Tuesday, 11 October 2011

‘Provoke not your children to anger’

Paul directs the above admonition to fathers in the Ephesian congregation (Eph. 6:4) He contrast this with a more supportive approach: ‘but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’. He repeats a similar command to the Colossian congregation (Colossians 3:21). The Greek word used there, erethizete means to stir up anger, or exasperate. The consequence, if his warning is not heeded, is athumōsin. This word that is better rendered as complete despair, rather than anger.

Paul is saying don’t overwhelm your children with criticism. They can only take so much negativity. This is easily my biggest failing as a parent. Perhaps, the lack of positive reinforcement is the greatest cause of generational alienation. As parents, we are too harsh, demanding and critical, hoping that children will redress our own shortcomings and capitalise on every opportunity that we squandered. Equally, we compete with them for supremacy and are sparing in our praise of their achievements.

After the chastisement of a particular member of the Corinthian congregation produced the repentance that he demanded, Paul exhorted fellow church members to encourage him. Paul reminded them that the devil can use hopeless moral despair as a weapon:

‘Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.’ (2 Cor. 2:7 – 11)

Once the error was addressed, we see Paul is now in a restorative mood: almost hurrying to set aside his sense of being personally wronged. Anger must also not be so conclusive as to discard the restraint of a fair amount of probation.

In the Ephesian admonition, the word used is parorgizó. It’s formed from two root words: para meaning alongside, or near, and orgizó meaning to become angry. Literally, it means anger at close-quarters. This is the hostile indignation that is aroused when parents, and by implication, those in authority react to what they perceive as contempt from their more junior charges.

Yet he also says, ‘Be ye angry (orgizesthe) and sin not’. How do we resolve this apparent contradiction?

In the next verse, Paul says, ‘Do not let the sun go down upon your anger’ (parorgismō). So, there are times when we will be aroused to confrontational anger. Paul expressed outrage in several recorded instances in the book of Acts and even in his letters. In most cases, it was directed towards those who showed contempt for God’s generous redemption in Jesus, or wanted to hinder the cause of the gospel. Yet, this was not his normal mode of interaction. With even wayward churches, his opening salutation is typically, ‘Grace, peace and mercy from our Lord Jesus Christ’, not ‘what’s this bad news that I've heard’. In all of these cases, he maintained a cogent, articulate impassioned defence of his position. What Paul is against is the use of anger that only seeks reprisal for past indignation, is self-excusing and lacks the generosity and restraint to encourage and restore.

Anger becomes a form of intimidation when others feel immediate relentless hostility. 

A reaction that attempts to intimidate, rather than reason carefully and threatens swift sanctions is inconsistent with the justice that God metes out, justice that saved ME by preferring forbearance to intolerant censure: ‘the wrath (orge) of man worketh not the righteousness of God’ (James 1:20)

To my daughters: please forgive a silly, old man!

To Christ, thank you for completing John the Baptist’s mission: ‘And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children’ (Luke 1:17)

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