The goal of biblical parenthood is to raise children to love and follow God (Deuteronomy 6:2) and to meet their individual potential (Proverbs 22:6). Nowhere does this include abuse. In fact, there is no record in the Bible of child abuse. But talking about child abuse and the Bible is difficult because people have a tendency to fall into extremes. Some consider thoughtful, conservative spankings to be horribly violent acts. Others abuse their children, erroneously justifying their own violent tendencies by misinterpreting the Bible. In reality, the Bible is protective of children but realistic about what measures are necessary to develop their character.
Colossians 3:21 exhorts fathers not to exasperate or embitter their children. Ephesians 6:4 says not to provoke children. Provoke is the Greek parorgizo, which means to anger. Exasperate is the Greek erethizo—to stir up. Bearing in mind that at some ages kids can become exasperated at the drop of a hat, the passages mean that parents are not to intentionally or carelessly anger or frustrate their children. A child's emotional frustration with a parent puts a wall between them that cuts off communication and respect. Exasperating your child keeps your child from obeying you—which is disobedience to God (Colossians 3:20).
Matthew 18:1-6 and Mark 9:42 explain the consequences for leading a child to disobedience: "it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea." As horrible as physical child abuse can be, there is nothing worse than pushing a child away from a relationship with Jesus. Spiritual abuse, often disguised as verbal and emotional abuse, is misrepresenting God, and it is the worst type of abuse possible.
Confusingly enough, physical punishment is often one of the most effective ways to lead a child to an understanding of his relationship to God. Hebrews 12:7 and Revelation 3:19 point out that God disciplines those He loves. Sometimes that discipline is physical (Proverbs 13:24), but the Bible is clear that such punishment is for the benefit of the receiver, not the emotional release of the punisher; and it should never cause serious or permanent physical damage.
Abuse is sin. It doesn't matter if it's physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, or spiritual; it is all sin. Titus 2:4 says we are to love our children. The word "love" is an adjective based on the verb phileo—to treat affectionately and kindly; to have warm regards for. As an adjective, this love is to characterize our interaction with children. And there is no place in such love for abuse.
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