s dumb. Don’t laugh then; laugh later if you have to laugh. Let them grow and present their ridiculous ideas.

g) Neglect

Neglect them. David neglected Absalom, and Absalom became the greatest heartbreak of David’s life. You can’t neglect your children and win. A friend of mine had a ministry traveling all over the country speaking to young people’s groups. One day he overheard his little boy talking across the fence to the boy next door. “Hey, can you play catch?” his son asked. His playmate replied, “Naw, I’m going to play catch with my dad.” Then the preacher heard his son say, “Oh, my dad doesn’t have time to play with me. He’s too busy playing with other people’s kids.” Needless to say, my friend changed his ministry. Don’t ever be too busy.

h) Withdrawing love

Tell them you don’t love them anymore. That is probably the fastest way to make a child insecure. Don’t ever withdraw love as a punishment. You do that when you say, “Daddy won’t like you if you do that.” God never stops loving His children. Your child needs to know that you will never stop loving him.

i) Bitter words and cruel physical punishment

Take your anger out on your children. I don’t know what causes men to batter children, but we all need to be careful; children are fragile. Fathers, don’t shove your weight around and use your superior strength. That will provoke your children to wrath. Not only can children be battered physically, but they also can be devastated verbally. Parents are more erudite and sarcastic than children, and they can destroy and discourage a child through their verbal barrage. I’m always amazed to hear the things we say to our children that we would never say to an adult for fear of our reputation.

Don’t provoke your children to wrath.

2. The positive

“Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

a) “Nurture”

This is the Greek word paideia and means “training, learning, instruction.” This word is used in Hebrews 12:5, 7–8, 11 and is translated “discipline” or “chastening.” There must be rules and regulations that lead to reward or punishment. The child is rewarded for keeping the rule and punished for breaking it. To nurture, then, is to train by rules and regulations enforced by rewards and punishments. And, of course, always in a context of love.


Advice from a Mother of Nineteen ChildrenSusanna Wesley, the mother of nineteen children, including John and Charles Wesley, wrote these words: “The parent who studies to subdue [self-will] in his child works together with God in the renewing and saving of a soul. The parent who indulges it does the Devil’s work; makes religion impracticable, salvation unattainable, and [damns] his child, body, and soul for ever” (Susanna: Mother of the Wesleys [New York: Abingdon, 1968], pp. 59–60).


b) “Admonition”

Admonition is not what you do but what you say to a child. It is counsel. The word translated “admonition” is the Greek word nouthesia and means “verbal instruction with a view to correct.” For example, it’s saying, “If you keep doing that, you’re going to run into problems,” or, “I’ve got to counsel you about that.” Throughout Proverbs we read that a wise son hears the counsel of his father and mother. That is admonition.

So on the one hand it’s, “Do what I tell you,” but on the other hand it’s, “Listen to what I say.” Nurture is correction; admonition is counsel. It’s a tremendous task, and the end product is righteousness. If you want a righteous child, it has to come from what you teach him to do and what you tell him to do.

God wants to make our families into all they can be, and He wants to keep us from getting pressed into the mold of the world. Wouldn’t it be great if Christian families didn’t fall apart? Wouldn’t it be great if Christian marriages stayed together? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we had children who were happy and homes that were Christ-centered, all things coming to pass as God designed them? It’s possible! And if that ever happened, the world would take notice of us—and Christ.


Would You Do It Any Differently?One father said, “My family’s all grown, and the kids are all gone. But if I had to do it all over again, this is what I’d do:


1. I would love my wife more in front of my children.

2. I would laugh with my children more—at our mistakes and our joys.

3. I would listen more, even to the littlest child.

4. I would be more honest about my own weaknesses, never pretending perfection.

5. I would pray differently for my family—instead of focusing on them, I’d focus on me.

6. I would do more things together with my children.

7. I would encourage them more and bestow more praise.

8. I would pay more attention to little things, like deeds and words of thoughtfulness.

9. And then, finally, if I had to do it all over again, I would share God more intimately with my family; every ordinary thing that happened in every ordinary day I would use to direct them to God.”



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