God makes some wonderful promises of great blessings to believers who raise godly children. “Honor thy mother and father…” “…a wise son makes a father glad…” (Pvbs 10:1a). “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice and he who begets a wise son will be glad in him” (Pvbs 23:24). “Correct your son and he will give you comfort, He will also delight your soul” (Pvbs 29:17). “Her children rise up and bless her…” (Pvbs 31:28). Furthermore, there are some wonderful promises to those children who honor their parents (e.g., Ex 20:12, Eph 6:2,3 Pvbs 3:1-2, etc.).
Not everyone can be rich or beautiful or powerful or wise as the world counts such things. Few of us will ever make some great, unique contribution to the world in the form of art, science, music, etc. But every Christian can nevertheless find meaning, purpose, fulfillment and joy by raising godly children.
Think with me my friend, and let us be honest; God has given you three score years and ten. At the end of your life, when God looks back with you over what you accomplished with those years, what will really impress Him? Will He be really be all that concerned by how successful you were in your career? Will He nod approvingly at the wonderful vacations you took? Will He congratulate you on the number of toys you were able to purchase or how neat the landscaping was around your house?
OK granted, you are not a materialist but a Christian, and you have higher ambitions than just being an eating, sleeping, consuming animal. You want to do something for the glory of God. Maybe you were more spiritual; you sang in the choir, you served on various church committees or you were involved in all sorts of church programs. And maybe, just maybe, you managed to achieve some things for the Kingdom.
Now, all of these things are lawful, and profitable, but even the dullest man must realize that since his time is limited, so also is the amount of work he can do in this life. And someday, (a day much sooner than most of us like to think about) that life is going to be over, and the work you did, the investments you made, the things you accomplished if they are to have any lasting significance beyond your life, someone else is going to have to build on your work. Because you worked hard and saved and invested wisely, you hopefully will have left a physical inheritance for your children. Because you loved God and served Him according to the gifts and opportunities He gave you, you have also left a spiritual inheritance for your children. Your children should be richer, wiser and godlier than you, because you have left them an inheritance.
But sadly, most sadly, what do most Christians find at the end of their lives when they look back at what they have done, and the children who must now carry on after them? “But a foolish son is a grief to his mother…” (Pvbs 10:1b). “He that begets a fool does so to his sorrow, and the father of a fool has no joy…” (Pvbs 17:21). “…a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother” (Pvbs 29:15b). The very same people God said SHOULD have been a great comfort and blessing, too often turn out to be a curse instead. The sad fact is that far too many Christian kids grow up to be insipid in the faith at best, and all to often leave the faith all together.
I am going to argue throughout this chapter that though each man is responsible before God for his own sins, the training we give our children, especially in how we discipline is the normal means God uses to bring about both regeneration and sanctification in their lives. Yes, I am saying that to a certain degree, THEY fail, because WE failed to train and discipline them according to God’s own unchanging standards. And therefore, Christians need to take a long, hard look at what we normally do, and then compare that with what God says ought to be done.
Back to the Beginning
First, it is helpful to back to basic presuppositions; Christians have got to get their minds around the concept that OUR children are in reality, God’s children, entrusted into our care. “The Spirit of God has made me and the breath of the Almighty gives me life…” (Job 33:4). “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psa 127:3). Now I realize this is not exactly cutting edge scholarly research, but have you really thought about the implications of this perspective? God, according to His own sovereign will, chooses to bring His elect into the world through the mechanism of the family. He could have used any number of means of bringing His creations to life, but He chose a method that entrusts HIS children into OUR hands.
Hence, your children are not extensions of your ego. They are not your slaves to do with as you will. They are not a “life experience” to be had to fill out your lonely days. God has given you the responsibility to train them in His Law and prepare them for dominion. Furthermore, your children will one day grow up, get married and establish a new covenant household of their own. Thus no matter how much you love them and enjoy them, a day will come when they will leave you. Hence part of your responsibility is to prepare them for that cold, cruel nasty world out there.
Though God could have avoided the whole giving birth and growing up process and brought new people into the world as adults (as He did with Adam and Eve) instead He chose to give parents the responsibility for their care and nurturing. “and these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up…” (Deut 6:6-7). “And fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6.2).
In many respects, the parent-child relationship is a mirror or image of the Creator-creature relationship. We are to our children, (in some aspects) as God is to us. We are dependant upon God; we are to grow in wisdom, understanding and holiness under His tutelage. As we grow in grace, we also grow in responsibility (“to whom much is given, much is expected…” ). Hence, the way we raise our children is one of the most powerful ways we teach them about their relationship to the Living God.
Now, to accomplish this task of raising godly offspring and thus imaging our great Creator, God has delegated real authority to parents. Authority is the right to exercise power or dominion over someone or something else. As in all other human areas of life, only God has ultimate authority. Any power we exercise on earth is always limited by what God Himself has declared. God sets limits on all human institutions; family, church and state. None can lawfully compel others to do anything except what God Himself has declared in His Word. But within those areas, the family, church and state have genuine, real authority. They have the right by God to lawfully require obedience.
For example, the State can lawfully compel us to pay our taxes (cf. Rms 13:6?). The Church can lawfully excommunicate unrepentant sinners (1 Cor 5: 1 Tim 1: ). And the family can lawfully bring sanctions against disobedient children.
Now here is an implication that will fly right in the face of modern culture. Take a tight grip on yourself as you read the next sentence because the implications will offend many Christians today. If all authority is delegated by God, to rebel against any lawful authority is to rebel against God Himself (Matt 15:4, Ex 21:15, 17, Deut 21:17, 18-21, 27:16a, Pvbs 30:17 etc.). Whew! Did you get that? Rebellion against lawful authority, lawfully exercised, is rebellion against God Himself. In our age of radical individualism, this very concept is considered offensive, arbitrary, legalistic, oppressive and dictatorial. Because you see, we have implicitly adopted the presuppositions of Adam and today we have legitimatized the belief that each man is to be his own little god, determining good and evil for himself. Therefore men will accept authority only when it agrees with what they wanted to do anyway. But when that authority tells them to do something they do NOT want to do, they feel perfectly free in rebelling against it. Hence some men rebel against the State, many Christians rebel against the Church and many children rebel against their parents. In all three cases, this rebellion is far more serious than whatever social, political or personal problems they cause people. For in rebelling against lawful authority, in effect they are rebelling against God and therefore must suffer HIS consequences.
Thus as well as authority, God has granted to each of the three main institutions of family, church and state the right to compel obedience by bringing sanctions against disobedience. If there are no lawful sanctions that an authority has, then he has no power. To deny the legitimacy of sanctions, therefore is to deny the legitimacy of the authority.
God has granted the sanction of the sword to the civil magistrate. His job is to be God’s avenger of evil here on earth (Rms 13:1ff). He has the right under certain circumstances to take even human life (for example in the cases of murder, rape, etc.). God has given the church the sanction of excommunication; i.e., a formal judicial declaration that a person is outside of the covenant of God and is to be treated as unregenerate and doomed to hell (cf. Matt 18:17-18). And He has given to parents, the sanction of the rod; “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Pvbs 13:24).
Now think about what that Proverb is saying. If you LOVE your children, you will not spare the rod but will instead discipline them diligently. God thinks that so highly of this sanction against rebellion in children that He says if you do not use it, you really do not love your them! The supreme expression of Biblical love for a child is NOT giving him lots of toys at Christmas, or his own telephone, or buying him his own car, or any of the thousand and one other ways we try to show our affection for our children. No, God says that you must discipline your children by SPANKING them as evidence that you REALLY love them? Why is that?
The Nature of Children
In order to appreciate why God would say that spanking is the ultimate expression of love, we need to step back for a moment and look at the human race from God’s perspective. Every single person, yes even that beautiful, beatific baby that gives you a warm, glow all over, is born with a sinful human nature (Psa 51:5, 58:3). Kids don’t have to be taught to sin; are born with an inherent bent towards it. Even babies, supposed models of innocence are self-centered and egocentric (anyone ever hear of a baby giving Mom the night off?).
Sin leads to death (Rms 3:23) both soteriologically and sociologically. Soteriologically, sin leads to eternal spiritual damnation. This clearly is what the Apostle Paul has in mind in Romans 3. But sin also has disastrous effects on every area of life. Sin produces pain, frustration, hatred, bitterness, envy and murder. The Apostle Paul talks about the effects that sin has on society in Romans 1:20ff. The more sinful a culture, the more spiritually and physically dead a culture becomes.
Now, salvation can be seen in one way as God dealing with the consequences of sin. Jesus took the full penalty for all our sins when He died on the cross. But salvation includes MORE than just being justified before God and escaping the fires of Hell. The Bible is clear that there is also what is called sanctification, or the ongoing process wherein the effects of sin are dealt with in a person’s life. As time goes on, a Christian ought to grow in holiness, i.e., becoming more and more like Christ by putting off the old nature of sin and death, and putting on the new nature of faith and righteousness (cf. Eph. 4:16ff).
The author of Hebrews makes it clear that this sanctification process resembles the discipline that a loving father uses to train his children. It is not pleasant for an erring child to be disciplined, but the father does so to train his child.
Hence, parents use their God-given authority in the home, to discipline their children in order to restrain this bent towards sin (Pvbs 29:15, 1 Sam 3:31). When our children give expression to their bent towards sin, and we discipline them, we inhibit future expressions of that sinful nature. On the other hand, if we do not bring negative sanctions against a child’s expressions of sin, in effect we are teaching him that sin does not lead to pain and death; denying God’s own revelation of the deadly consequences of sin. Since the Fall, God has allowed pain to become our most effective teacher. Even non-rational creatures like laboratory rats and flat-works can learn from pain to avoid certain behaviors!
In many respects, a child’s external behavior is an indicator of the parent’s skill and or willingness to use their authority (1 Sam 3:31). If a child is obnoxious, whiny, disrespectful, stubborn, disobedient, violent, etc., it usually points to a failure on the part of the parents. Granted, different children have different temperaments and will sin in different ways. Some children ARE more willful than others, some more aggressive, some more extroverted. But after twenty-odd years of ministry experience behind me, I would strongly argue that if you see a “bad” kid, you have to look no further than the disciplining practices of the parents to find a reason.
When we fail to train our children to restrain their innate sinfulness, we are setting them up to live a profligate, wasted life. Over the years, many parents have come to me in tears over a now grown up child who has torn their heart out by his rebellion. Often they will quote Proverbs 22:6 in the hope that some day that child will repent and return to the faith. It is most sad, but this is one of those often quoted, but seldom understood verses that plague the evangelical world. Proverbs 22:6 just does not mean what it is commonly thought to mean; it is not a promise that erring children will one day return to the fold -but rather a dire warning that giving into a child’s willful, sinful nature only destroys the child’s future! If a child is trained to be disrespectful and unrestrained because the parents refuse to inhibit their sinful natures, then when they have grown up, such children will simply continue to do, what they have always done!
Granted, God also says that children are ultimately responsible for their own behavior; a godless rebel cannot blame his problems on Mom and Dad (Deut 21:17-21). After all, it was HIS sinful nature that caused the problem! Our parents may not have trained us very well, but the impulse and desire to sin were still ours. Hence there are no guarantees: even the best parent may have a rebellious and apostate child (unlikely, but can happen)
Training Very Young Children
Get your own act together Pvbs 20:7, 1 Cor 11:1, Phil 4:9, 1 Cor 15:53
Children are more likely to do as they see, than do as they’re told
Whatever you are will be reproduced in your children Num 14:18
Husbands and wives must be consistent, mutually affirming and never allow the enemy to divide and conquer!
God holds you responsible and you will incur judgement Jas 3:1
Thus you must be gentle, kind, patient, self controlled, full of love, joy, peace and faithfulness Gal 5:22
Raising godly children is the most important, and most difficult task that you will ever be given, BE PREPARED!
Remember, they are not there to pump up your ego!
Know your enemy!
Very young children have little or no reasoning capacity and no moral sense, you have to teach them both
Therefore beware of placing unrealistic expectations on them
As they mature, they develop increasing skills, motor coordination etc.
Thus training young children is often similar to training a puppy; i.e. they respond best to simple commands and rewards and punishments
Establish definite and clear standards of behavior Eph 6:4
Write them down and post them on the refrigerator; yes you think you know what you told them, but are you really sure that maybe you’ve not mis-communicated or forgotten something?
Thus be careful of what you say and how you say it to them
When children are very young, teach your children to obey immediately
When older, then you can negotiate on some things
Some standards to set for even very young children: daily family devotions, basic manners and courtesy, respect for adults, cleanliness, amount and type of TV/entertainment, sharing, temper tantrums etc.
Ensure that you and your children keep the standards 1 Thess 2:11
If you don’t mean it don’t say it/ if you say it enforce it!
If you’re not consistent, then you can’t expect them to be
Hold them accountable; if they have to pick up their toys, then make them do so, don’t do it for them
Use lots of encouragement, praise and positive strokes, there ought to be rewards for obedience
If you can’t control them at 5, you’re going be in for real trouble at 15, you control their entire environment, use it!
Discipline your children according to your standards, not your feelings (i.e. when they make you mad): Hebs 12:9
Save punishment (i.e. spankings) for overt acts of rebellion, disrespect
Don’t just punish when you’re angry, punish before you’re angry
Do it when they’re young and you won’t have to do it later Pvbs 19:18
Do not yell at your children, Gal 6:1-2, 2 Tim 2:23-25
If they fail to comply with a lawful order, don’t yell, spank!
The motive for correction must always be their character and not our frustration, impatience, embarrassment etc.
Prompt correction saves your temper and teaches them the importance of prompt obedience
Beware such punishments as “go to your room” or “stand in the corner” as they breed resentment, brooding etc.
Do not become discouraged if you have to spank repeatedly: the most effective way of canalizing the cerebral cortex is by stimulating the pain reflexes in the muscles of the gluteus maximus!
Principles of correction with the rod: (cf. Bruce A. Ray)
There can be no discipline without causing sorrow Hebs 12:11
If administered properly, always yields peaceful fruit of righteousness
If you have to spank twice, you didn’t spank hard enough the first time
Use a rod, not your hand, saves you pain
Make sure your children know that you love them
Overt, lavish displays of affection, hugs etc. are always appropriate
Don’t assume that “they know” that you love them; tell them often!
Don’t confuse displays of love with giving them things, kids don’t need things, but rather parents who spend time with them
Always leave some time for play with your children (+family night)
Never do anything for them that they can do for themselves Matt 26:17
Too many children learn to treat their parents as servants because Mom and Dad have a pathological need to be needed
The more you require of them, the faster they will learn confidence, self reliance, manual dexterity, etc.
Thus should be responsible for picking up own clothes, toys, rooms etc.
Never do a job alone Matt 17:1
Turn off the idiot box and make them work with you cutting the grass, cleaning out the garage, doing the dishes, ironing etc.
When you’ve got to run errands, try to take at least one with you
It will take longer, make the job harder and build your character, but it will also teach them values, skills and that you really care
Be careful not to over burden them beyond their capacities
Don’t use your kids as slave labor giving them the garbage jobs
Explain what you’re doing and why
Try to encourage their questions
Make it fun for them!
Remember that raising children is work, hard, thankless, often boring (and the exciting bits usually turn your hair white) and something for which most of us are untrained and unskilled. You will have to sacrifice much to raise your children right. But the rewards are literally eternal…
Dealing with Adolescents Eph 6:4
Most problems with adolescents result from poor training as children
If you didn’t have clear standards, were inconsistent with discipline or just blew off your responsibilities when they were young, it’s no good crying when they’re teens
Most “good” kids go “bad” because they never had the opportunity before
You can control children, but you must relate to adolescents
Thus ensure that you spend time with your kids now, laying the foundation to help them through this difficult time
Godly kids don’t have to “rebel” if their parents don’t vex them!
Yet even godly parents who have done everything right may have rebellious teenagers, if so see 11 below…
Don’t try to be a buddy to your kids, or relive your own youth through them, kids want parents, not friends, they want standards and consistency
Learn to treat your adolescents as you would other adults under your authority, i.e. with respect, dignity, etc.
Spend quality time with each of your kids
Try having a special time with each of your kids each week
Make it a date when you can share common experiences together
Don’t allow your kids to find their social identity with peers, 1 Cor 15:53 instead, spend time with them at home!
BEWARE SECULAR SCHOOLS! Home school or Christian school
Minimize TV viewing as much as possible and do creative things instead
Spend time in family outings and require 100% attendance regardless of groans, moans and complaints
Beware of over using authority,
“Authority is like a bar of soap, the more you use it the less you have!
Some parents have only one tool, in their parenting tool-box.
As adolescents they need more that just “Because I said so!”
Don’t get into the position of having to save face over stupid issues
Work on keeping the communication channels open
If you’re spending time with them, then there is likely to be less of a problem
However, stop talking and do some listening
Give increasing freedom as a reward for increasing responsibility
Allow them the freedom to question morals, values etc. But be prepared to give them Biblical answers
Maintain consistent standards of dress and appearance
Don’t be afraid to be imperfect; be prepared to confess your sins
Make kids productive members of family by giving responsibilities/chores
Discipline and Correction
Spanking is still appropriate!
Grounding et al. is never appropriate and self defeating is impossible to enforce, allows a sinful/unnatural tension to remain between child/parents when physical correction is inappropriate then restitution is required: i.e. an immediate, personal/proper response Ex 22:1
If a child is a rebellious, drunkard, dope smoking wastoid, then the Biblical requirement is to “cut him off” Matt 15:4, Deut 21:17fff
OT would be death, NT would be excommunication
Is to be cut off from the family as if dead
This is for his benefit so that he might be repent! 1 Cor 5:1ff
Notice the parable of the prodigal son, he didn’t party at home!
Building Your Children’s Spiritual Life
Remember we can’t save our kids; salvation is a sovereign act of God
Kids brought up in Christian homes often display Christian virtues, values and lifestyles; including conversion experiences
This is not the same as being regenerated:
May be conformity behavior
May disappear as soon as they leave the home environment
May be just because they know nothing better
Claiming God’s covenantal promises:
God is pleased to work through families and not just individuals and the the promises of the New Covenant are for us and our children Acts 2:39, 1 Cor 7: 14
Christian parents can have the presumption that God will regenerate their children: covenant baptism is an expression of faith and trust in God’s promises
Regenerate children will exhibit certain distinctive signs:
Desire to know God
Interest in spiritual things
Desire to study and understand the Bible
Desire for fellowship (as opposed to socials)
Repugnance of sin
Desire to grow
Just because a child once made a decision, is moral and comes regularly to church does not mean that he is regenerate: we should not go for a “decision” but rather for a character…
We can create the right climate
If it doesn’t work for us, why should the kids want it?
By setting Christian standards of life, entertainment, priorities etc. and keeping them
By showing them love, affection and care as opposed to simply laying down the law all the time
By loving our husbands/wives!
By modeling repentance, forgiveness and humility in regards to own sin
Set spiritual goals: START YOUNG
Daily family devotions/instruction in the catechisms
Consistent and regular church attendance
Family memory verses and Bible studies (in addition to fun nights)
Ensure that they are exposed to gospel with regularly and consistently: the “Romans Road” cf. Rms 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, 10:9-10, 5:1 etc.
Covenant children may not have a conversion “experience” or go through a dramatic life renewal: while there may be a quickening in their lives, it usually isn’t dramatic
For Further Consideration
Ames, Dave and Joyce, Second Honeymoon, Kingsway Publications, Eastbourne 86
Christenson, Larry & Nordis, The Christian Couple, Kingsway Pub, 1978
Crabb, Larry, The Marriage Builder, Zondervon, Grand Rapids, 1982
Dahl, Gerald L., Why Christian Marriages are Breaking Up, Nelson Pubs, 1979
Ellison, Stanley A., Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, Zondervon, 1980
Lahaye, Tim, How to Be Happy Though Married, Tyndale House, 1977
Ray, Bruce A., Withhold Not Correction, Presbyterian and Reformed Pub, 1978
Sutton, Ray, Who Owns the Family, Dominion Press, Tx, 1986
White, John, Parents in Pain, IVP, Downers Grove, Ill, 1979
Wright, Norm, Before You Say I Do, Harvest House Publishers, 1978 Part Three: Exercising Dominion The Family Doesn’t End when the Kids Turn 18