I'm teaching a Sunday School class on the Ten Commandments now and tomorrow I will be covering the fifth commandment - to honor your father and mother.
In the class almost the whole time will be devoted to the duties that children owe to their parents, and I won't have the time to speak to parents about the duties they owe to their children.
This is a large topic with much to say, particularly from the book of Proverbs. But, a few years ago a friend told me that there is only one command in the New Testament that gives specific instruction on how a parent is to relate to their child. As an aside I think the whole New Testament applies to parenting as parenting is simply the application of the Christian life to a particular kind of relationship. But still, it is interesting that there is only one narrowly focused command and it is found in Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21.
Ephesians 6:4 says:
Colossians 3:21 says:
New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 . The Lockman Foundation: LaHabra, CA
My friend pointed out that the theme here is provocation/exasperation/anger and the probable reason this is given is that this is the sin most fathers are most likely to be guilty of. With that in mind, I thought I would share a few thoughts from some commentaries on this.
John Calvin on Ephesians 6:4
4. And, ye fathers. Parents, on the other hand, are exhorted not to irritate their children by unreasonable severity. This would excite hatred, and would lead them to throw off the yoke altogether. Accordingly, in writing to the Colossians, he adds, “lest they be discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21.) Kind and liberal treatment has rather a tendency to cherish reverence for their parents, and to increase the cheerfulness and activity of their obedience, while a harsh and unkind manner rouses them to obstinacy, and destroys the natural affections. But Paul goes on to say, “let them be fondly cherished;” for the Greek word, (ἐκτρέφετε,) which is translated bring up, unquestionably conveys the idea of gentleness and forbearance.
Andrew Lincoln in the Word Biblical Commentary on Ephesians 6:4
Fathers are made responsible for ensuring that they do not provoke anger in their children. This involves avoiding attitudes, words, and actions which would drive a child to angry exasperation or resentment and thus rules out excessively severe discipline, unreasonably harsh demands, abuse of authority, arbitrariness, unfairness, constant nagging and condemnation, subjecting a child to humiliation, and all forms of gross insensitivity to a child’s needs and sensibilities. The sentiments of Ephesians are in line with such advocates of moderation as Menander—whose sayings (e.g., “a father who is always threatening does not receive much reverence” or “one should correct a child not by hurting him but by persuading him”) are preserved in the section “How Fathers Ought to Behave to Their Children” in Stobaeus, Anth. 4.26.7, 13—and Ps.-Phocylides 207, “Do not be harsh with your children but be gentle.” So this writer does not exhort fathers to exercise their authority. Instead, he presupposes that authority and then sets the bounds for its use. He also presupposes that children are not just property over whom the father has legal rights. They are owed dignity as human beings in their own right.e.g. exempli gratia, for example
Walter Hendriksen on Colossians 3:21
Fathers should create an atmosphere which will make obedience an easy and natural matter, namely, the atmosphere of love and confidence. They should bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).152 When fathers are unjust or overly severe, a spirit of sullen resignation is created in the hearts of their offspring. The children “lose heart,” thinking, “No matter what I do, it’s always wrong.” There should be no nagging, no constant “Don’t do this” and “Don’t do that.” Though the negative admonition (“Don’t”) cannot and must not be avoided and is at times definitely in place (note the repeated “Thou shalt not” of the Decalogue, in the teaching of Jesus, and in Paul’s epistles, including this very passage!), the emphasis must be on the positive (Rom. 12:21). A good father spends time with his children, teaches, entertains, and encourages them, and by his example as well as by outright, verbal instruction, points them to Christ. Though the rod of correction may at times be necessary, it must be used with discretion, since wise reproof is generally better than a hundred stripes (Prov. 13:24; 23:13, 14; then 17:10). Paul’s admonition not to embitter the children — hence, to be kind to them — is quite different from the advice given to fathers by Ben Sira: “He who loves his son will whip him often.… Bow down his neck in his youth, and beat his sides while he is young” (Ecclus. 30:1, 12). How friendly and fatherly!152 For a 15-point discussion of Principles and Methods of Education in Israel see N.T.C. on I and II Timothy and Titus, pp. 296–301.
Richard Melik New American Commentary on Colossians 3:21
Parents (3:21). 3:21 In the Lord, parents have a mutual responsibility to children. There is a command and a practical reason. Parents are told not to embitter their children. Paul used the term “fathers” in addressing the parents. The term may easily encompass both father and mother, as it does here, but it also served to remind them that the fathers bore a primary responsibility for the children in the home. Paul meant that they should not embitter or irritate their children. The word “embitter” (erethizō) occurs only one other time in Scripture (in 2 Cor 9:2). This speaks of an irritation or even nagging. Parents embitter children by constantly picking at them, perhaps refusing to acknowledge their efforts. The fact that children might become discouraged suggests that the parents too easily reminded the children that they were not good enough. This activity had no place in the Christian home. If correction were needed, it should have been toward the behavior of the child, not the child’s personhood, and it should have been enforced quickly. Discipline was not to be prolonged so that nagging occurred.
The reason for the command was to avoid discouragement. Constant nagging produces a situation where children are discouraged either because they cannot please those they love or because they feel they are of no worth to anybody.