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14. God’s Design For The Family (Colossians 3:18-21)

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“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they will not become disheartened” (Col. 3:18–21, NET).

What was God’s original design for the family?

Sadly, when thinking about family, many don’t have great memories. In the Scripture, there are only four chapters without sin (Genesis 1–2 and Revelation 21–22), and therefore even the Scripture has many tragic stories about families. It shows the devastating effects of sin on the family.

Adam and Eve sinned, and Adam responded by blaming his wife. They parented two male children, and one of the sons killed the other. Abraham, God’s chosen man, married two wives, breaking God’s design, and he eventually kicked one wife and her child out of the house. Jacob married several wives like his grandfather. His twelve sons eventually sold their younger brother into slavery. David too espoused many wives and his son raped his sister. Then the daughter’s brother, Absalom, killed the son that raped her.

When we consider the biblical narrative, we see many family relationships that were broken by sin. Today’s story is no different; sin still destroys family relationships, and therefore we don’t have great models of God’s design. In fact, today we even see the effects of sin in the redefinition of marriage. In some cultures men take many wives and in others homosexual marriage is acceptable.

What is God’s design for family, and how can we have the relationships God meant us to have? Are the relationships I have with my family a proper reflection of my heavenly standing in Christ?

Often, when a person comes to Christ there isn’t much change at all, but in Colossians 3 Paul says that one’s relationship with Christ should affect everything. He begins the chapter talking about the believer’s new position in Christ. Listen to what he says: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).

When a believer was saved, he was spiritually identified with Christ. He died with Christ; he rose from the dead with Christ. He is now seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). However, this position should not simply be a mental note or point of theology for a Christian; it should radically change his life.

It should change the way a person thinks. Paul says to think on things above and not on the things of the earth (v. 2). This position in Christ should affect every thought.

It should change the “clothing” we wear. Paul tells the church to take off the old clothing of sin and put on the new clothing of righteousness, which fits our heavenly position in Christ. Put on love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, bearing with one another, etc. (vv. 5–14).

In Colossians 3:15–17, he describes the priorities of our heavenly position, the outer garments of every believer. The Christian must let the peace of Christ rule in his life. We should make every decision based on the reality of whether this decision will disrupt our peace with Christ and his body. We must let the Word of Christ dwell richly in us. It must be our desire to know the Word of God more daily and to allow it to overflow in our lives. We also must do everything in the name of the Lord. We must seek his glory in everything we do. These are the priorities of the heavenly citizen.

However, the questions remain, “What about our relationships? How should my position in Christ affect my family life?” In this lesson, we will see the responsibilities of the family members in God’s original design.

Big Question: What are the responsibilities of each member of the family according to Paul?

The Wife’s Responsibility To Her Husband

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Col. 3:18, NET).

First, we see the wife’s role. Paul says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord.” The wife must submit to her husband because this is fitting or appropriate for her position in Christ.

The word submission often carries a nasty connotation in our society, but it must be noted that submission does not mean “inferiority.” “Submit” is actually a military word. The word simply means, “to arrange under rank.”1 It means to “come up under.” A sergeant is not inferior to a captain. They are equal. However, to have order in the military, authority must exist in the relationship or chaos will ensue. In the same way, when God made the husband and wife relationship, he made it with order so that it would function properly.

Submission does not imply that the wife is less than the husband, for Scripture clearly proclaims the equality of all in Christ. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

There is equality in Christ. However, our equality and unity in Christ does not remove our roles. What Galatians teaches does not change the fact that the slave was still supposed to submit to and obey his master (cf. Col. 3:22; Eph. 6:5). That was his role even though he was equal with the master in his standing before God.

Some in the liberation movement take Galatians 3:28 and pit Paul’s teachings against one another. They say women no longer need to submit to their husbands, or that women do not need to practice submission in the church (1 Tim. 2:12), because we are all one in Christ. This greatly damages the teachings of Scripture. They are meant to fit together and not contradict one another.

Interpretation Question: Why is the woman called to submit to the man? How is this reflected in the rest of Scripture?

The answer to this goes back to the creation story. Genesis 1:26–27 says,

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

When God said, “Let us,” many believe this is a reference to the Trinity: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit being one. When the Trinitarian God made man in his image, he made two people who would be “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). In marriage, the male and female together as one are a reflection of the Trinity. How do we see this? We see this in God’s plurality and concurrent unity—three in one. In addition, a crucial aspect of his deity is authority and submission in the Godhead, which is also reflected in the marriage union. First Corinthians 11:3 says: “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”

In this passage, we see the headship within God’s person. God is the head of Christ. Even though God the Father and God the Son are co–equal, the Son submits to the Father. He obeys the Father. In a similar vein, when God made male and female in his image, he put authority and submission in that relationship. The head of the woman, probably better translated “wife,” is man. The marriage relationship is a reflection of the Trinitarian relationship. This unity and authority in the marriage is a reflection of how mankind is made in the image of God.

With that said, sin terribly distorted the image of God in man. We do not reflect God as we should because sin has created a rebellion against God’s order. Romans 8:7 says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” Man naturally does not want to obey God’s laws; sin has corrupted man and the nature of his relationships.

We see the effects of this corruption specifically in the marriage union right after the fall. Look at what God prophesies as a consequence to marriages in Genesis 3:16: “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”‘

God says the woman’s “desire” would be for her husband. Does this mean that because of sin the woman would naturally want to serve her husband? Absolutely not! It actually means the opposite. We see this word used in Genesis 4:7 of sin in relation to Cain. God says to Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

The word “desire” means that the woman would no longer innately desire to serve her husband but that she would seek to control her husband. She would seek to manipulate him in order to get her own way. Also, the man, instead of loving his wife as we will see in the next passage (Col. 3:19), would seek to rule. He would seek to dominate her.

Submission In The Context Of Love

One of the beautiful aspects of the Trinity is that God the Father does not dominate or force Christ to submit to him. Submission and authority happen in the context of God’s love for the Son. In fact, in 1 John 4:8, God is defined as love. It just says, “God is love.” In the context of this loving relationship, the Son submits.

In the same way, as a husband I am not called to demand that my wife submit to me. I am to love her, care for her, encourage her to grow in God, and serve her. My wife is to submit to me willingly. I cannot force it. That also would be a marring of the Godhead’s relationship.

At the fall, marriage was broken. Submission in the context of a loving relationship was destroyed, and as a result we see brokenness in the majority of marriages. Over fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. The wife tries to control the husband, and the husband tries to rule and dominate the wife. In fact, marriage is becoming redefined totally as no longer simply between one man and one woman. The image of God has been totally distorted and the consequences are disorder in our society. If the home is broken, then you can be sure the education system is broken, and the government is broken since the home is the foundation of society.

God started his building of a community on the earth with a marriage, and when the marriage does not work correctly everything else becomes distorted. The perfect model for a wife to emulate is the Lord’s submission (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3). He was never inferior or less in comparison to God the Father. However, he willfully and joyfully submits to the Father. In the same way, the wife must submit to her husband because this is fitting in the Lord.

Application Question: What are some common reactions in society to this teaching? Why is the submission of the wife to her husband so important?

The Husband’s Responsibility To His Wife

“Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them” (Col. 3:19, NET).

What about the role of the husband?

Paul says to the husbands that they should love their wives. Now, it should be known that in the ancient context this was a pretty radical statement. It pushed against the norms of society. William Barclay describes both the Jewish and Greek ancient context in reference to women in his commentary on Colossians. Look at what he says:

Under Jewish law, a woman was a thing, the possession of her husband, just as much as his house or his flocks or his material goods. She had no legal rights whatever. For instance, under Jewish law, a husband could divorce his wife for any cause, while a wife had no rights at all in the initiation of divorce; and the only grounds on which a divorce might be awarded her were if her husband developed leprosy, gave up his beliefs or sexually assaulted a virgin. In Greek society, a respectable woman lived a life of entire seclusion. She never appeared on the streets alone, not even to go shopping. She lived in the women’s apartments and did not join the men of the household, even for meals. Complete servitude and chastity were demanded of her; but her husband could go out as much as he chose and could enter into as many relationships outside marriage as he liked without incurring any social criticism. Under both Jewish and Greek laws and custom, all the privileges belonged to the husband and all the duties to the wife.2

In Jewish and Greek culture, the woman had little to no rights. She was a piece of property meant to serve the husband. Therefore, Paul’s teachings ran against the sway of Jewish and Greek society. The husband was commanded to love his wife, which was radical. Ephesians describes what the husband’s love should look like. He is called to love like Christ. Ephesians 5:5–28 says,

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

Interpretation Question: What are characteristics of the husband’s love in Ephesians 5:25–28?

There are several characteristics of the husband’s love seen in this passage.3

1. The Husband’s Love Must Be Realistic.

The husband should have no unrealistic fantasies about the woman he is marrying. Christ loved the church and died for her while we were still enemies of God (Rom. 5:8). Christ knew she was sinful and disobedient. Yet, he still gave his life for her while knowing her faults. His love was realistic.

In a marriage, both mates should understand this reality. In fact, much of pre–marital counseling is destroying the false expectations set up through romantic comedies and Hollywood. The husband must love realistically; this woman has been infected by sin just as the man has. She must be reformed daily by God’s grace, and she must be loved through her faults. Scripture says, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Having a realistic love is important for both mates, because if you don’t have it you will become disillusioned. I have no doubt that the reason the highest number of divorces happen in the first year of marriage is because most love is unrealistic.

2. The Husbands Love Must Be Sacrificial.

He is to love her as Christ loved the church and be willing to die for her. It should be heard that if anybody feels like the wife’s role is unfair, they should give more thought to the man’s. It is much easier to submit to someone than to give one’s life for that person. This love that the husband is supposed to embody is impossible without the grace of God. To love sacrificially means the husband must at times give up other things to serve and please his wife. He must sacrifice for her. He must sacrifice time, entertainment, friendships, sometimes even career, etc., in order to love his wife.

3. The Husband’s Love Must Be Purposeful.

Christ’s love makes the church holy by cleansing her with the Word. Christ’s purpose is to make her the perfect bride. Similarly, the husband must love his wife through teaching her Scripture, getting her involved in a Bible-preaching church, encouraging her to get involved with small groups and ministries or areas where she can grow and serve. He must seek to cultivate not only her character but also her calling so she can fulfill God’s plans on her life.

He must discern her gifts and talents and encourage her in the use of those for the glory of God. This love also means at times admonishing her to help her know Christ more. It is a purposeful love. Every man should consider if he is ready and willing to love a woman this way before getting married. Is he ready to be a spiritual leader?

4. The Husband’s Love Must Be Personal.

He must love her as his own body. Every day the husband brushes his teeth, combs his hair, and clothes himself. Every day he maintains his body. Sadly, we often go days without maintaining our marriages. It is very easy to get so busy with life and ministry that we allow weeds to grow up in the garden of our homes. Love must be personal. We must love our wives like our own bodies, and daily we must take time to cultivate a happy home.

Submission and authority in marriage are ugly words in our society. However, there should be no issue with submission when someone loves us like this. Scripture says it is the love of God that brings men to repentance (Rom. 2:4), and the man must allow this love to transform his wife.

What should a man do when he has a wife who does not want to submit? Should he demand submission? Should he become bitter toward her?

Absolutely not. Paul commands the husband to not “not be embittered” against her (v. 19). It literally reads, “Stop being bitter.”4 No, he should love. Let the love of God flow through your life and break the heart that has been calloused by sin. Scripture says love is patient (1 Cor. 13:4). Patiently love this person and trust God to work on her heart.

What should the woman do when the man is not loving her and not seeking to lead spiritually?

She should continue to submit to him, pray for him, and love him. She should gently encourage him in the role of leadership, and she should be careful not to nag him. Let your chaste, godly conduct, and prayers change his heart. First Peter 3:1–2 says,

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

How can Christians have a happy marriage?

They must choose to build their marriage around biblical principles. The relationship must be built on submission and love. God has eternally dwelled in mutual relationships with the Son and the Holy Spirit with no divorce. He is the one who marriage models, and he is the one who knows how to fix it when it’s broken. Marriages are broken; we must come back to the Creator of marriage so they can be fixed. We must submit to his will and perfect plan.

Application Question: How does the Christian view of marriage conflict with the world’s understanding of marriage?

The Children’s Responsibility To Their Parents

“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing in the Lord” (Col. 3:20, NET).

Observation Question: What is the responsibility of children to their parents? Why is this authority so important? Are there any limits to this authority?

The next family relationship that should be affected by our new identity is the children’s relationship to their parents. The first question we must ask ourselves is, “Who does this word ‘children’ refer to?” This word “children” does not refer to any particular age group. It refers to any child still living in the home and under parental guidance.5 If they are still living at home or still being provided for by the parents, then this word would fit them. The reason Paul gives for obedience is to please the Lord. Because Christian children have a relationship with God, they should not be identified by disobedience to parents.

When Scripture talks about the pagan world that denies God, disobedience to parents characterizes it. It is listed as one of the forms of disobedience common to the pagan world in Romans 1:28–30.

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. Slanderers, God–haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents.

Paul says that children disobeying parents marks a world where people deny God.

It should be noted that if a child does not obey his parents in everything and recognize their authority, then the child will not recognize other authorities. This is implied by Colossians 3:22, as the slaves receive the same command as the children except toward their masters. Slaves are called to obey their masters in everything. However, if a person never learns obedience in everything at home, he will struggle with disobedience for the rest of his life. A child who is disobedient to his parents will disobey every authority. He will disobey his teachers, he will disobey his boss, he will disobey the law, and he will disobey God, the ultimate authority (cf. Rom. 13:1–2).

The importance of obedience to parents is seen by it being in the Ten Commandments. It says, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12).

The command says to “honor your father and mother so that you may live long in the land.” In the Old Covenant, God promised that the children would live long on the earth if they honored their parents. This would be true as a natural consequence of obedience. As they obeyed their parents they would then obey and respect other authorities on the earth, bringing a long life. However, when they disobeyed their parents, they would then disobey all authorities as well, resulting in a shortened life. No doubt, this would also be true not only because of natural consequences, but also because of God’s sovereign blessing over children for simply obeying his commands.

The importance of this commandment is also seen in the drastic consequences promised to those who broke it. Since obedience to parents was the foundation to all authority, the slightest disobedience was strictly punished. Listen to the consequences given in the Old Covenant.

“Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death” (Ex. 21:17).

“If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head” (Lev. 20:9).

“The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures” (Prov. 30:17).

Dishonor toward one’s parents was to be strictly dealt with. If disobedience to parents was allowed in society, then everyone would break the authority structure and there would be chaos. Thank God we are not under the Old Covenant, but the principles behind it still last. When the child and parent relationship breaks down, it is detrimental to the rest of society. Therefore, a child’s obedience to parents should be strongly enforced.

When we look at our world today, it is marked by a lack of authority. Children no longer obey parents, students have no respect for teachers, employees dishonor their employers, and everyone denies the authority of God.

Scripture declares that when society has gone to these extremes they will ultimately come under the curse of God and his judgment. Listen to the characteristics of Israel right before God judged them by Assyria: “Youths oppress my people, women rule over them. O my people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path. The LORD takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people” (Isa. 3:12–13).

In Israel the youth were running the home. The parents were no longer exercising authority over them. However, this was not just happening in the home, it was happening in the rest of society. The youth were rebelling against all authority. No doubt the youth committed protests, riots, lewdness, and all kinds of evil as they oppressed society. The youth were running wild. Similarly, in many neighborhoods in the world today one cannot go out at night because of youth oppression.

You will typically find that when a revival starts, it often starts with youth, and many times on college campuses. Similarly, when society is in decay, it often also starts with youth. The youth begin to rebel against God’s authority. It is for this reason that Satan is always desperately trying to affect the way that our youth think. He attacks them through sexually charged and often rebellious music. He fills their brains with liberal thinking on many college campuses. The training of youth is very important and very strategic. Wise parents will make sure their children are properly trained in the Lord at home.

Again, Isaiah describes the state of Israel right before God judges them by Assyria and later by Babylon. He says, “Youth oppress my people, women rule over them.” The nation was far away from God’s original design. They also were far from God’s design in the roles of women (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:22–23; 1 Tim. 2:11–13). God says, “I am about to judge these people.”

I have no doubt that these characteristics would mark many of our historically great nations before God’s judgment fell upon them. Youth oppress the people; the adults live in fear of the youth. Women rule in the home, the church, and in society, instead of men being the leaders, as was his plan with Adam.

This is offensive to the world system, and it should be. The world is not the way that God designed it to be. The natural mind is antagonistic toward the things of God (Rom 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14). Paul speaks to the children in the church and essentially tells them that the rebellion seen in the world should not mark them as Christians. Rebellion against authority does not fit our position in Christ.

Now, note that this obedience has limits. Children should not obey anything that would violate God’s Word or their consciences (cf. Rom. 14:23). Like the apostles, when commanded by the Pharisees to no longer preach in the name of Christ, they declared, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29b). Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

Application Question: How have you seen the rebellion of youth in society? Have you ever considered that this rebellion is a judgment of God that precedes a greater judgment from him (cf. Rom. 1:28–30; Isa. 3:12–13)?

An Implication For Youth Ministry

Before we go to Paul’s final exhortation to the members of the family, we should also notice something about youth ministry in the early church. Paul expected that children would be in the audience as this letter was read to the church. He speaks directly to the children, “Children obey your parents in the Lord.”

The early church met together as a family. It seems the early pattern for worship was for families to worship together and hear God’s Word together. Scripture never commands a clear model of youth ministry other than parents training them at home. However, it is implied both in the Old Testament and the New Testament that children were expected to be with the congregation during worship. For example, with Moses and Joshua, when the words of the covenant were read to the nation of Israel, the children were with the congregation. Consider Deuteronomy 31:9–3 and Joshua 8:34–35:

So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel. Then Moses commanded them: ‘At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess’” (Deut. 31:9–13).

Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law—the blessings and the curses—just as it is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them (Josh. 8:34–35).

Let me encourage you: children going to children’s ministry or youth ministry during corporate worship is OK. But it is not necessary. There is something special about families worshiping and studying the Word of God together, and one should seek to have that as often as possible, in public worship, small groups, etc.

The younger generation has a great deal to offer adults as well as adults to children. Imagine if Israel had removed their youth such as Samuel, Jeremiah, David, Josiah, and Daniel, from public worship. They would have been very deficient. This is something to consider in the discipleship of your children. Though the church may give options to separate the youth during public worship, it does not mean that it is necessarily best.

Paul expected youth to be part of the service (cf. Col. 3:20; Eph. 6:1; 1 Cor. 14:23), and so did Moses and Joshua. This is something to be aware of and pray about as you disciple your children in the future. Statistics say that about seventy percent of youth, sometime between the ages of eighteen and twenty–two, drop out of church.6 We are losing our younger generation. Perhaps turning back to the model of family worship, as was the biblical expectation, could be one of the remedies.

Application Question: What are your views on how youth ministry is commonly run in the church where children leave the congregation? Should churches return to the model of “the whole assembly” gathering to hear the Word of God (cf. 1 Cor. 14:23)? Why or why not?

The Parent’s Responsibility To Their Children

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they will not become disheartened” (Col. 3:21, NET).

In still addressing the child/parent relationship, Paul speaks to fathers and commands them to not provoke their children lest they become disheartened or “lose heart,” as translated in the NASB. The word “provoke” can also be translated “embitter”.This is not simply referring to a child getting angry, for this is inevitable. It has to do with a deep–rooted, settled anger that stays in these children and affects their persons for the rest of their lives.

It also should be noted that the word “father” can also be translated “parents.” The same word is translated “parents” in Hebrews 11:23 when it says Moses’s “parents” hid him for three months because they saw he was not an ordinary child.

This sin is committed not only by fathers, though they might be most inclined towards it, but also by mothers. It is possible for a parent to so embitter a child that they become heartless and discouraged.

How do parents embitter their children? This can happen in many ways.

Application Question: In what ways do parents embitter their children?

1. Parents Embitter Their Children By Not Disciplining Them.

This is one of the quickest ways to develop bitter children. A spoiled child is a child that is thankless and bitter. Because they get their way all the time, they are bitter whenever any authority does not give them their way or when life becomes difficult. Solomon said, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him” (Prov. 22:15).

Parents embitter them by never driving the foolishness, the sin, out of their hearts through good discipline. Parents who do not discipline their children and instead gives them everything they want often become surprised when their children eventually rebel against them later in life. These spoiled kids want nothing to do with their parents. Sadly, this happens too much, even in the church.

2. Parents Embitter Their Children By Abusing Them Or Giving Improper Discipline.

When children are abused, either verbally or physically, it sows seeds of anger or hatred in their hearts. The anger sown into the hearts of these children is hard to get out. Many times these children abuse others because of the anger in them.

However, we see this not only as a result of abuse, but with improper discipline as well. When a parent does not wisely use his anger, it trains his child to unwisely use his anger as well. The parent becomes angry and curses at them, criticizes them, or even harshly disciplines them. Even if this punishment is just, the improper use of anger trains the child. The child learns, “When I am angry it is OK to curse; it is OK to hit somebody; it’s OK to go crazy.” He never learns how to properly control his anger, and therefore struggles with anger throughout his life.

The parent who disciplines his child in an angry spirit teaches him how to deal with anger. The child grows up fighting everybody, or holding grudges against anybody who failed him, because that is how he was trained.

Listen parents, telling your children to go to their rooms while you are angry can be a wise tactic. It gives you a chance to evaluate their sin, their motives, and your own heart. It allows you to teach them how to respond to their anger, and it also allows you to discipline them appropriately.

3. Parents Embitter Their Children By Neglecting Them.

Many children grow up bitter because their parents aren’t around. Consequently, they lack love and affection and therefore grow bitter because of that. Some parents neglect their children for work. They work long hours to achieve a certain amount of success, and this keeps them away from home. Ultimately, this hurts children both emotionally and spiritually.

Sadly, in our society many parents neglect their children by sending them away to extensive education programs. Many times these programs are meant to compensate for their lack of being around. It is not God’s will for teachers, coaches, or babysitters to raise children. That is why he gave them to their parents. Certainly, these people should play a role, but it is important for parents to be the primary influence on their children’s lives. Parents must be careful not to neglect their children.

We saw an example of neglect in the story of Absalom and David. David neglected his children, and this created such anger in Absalom that he eventually usurped David’s authority in the kingdom and essentially tried to kill him. One of David’s sons had previously raped Absalom’s sister and David did nothing. Absalom killed this brother and David did nothing. Absalom ran away from the kingdom and David did nothing. When Absalom came back to the kingdom after murdering his brother, David wouldn’t even visit him. This created anger in Absalom’s heart, which he tried to satisfy by seeking to kill his absentee father. David didn’t discipline him and didn’t encourage him. David did nothing but neglect his son and it had drastic consequences.

Many children have tremendous anger at a father or mother who neglected them. Parents, do not embitter your children. Prioritize them over your work, your church, your entertainment, and your social life. Let only God and your spouse come before them.

<4. Parents Embitter Their Children By Never Encouraging Them And Showing Them Affection.

We saw this in the story of Martin Luther whose father never encouraged him or showed him love. Listen to what commentator William Barclay said:

It is one of the tragic facts of religious history that Martin Luther’s father was so stern to him that, all his life, Luther found it difficult to pray: Our Father. The word father in his mind represented nothing but severity. The duty of the parent is discipline, but it is also encouragement. Luther himself said: Spare the rod and spoil the child. It is true. But beside the rod keep an apple to give him when he does well.7

Healthy parents not only discipline their children but also reward them. Parents reward their children when they do well and discipline them when they do wrong. Children start to learn fairness by this balanced approach.

5. Parents Embitter Their Children By Showing Favoritism Toward Other Siblings.

We got a good picture of this in the story of Jacob and Joseph. Jacob gave Joseph the robe of many colors, showing his favor of this son above the other eleven. This embittered the older siblings against the father and against Joseph. Later, they kidnapped and sold Joseph into slavery out of their anger.

How often do siblings become embittered against one another because of unwise parenting practices? These children grow up disliking one another. “Mother always thought you were the prettiest.” “Dad always liked you because you were the smartest and most athletic.” This happens all the time.

It should be noted that these words from Paul were very challenging to this culture. Listen to what Barclay said:

In the ancient world, children were very much under the domination of their parents. The supreme example was the Roman patria potestas, the law of the father’s power. Under it, a father could do anything he liked with his children. He could sell them into slavery; he could make them work like labourers on his farm; he even had the right to condemn a child to death and to carry out the execution. All the privileges and rights belonged to the parent and all the duties to the children.8

Paul’s challenge to not embitter the children conflicted with common Roman practice. Listen to what else Paul said to fathers: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

Instead of developing bitterness in them, parents must aim to train their children in the “instruction of the Lord.” We must treat these children as God would treat them. In a sense, they are not ours. They are God’s and we are just stewards of them. We must make sure that we are faithful stewards so we can encourage them in fulfilling God’s plans for their lives.

Application Question: What other ways have you seen or experienced parents embittering their children? How can the church play a role in remedying this trend of unwise parenting?


What responsibilities does a Christian have to his family based on his identity in Christ?

Paul here is giving the responsibilities of the members of the family. It should be noted that the wife’s response has nothing to do with whether she has a good husband or not. Her actions must be based on her relationship with Christ (Col. 3:1). In the same way a husband must love his wife even if she does not submit to him. The child must obey in everything regardless of whether he or she has good parents or not.

Oftentimes, our responses are based on what other people do to us instead of our relationship to Christ. We cannot control others, but we can control our faithfulness to Christ as we seek to walk in God’s original design for the family.

God’s design for the family is that:

  1. Wives submit to their husbands.
  2. Husbands love their wives and not be harsh to them.
  3. Children obey their parents in everything.
  4. Parents not embitter their children.

Let’s pray for our families.

Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown

1 W. W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996).

2 W. Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 187-188.

3 Bruce Goettsche, “Marriage, God’s Way – Pt. 2” Union Church: (August 26, 2014).

4 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 168.

5 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 169.

6 Drew Dyck, “The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church.” Christianity Today:

7 W. Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 190.

8 W. Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 187-188.

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