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Colossians 3:18-4:1 (Part 2)

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (verses 20-21)


Here we have the third and fourth of Paul’s concise, bullet-points for family life. The first two dealt with wives and husbands. These two deal with children and parents. But since very few children will likely read this post (!), I’m going to address the whole thing to parents.

Which is a good thing, because it seems clear to me that the first of these bullet-points is primarily dependent on parents anyway. For children to “obey (their) parents in everything" requires parents themselves to draw that obedience forth, which in turn requires expectation, communication and discipline.

Expectation is foundational. If we don’t expect children to obey, they won’t. If we don’t think it’s appropriate for them to pay attention to our directions, they won’t either. If we think this instruction intrudes on the child’s own self-actualization, then our hopes of them obeying will be minimal. But it turns out that an expectation of obedience is actually firmly rooted in the child’s own good. It’s what “pleases the Lord.” He’s our true standard. If it pleases him, it’s good (see the Lord’s response to each act of Creation in Genesis 1). Further, to help a child from early age to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please him in all respects”(Colossians 1:10, NASB), sets that child in a path for life. Further strides in faith will be needed, but the Lord smiles on these first steps. Expect obedience – it’s for their good.

Communication is crucial. The word Paul uses here for “obey” is a compound word, putting the prefix “under” together with the verb “to hear.” Obedience means “coming under the hearing.” You can’t do that if communication is absent or unclear. So, communicate well. Give your children instruction appropriate to their age. Make sure they hear and understand. Don’t expect obedience when communication is lacking.

Discipline is necessary. Without discipline a child learns that obedience means nothing. Discipline makes plain that expectations are real, and that communication is to be heeded. But it needs to be infused with grace. Paul’s instruction to husbands regarding their wives (“do not be harsh with them”), coming as it does in the immediately preceding verse, applies equally to parents when disciplining children. That being said, discipline is life-giving, for it communicates the loving engagement of the parent in the same way the Lord lovingly engages with us “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Hebrews 12:6). Discipline helps the child walk in the path of obedience, pleasing the Lord.

Paul’s concluding bullet-point fits well as a covering for the whole: “do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Although he spoke it to fathers alone in Colossae, it applies equally to mothers, whether part of a parenting couple or single. It’s a needed caution, for expectations, communication and discipline can all be delivered so harshly that a child’s spirit is crushed. Don’t do it, Paul says.

One final word. Love. Shortly before we had our first child, my brother-in-law gave us some very wise instruction. He said it’s possible to have many different styles of parenting. It’s also possible (indeed likely!) to get many things wrong. But if we love well, the child will be blessed. I’ve taken that to heart. I’m sure Paul would agree. Indeed, he wrote a whole chapter on the primacy of love – you can find it in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s foundational to life. It’s obviously foundational to parenting.


Lord, may your grace be on parents, especially those whose children are young. Grant wisdom in expectations, communication and discipline. Guard it all from leading to bitterness. Bless children as they grow in your ways. Fill parents and children alike with your Spirit. Infuse it all with your love. All for your pleasure. Amen.


Reflect: If you are a parent, whether of young children or grown, take time right now to pray for each one. You might use Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9-12. Pray also for yourself. If you are not a parent, pray for a family you know and love.


Photo (taken in Ukraine) by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

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