Do Not Provoke Your Children

By Mike Willis

A few months ago, the wire services reported a horrible case of child abuse from the state of Tennessee. The report told how a step-father had mistreated a child so badly that the child died. The child had done something to offend the step-father so he began making the child walk without stopping for something over a solid day. When the child requested water to drink, the step-father drank water in front of the four or five-year old child and then offered the child tabasco sauce to drink. The punishment continued until the child collapsed and died.

My personal reaction to reading this story was that the father should be punished in a similar fashion. That is, the courts of this land should sentence the father to death by walking him to death, offering him tabasco sauce to quench his thirst even as he had done to his step-child. Perhaps some will think that this is revenge. Since I was not offended and have no reason to seek retaliation, I had rather call it righteous indignation. But, whatever we chose to call it, certainly the case before us reminds us of our parental responsibility as commanded in the Bible. Paul said, “And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Again, he wrote, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart” (Col. 3:21).

The Lord has given parents the responsibility to discipline their children; indeed, children are under the control of the parents. Yet, God has placed a load of responsibility upon the shoulders of those of us who are parents to be sure that we raise our children as they need to be raised. Sometimes, parents abuse their children just as children sometimes abuse their parents. Let us consider some of the ways which parents can be guilty of provoking their children to wrath.

Things Which Provoke Children

1. Cruel and harsh punishment. When a child is beaten to a pulp, when broken bones are the result of a “spanking,” when bruises appear all over the child’s body, etc. the child is being abused. In cases such as was reported from Tennessee, the child would have grown up hating her step-father even if she had lived. Her hate would. have been justified because the father had provoked his child to wrath. Certainly, this must be put at the top of the list of things which provoke children to wrath.

2. Unjust punishment. Sometimes children are punished when they do not deserve to be spanked or to have privileges taken from them. Sometimes the parent comes home from a bad day at work totally frustrated. To vent his anger, the parent will spank his children for things for which they would not be punished on any other day of the week. The child can detect this; he knows that he was punished unjustly and will grow up hating the parent who habitually acts this way. Parents should not punish their children because they (the parents) do not feel good; that is not the purpose of punishment.

3. Inconsistent punishment. Sometimes one wonders how children learn anything. Parents will frequently let Johnny get away with something nine times and then punish him for doing the same thing on the tenth time. How is the child to know whether or not he can do that thing? He is frustrated and all that he has learned from the punishment is to see what mood “the old man” is in before doing it again!

Mothers are guilty of the same thing. They will say to their children, “If you do that again, I am going to give you a spanking.” The child does it again and nothing happens. The child learns that mother really does not mean what she says. Then, about the time he has learned that he can do a certain thing without getting a spanking, mother spanks him. He is confused and justly so. His mother has been inconsistent in disciplining the child. One time Brother Franklin Puckett was visiting in my home when my daughter was about 1 1/2 to 2 years old. I told her to do something and promised her a whipping if she did not do it. She did not do it and I did not spank her. After I had made some remark about my daughter’s disobedience, Brother Puckett (thank the Lord!) straightened me out. He told me that I needed to say what I meant and then to enforce my word. I have not grown to the point that I am the perfect father, but that lesson surely did help me.

4. Showing partiality. The story of Jacob and Esau shows the sorry results which occur in a family when one or both parents show partiality to their children. Surely, the child who witnesses his parent being partial to his brother or sister is provoked to anger by it. When he sees his brother or sister getting away with doing the very same thing he got a whipping for doing just a few minutes before, he is provoked to anger by it.

Sometimes partiality is shown in the comparisons we make of children. The report cards of children are frequently compared even though the children might not be equally talented. This is not fair to the children and they will grow up resenting it. I have already learned that children do not come into the world with the same abilities. Some are mechanically oriented while others are book-oriented from the start. To compare these children in one area without taking into consideration the unique interests and abilities of the given child is unfair to the children. The following poem emphasizes that every child is different and should be accepted as he or she is. We must be careful in comparing children not to provoke them to wrath thereby.

I have a little sister,

That’s not at all like me.

She can write a lovely poem,

But I can climb a tree.

My brother too is special

With freckles on his nose.

When I crash his knee, he dances,

He’s the one that knows.

He made you something special,

You’re the only one of your kind.

God gave you a body

And a bright, healthy mind.

He had a special purpose

That He wanted you to find,

So he made you something special,

You’re the only one of your kind.

(Transcribed from a record by the Bill Gaither Trio.)

5. Neglect. One of the things which provokes my child more than anything is just plain old neglect; it is something which I am continually forced to fight in order that I not be guilty of abusing my precious children. When I have not been at home enough or have not taken any time to sit and talk with my daughter, she begins to act badly. Frequently, the problem lies in me instead of in her.

We preachers are a funny brood. We will rant and rave in the pulpit about how awful some fathers are because they become so wrapped up in their work at the office that they neglect their children during the most precious years of their lives. We sermonize for long periods of time about how awful these parents are. Then, we will read the biography of a preacher who was gone for weeks at a time in meetings, leaving his wife to raise, educate and even bury their children; then, we put the book down and tell the world of the devotion to God which the preacher had. Why is the preacher not just as guilty of neglecting his family as the business man is? Frankly, I can see no difference in the two. So long as my family needs me at home, I will not be running all over the country neglecting them and provoking my children to wrath!


Christians have an awesome responsibility in the rearing of their children. Although children are free moral beings the same as the rest of us are and, therefore, have the ability to chose right or wrong after they have grown up, the things which we do as parents have a lasting effect upon how our children turn out. May each of us have the objectivity to look at ourselves as we rear our children in order that not one of them can point the finger of accusation at us and righteously accuse us of acting in such a way as to provoke them to wrath. May God be with us in the rearing of our children.

Truth Magazine XXI: 34, pp. 531-532
September 1, 1977