“The righteous man walks in his integrity; his children are blessed after him” (Proverbs 20:7). There are many things we leave our children when we die. It may be wealth or possessions yet all of these things fade into dust. So often we work all our lives to leave our children something that is of little value and fail to leave them the greatest legacy given by God – righteousness. The wise man exhorts fathers to leave their children an inheritance of a righteous example. Let me walk in such a way that when I am gone my children will know to walk where I have walked in the blessing of God.
Paul gives many admonitions about the family relationship and none is as profound as what he writes in Colossians 3:21. “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Proverbs 20:7 seeks to set forth the proper guidance of fathers who set an example of righteousness for their children while Paul deals with the realities of fathers who fail to lead their children in the path of godliness. Two ideas are at play in Colossians 3:21 – FIRST the warning of fathers to take heed in the manner of guiding the hearts of their children. SECOND the knowledge of what a father can do to his children that will have eternal consequence.
A father can discourage his children by creating an atmosphere of commandment-keeping in prohibiting nearly everything the child desires. No matter what the child may ask for or desire the answer will be a harsh “no.” This verbal abuse will wear heavily upon the child afraid to ask for a morsel of bread. Within the limits of parenting there must be boundaries and necessary guidelines prohibiting certain actions for the child’s safety and security. But a father can discourage the child by ruling the home with an iron fist of laws that must be obeyed at a moment’s notice seldom allowing the child any happiness. Life for some children is one perpetual “don’t.”
The character of the child of God is bound by the laws of God but not in a manner that discourages. John writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). We are not grieved to be obedient to our heavenly Father. Why should our fleshly children live a life of grief because of our oppression upon them? The child will grow to hate rules because he could never do anything right and always had to live in a home filled with the commandments of a father who ruled with a heavy hand.
Teaching righteousness is to show the manner God instructs His people with goodness and severity (Romans 11:22) as needed. When the Lord dealt with Israel He would bless them with so many good and wonderful things. At times He would have to discipline them as they tested Him. But the end result was still the cry of the people of the righteous judgment of a loving Father. “Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, But transgressors stumble in them” (Hosea 14:9).
Another reason children will be discouraged is because the father will be an unfeeling tyrant. “If a Christian father is felt to be a tyrant, he will seem to his child to be a tyrant in God’s name, and that will be enough to create a sullen prejudice against all sacred things. Nor is the case improved when the child is cowed into fear of such a parent, and thus reduced to submission. There is a beautiful courage in a child’s approach to God; but if his courage even toward his father is broken down, he will only shrink from God with a greater fear” (H. Bushnell).
Paul outlined characteristics of the Christian in Colossians 3:12, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.” Fathers who are not filled with tender mercy toward their children will cause them to be discouraged. Fathers who do not act with kindness toward their children will discourage them. When a father fails to show humility before his son he has failed as a father. Parenting can only be done with meekness and longsuffering and fathers who do not exercise these traits toward their children will discourage them.
Children will become discouraged when their fathers do exactly what the Lord prohibits them to do: “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth” (Colossians 3:8). Verbal abuse by fathers is a sin. When a man stands in front of his son or daughter berating them with words of insult and anger he stands in judgment of the Father in heaven who will render His own justice to such a man. Provoking children causes discouragement. Discouragement can bring about eternal damnation to the soul of the child.
Abraham commanded his family in the way of the Lord (Genesis 18:19). His leadership was guiding the family in the paths of righteousness by example. The legacy he leaves is one of noble character as a man who trains his children in the way of God. The formula for fatherhood is Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Someone said it this way: “Train up a child in the way he should go AND GO THAT WAY YOURSELF.” You cannot show your children a way you are not going yourself.
Children can be discouraged because of the manner of life they see in their father day to day and the way he acts at church services or around other Christians. “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Training children in the Lord is done by word and deed. A father who prays at worship as he prays at home is leading his child in godliness. When a man rules his home with oppression he has no hands for prayer. The word of God should be the word of the day in the home guided by the voice of a father who humbly shows the path of truth to his family. He shows his children love by loving his wife. He shows his children wisdom by seeking God’s word for answers. He shows his children the life of Jesus in living for Jesus each day.
The common sin for fathers is the provoking of their children. We must be careful to mold our character as spiritual leaders in the home. As fathers we must teach our sons the leadership of Christ. As fathers we must teach our daughters the love of Christ. Some men will need to change their lives to become as God desires; repent if necessary asking forgiveness of family and God. What power is held in the hands of he who garners the head waters of a mighty stream. Contained within the role of a father is the eternal guiding of young hearts to the throne of God. May God bless every father who strives to be a man of God to his family.