For six weeks we have been discussing ways to remodel our houses into homes. We started by seeing that the basis of a successful marriage is our character. Then we looked at God’s master plan behind marriage and some of the reasons God hates divorce. We’ve also seen that significance and security in the home starts with Jesus first and our spouse second, and we have learned to love and respect one another.
We are going to shift gears a bit this morning and focus our attention on the other relationships that make a house a home relationships between parents and children. It has been good to discuss these marital issues at length because a good marriage relationship is crucial to a good parenting relationship.
The best thing you or I can do for our children is to love our spouse. Your relationship with your husband or wife is the primary relationship in the home. When God created a family, he started with Adam and Eve. Not Adam, Eve, and Jr. The demands of raising children often get this fundamental issue out of alignment. Even with a boatload of kids, the most important relationship in the home is husband and wife, father and mother. Not mother-daughter, father-son, father-daughter or mother-son. If your marital relationship is struggling, continue to work diligently on it. There must be oneness between you and your spouse before there is oneness in your parenting.
Since I have been a parent only three years, I decided that I was still a bit lacking in personal experience to try to fake it and become First Free’s version of James Dobson. In fact, James Dobson could use some of my parenting skills as negative examples for his program. So lacking anything pithy to share, I turned to the Scriptures to see if God had some wisdom for parents concerning the raising of children. In the overview study that I did on Monday, I found that
Regarding parenting, the Scriptures are long on principle and short on method.
There are only a few passages that teach us directly about parenting. In Deuteronomy 6 and 11, the people of Israel are admonished to teach their children the precepts of God by talking about Him to their children as they go about their daily business. In Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21, fathers are admonished to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Along with these three clear commands, there are a half dozen Proverbs that give broad wisdom concerning the value of children and the discipline of children. Also in the account of Eli in 1 Samuel 14 there is a useful negative illustration of what happens when a father fails in his responsibilities. In addition, a few verses in 1 Timothy 1:4 and 5 illustrate what happens when a mother and grandmother (Lois and Eunice) build God’s Word into the lives of their children.
Despite the relative shortage of biblical material, there are three foundational principles that need to be highlighted.
The goal of parenting is raising godly children. (Mal 2:1016) Malachi is the last Old Testament book and comes just before the first Gospel, Matthew, about two thirds of the way from the front of your Bible. Four weeks ago Mike preached from this passage to help us understand why God hates divorce. After rebuking the men of Israel for breaking their marriage covenants, Malachi raises a rhetorical question in verse 15, “Has not the Lord made them one?” The obvious answer is “yes.” They should know from Genesis that the Lord does make two people one when they are married. Malachi states this in the next sentence, “In flesh and spirit, they are his.”
Then the prophet asks the question, “And why one?” The answer is given, “Because he was seeking godly offspring.” God makes two people one flesh in order to meet their aloneness needs but also because he wants godly offspring. And the best way to produce godly offspring is to put them in a loving home with two godly parents. From God’s perspective the goal of parenting is not to raise a Princeton grad or a world class swimmer, but to raise godly children. This is important to God because godly people worship Him.
The responsibility for raising godly children belongs to parents. (Deut. 6:49, 11:1621; Eph 6:14; Col 3:20,21) Now this may seem obvious, but I wonder how many of us “outsource” this responsibility to the church. We outsource math, science and literature, but the moral character and spiritual development of our children is our responsibility. AWANA, Passport to Adventure, and Junior and Senior High youth groups are here to support your ministry with your children. They offer your children models that reinforce what they are learning from you and provide further instruction.
One of the ways we should respond is by being as involved in our children’s spiritual education as we are in their math and science education. Simple things like knowing their Sunday School teacher, praying regularly for them, and sharing our own process of discipleship with our kids are ways to begin taking this responsibility.
Let me mention one other observation that was a bit startling to me. The New Testament addresses parenting twice. In both instances, Paul addresses fathers but not mothers. I believe he does this not to minimize the importance of mothers but instead to whack men across the side of the head and remind them that they are to be the spiritual pacesetters in the family. Not to do so, the New Testament implies, is a sure way to irritate, discourage and cause bitterness to well up inside our children.
Our inner cities are showing the marks of what happens when fathers are physically absent. But I wonder if some of the problems we are seeing even in our suburban homes is also because of absent fathers–perhaps we are there, but too often we have a remote control in our hands and are emotionally distant from our children.
The methods of raising godly children vary. This is true for two reasons. First, the Scriptures do not give us systematic methods for rearing children. And second, it just would not make sense to assume that one method can work for all families in raising godly children. Just as there are many different ways to disciple people who have come to faith in Christ, so too there are any number of good directions parents can take to intentionally develop godly children. You cannot apply a rigid formula to relationships.
There are a number of great resources in our library on parenting. I encourage you to read widely and draw from the experience of any number of wise parents in developing your own method of raising your children. Kevin Leman, Jim Dobson, and Ken Huggins offer great practical help. Two books from which I have drawn good principles are Christian Parenting by Dr. William Sears and the work of Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo in their â€œGrowing Kids God’s Wayâ€ series. I have a pet peeve with both these books, however. Dr. Sears in his introduction says that he is presenting what he believes to be “God’s design for parenting” (Sears, p. xix). I find that a bit arrogant to assume. I have the same problem with the title to the Ezzo’s series. I do not believe that they have necessarily found God’s way of raising godly kids. They both present great principles and practical advice, but I think it is stretching it to assume they have the definitive works on the subject.
Rather than focusing on teenage rebellion or sleep schedules or the merits of time-out versus spanking, I want to look at raising godly children from a different perspective. The problems and pitfalls of raising godly children in our homes are similar to the problems of raising godly people in the church, but on a smaller scale. In his letters to the various churches, Paul reveals some of his discipling principles for turning ungodly people into godly people. I want to try to explain these principles and relate them back to the home. I believe that if they work in the local church they can transfer equally well into the context of our homes.
One of the most powerful ways to learn is by imitating the examples provided by other people. In the church, Paul knew that people would become godly if they imitated good models of Christian living. In the home, the same truth applies. Parents are examples to their children in everything. We have no choice in the matter.
Modeling godly attitudes and behaviors are critical in helping our children attain godliness.
In fact godly children can only be produced by godly parents who are modeling their walk with God and offering appropriate instruction as they go. Let’s start looking at Paul’s principles for training by modeling. Turn with me in the New Testament to 1 Thessalonians, chapter 1, verse 5. Paul is recounting how he saw these believers come to faith in Christ. Then he writes, “You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit.”
The Thessalonian believers came to faith in Christ in the midst of significant persecution. Despite this persecution, they received the Gospel with great joy. Paul attributes their joyous response to imitation of himself. He modeled a joyful response to the persecution he experienced. Luke tells us in Acts 17 that Paul was persecuted in Thessalonica and was run out of town by an angry mob after only four weeks of ministry. We see from this that
People learn by imitating behaviors and attitudes they see lived out in other people. (1 Thess 1:6) We learn most of what we know about living life through imitation. We see this easily during early childhood. My daughter imitates my facial expressions. My son imitates every movement I make. But this kind of learning continues even as adults. Do you want to see a good example of this? Just look at my outline in today’s worship folder. Have you ever seen an outline like this before? This is a Mike Andrus sermon outline, isn’t it? For 10 years, I have been sitting under Mike’s teaching. He has been the most consistent, biblical teacher I have had. I have learned to think through a sermon by imitating Mike. This is a scary realization, isn’t it? I have joined the Twelve Step recovery group Brad Harper founded to break myself of this dysfunctional behavior. Seriously, Mike is a wonderful model to follow in this regard. Today’s sermon outline reflects the fact that I have imitated what has been modeled for me.
Right now, our children are learning and imitating behaviors and attitudes they have seen lived out in us. Do we love people and use things, or do we love things and use people? Our children will imitate our values. Do we follow God’s priorities, or do we expect God to follow our priorities? Our children will imitate our faith. Is our prayer life a constant discipline, or is it just a mealtime ritual to ask God to bless our food to the nourishment of our bodies? Our children will imitate our prayers.
Look at what Paul says next in verse 7: “And so you became models to all the believers in Macadonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia your faith in God has become known everywhere.” After imitating Paul’s and Jesus’ example of joyous grace under fire, these believers become an example to other churches. They would never have been an example to others unless they had a model to imitate in the first place.
People who imitate good models become good models for others. (1 Thess. 1:79) What we model to our children will last through generations. Today in our homes girls are learning how to love their husband by watching their mother. Boys are learning to be fathers by watching their dads. They are learning ways to resolve conflict by watching us either talk it out, fight it out, or avoid it altogether. Someday our children will imitate us in these areas. They will sit in a pastor’s office for premarital counseling and bring with them a host of expectations about marriage and family which they learned from us. They will pass on our examples, both good and bad, to our grandchildren. Sobering, isn’t it? But there is hope.
Turn over two pages to 2 Thessalonians 3:6ff:
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.
Paul made a decision at some point to intentionally live a certain way in the hopes that his example would be followed.
Parents must intentionally model a godly lifestyle for their children. (2 Thess 3:9, 1 Cor 4:16, 1 Cor 11:1, 1 Peter 5:13) One of my professors at Trinity said this to a class filled with future pastors, “You are an example. You have no choice in the matter. You can choose, though, what kind of example you will be.” That holds true for you as a parent as well. You can intentionally choose the kinds of things you want to model for your children.
Let me suggest that you sit down with your spouse, or by yourself if you are a single parent, and write out the godly character qualities, godly attitudes, and godly behaviors that you would like your children to have when they leave your home at age 21. Then intentionally seek to build these attitudes and behaviors into your own life and begin living them out before your children. Most important lessons are caught rather than taught. Your children will catch something from you. You can have control over what they catch.
When Paul wrote Timothy, a young pastor shepherding a church in Ephesus, he encouraged Timothy this way, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” This gives us our fourth principle on modeling.
Parents must set an example in speech, life, love, faith and purity. (Mal 2:15; 1 Tim 4:12) Last week I was having a little talk with my son about the tone and volume of his voice. I told him I didn’t like it when he yelled or used a disrespectful tone of voice, and I asked him to work on it. Then he said to me, “Dad, I don’t like it when you raise your voice.” Rebuked by a three year old! In my spirit, I wanted to justify my behavior and tell him that I needed to raise my voice in order to get his attention. But that wasn’t the point. He was asking, “How come I can’t raise my voice but you can raise yours?”
I was trying to instruct without modeling. Thankfully the Lord showed me my hypocrisy. So I thanked Matthew for telling me and then I told him I wanted to change. Then I asked him to help me. So we are working together on our voices. He helps me and I help him. He’s a lot better, I’m still struggling. As you make your list of qualities, attitudes, and behaviors, start with these five categories-speech, life, love, faith, purity. That covers a lot.
But modeling is not enough. Paul coaches Titus, another young pastor on the island of Crete, this way: “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness.” (Titus 2:68a) Notice that Paul tells Titus to demonstrate with his life and then teach. His counsel to Timothy followed the same sequence.
Parents should follow up their example with integrity filled teaching. (Titus 2:7) Two extremes need to be avoided in the areas of modeling and teaching. The first extreme is instruction without modeling. This will work with younger children, but as soon as kids get to their teens, they will see it for what it is, hypocrisy. Teenagers are smart; they can smell a fake a mile away. One of the quickest ways to embitter your children toward you and God is to establish a rule that you don’t follow or that you occasionally change when it becomes inconvenient. The second extreme to avoid is modeling without instruction. This leads to confusion by putting the responsibility on our children to guess what the real motives behind our actions are. As children grow up they need patient instruction so that they understand the motivations and mindset behind the model they see.
One other caution is to be very careful how we use God’s Word. Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. But it is not useful for winning arguments. If we pull out a verse in the middle of a conflict with our children, even if we are right, we will lose because we are using the Word for our advantage, not their advantage. We should instruct with God’s Word to equip them for every good work, not to beat them.
These are the five principles I see Paul employing in discipling ungodly people toward godliness. One important fact I haven’t mentioned is that these principles are given in the context of people who have placed their faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. So Paul, Timothy and Titus are using these principles with people who have the Holy Spirit residing in their hearts. This gives them a distinct advantage. One of our elders, Heinz Bockle, has wisely observed that having the Holy Spirit in your children helps tremendously in parenting because the Holy Spirit works from the inside out. I encourage you to diligently pray for God to open your children’s hearts to their own sinfulness and to Christ so that by faith the Holy Spirit can come in and transform their hearts.
So what about those of us whose kids do not show signs of personal faith in Jesus? Thankfully for us Jesus was well acquainted with the problem. Jesus took ungodly disciples without the Holy Spirit and transformed them into godly leaders for His Kingdom.
Jesus’ relationship with His disciples models the training relationship that parents can have with their children.
Jesus prioritized his relationships with the twelve disciples. Jesus spent time with twelve men who were impulsive, loud, quick-tempered, slow learners, smelly and disobedient. He gave his priority time and effort to these few. He did not neglect his ministry to the masses but he deliberately gave those few disciples the greatest majority of his time over the length of his ministry.
Why did Jesus focus so much attention and spend so much time with so few? His ministry was relationally driven, not content driven. Jesus understood that it was in his presence that they could learn all they needed to know. The essence of Jesus’ training of the twelve was that they would learn simply by being around Him. Jesus was a living sermon. He was the curriculum. This kind of ministry takes a lot of time but it is highly effective.
Our kids need a relationship with us. We have to intentionally spend large amounts of time with them, not just quality amounts of time. We need to be available to them when they are ready to learn.
Jesus gave himself to the Father first, and then to the Twelve. The controlling principle in Jesus’ life was obedience to the will of God. So, often Jesus would get away by himself to be alone and to pray. The Twelve would eventually learn that to be godly, they would have to be sold out to God. After spending time with His Father, he gave himself completely to his disciples. He gave them his joy, his peace, his love. He denied himself comforts and pleasures for their sake. He accepted humiliation and poverty for their sake.
If we are not sold out to the Father, we will not raise children who are sold out to Jesus. If our faith is casual, then we cannot expect our childrenâ€™s to be anything more. Remember what Malachi said earlier, “Guard yourself in your spirit,” that is, love God with all your heart, soul and strength and also love your spouse.
Jesus demonstrated attitudes, priorities and disciplines to the Twelve. In the short term this didn’t have a lot of payoff. The disciples were constantly failing at living out what Jesus demonstrated. Peter was the ultimate rebel when he denied Jesus three times. But Jesus’ model was quickly imitated once the Spirit came on the disciples after the resurrection.
Luke tells us in Acts 1:14 that after Jesus ascended into heaven, they all joined together constantly in prayer. How did they know to do this? Well, they had seen Jesus pray countless times as he healed the multitudes, as he feed the 5000, and as he blessed the children.
Immediately after the Holy Spirit comes and fills the disciples in Jerusalem, Peter explains to the crowd the meaning of the strange dialects they are hearing. In Acts 2:15 Luke records Peter’s message, “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel . . .” He then quotes five verses from Joel chapter 2. Where did he learn to use the Scriptures like that? He had spent three years with Jesus. Over and over again, he would watch Jesus using the Scriptures to correct and rebuke the culture of his day, to build up the broken and the hurting, and to stand strong in the midst of temptation.
Throughout the book of Acts the disciples fan out over all the earth reaching out to all kinds of people, including Gentiles. How did they know to do that? They had seen Jesus reach out to all kinds of people sick people, poor people, untouchable people, grieving people, immoral people, forgotten people, short people and materialistic people. Jesus was in the people business. And they had learned the family business by watching the founder
We cannot control when God will open our kidsâ€™ hearts to the gospel, but we can still model for them what to do when the Spirit does come upon them.
Jesus instructed the Twelve in the context of real life. Most of Jesus’ instruction was done on the fly in the midst of real life situations. He did not try to create teaching environments. Deuteronomy 6:7 tells parents to impress the commands of God on their children. â€œTalk about them when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.â€ There are many opportunities to teach children the precepts of God throughout the course of a day.
Jesus gave the Twelve controlled opportunities to fail. Jesus knew he would have to help his disciples move from being renters of the truth to owners of the truth. The way he did this was to give them opportunities to fail in controlled environments. He would give them things to do that would intentionally stretch them. Often they failed the test, but failure created a laboratory for learning.
One of the parents in our church was trying to decide last spring if she should let her young daughter go to Haiti with the youth group. She did let her go and she came back changed. The opportunity gave her daughter the chance to see God work in very personal ways. It is those kinds of experiences with God that will help a child move from renting her mother’s faith to owning it herself.
Jesus knew they would reproduce what they saw. He knew that the model he gave would last through the generations. The steps Jesus took with the disciples can be steps we take.