Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
25 February 2018
Sermon Text: Colossians 3:21
Rules for Parents
Second Sunday of Lent

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[ sketch notes ]

“When God called Abraham and Sarah to be our ancestors in the faith,
the decisive act was to make them parents.”
— Eugene Peterson


This is a sermon about parents, for parents, too parents. So, all you little children listen up. Just like your mommy and daddy made you listen to the sermon last week, I want you to make sure they listen to it this week.

Colossians 3:11-17, 21. “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him…Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

There are two way to look at the word fathers. Fathers can refer to the daddies of the children exclusively. Or it can refer to the parents of the children inclusively. There are good arguments for both views.

Some scholars argue that it refers to daddies exclusively because daddies are more prone to provoke their children to wrath. (That’s debatable, of course.) Also, if Paul had wanted to say parents he could have used the word for parents that he used in vs 20.

Others argue that in more patriarchal societies the word fathers includes mothers. Those who know Spanish understand this point. The word parents is rarely used; the word padres is far more common. Somehow everyone knows that padres means mommy and daddy inclusively. The idea here is that mothers are addressed through the fathers because fathers are the head of their family, just as God the Father is the paterfamilias of his covenant family.

As you can tell by the title of the sermon, I will be speaking to all the parents today. So, little children, I need your help: Make sure your mommy and daddy are listening.


Who are these fathers?

In the context of the letter to the Colossians, they are the Christian parents of Christian children. They are members of the church, which is God’s covenant family. Paul describes them as —

  • saints and faithful members of the church – 1:2
  • filled with faith, hope, and love – 1:4-5
  • delivered from darkness to light – 1:14
  • once alienated from God, now reconciled to him – 1:24
  • received Christ the Lord and walk in him 2:6
  • filled in Christ – 2:9
  • members of the covenant community — circumcised without human hands in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ – 2:11
  • baptized into the death and life of Christ / buried with him in baptism and raised with him through the faithful working of God who raised Jesus from the dead – 2:12
  • made alive by God 2:13
  • died to elemental spirits of the world in union with Christ – 2:20
  • raised with Christ to celestial realms – 3:1
  • undergoing spiritual formation / putting off the old self and putting on the new self – 3:5-11

The bottom line is that these parents are not just any ordinary parents. They are baptized Christians, members of God’s covenant family, growing up in union with Christ. They are Christian fathers and mothers, Christian parents. Just like you.

This kind of teaching would have been surprising, if not totally scandalous, to the citizens of Colossae. Why? It was counter-cultural.

Now, keep in mind that the church at Colossae was made up of both Greeks and Jews who had come together in one body in Christ. Even though they all found their true identity in Christ, who is all and in all, they still had some cultural baggage and influences to shake off.

For example, in Greco-Roman society, children were often viewed as property, commodities, or liabilities.

In the Greco-Roman world, the family law of Patria potestas, (Latin: “power of a father”) said that

the male head of a family exercised total power over his children and his more remote descendants in the male line, whatever their age, as well as over those brought into the family by adoption. This power meant originally not only that he had control over the persons of his children, amounting even to a right to inflict capital punishment, but that he alone had any rights in private law. Thus, acquisitions of a child became the property of the father. The father might allow a child (as he might a slave) certain property to treat as his own, but in the eye of the law it continued to belong to the father. Patria potestas ceased normally only with the death of the father. Source: Britannica

It was not uncommon for parents to abandon unwanted infants—especially little girls—at the local trash heap (city dump). Most of those abandoned infants died of exposure to the elements, but some were rescued from the local dumps. Sadly, many of those “rescued” children were raised up only to be sold as slaves or to be forced into cultic prostitution (sex trafficking was/is a serious problem throughout the world). In some cases abandoned children were adopted into families as servants or step-children. Tragically, many Greco-Roman parents considered infanticide, abandonment, or exposure an economic necessity. [1]

In ancient Greco-Roman society children “might be valued for their present or future contribution to the family business, especially in an agricultural context, but otherwise they possessed little if any intrinsic value as human beings.”[2]

The situation for children in Jewish society was a little better.

In the Word of God, parents were encouraged to cultivate healthy and loving relationships with their children. The Law required fathers to instruct and correct their children according to the word of God (Deut 6:4-9). The Law commanded children to honor their father and mother that it might go well with them (Exo 20:12). The Prophets called the people to teach the next generation the truth of God (Ps 78:5-7).

Compared to Roman children, Jewish children were more loved and cherished.

Nevertheless, in the the ancient world infants and children were often marginalized. Childhood was typically regarded as a necessary evil to be endured until adulthood was reached.

The Gospel calls parents to a higher standard. Therefore, the situation for Christian children in the church was markedly better.

In contrast to the world around them, Christian parents were called to take a genuine interest in their children as God’s children, members of God’s covenant family; and they were to treat their children differently, with a tough and tender love — a love reflective of God the Father’s love for them in Christ.

As the Father loves his son Jesus, and all his adopted children, so fathers are to love their sons and daughters as well. The standard is the Gospel, not just the Law.


What must you Christian parents do?

Parents, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

The word provoke means stir them up, agitate them, push their buttons, nitpick and nag them to the point of angering and frustrating them.

There are many ways to provoke our children to wrath (as Tim Challies explains).

Some parents provoke their kids to wrath by being too hard on them one way; others provoke them by being too soft on them in other ways.

We provoke our children to wrath when use unfair weights and measures, when we keep them off balance with ever-changing expectations, when we hold them to a different standard than we hold ourselves, when we move the target around and expect them to hit the bullseye.

In short, we provoke our children when we always find fault with them and they never find favor with us.

It is often the case that parents who want to obey God’s word on this point, who do not want to provoke their children, will go out of their way to make sure their kids always feel happy and never feel sad.

As RC Sproul, Jr puts it, “We (wrongly) think Paul is saying…Be careful not to overdo it…What you need to do is leave some room in which your children can go out and sin and disobey. Give them free reign when they turn two. Expect them to be rebellious in their teens. Don’t clamp down, or it will make it worse.”

Is that what Paul meant? No. If we let scripture interpret scripture the Spirit will show us what Paul meant.

In Ephesians 6 Paul says the alternative to provoking our children is not to pamper them, but to prepare them in the doctrine and discipline of the Lord. That means we must bring them up in the culture of Christ; we must help them grow up under the cross and under the crown of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Just like we do.

This is just part and parcel of the disciple-making mission of the church. For Christian parents that mission starts at home, in our families.

In the Gospels, Jesus says disciples are students and servants. He says that disciples are made, first by baptizing people in the Triune Name of God, then by teaching them to obey all of his teaching. So, a disciple is a baptized student and servant of Jesus Christ.

Baptism marks the beginning of a person’s walk with God. The rest of life is spent improving upon his baptism, by growing in the grace and knowledge of God, and by doing God’s will, as a baptized Christian.

Parents, making disciples begins at home. That is why you present your children to the Lord for baptism. And that is why you pray with them and teach them to obey Jesus.

If we do not bring up our children in the culture of Christ, we will provoke our children to wrath.

If we do not bring them up under the cross and under crown of Christ, we will provoke them towards hell.

But if we bring them up in the doctrine and discipline of the Lord, we will prepare for them for the life that is truly life in this world and the world to come.

Contrary to popular opinion, holding our children to God’s high standard, and nudging them to trust and obey God’s word is not what provokes them to wrath. What provokes them to wrath is withholding these things from them, holding them to man’s ever-changing low standards, and neglecting to nudge them to trust and obey the Lord.

Parents, we need to learn how to treat our different children differently, at different times in different ways. And that means learning to talk to them.

Talking to your children is as natural as hugging and kissing and feeding them. It is foundational to the parent-child relationship.

In his book The Baptized Body, Peter Leithart explains the formative power of talking to our children from infancy on.

[All] parents speak to their infants, and do not expect the child to understand or to talk back for many months. They see nothing irrational in this. They speak to their children…not because they think the infant understands all that is being said or because they expect an immediate response. They speak to their children so that the child will learn to understand and talk back.

And they do learn to talk and even talk back. Talking to your children is so important that God commands you to do it morning, noon, and night.

As we heard in the scripture reading from Deuteronomy 6, “You shall teach the words of God diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Parents, you must teach your children the truths of God’s word, and that means you must talk to them.

As most of you probably know by now, no two kids are the same. Each one of your kids is unique.

You can raise your voice to one kid and get his full attention; but raise it to another and she will tune you out. You can speak softly to one kid and she will tremble with fear, but speak softly to another he will just blow it off. You can discipline one kid with mere words, but another one requires more than words.

Moms and Dads, you gotta make every effort to get to know each one of your children — and you gotta take the time to talk to them as individuals, and find out what makes them tick.

For the most part, what all this comes down to is cultivating good old fashioned communication skills.

In his book, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp says

Communication must be multi-faceted and richly textured. It must include encouragement, correction, rebuke, entreaty, instruction, warning, teaching, and prayer. All these must be part of your interaction with your children…[you must] modify your speech to suit the need of the moment: Warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone (1 Thes. 5:14)…differing conditions in the hearer require differing forms of speaking. You do great harm when you fail to discern what type of communication is appropriate to the moment. (pp 84-85)

Tripp takes Paul’s instructions for a congregation and (wisely) applies them to parents.

  • warn those who are idle,
  • encourage the timid,
  • help the weak,
  • be patient with all your children.

Your kids have good days and bad days. They pass through different seasons of life. It’s up to you parents to know your kids, detect their mood, read the signs, and talk to them accordingly.

The reason we make every effort to do all this is because we want our children to be encouraged in the Lord not discouraged.

The word discouraged does not mean upset or disappointed. It means dispirited. This is what happens when the wind is taken out of their sails, the breath is knocked out of their lungs, their joy is killed, their spirit is quenched, leaving them feeling dead inside.

And nothing takes the wind out of a child’s sails and sucks the life out of him like a verbally abrasive, emotionally manipulative, physically abusive parent.

Sadly, I know that some of you grew up with mothers and fathers who mistreated you in those ways. And you are still haunted by the memories, and still hurt by their words, and still healing from those wounds. What happened to some of you was terrible — and it was contrary to God’s design for families.

Not to minimize your experience at all, but only to magnify the Lord, I want you to know that now, by the love of the Father, the grace of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, you can break the cycle, begin anew, and bring up your kids (and grandkids!) in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As you do what the Lord calls you to do, know that there will be times when your children will feel sad or even get mad because you are trying to bring them up in the Lord. You are trying to wage war against sin, the flesh, and the devil. Children will shed tears and throw fits. But don’t let them fool you. They might be disgruntled at times, but they are not becoming discouraged. This struggle is just part of the discipline of cross-bearing.

A disciplined child is not a dispirited child.

As the Spirit says in Hebrews 12, We all had earthly fathers who disciplined us as well as they knew how — and most of us respect them for it. All discipline seems painful rather than pleasant in the moment, but later on we see the undeniable results of it: the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

So, discipline your children according to the word of the Lord and they will not be discouraged, but encouraged.

You can only do this with God’s help. So ask him to help you, and he will do it.

Now, parents, in order for you to keep God’s rules for you with their right attitude, you must put on the virtues of Christ every day.

  • a compassionate, merciful heart
  • kindness – a general friendliness and tenderness
  • humility – remember to put yourself in your child’s shoes, try to see things from their perspective; play, wrestle, laugh.
  • meekness – bridle your tongue and bring your thoughts and feelings under control
  • patience – don’t be so hasty or in such a hurry; slow down so they can keep up
  • tolerance – put up with child-like silliness and clumsiness (and try to enjoy while it lasts)
  • forgiveness – show grace to your children; they will stumble and sin just like you do.
  • let the peace of Christ rule your heart – remember your children are not the enemy; the struggle is real, but it is not against your own flesh and blood.
  • let the word of Christ take up permanent residence in you life – feed your heart, soul, and mind on God’s word; then you will be able to feed your kids.
  • practice gratitude – thank God for all your children

If you do these things day after day, you will soon discover the joys of bringing up your children in the Lord, under the cross and crown of Christ.

Let us fall down before the majesty of Christ and seek grace to help us in our need:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who sets the lonely in families: We commend to your continual care the homes in which your people dwell. Put far from them, we ask you, every root of bitterness, the desire of vainglory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who have been made one flesh in holy marriage. Turn the hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents; and turn our hearts to the Father, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit; and so kindle fervent charity among us all, that we may evermore be kind and affectionate to one another; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (Based on Book of Common Prayer / adapted by JMT)

[1] Evans, Craig A., and Stanley E. Porter. Dictionary of New Testament Background. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2000. pp 353—359

[2] Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. The new international commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1997. P 650