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So, after finishing our “Biggest Parenting Challenges You Will Ever Face” series and spending 4 episodes with the Sutherlands from Gospel Tech, and then hanging out with Kris Kaspar from Techless and then the author of “Control Girl,” Shannon Popkin . . . I thought maybe it was time for a normal, stand alone, TLP podcast episode.
So, here we go, ready to talk about Provocative Parenting.
But, before we do that, I’d like to invite you to connect with us on social media. The world is a dark place, and social media is becoming darker day by day. And I believe that we Christians must shine as brightly and as sharply as we can while it is still called today.
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You can find all of our social links in the description of today’s episode or at TruthLoveParent.com.
And — with that — let’s talk about the bad ways to provoke our kids, but then end the discussion looking at the ways God expects us to provoke our kids.
That’s right. Provocative Parenting isn’t always bad.
Today we plan to look at two passages with which most of us are very familiar, but we want to investigate them deeper in order to make sure we really know what God is describing when it comes to provoking people.
Let’s start with an English definition of provocation.
According to Merriam-Webster, provocation is the act of provoking which can mean any of the following: “to call forth, to stir up purposely, to provide the needed stimulus for, to incite to anger, or to arouse to a feeling or action.”
Modern English speakers generally use the word with a negative connotation or outcome. You’ve probably told your children not to provoke each other, and when we speak of something being “provocative,” it’s usually provoking the wrong responses.
So, let’s go with that. Let’s start by discussing . . .
1. Sinful Provocative Parenting
Those of you who know the Scriptures already know that we’re going to look at Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
We’re not going to study every word of this verse, but there are some important things we need to know.
First of all, the Greek word translated “fathers” can be applied to a father and mother. Hebrews 11:23 reads, “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.” And we know from Exodus 2:2 that it was primarily Moses’ mother who is featured as the one who took the most pains to hide and protect Moses.
Therefore, everyone please understand that mothers can be just as sinfully provocative as fathers, and it’s important to understand that this command is for both parents.
Second of all, the Greek Word translated “provoke” shows up only three times in the New Testament.
The word is actually used twice in Ephesians 6:4. Both “provoke” and “anger” in that verse are the same Greek words. We could say, “Don’t anger your children to anger.”
However, the only other time the word is used is in Romans 10:19 where Paul quotes Moses who happens to be quoting God: “Moses says, ‘I will make you jealous by that which is not A nation, BY A nation without understanding will I anger you.’”
In Deuteronomy 32:21 God said through the mouth of Moses, “They have made Me jealous with what is not God; They have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.”
So, what’s interesting is that God is telling parents not to do to their children what God told His children He was going to do to them.
So, what was God doing to the children of Israel?
Well, God was warning them that if they start worshipping idols after they enter the promised land, they would receive the full wrath of God’s curses. One of those consequences is that the children of Israel would be provoked to anger as they were decimated and taken into captivity by foreign nations.
Okay, so it’s good enough for God, why are we not allowed to do this to our kids?
As my wife has wisely observed, “There are lots of things God can do that we shouldn’t.” And she’s right.
This is something I’ve mentioned before. Parents have not been given punitive authority over their children. God reserves that authority for Himself, and He’s given it to government. But parents do not exercise final punitive authority.
Yes, we discipline and give consequences, but we do that for the purpose of leading our children to repentance and reconciliation. Yes, there are Primary Consequences to every sin, and we parents need to give our kids the Secondary Consequences that are designed to point their attention to the Primary Consequences . . . but we do not enact final judgment and punishment.
This is the reason I highly recommend parents remove the words punish, punishment, and punishing from their vocabulary when they’re referring to their parental discipline and consequences. Teach your kids that God is the one Who will ultimately punish sin on this earth. But also teach them that you and your spouse are there to help your child avoid that consequence. Your discipline is designed to reconcile, not condemn, not hurt for the sake of hurting. Your discipline is loving and proactive with change as the goal.
That’s what God is commanding here. This Ephesians 6:4 passage is not insinuating that if your kids get mad about something you said or did that you have sinned. This is not a prohibition against dad jokes that annoy your children.
Yeah, true love isn’t going to seek to annoy or deliberately frustrate someone, but this verse isn’t about the anger your kids feel because they don’t like you or disagree with you.
This verse is teaching us that parents should never seek to anger our children by punishing them — acting as their judge, jury, and executioner — and thereby leaving no room for reconciliation, repentance, and forgiveness.
That’s why the second part of the verse contrasts provoking to anger with “but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
That discipline and instruction of the Lord leads to life, confession, apologies, reconciliation, and growth.
You really should check out our “Parent’s Five Job” series. It goes into much more practical detail about what discipline and admonition look like in the home.
Too many parents approach their discipline the wrong way. They lash out in an attempt to make the child feel bad for what they did. They act and speak in ways which communicate to the child that there is no hope for them; there’s no chance for fixing the sin issue or mending the relationship. They simply punish their child for punishment’s sake.
An extreme version of this is “You’re dead to me.” “You’re not my daughter anymore.” But there are other versions like “You’re hopeless.” “You’re never going to change.”
The companion passage to Ephesians 6:4 is Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.”
The word translated “exasperate” in the New American Standard Bible refers to stirring something up, and it appears only twice in the New Testament.
The other location is II Corinthians 9:2 where Paul refers to the Corinthians as “stirring up” the Macedonians to give to the offering Paul was collecting for needy Christians.
There the word referred to stirring up as a good thing. But in Colossians 3:21 it’s bad. Why? Well, the second part of the verse explains what we just learned, “so that they will not lose heart.” This is the only place in Scripture this Greek word appears, and it literally refers to being disheartened.
How might our children become disheartened? It’s easy — if we pass judgment on them and leave no room in their minds for growth, change, maturity, and forgiveness, it’s easy to lose heart and feel hopeless.
This is the same truth we learn in Matthew, Luke, and John when Jesus says, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”
Jesus is not telling us not to be discerning or not to make a judgement about a situation or course of action.
The word translated “judge” refers to concluding in a legal and final sense. It’s passing judgment as a judge — ordained by God to punish sin — slams his gavel with terrible closure. There is no rebuttal, there is no coming back from the judgment. It’s final. It’s done.
May we never be guilty of passing final judgment on our kids. May our discipline, admonishment, nurture, and instruction draw our children to us and God. May it ever instill hope that our kids can change.
Passing final judgement is a sinful approach to discipline. It’s the sinful version of Provocative Parenting.
However, provocation is not always bad. So, let’s turn our attention to . . .
2. Righteous Provocative Parenting
In the King James Version, Hebrews 10:24 tells us to, “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.”
The NASB reads, “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”
Now, what’s interesting is that the Greek word translated “stimulate” is used only twice in the New Testament — once here and once in Acts 15:39, a passage I’ve discussed before.
Acts 15:39 tells us, “And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.”
Basically, Paul and Barnabas could not agree as to whether or not Mark should join them on their missionary journey. In fact, their disagreement was so sharp that Paul took Silas and headed toward Syria while Barnabas took Mark and traveled to Cyprus. There was no compromise. Neither was going to budge.
Unfortunately, in English we imagine a “sharp disagreement” being a harsh or unkind or out of control argument. But remember that the English words “sharp disagreement” are being used to translate the one Greek word which is translated “stimulate” in Hebrews.
One of the conclusions concerning the Acts passage is that it’s okay to disagree. God never tells us whether Paul or Barnabas was right. And, as far as we know, not only did God use both of those groups to spread the Gospel, Paul was later reconciled with Mark — presumably because Mark sought forgiveness and Paul granted it.
So, what does it mean to provoke — or stimulate — one another to love and good deeds? Well, another understanding of this word is a “sharpening.” It’s an incitement — just like the English word “provoke.”
Only instead of provoking someone to anger and hopelessness because we’ve passed final judgment on them and hit them with punishments designed to hurt but not to teach or reconcile, we’re to incite people to True Agape Love and commendable, excellent, beautiful behavior.
Basically, Christ-honoring Provocative Parenting is the second half of Ephesians 6:4. Don’t provoke your children to anger, instead, provoke them to good deeds by correctly using discipline and instruction.
In the description of today’s episode I’ve included a number of podcast episodes that build on and expand this concept.
If the links don’t work with your podcast player, don’t worry. Just go to TruthLoveParent.com. Not only can you find all of the links in today’s show notes on our blog, but our search engine is very good and should connect you with the other episodes very easily.
So, let’s finish up today by making a huge observation.
In Ephesians 6 Paul does a great job summing up the roles of each family member. Children — obey and honor. Parents, when your kids don’t obey and honor, be God’s Ambassadors. Bring them up in His nurture and admonition.
In Hebrews 10, the author writes, “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”
When God chose to summarize the Christian parent’s responsibility to other people in his or her life, He pointed to the importance of helping those around us live like Christ. And when they don’t live like Christ, we’re not to pass final judgment on them and write them off as lost causes, we’re to engage with them in such a way that we lead them back to the paths of righteousness.
In James 5:19-20 we read, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
We aren’t commanded to engage in jihad where we slaughter the infidels. No, we’re to engage in adoption proceedings where those who were not sons become sons and where estranged sons become reconciled sons.
My friends, you are a Provocative Parent. But the question is whether or not you’re the sinful or righteous kind.
Is discipline an angry time to punish your kids for their wrongdoing, or is it an opportunity to lovingly guide your kids back to truth and repentance?
Listen, I’m not saying we don’t raise our voices. I’m not saying we don’t spank when appropriate. I’m saying that our goal and motivation must be reconciliation and change — otherwise we’re not doing anything more than provoking our kids to anger and hopelessness.
Please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets, and — if you’d like some help determining which kind of Provocative Parent you are — please email us at Counselor@TruthLoveParent.com or give us a call at (828) 423-0894.
I hope you’ll join us next time as we open God’s Word to discover how to parent our children for life and godliness.
To that end, we’ll be discussing how “Your Family Needs to Stop Being Offended.”
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