"Christ-like Family Care"

Colossians 3:18-21
Theme: In these four verses, God teaches us how we're to treat one another in our family relationships

(Delivered Sunday, July 8, 2001 at Bethany Bible Church.  All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)  


     I'm glad that all of the kids are with us this morning, and that we're sitting together as families; because the message from God's word this morning concerns how we're to treat one another in our families. It teaches us how the reality of our Christian faith should be demonstrated in our own homes.

      The famous Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy began his masterpiece, Anna Karenina, with this observation about families: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Jesus Christ desires to be the Lord over every area of our lives; and one of the most crucial areas of our lives over which He wishes to exercise His right of Lordship is our relationships with the people most closest to us - the members of our own family. But unfortunately, it's been my experience as a pastor that the source of the greatest pain and sadness in the lives of people is in the area of their family relationships. And it certainly seems true that every unhappy family has its own unique story of unhappiness to tell.

      But perhaps there's something to be learned in the suggestion that all happy families are alike. That part of Tolstoy's observation seems as true as the other; and I believe the reason happy families seem alike is because God has established certain rules and certain patterns for family relationships. When we submit in reverence to the Lord Jesus Christ in our families, trusting in His help and treating one another the way He commands; then His rules and patterns for family living leads to the greatest happiness.

      In other words, unhappy families appear to be miserable in different ways because sinful behavior patterns - and the damages those patterns bring about - take on a variety of forms. But families that are fundamentally happy appear to be alike because they follow God's ordained pattern for family happiness.

      I believe that the apostle Paul gives us a brief summary of God's pattern for family happiness in these words:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them. Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, let they become discouraged (Col. 3:18-21).

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      The idea of "family" has been seriously criticized in our day. Because so many families are unhappy, and because so many family members are so dreadfully hurtful toward one another, many have come to believe that the whole idea of "family" is an outdated concept - a sociological mistake that no longer meets human need. Some even assert that it never did.

      But the fact is that God, our Maker, is the inventor of "family". He designed it for our happiness. The Bible teaches us that God's blessings are to be realized in the context of family life. It tells us such things as, "Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them" (Psalm 127:3-5). Or, "Blessed is the one who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table. Behold thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD" (Psalm 128: 1-4). Family life is designed by God to lead to rich happiness and fulfillment - when the relationships within it are nurtured in His way and according to His rules.

      Why is it, then, that so many families are unhappy? There's a simple one-word answer: sin. Families are made up of sinners - sinners who not only treat each other sinfully, but who also respond to one another's sins in sinful ways. The first family God ever made was created in perfection; but sin ruined the happiness God had created to be enjoyed between them. Once sin entered the picture, the relationships God established began to fall apart. The man and woman hid from God. The husband and wife began to blame one another. Their son grew to resent his brother until he eventually killed him. Once sin entered the scene, families have experienced unhappiness ever since.

      But the good news is that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to enter into the predicament we were in, and to reverse the effects of sin in the human race. He took our sins on Himself, and died in our place, in order that the guilt of our sins could be taken from us, and that the damaging effects of Adam's fall could be reversed. One of the areas that Jesus' mighty work of redemption demonstrates its greatest power is in the restoration of happiness in family relationships.

      Perhaps you look at this morning's passage and wish that what it describes could be true of your family. Perhaps the reading of it makes you feel a sense of pain, because your family isn't a happy place right now. Perhaps what this passage describes seems very far away - or even impossible to achieve.

      I wish I could stand before you today and promise everyone here that their family will be everything it should be. But unfortunately, not everyone responds to God's grace as they should, and not everyone allows Jesus transform them into what they can be in Him. But I can say, with absolute certainty, that God desires for your home can be a happy place. He wants for you, and for those in your home, to have a sense of safety and security in family circle. He wants your family to be the primary place where each member is nurtured in His love (Eph. 5:28-29; 6:4). He wants it to be your primary school of Christian Education and Discipleship. His intention is that your home-life be the happiest and most precious place on earth to you - the place where you'd rather be, given the choice of any other place on earth. And what's more, He has done everything necessary for it to happen.

      Every family here can be the happy family God wants it to be, if the individuals within it will trust God's help follow the pattern He has given us in this morning's passage.

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      We need to be committed to a couple of things, however, before we can do what this passage says. There are two things that must be true in your life before you can even come close do doing what this passage says; and without these two things, what this passage teaches will be impossible to you.

      The first thing is that you need to be committed to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. One of the reasons many people fail to achieve what this passage promises is because they have not surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ, and are still living in a state of alienation from God. God never meant for family life to work without Him; and so, one of the first things that needs to happen is that each of us must be made right with God through Jesus Christ before our family life can be put in order.

      I enjoy playing guitar; and I enjoy playing guitar with other people. But if my guitar isn't in tune, and all the strings are out of harmony with each other, I can't make any kind of music anyone would want to hear. And of course, if I can't get my own guitar in order, I can't play very well with other people. So whenever I get together and jam with other guitarists and musicians, one of the first things we all have to do is get in tune. What typically happens is that one of us pulls out a tuning device, or someone gives us an A on the piano, and we all individually get in tune according to the same standard. And then, when we're all in tune with the same standard, we're automatically in tune with each other!

      I'd like to suggest that the same principle applies in family life. Until all of us are rightly related to God through His Son Jesus Christ, we'll never be able to be in harmony with one another. If we're not right with Him first, we're never going to be right with anyone else. But once we each give ourselves over to Jesus Christ, trust His sacrifice for our sins on the cross, and allow Him His rightful place as the Lord of our lives; then, we're right with Him, and we're set free to be right with one another. We will then have the same divine Person as the Master and Lord of our lives; and lo and behold ... we're all automatically in tune with one another!

      Everything that the apostle Paul says in this passage concerning family living assumes that you've trusted Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and have made Him the Lord of your life. It assumes that Jesus is at work in you, through the enabling of His indwelling Holy Spirit, to make you what He wants you to be in your family. If you want the family life that God wants you to have, then the first place to start is with your own relationship with God. Don't begin by expecting everyone else in your family to shape up first, so that then it will become the source of happiness for you. That's not the way it works. You must first become right with God through Jesus Christ; and then, you'll be contributing to your family situation as a man or woman, boy or girl, who is right with God.

      Another thing we need to be committed to, before we can obey this passage properly, is obedience to God's specific commands in the Bible regarding relationships. The reason many Christian people don't enjoying the sort of family happiness and harmony God wants for them to enjoy is that, even though they've trusted Jesus as their Savior and Lord, they aren't careful to obey His specific commands and instructions regarding how to treat all people - including those in their own family.

      Let me share with you an important discovery I have made about the Bible and family relationships. I used to search through the Bible to try to find specific instructions on how we're to manage our family relationships; and I always felt frustrated in that search. I was surprised by how little it seemed that the Bible tells us about family relationships. I noticed that the Bible speaks volumes about 'relationships' in general, but relatively little, in a specific way, about 'family relationships'. And then, it finally dawned on me - or I should say that the Holy Spirit finally opened my eyes to the fact - that everything that the Bible has to say about relationships in general is to be applied specifically to family relationships. Suddenly, with that realization in mind, the Bible became a textbook on family relationships - filled with instructions on how we're to treat one another in our families!

      One of the great errors we make is believing that, somehow, we're not as obligated to apply our Christian faith to our families as we are in other areas of life. I suppose that's why we'll say things to one another in our families that we'd never, in a million years, dream of saying to other people in our other areas of relationships. And the whole time long, God's intention is that our family is to be the primary place of education and training in "relationships". It's there that we're supposed to learn together how to flesh-out the Bible's teaching on Christian relationships in all other areas of life.

      Do you realize that everything that the Bible commands concerning relationships in general is to be obeyed in our families in particular? Once that fact sinks in, it's amazing what the Bible has to say about families. Let me show you how this works. Let's look at a passage of Scripture together - the one in fact that proceeds our text this morning. Ordinarily, we think of people outside our family when we read passages like this; but this time, listen to it with the faces of your own family members in mind.

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Col. 3:8-17).

      I'd bet most of us never thought of such a passage as a specific word of instruction for family living. But it's God's intention that our families be the first place we obey and apply it. Once you begin to see all of the Bible's instructions on relationships to be particularly applicable to the family, then you begin to see how much the Bible truly teaches us about family living!

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      So then; two things are absolutely basic to having the kind of family life God wants you to have. First, you must have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. You must know God's love and forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross; and you must have accepted God's forgiveness and given your life to Jesus Christ personally. The forgiveness of Jesus on the cross makes it possible to face your failures courageously and constructively; and the indwelling Holy Spirit gives you the power to stop being selfish and to truly put the concerns of others in your family above your own. And second, under the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, you must have a commitment to obey what the Bible teaches concerning relationships, and to apply what it teaches - first and foremost - to the members of your own family.

      If those things are not true of you, then the standard that this passage holds up before us will only prove to be a source of frustration to you, and you'll never have the sort of happiness in your family that God Himself longs for you to enjoy. But if they are true of you, then genuine family happiness and fulfillment can be yours.

      What does this passage teach, then, about family relationships as they're to be conducted in Christ? It gives instructions in the two main areas of relationship in the home: the relationship between wife and husband; and the relationship between children and parents. Notice, first, that it gives specific instruction concerning ...


      Paul says, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord." The word that Paul uses is one that means "to place under" or "arrange under" someone else. It's a word that was sometimes used in military settings to refer to one officer ranking beneath the authority of another. It means that the wife is to subordinate herself under her husband's role in the home.

      In our day and age, there are certain passages in the Bible that are almost guaranteed to start a fight outside the church walls anytime that you quote them - and sometimes within the church walls too. Nobody gets angry when we quote the verse that says "God is love". But put this one on your bumper-sticker; and you'd better open an account with the auto glass company! The Bible's standard of wives willingly subordinating themselves to their husbands is frequently misunderstood, and is extremely offensive to many people today.

      But notice several things. First, the idea is not that all women are to be subordinated to all men in all relationships. The context of this verse requires that we understand it to be speaking of a woman being subordinated to only one man - her husband. This is not a command that all females are to be submitted to all males. Rather, it's meant to speak only and strictly of a two-person relationship: the wife's relationship to her own husband.

      Second, notice the motivation that stands behind it. It's because this standard is "as is fitting in the Lord". This is speaking to a woman who has, first, submitted herself to the Lord Jesus Christ and has given herself to Him by faith. Those who oppose the Bible's teaching in this area usually aren't considering it in the context of reverence toward Christ at all, and aren't understanding how it is modeled after the church's role of submitting to Christ's headship over it. They view it strictly in secular terms; and therefore, it makes absolutely no sense to them.

      Paul spoke elsewhere of this principle in such a way as to show that the keeping of it is dependent on love and devotion first to Jesus Christ. He wrote that we were to be "submitting to one another in the fear [or reverence] of God" (Eph. 5:21). And in this context, he wrote,

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. for the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything (Eph. 5:22-24).

      The wife isn't commanded, then, to be subordinated to her husband because he's smarter than her; because very often he's not. Nor is she commanded to be subordinated to his authority because she's somehow inferior to him; because experience often shows otherwise. Rather, she is to be subordinated to her husband out of reverence to Jesus Christ. It's "fitting in the Lord", because her role is to be modeled after the relationship that the "bride of Christ" - that is, the church - has to it's Lord.

      And thirdly, people who object to this command in Scripture often fail to notice that God also commands the woman's husband to be the sort of man that she can safely be subordinated to. Out of compassion, I have to say that I think that one of the reasons why a woman might be hesitant to submit to her husband is because of the concern that he might take advantage of her, or treat her harshly, or dominate her in an oppressive way. Such wives fear to hand the controls over to such a husband; and I'm not sure I can blame them for that fear.

      But we need to stress that the husband, in this context, is also given the command to love his own wife as Jesus loves His own Bride. He's to give himself over to the task of ministering tenderly and lovingly to his wife, so that she can become everything God wants her to be. Paul writes,

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church (Eph. 5:25-29).

      And so, here's God's specific instruction to wives: out of reverence to Jesus Christ, be subordinated to your husband's 'headship' role in the home; trusting God to work in him to make him love you in the self-sacrificing way that Jesus loves His church. Do this, because it's fitting in the Lord. It will create the sort of environment that will lead, eventually, to your greatest happiness and fulfillment in family life.

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      Next, notice that Paul gives instructions to ...


      He writes, "Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them." The husband is commanded to love his wife; and we should understand that the standard of this love is the sort of self-sacrificing, needs-meeting love and care that Jesus exhibits to His own bride. The Greek word that Paul used for this love is 'agape' - the sort of love that is willing to give of one's self in order to seek the good of the one loved; the sort of love that moves someone to lay down his own rights, and disregard his own needs, in order to meet the needs of another.

      How does Jesus love His church? The passage we read a moment ago tells us. He doesn't love His church in a selfish, self-serving way. Rather, He sacrificed Himself for her; laying down His own life in order to save her. He sought her purity; and cleansed her of that which defiled her. He continually seeks that which will make her glorious and beautiful, so that she will be able to present her to Himself in radiant splendor - a delight to Himself forever. He gives Himself over to nourishing her and cherishing her, as much as He would nourish and cherish His own body. In fact, He welcomes her to Himself and treats her as if she were a member of His own body - His own flesh and bones. And the husband is to love his own wife in the same way as Jesus loves His church.

      I used to be overwhelmed by the requirement of God's word that I love my wife as Christ loved the church. I thought that I could never do it; and the thought of how far short I fell only discouraged me. In many ways, I'm still overwhelmed by this high standard. But I remember a time, not long ago, when I began to focus not so much on the shallowness of my love for my wife; but on the depth of Jesus' love for me. He loves me so much that He died for me. And He lives forever to intercede for me, and continues to seek my purity and holiness. He longs for me to stand before Him in glory; so that I can be His delight forever, and that He would be mine. And once I began to focus on His love for me, it became a great motivation for me to love my wife in the same way.

      I'm still very far from what I should be; and I'll be the first to admit it. But I now find that I want to give myself to loving my wife sacrificially; and to use my leadership role in the home to set her free to be all that God wants her to be. I want to keep things out of my home that might harm her holiness, purity and safety; and I want her to enjoy the things that make her truly happy and fulfill her - because that's how Jesus loves her. That's also how He loves me; and it's how He loves you too.

      You'll notice that the instruction to the husband include more than just the command to love his wife. In fact, if you look closely, you'll see that both of the instructions to men in these four verses include a prohibition - a command of what he is not to do. Here, along with the command to love her, he's commanded not to be "bitter" toward her. The same word for "bitter" is used in Revelation 10:9 to describe a stomach ache that resulted from someone eating something that turns sour within him.

      I have seen many men who have gone through the motions of providing for their wives; but who have also, in the process, allowed themselves to turn sour toward them emotionally. Such a man may meet his wife's material needs; but he does so in a harsh and bitter way. He speaks unkindly toward her; or is critical of her; or is overly demanding toward her; or simply withdraws emotionally from her. He doesn't make her feel fulfilled and happy; nor does he pursue those things that make her glorious and beautiful. Instead, by his words and attitudes, he cuts her down, and criticizes her, and takes life from her. He can argue that he does all he's supposed to do in a strictly material sense; but the fact is that he does so in a way that shows he resents her and is bitter toward her.

      The husband is commanded not to do this. Again, Jesus is our example. He died for us; and continues to give Himself for our care. If anyone should have a right to be bitter and resentful, it would be Him. Look how much we've cost Him! ... and look at how little we love Him in return! But in spite of all that, He never resents us, or exhibits bitterness toward us. He never withholds His love from us, or draws back from us emotionally. He loves us deeply; and gives Himself completely over for us gladly. He will never love us more than He does right now; and He will never stop loving us whatever we do.

      And we're to love our wives and serve them without bitterness or resentment, in the same way Jesus loves and serves us. To be bitter toward our wives is to invite the discipline of the Lord on our lives. The apostle Peter said, "Husbands, likewise, dwell with [your wives] with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7).

      Loving our wives as Jesus loves us, and keeping ourselves from bitterness or resentment toward them, will lead to the kind of happiness and fulfillment God wants us to enjoy in family life.

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      That's how God commands that we conduct the husband/wife relationship in the home. Next, notice that Paul gives instructions to ...


      Paul writes; "Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord." Elsewhere, Paul tied this word of instruction to the fifth commandment. He said, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother,' which is the first commandment with promise: 'that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth'" (Eph. 6:1-3).

      The first place we learn obedience in God's kingdom is in the home, and under the authority of our mothers and fathers. It's where obedience to God is taught. The writer of Hebrews said, "... We have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness" (Hebrews 12:9-10).

      Notice that children are to obey their parents "in all things". So long as children are under the roof of their parents, they are to submit to their parents authority in every area. They're to do this as if they were obeying God; because, in a very real sense, they are.

      The Bible tells us that all authority in human relationships has its beginning point in the authority of God. It says, "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves" (Rom. 13:1-2). All legitimate positions of leadership derive their authority from God. True authority always comes from the top down. And the most primary position of authority God ever places us under is that of our parents. A child that would be in obedience to God must be obedient to parental authority. And if a child disobeys them, he or she literally rebels against the appointment of God. And so, until a boy or girl is an adult and is living on their own, outside of the legal and proper care of their parents or legal guardians, they are to be as submitted to parental authority as they would be to a direct word from God - because that's what their parent's commands are!

      My own kids have sometimes asked, "Well, what if you command us to sin, Dad. What then? What if you command us to go out and commit murder, or rob a bank?" (I'm always relieved, by the way, when they admit that's not likely to happen any time soon!) The Bible gives us the answer. It tells us that, when it comes to obeying human authority, and the choice is put to us to either obey God or obey a sinful command from even our parents, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). But unless a parental command involves an order to commit sin, every command from parents is to be obeyed as if it were from God.

      And notice that the motivation for this command is because such obedience to parents "is pleasing to the Lord." Jesus was submitted to His earthly parents throughout His childhood; even though He was the Son of God, and was infinitely wiser than they (Luke 3:51). And as long as He walked upon the earth, He remained constantly and gladly obedient to His heavenly Father. He said, "I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent me" (John 5:30). He said, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38). And He affirmed, "The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things which please Him" (John 8:29).

      When we are submitted to the earthly parents God has placed over us, we're being submitted to God; and we're following Jesus' own example. That's why it's pleasing to Him.

      It's hard sometimes to obey parents. Moms and dads are far from perfect; and when you're under their authority, it feels as if you know more about what's going on than they do. But the fact is that God has given them to you to love you and lead you in His way. They have something that you don't have - the experience and practical wisdom that comes from living life for many years. And what's more, they truly do love you and desire what's best for you. You are God's person; but you've been entrusted to their care by Him. And if they're followers of Jesus Christ, He gives them His own Holy Spirit to guide them in guiding and protecting you in His way for you.

      All of those things are true; but even if they weren't, you should still obey your parents in every detail - if for no other reason than because it pleases Jesus when you do so. You obey Him when you submit to them; and it's the principle God has given to you to follow for long-term happiness and fulfillment.

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      And that leads us, finally, to God's instruction to ...


      Paul writes, "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged." Paul speaks to "fathers" in particular, rather than "parents" in general, because God's design is that dads be the primary care-giver and spiritual leader in the home. We live in a day when many people write "fathers" off as unnecessary. That's not, of course, to say that God hasn't raised up some powerful and godly moms to be the great influence in their kids' spiritual life. But in God's design, dads - not just 'moms and dads', but 'dads' specifically and especially - are to be the vital link between our kids and the Christian faith; and without that link, our kids are far more easily at the mercy of an ungodly culture. The close supervision of, and loving connection with, godly dads is God's main provision for keeping kids from being eaten alive by the world's sinful agenda.

      Men; don't buy into the devil's lie that you're not necessary. Whatever else you do, your most important contribution to the world around you, and to the cause of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, is to be the priest in your own home, and the pastor to your own kids!

      But it's important that you do it right. You'll notice, once again, that this second of the only two commands to men includes a prohibition - what not to do. You are not to "provoke" your kids (or "exasperate" them, as it is in the NASB; or "embitter" them, as it is in the NIV); and the warning is that, if you do, you'll discourage or cause them to lose heart. They'll just get angry and frustrated, and want to give up. As Paul wrote elsewhere, "And you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). Our great goal is to conform them to the will of Christ, without crush their spirits in the process.

      How is it that we, as fathers, can "provoke" our children? One way it happens is when we're not consistent before them in the way we live. Every time we warn them that we'll punish them if they lie to us; but then turn around and lie to others, we're planting the seeds embitterment in them. Every time we send them out of the room because we're watching something sexually explicit that we don't want them to see on TV, we're planting the seeds of embitterment latter. Every time we grouch and growl at them; and then tell them to be nice to their brother or sister, we're planting the seeds of embitterment that will sprout into anger later.

      One of the fastest ways to embitter your kids is to expect them to be what you refuse to be yourself. And one of the greatest things we can do to to keep from embittering our children is to consistently be the kind of Christians we want them to be.

      Another way we provoke our children is when we don't keep our promises to them. Whenever we tell them that we're going to take them somewhere and do something special with them; but then drop our plans with them because something 'more important' came up at work or with a friend, we plant the seeds of embitterment in them. Each time we promise them that they can come and talk to us any time they want; but then, when they want to talk to us, we hustle them out of the room because we're too busy, we plant the seeds of embitterment in them later. And when - brace yourself; because what I'm about to say may hurt quite a bit - we tell them that we'll always be there for them; and then we divorce their mom, we've planted a seed of embitterment in them that's so huge only God can take it away.

      The current generation that's progressing toward adulthood is the most jaded and bitter generation America has ever seen; and it's because no generation has seen as many broken promises as this one has - promises that were broken, and trusts that were violated, all for the sake of some momentary pleasure, and the refusal to stay committed to our obligations. They've lived with broken promises from presidents and politicians; and from sports heroes and celebrities; and from teachers and spiritual leaders; and - most painful and embittering of all - even from their own dads. Who can blame them for being so bitter?

      Do your kids know that - even if everyone else in the world is a promise breaker - they can count on you to keep your promises to them? They desperately need to. And so, as dads, we need to make it one of our greatest priorities in life to keep our promises to our kids. It will prevent them from being provoked into bitterness and discouragement later in life.

      Another way we provoke our children is when we aren't fair in the way we administer discipline to them. Whenever we treat them one way; and treat their brother or sister another way; or whenever we show favoritism, pitting one kid against another, we plant the seeds of embitterment in them. Whenever we promise to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior - and then don't do what we said we'd do - we plant the seeds of embitterment in them. Whenever we change the rules on them without warning; or whenever we humiliate them or disrespect them as persons in the way we punish them, we're planting the seeds of embitterment that will sprout later. Whenever we're cruel toward them, and withhold from them things they need for health and well-being as a form of punishment; or - believe it or not - whenever we pamper them and give them everything they want in a pathetic attempt to win their love, we plant the seeds of embitterment in them.

      The first place our kids learn about what God is like is through what their dads are like. May God help us to teach them early on, through our example, what a wonderful Father He is. And if we've failed in our role - and who among us hasn't? - then may God help us to teach them what a difference God is able to make in our lives by the way He humbles us, forgives us, and changes us into what He wants us to be.

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      A happy family isn't an accident. It comes as a result of following God's rules. May God help us to keep His instructions for Christ-like family care; and may we treat one another in our families as He has commanded us. If we do; we will greatly improve the possibility that we'll experience the sort of joy and fulfillment He has designed for us to enjoy in our families.

(copyright 2001 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)

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