A couple weeks ago, we made it Facebook official that we are going to be welcoming another child into our home. She is due to arrive at the beginning of January, and I am sure at that point my life will be thrown into a bit of disarray. We already have two kids in our family, but they feed themselves; they go to the bathroom by themselves; they bathe by themselves. Of course, they haven’t always done this, but they are pretty self-sufficient in taking care of their basic needs now. They can even heat up frozen sausage biscuits and pour a bowl of cereal.
There are plenty of books out there that tell you the best way to be a parent. When you are pregnant or have a child, everyone is eager to let you know the proper way of doing things or, at least, what worked for them. Sometimes this advice is helpful, but more than often this advice is quite unsolicited. On top of that, if you have been around kids or have kids of your own, you know that no book or advice can prepare you for all the changes and all the things you will experience. When your child arrives in your home, all the manuals go out the door and you really just try to do your best, to be the best parent you can.
I know with our kids, there is never a day that is the same. It seems that when I have them figured out it’s time to change. Sure, there are some things about their personality that persists, but they respond to things in completely new ways. I remember a few years ago that I was reflecting on parenting and realized that it was the most difficult and tedious thing, but it was also the thing that brought to my life immense joy. To be the best parent you can, you do the best that you can. When things get tough and you encounter a stage or a life issue that completely stumps you, perhaps you turn to books or advice columns to help you along.
In our current message series, we are exploring how to build healthier and stronger families. In doing this, we are looking at five different relationships and five different strategies that can help your family find strength by being built in God. During the first message of this series we discovered 6 key biblical strategies for building a stronger family; a family that serves the Lord together. Last week, we explored love and marriage, and discovered that marriage is more than falling “in love,” but that it is a calling where God invites you to sacrificially love, care for, and serve another human. Today, we are focusing on children and parents, trying to discover a biblical way to parent and be a child.
While most families in America have children, I also want to make it clear that having children is not what makes a family. Families come in all shapes and all sizes. Many families have children; many families do not. In fact, in 2014 about 47 percent of women between the ages of 15-44 had never had children. Often society or family treats having children as a next logical step or obligation in life. The truth is, though, many families do not have children and an absence of children doesn’t have anything to do with God not loving or not blessing a family.
There are many reasons that families might not have kids. Many people struggle with infertility and the loss of children. This is something we’ve faced in our own family. The heartbreak, the struggle, the uncertainty around all of this is real. Other families have made the choice not to have children, and this is something that I believe God blesses as well. You don’t have to have a child to have a strong and healthy family or marriage.
Many families with children have complex origin stories on the how their family came about. In many families we have children from parents that come together to create a new family unit. Many families are comprised of step parents and step siblings and half siblings. We recognize that some families are broken up due to abuse, neglect, and addiction; with the children being placed in foster care. The complexities around this are great. Many families are formed through adoption, and adoption happens in a multitude of different circumstances. And still, complexity and emotions, loss and love are all mixed together.
I am saying all this to recognize and name that families look different. And just because your family life story is not like your neighbors, it doesn’t mean that God can’t bless you right where you are. In fact, I believe that God does and desires to bless your family’s story and life no matter how the story is told.
I truly believe that God loves families and that God loves your family. And I truly believe that God desires for your to strengthen the bond and love in your family. Since God cares for your family, when we look at the Bible we can find an ethic about parenting and childhood that can help you or someone you know become a better parent. Or if you are not a parent yourself, it can help you become a better caregiver to the children you do know. In discovering this ethic of parenting, I will leave you with a list of six dos and don’ts that can help focus you on effective and biblical parenting.
If you have a Bible with you, I want to invite you to turn with me to Ephesians 6:1-4. Ephesians is a letter that Paul, who was a leader in the church, wrote. In this letter he addresses many things, but in this section, he addresses children and parents. In this brief passage he gives the parents of this community a guide on how to parent their children. Now, if you were just to read this, you perhaps wouldn’t think much about it. To us, it seems like pretty good advice; it might even seem like common sense to you. But when Paul wrote this, about 2000 years ago, this parenting advice was kind of revolutionary.
You see, Paul was writing to people who lived in the Roman Empire, and in the Roman empire children had very little power or importance. There was a Roman law calledpatria potestas—this translates to English as power of the father. What this meant is that a Roman father had absolute power over his family and descendants, regardless of age. This meant absolute power. The father could sell his children as slaves, force them to work, and could even punish them to the point of death. This rule extended over the child even into adulthood, until the father passed away.
Another custom, of the time, was that of child exposure. This amounts to what we would consider as extreme child abuse and neglect. If a child wasn’t wanted by its father, it was permitted that the father could literally throw the child out and allow it to be exposed to elements until it died. Someone who lived just a generation before Paul, a man named Hilarion was traveling and wrote to his wife about the about the birth of their child. He wrote:
Do not worry if when all others return I remain in Alexandria. I beg and beseech of you to take care of the little child, and, as soon as we receive wages, I will send them to you. If—good luck to you!—you have a child, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, throw it out.
In the midst of the Roman world, a very small value was placed on children. It is in this climate that Paul writes his letter about parenting. And what Paul has to say is starkly different from what his culture and government endorses. Paul stands loudly and says that children have value and that parents have a responsibility to them and to God to raise them in manner that upholds this value.
As for children, obey your parents in the Lord, because it is right. 2 The commandment Honor your father and mother is the first one with a promise attached: 3 so that things will go well for you, and you will live for a long time in the land 4 As for parents, don’t provoke your children to anger, but raise them with discipline and instruction about the Lord.
Paul first addresses children and then he addresses parents. To the children he says to them that they shouldobey their parents in the Lord. This idea of obeying parents has a deep root in the scriptures that Paul knows. He knows that God loves families and that the family unit is a great place for children to learn how to love God and to grow into faithful adults.
Perhaps the Romans who supported the absolute power of the father would agree that children should obey their parents, but Paul doesn’t stop here. He is concerned for children and doesn’t want them to be abused or harmed by their parents. Because of this, he states that God has a different view of parenting than the Roman government. And God’s view of parenting rejects abuse and mistreatment, and instead promotes an attitude of love and concern—this is revolutionary for the age. And this is where we begin to find the dos and don’ts of biblical parenting.
Paul tells parents don’t provoke your children to anger. This is our first Don’t--don’t provoke your children to anger. Paul tells us that parents need to careful when they are dealing with their children. You know your children better than they probably know themselves. As a parent, you know what makes them tick, you know their triggers, and you know what makes them happy. When you are dealing with your children, Paul tells us that it is important to deal with them fairly and not to needlessly provoke them to anger.
Elsewhere, Paul is writing another letter and says something similar to this. In Colossians 3:21, Paul writes, “Parents, don’t provoke your children in a way that ends up discouraging them.” It’s almost as if Paul is speaking from experience; perhaps he had a parent who treated him in a way that ended up bringing discouragement. He says, don’t treat your children in a neglectful way that destroys their spirit, that discourages them.
Let me tell you, that this doesn’t mean that you should not or cannot correct or discipline your children. It’s your job as a parent to guide your children in a path of love and independence. Part of this means correcting them when they misstep or when their behavior is unacceptable. But this also means that you should not act in a way that intentionally provokes your child or sets them up for failure. If you do this, Paul tells us that you will end up discouraging them. If you set your child up for failure, you will break their spirit and create hurt and wounds that can linger a lifetime.
Very closely related to this first don’t is our second don’t: don’t show favoritism with your children.Paul doesn’t really write about showing favoritism, but this is something that falls under the category of not provoking your children in a way that ends up discouraging them. If you show favoritism with a child, your children will see it and it will lead toward discouragement.
This can be is especially true in mixed marriage families. Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of step parents and step families that beautifully and equitably show love. But when these bonds aren’t created, it can lead towards resentment and discouragement. If you find yourself playing favorites amongst your children or step children, perhaps it is time to stop for a moment and reevaluate the potential harm and discouragement. And then commit or recommit yourself to not showing favoritism.
Our final don’t is don’t lead a life of sin before your children. As Paul continues to write his parenting advice, he tells parents that they should raise [their children] with discipline and instruction about the Lord.The only way to raise your children in the Lord, is if you, yourself, follow this life. This means not leading a life of sin before your children.
We know that children learn a lot through mimicry. Many times when I get frustrated with my son for saying or doing something that I don’t approve, I get that look from my wife. It’s that look that communicates: “I wonder where he learned that.” So often, the things that irritate me the most are the very things I do that he learned by watching me. If you do a thing or engage in things that you don’t want your children to do, you are teaching them to do the very thing you don’t want them to do. If you desire to raise your children in the instruction of the Lord, as Paul writes, don’t lead a life of sin before your children.
Reading what Paul has to say and reading how God values children doesn’t just give us a list of don’ts; we also get a list of three dos that are just as if not more important to remember. These dos help set the Christian ethic of parenting and children apart from the way the Romans placed a lack of value on the worth of a child.
From the witness of scripture, our first, and most important dois: do love your children. When Paul gives us his parenting advice, he is doing so as part of a broader theme of living a life with love. Earlier in the letter, Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1-2: Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. 2 Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us.
Paul tells you to live a life with love; the word that Paul uses for love is the Greek word, agape. Last week we talked a lot about this kind of love. Agape love is the love that God has for us; it is unmerited; it is sacrificial; it is giving without requiring something in return. Paul tells you to live a life of this type of sacrificial love and then he goes on to tell you some things about raising children. This means that all the advice about how to raise your child is built and offered in the spirit of love. Loving your child, sacrificially, is at the core of raising your child.
Loving your children, though, doesn’t mean that you should give them everything they ask for or want. We have this mistaken idea that we should make things easy for our children or we should do everything our children want so that we can make them happy. This type of appeasement is often mistaken for love. Instead, of appeasement, our second do is: do discipline your children in love. Disciplining your children in love is exactly what Paul tells parents to do in his letter.
Another way to say this comes is found in the book of proverbs. In proverbs 22:6 we read:“Train children in the way they should go; when they grow old, they won’t depart from it.” Discipline is not punishment, discipline is training. The proper role of a parent is to train your child in love to be able to take on the world. Ultimately disciplining children in love is all about training them. This means that there is no one size fits all approach. This means that you might have to discipline each of your children differently. Disciplining in love is all about keeping a goal in mind and working with you kids to teach them how to reach and live into the goal.
Our final do is: do teach your children God’s ways. After Paul tells us to discipline in love, he says: but raise [your children] with instruction about the Lord.This is probably something that Paul’s parents did. Paul was raised in a Jewish home, and all Jewish homes were familiar with the law taught by Moses. In Deuteronomy 6:5-7, Moses reminds the Jewish people:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. 6 These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. 7 Recite them to your children.
He tells the people that the most important thing they can do is to love God with all your heart, being, and strength and to teach your children about the love of God. This is central to have it means to be a good biblical parent, teaching your child about the love of God.
Friends, this is something so important that you can’t leave to someone else. Often times I hear people complain about the lack of bible lessons in the public schools, but the role of teaching our children about the love of God is not with the schools, it is with the parents. I have also heard parents say things like they don’t want to force their kids to go to church because they want their kids to make their own decisions about religion. Let me tell you, if faith is important to you, your role is to teach your children the faith. There will come a time when they can choose it for themselves, but if you don’t take them to church and if you don’t teach them about the love of God no one else will. And if you don’t teach them, you are still making a choice for them; you are helping them make a choice that they won’t be involved with God. Teaching your children about the love of God is the most important thing you can give them.
Biblical parenting is about listening to the love of God and allowing that self-sacrificial love to move through you in the raising of other human beings. In doing this, we have discovered a few dos and don’ts that can help you be a better parent and raise healthy children. They are:
Don’t provoke your children to anger.
Don’t show favoritism with your children.
Don’t lead a life of sin before your children.
Do love your children.
Do discipline your children in love.
Do teach your children God’s ways.
If you are a parent or if you are helping to raise children, please know that I am praying for you. I also ask that you pray for me in this. Being a parent is not an easy thing, but it is a something that God can use to help shape the minds and hearts of our children into faithful adults. May your actions and your love teach and show all of our children that they are valued, loved, and worthy of love.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.