Colossians 3:20-21: Family Lessons

March 6, 2015

20Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
21Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Remembering that these two verses follow Paul’s exhortation to the church as a whole, it is a wonderful thing the apostle recognizes: children are a part of the church family, too. Previously, husband and wife were urged to demonstrate to each other the quality of relationship that is to pervade the church. Here, too, we see that children (and their parents) have a special responsibility even as they are given the privilege of participation in the household of faith.

Children are to accept the discipline of their parents, to submit to the rules of the home, show respect to their elders, and otherwise demonstrate full participation in the household’s order. “Honor your father and your mother” is the first commandment of the ten addressed to human relationships, suggesting its fundamental importance.

There’s a tender place in my heart for children, especially right now, because we are about to welcome a new baby into the family. Any day now, my blog will go silent for a time so that I can settle into the role of Nana. In the meantime, my husband and I have been remembering what it was like to become parents for the first time, with all the hopes and dreams parents have for their children.

Our granddaughter, of course, will be one of God’s wonders in the world. She will be a source of delight and fascination, particularly as she grows physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. As she develops, so will her sense of self and personal power. This is all natural and expected and necessary. What is not desirable is for her to become a tyrant. Try as she might, in some years harder than others, she will learn that she is not the center of the universe.

Depending on their personalities, expectations, and parenting styles, Dad and/or Mom might be tempted to believe that they are the center of the universe. But this too is way off-center. Ultimately, the purpose of teaching children to obey their parents is to prepare them to give that kind of submission to God. The best instructors for this transfer of allegiance are those who themselves have given their hearts and wills to God, that is, parents who are submitted to the Lordship of Christ.

So Paul instructs kids to obey their parents in all areas of life, for this pleases the Lord (who is watching even when parents aren’t). In general, a child flourishes if she lets her family shape her and help her please God. [Paul’s great assumption here is that these families are within the church family, operating in the spirit of compassion, kindness, meekness, humility, and love—Colossians 3:12ff.] But Paul also teaches parents—in that same spirit—to restrain themselves from “embittering” their children—more literally, to avoid provoking their children, which can have the result of discouraging them and demotivating their progress. One can only assume that Paul was speaking to the tendency of parents (fathers?) to come down hard on their children, make their parental love conditioned on good childhood behavior, or be domineering and controlling. In just a few words, Paul grabs hold of the essence of parenting: be firm but loving, and point your children to Jesus.

Parents, you are the grown-ups in the family, and from that position you are representing Christ to your children by being mature, selfless, loving, generous, God-fearing, forgiving, and clear with them. Children, while you are not the center of the universe, your parents love you and are providing for your well-being, sometimes at great personal sacrifice. It’s good to be thankful for them when you can, respectful of them on the tough days, and ready to hear them when they tell you how much Jesus loves you. In this way, both parents and children are accountable to God and—in a real sense—to one another. If humility is part of a family’s demeanor, then parents and children can learn from each other as they adopt faith as a way of life.



One Response to “Colossians 3:20-21: Family Lessons”

  1. houstonhodges Says:

    …’firm, loving, pointing.” Good, good.

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