“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger . . .” (Ephesians 6:8)
Our desires and emotions are typically good, godly desires that sin robs and twists into selfishness, tantrums (the child or adult kind), and an entitled heart. Like the Israelites who demanded manna, we demand from God good things like food, love, affection, affirmation, and joy.
Likewise, our children demand manna from us instead of just asking. They want attention; they throw the milk on the ground. They want affection; they hit their sister. They want food; they disobey and climb on the counter to get it. Total depravity is provocation enough—a father works against his child and not for his child when he joins in the provoking.
How do we work for our child in the midst of their selfish desires?
“A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.”
(Proverbs 15:1-2, 4)
A soft answer. A wise word. A gentle tongue. Is this not how our Father responds to us?
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.”
In the great story of Hosea, we are Gomer, the prostitute. We have godly desires that we seek to satisfy in ungodly ways. We continually go back to idols, selling our bodies as we pour out time, money, and energy for things that promise to satiate, but still leave us thirsty. Like a toddler that wants more and more and more, we want more of what has never satisfied. When our God won’t give us our god, we throw a tantrum.
Our Father responds to us, not as an annoyed dad fed up with the sensitive feelings of an ungrateful people, but with a gracious love that is more appealing than any additional cookie, a box of crackers, a toy, a new job, more money, or whatever earthly desire we are coveting.
He allures us. It is the face of a loving Father, the countenance of a patient, strong, gracious Daddy who gently kneels down to get at our level (remember, Jesus came down!). In the same way, my wife and I try to gently, calmly, and lovingly embrace and respond to our paroxysmal daughter. Our face not conveying ire, but love. A soft answer.
He brings us into the wilderness. He leads us out of temptation. He leads us into his presence. He is peace (Eph. 2:14). He is love (1 John 4:8). Now we are in the presence of Peace and Love. Immediately after a tantrum, I will take my daughter into her room and say, “Let’s talk, honey.” Sometimes, in the middle, I discipline her, but it always ends and begins the same way: It ends with a kiss and an embrace. It begins with me explaining to her why we shouldn’t respond in that way when we don’t get what we want. How we have so much. That more of what she wants could hurt her. I am not trying to rob her of joy but be a force-shield for anything that would try to do so. A wise word.
He speaks tenderly to us. How can he do this? How can a holy, righteous God not light us up for our constant rebellion, our continual transgressions? He can because his love is patient. It is called steadfast love. The Jesus Storybook Bible calls the Father’s steadfast love his, “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” As well, I want to speak tenderly to my daughter—not assuaging her conniption and selfishness, but tenderly and lovingly speaking truth to her. A gentle tongue.
Why does God command us to not provoke our children? Because the loving Father does not provoke us but He pursues us. He sends His Son to make us sons.
Let the gentle response of your Father change you. Let his alluring and wooing, his soft answer and gentle tongue, lead you to repentance and change. As Paul Tripp has said, “If I were ever to be the tool of transforming grace in the lives of my children, I needed to be daily rescued, not from them, but from me!”