Mind your children
What struck me about the makeup of the Presbyterian Church when we arrived in Australia some 20 years ago, was the absence of what seems to be a complete generation. We had older couples in church, but their children were absent. Then there were a new generation with smaller children attending church. I was intrigued about this: what happened to the missing generation? Why were they not there?
The answer is not simplistic, and I don’t pretend to have a definite explanation. Maybe the returned soldiers had scars so deep that they found it very hard to talk about life experiences to those close to them. Add to the liberal teachings of humanism and evolution of the time. But one thing that stand out like a sore thumb is the fact that some children of the next generation did not appreciate the value of serving the Lord as they saw it exemplified in the everyday living of their parents.
That was the age when children were dropped off at church for Sunday school while parents drove around the corner to buy the Sunday paper. Children were enrolled in Christian schools for the benefit of the social standing it would provide for further opportunities in life. Church life and worship services were nothing but formalistic. It became a drag to children and Sunday worship made no sense to them. So, at the first opportunity they dropped out. The worst part is that parents had no appeal upon their children because the way they practiced Christianity was hollow and meaningless. This is more relevant to fathers: the father figure was missing, especially his way of life as an example of Christian living.
A generation was lost.
Fair dinkum instruction
In chapter 4 of Proverbs a father is teaching his sons. Two different words are used for instruction here, and it seems as if helps us to understand the role of both mother and father in the upbringing and equipping for life of their children.
The first is torah, the law. Mothers usually took on this role. One could say it involved the formal teaching of the Bible or Bible knowledge. Sunday-school-at-home. The second word is mitzvah. This is where the father applied the Bible knowledge into life principles.
Both involved a process of knowledge transfer; the first was more education, the second teaching by example. The first is facts, the second is wisdom, or the art of being street wise, but then along the principles of God’s Word. The father says to his son:
I will guide you in the way of wisdom and I will lead you in upright paths. (Proverbs 4:11, NET)
When does teaching wisdom start?
This father says, “When I was tender, the only child of my mother.” That’s when both his mother and father started to teach and set the example. It can never be too early, but it can surely begin too late.
When did my mother teach me how to make my bed? Well, I don’t know. The interesting thing is, I can’t remember her telling me to sit down so she could instruct me in the process of bed-making. I just grew up see her making our beds as we got up in the morning, and in the end it became our job. Was it perfect at the beginning? No, but I think I got it now. The example and the principle started very early.
So, reading the Scriptures to our children and praying with them at a very early stage of their lives are very important. But the going out into the world with the Scripture knowledge and living as a Christian while applying those principles in whatever we do is almost more important. Children are not dumb; they know when we mean things; they know when we apply double standards, or when we are plainly hypocritical.
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. (Deuteronomy 6:6–8, NIV)
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6, NIV)
Why do we need to instruct our children?
All children are foolish, but firm correction will make them change. (Proverbs 22:15, CEV)
See, their is no such a thing as an innocent little baby. Not one of us is born with a clean slate, as if our deeds will determine how much we get written on red for the bad things we have done, and on the green side for the good things we have done. Our slate is already blotted with evil the moment we are born. David says:
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5, NIV)
Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one! (Job 14:4)
“What are mortals, that they could be pure, or those born of woman, that they could be righteous? (Job 15:14, NIV)
Children need instruction, and we need to impart that instruction from the very first moment of their earthly journey. If we wait with it, or let them make up their minds – as we are told these days – be sure, the spirit of this world will help them make up their minds.
The father was teachable when he was instructed, and now he speaks as one who knows what he is speaking about. This is not a theoretical argument. The parent’s instruction has behind it the compelling logic of experience: “Don’t turn away from my instructions.… Don’t turn your back on wisdom” (4:2, 6). Wisdom—my words—she will guard you and protect you, as she did me. She will make you great like me (4:8).
Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honour you. (Proverbs 4:8, NIV)
She will crown you with honour like me. I, your father, am a living illustration of the truth of what I say—so listen!
What basis do we have to teach our children?
The basis for discipline is grounded in the covenant relationship which the Lord has with us. We do not only have the right to teach our children the ways of the Lord, but we are obligated to do so.
It is sometimes hard to lay down the principles for life before your children. It becomes easier when we ourselves bow to the same authority as we expect our children to do. What is not right for them is not right for us; what is good for us, is good for them. It is not my life choices that count; it is the way I become obedient to the will of God that counts. Only then can I, based on the Word of God, set the standards and teach my children to follow the same standards.
In other words, I have to talk the talk and walk the walk. I need to be under the authority of God, and live in a personal relationship with God before any teaching to my children will ever make sense. This all stems for God’s covenant relationship in Christ with us. God called us to be his children; to live in a relationship with Him through Christ. He wants us to live sanctified lives, so He gave us the Scriptures so we can know and obey his will.
So, it speaks for itself that parents need to know the Word of God; they need to know Christ as the source of their salvation and the Giver of their sanctification. They need to live under the guidance of the Holy Spirit first – and then, based on their living faith in Christ, take their children by the hand and say, “Follow me as I follow Christ”.
For example: our marriages, the Bible tells us, are and example of the relationship between Christ and his church. I need to love my wife as Christ loved his church; like the church submits to Christ, so wives submit to their husbands. It means that fathers would respect and very highly regard their wives, and as such, their daughters. I find this principle in the Scripture 1 Peter 3:1-7), and that binds me to obedience in the Lord. The way I set an example of treating my wife and my daughters will teach my son to first of all submit to Christ, love and obey Him, and then treat his mother, his sisters, his girlfriends and his future wife as people Christ died for so that they can set the example in their future marriages as the bride-church of the Lamb.
What do I teach my children?
I teach them what’s important in life. I tell them that their hearts should belong to God – only then will they be able to live life well.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. (Proverbs 4:7, NIV)
Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! I will keep telling them; I will keep setting the example and never stop doing it for as long as I am their father. God expects it of me.
When I get so involved in acquiring the things of this world that I lose sight of what is really priority, it becomes so hard to tell my kids to not run after what is not lasting. How many really good and successful fathers look back and regret not spending more time with their children and showing them what is most important in life. The father of Proverbs had a father who taught and showed him that to find wisdom in fearing God and doing his will is better than storing up riches, treasures or gold. His father had time to talk to him about God, pray with him, love him and find out if life makes sense to him. His father taught him to be honest, hard-working, a man of integrity, helping others, not to mix with evil-doers for the sake of being popular. His father cried when he cried when he was done in by so-called friends, and his father picked him up in love when he fell into temptation and sin.
His father taught him there is no godless path to wisdom.
The true example of being disciplined is seen in Christ. The discipline He received was not instruction as how to live; as the only sinless person who ever trod this earth He knew that; but He was punished for our transgressions, because of our waywardness. He is our only way to the Father, and as such we can only point our children to Him and teach them the most important lesson of life:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5, NIV)
… fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)