Fathers: Disciplining or Provoking Your Children?

Paul Dean

Last year "a father shocked students in a high school biology class by calling his daughter out of her seat and spanking her after learning she had disrupted the class." According to WorldNetDaily, "the unusual intervention at Cudahy High School in Cudahy, Wis,, near Milwaukee prompted school officials to call in police. But Cudahy police and the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare said after a review they found no basis for child abuse or neglect, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. A school official said 'students were horrified,' however, and some were angry administrators didn't intervene to stop it."

Certainly from a biblical perspective two affirmations must be made despite the opinions of teenagers. First, parents have the right to spank their children if they deem such discipline appropriate for the infraction. It is not a police matter nor should school administrators intervene. Lamentable is the anti-Christian worldview prevalent throughout this pluralistic culture. The Christian message of authority and respect for such is embraced by few. Second, in certain situations, parents are commanded by God to spank their children. Such discipline is generally reserved for rebellion, but nevertheless, corporeal punishment is a biblical mandate. "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him (Prov. 22:15)."

However, spanking a high school age daughter in front of her peer group at school would more likely lead to further rebellion rather than driving it away. Parents must be careful to deal with their children in such a way that glorifies God and produces the desired result. They must deal with their children in a biblical manner.

With great concern for all relationships within the body of Christ, in Col. 3:21, Paul has a word for the fathers. In the first century, problems were always blamed upon wives, children, or slaves. Fathers were not blamed for problems in family relationships. The Christian worldview turns these things on their head. Fathers in general are responsible for the well being of their families. They are responsible for the spiritual atmosphere and emotional climate of the home. While Paul does not absolve wives and children of their responsibility in fostering a home of love and peace, neither does he absolve the fathers of the same. Rather, he places the responsibility of that home environment upon them. Fathers are responsible to treat their children with love and respect. He simply says, "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged." Obviously, this admonition would apply to fathers and mothers alike, with the primary responsibility remaining with the father as noted.


Again, Paul singles out fathers as they are the ones who have the role of spiritual leadership in the home. He gives them the simple command: "provoke not your children." The word translated provoke in the original language refers to nagging or exciting in a negative sense. It refers to agitating. Fathers are not to agitate or emotionally excite their children in a negative way. They are not to nag them in a prolonged way. Some translations add the phrase, "Provoke not your children to anger." To get the sense of what Paul means, anger is certainly a good word here. However, prolonged agitation is the better sense. The word that comes to mind is bitterness as it connotes a deep seated and prolonged anger toward or disdain for an individual, circumstance, or action. Fathers are not to embitter their children toward themselves or discipline. That means they must discipline their children in a biblical fashion.


As a side note, biblical parenting may be summarized with five practices. First, fathers must not embitter their children. The primary way they do so is through hypocrisy. Thus, they must practice what they preach and strive to live according to Christ. If a father sins against his child, he must confess his sin to his child and seek forgiveness and reconciliation as he would with anyone else.


Fathers may embitter their children through inconsistent discipline. Thus, in terms of parenting, second, fathers must be biblical in their discipline. They must not be harsh or unfair. They must discipline out of love and not out of anger.


Third, fathers must pour the word of God into their children. They must engage in the ministry of saturation highlighted in Deut. 6:5-9. The word of God must saturate their lives.


Fourth, fathers must love their children unconditionally. Moreover, children must know and experience that love. They must know that their parents love them in this way regardless of circumstances.


Fifth, fathers must pray for their children without ceasing. God is the only one who can change the heart and bring someone from spiritual death to spiritual life. Let the fathers pray for their children that they might demonstrate their dependence upon God, that God might be gracious in answering prayer, that God might save their children, and that God might get the glory, rather than fathers for so-called good parenting skills. Ultimately, God works in us and our children. It is our responsibility to train our children. But, without the power of God in that training, it will be for nothing.


Fathers should create an atmosphere in which obedience is natural or easy. They should create an atmosphere of love and encouragement. As children receive positive, biblical instruction from loving parents, an atmosphere conducive to obedience is fostered rather than hindered.


Paul says that the result of provoking our children will be their discouragement. Their spirits will be broken. They will lose heart. They will begin to feel as if they can never do anything right or anything that is pleasing to their parents. Other feelings will mount and the resulting spiritual direction will be different for different children. Some will slip into depression or despair. Others will become angry at life in general. For some, bitterness toward their parents will set in and increasing rebellion will ensue. Regardless of the specific direction in which a child goes, the problem is discouragement from a parent who is harsh, hypocritical, or unjust. The power of Christ will not be on display in the child's life as the power of Christ is not operative in the discipline or action of the parent. Rather, the child's spirit will be crushed and/or the Spirit will be quenched. The flame will be doused.

No parent is perfect. Regarding the incident cited above, "the girl's mother told the Journal Sentinel it was an isolated incident and her daughter 'comes from a very loving family.' The incident was blown out of proportion and 'the school handled it just fine,' she said, describing the spanking as a 'misjudgment' for which the family apologized." Isolated incidents happen. Let us hope the mother is right on this one. Even children who come from "a very loving family" can be provoked to bitterness toward their parents if their parents consistently act in an unbiblical fashion toward them. An apology to the school was appropriate. Yet, if this father would seek forgiveness from his daughter, not only would that act be more appropriate, but it would go a long way toward demonstrating to her that while we are all indeed sinners, Christ convicts and sanctifies us. Responding biblically to his failure of provocation would give this father a greater platform from which to parent his daughter as she sees the redemptive power of Christ on display in his life.