BRINGING UP CHILDREN
13/07/2008 at 9.30am / 11.15am
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Jonathan Redfearn
Introduction – Spirit-filled parenting
This morning in our series on being a Christian today we’re looking at bringing up children, at bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord, as Paul puts it so clearly here in Ephesians 6. And this is a vital topic at a critical time for family life and for our children. One chief constable said the other week that gang life is replacing family life among disaffected teens and tragically this week a 14 year old became the latest victim of knife crime. The United Nations has said that the UK is one of the worst nations in which to bring up children. We need to pray and work for our nation to turn back to the one true God and his Word. And we need to put God’s Word into practice ourselves – especially if we’re parents and particularly if we’re dads, says Paul in v4. But grandparents, teachers and indeed children need to take heed too. Now bringing children up is both a great privilege and a great responsibility. Children are a gift from God not a right. To procreate in marriage is to create on behalf of God. And bringing up children can be hard work. Training involves hard work and discipline and the Bible says we are to bring children up in the training and instruction of the Lord and that if we train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it (Proverbs 22:6).
But although it can be hard work we need to remember that as Christians we’re not bringing up children in our own strength. Ephesians 5:18 reminds us that Paul is talking here about Spirit filled parenting. If we’re trusting in Christ we have the Holy Spirit. God is with us. We need to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit if we’re not to exasperate our children and so turn them away but instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Yesterday I was conducting a wedding here and said these words as part of the introduction to the marriage service:
Marriage [meaning life long heterosexual marriage] is given as the foundation of family life in which children may be born and nurtured in accordance with God's will, to his praise and glory.And that reflects the immediate context of our passage. The immediate context is marriage. Have a look at Ephesians 5:33. Paul is talking about Spirit filled marriages and he summarizes how husbands and wives are to relate by saying that each one of us who is a husband must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. So what is the best thing a man can do for his children? It’s a question I ask at all weddings. The best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother and then together, with the husband taking the lead, bring them to Jesus Christ. Well with that context in mind let’s now look at what Paul says in Ephesians 6. And first he addresses the children. So
First, THE DUTY OF CHILDREN v1-3
V1 is addressed directly to children from Christian homes. Who does Paul mean by children here? I believe he means those who are regarded in their culture as children or minors. In western culture that means those who are under 18. So if that's you please listen carefully:
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."Children are to obey their parents unless they ask you to do something that’s contrary to God's will. Jesus said in Matthew 10 that if we love our parents more than him we are not worthy of him. But the norm says Paul is for children to obey their parents.
Why should children obey their parents? For it is right. It is not only right in Christian households but also in all households. It is part of the natural law which God has written on all human hearts (Romans 2:14-15). Most civilizations and cultures have regarded the recognition of parental authority as indispensable to a stable society. Today there are increasing signs of this recognition being weakened and of increasing disobedience to parents in our society. Paul in 2 Timothy 3 says this is a mark of a decadent society, which God has given up to its own godlessness. We need to pray for God’s mercy.
Obedience of children to parents is also part of the revealed law God gave to Moses. So Paul goes on in v2&3 of Ephesians 6:
“Honour your father and mother – which is the first commandment with a promise – that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”This is the fifth of the Ten Commandments. So the honouring of our parents is part of our duty to God. Commenting on this John Stott says:
“This is right. For at least during our childhood they represent God to us and mediate to us both his authority and his love. We are to honour them, that is, acknowledge their God-given authority, and so give them not only our obedience, but our love and respect as well.”Reverence for parents was an integral part of God's people's reverence for God (Lev. 19:1-3). So in Leviticus and Deuteronomy the death penalty was laid down for anyone who cursed his parents and for the stubborn and rebellious son who refused to obey his parents and defied their discipline (Lev 20:9; Dt 21:18-21). In Ephesians 6 Paul enforces God's commandment with a promise. V3:
“Honour you father and mother… that it might go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”The promise was material prosperity and long life. How are we to understand that today? Is that promised to each child who obeys his parents? It's quite an incentive! Well, as in Ephesians 1, God's blessings are largely spiritual in Christ but there is here a promised blessing 'on earth'. One commentator suggests that we should interpret this in general rather than in individual terms.
'Then what is promised is not so much long life to each child who obeys his parents, as social stability to any community in which children honour their parents. Certainly a healthy society is inconceivable without a strong family life.'That is true but we shouldn't forget the promise to the individual child. Research shows that the child who obeys his or her parents often has less trouble at school and beyond. I should also add that we are to honour our parents even when we are over 18. Honouring them then means we should never forget or neglect them.
Children's obedience of their parents is a Christian duty. But note v1 children are to obey in the Lord. Children are to obey their parents because of their own personal relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Lord our relationships are transformed. Even obedience to parents is changed. It should no longer be a grudging acquiescence to parental authority.
Secondly, THE DUTY OF PARENTS v4
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Paul is very clear that fathers have a particular responsibility to bring up their children in the 'training' or 'discipline' and instruction of the Lord. Paul here, in contrast to the Roman autocratic model of fatherhood, sees Christian fathers as self-controlled, gentle and patient educators of their children. Human fathers are to care for their families as God the Father cares for his. Yet how easy it is for we fathers to exasperate our children when we’re around and how difficult it is to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord if we’re often out or away. I know that I continually need to examine my priorities. According to one survey done with hundreds of children the three things fathers say most often in responding to their children are: I'm too tired; we don't have enough money; and be quiet! It’s good to also be positive and encourage them, especially
when they’re in their teens, as I’m discovering.
Paul is reminding us fathers of our role and instructs us to get on with it in the power of the Spirit. Biblically fathers are the head of the household and are to take a spiritual lead in the family. Sadly that biblical principle of humble male headship (referred to in Ephesians 5:23) was further undermined by the General Synod of the Church of England this past week when they voted for women bishops. The American Promise Keepers movement used to say that if husbands and fathers committed themselves to building strong biblical marriages, to support the mission of the church with time, talent and prayer, to demonstrate the love of Christ in the world and live moral lives based on scriptural principles then the result will not only be the renewal of our lives as men but the renewal of our families, of our churches and ultimately of our world. We need to submit ourselves to Christ as Lord, be an example and with our wives commit our household to the Lord in prayer. For although we have our part to play as Psalm 127:1 states:
“Unless the Lord builds the house the builders labour in vain.”Now Paul is not saying that mothers don't have a role to play in bringing their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Of course they do. In v1&2 he refers to parents. Paul says that Timothy was brought up in the Scriptures and the faith by his mother, Eunice, and by his grandmother Lois as we read in 2 Timothy 1:5. In fact Timothy's father was an unbeliever. God can work in spite of fathers. That was true for me.
Not that you or I can force our children to be Christians. Praise God that it doesn't just depend on us. It is by grace. All we can do is play our part, pray, bring them up in the faith, bring them to Jesus and not hinder them. They too are sinners in need of a Saviour. Jesus said (Mark 10:14):
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”Only God can do the rest. But he wants to use us in the process. Paul says that it’s the duty of fathers along with mothers to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord and therefore it’s not just the duty of the church. Yes Christian parents can delegate some of their responsibility to church, to the holiday club and Christian holidays around the country but not all of it! After all they’re only in church one hour a week! And when parents do delegate some responsibility to church we are still to be involved and interested. By supporting the children’s and youth work here. By volunteering for Holiday Sunday School or our uniformed groups which are both in need of people. By examining carefully the possible school options. By getting involved in your primary school to run a Christian group.
This verse also implies that parents need to spend time with their children to be able to bring them up, to instruct them and discuss their faith. Failure to do so can cause problems later.
It has been argued that quality time with our children is what's important but in fact it's both quality and quantity time. One dad apologising to his daughters for not spending as much time as he wanted with them said, "You know it's not always the quantity of time we spend together as it is the quality of time we spend together." His two girls didn't quite understand. The dad explained further. "Quantity means how much time, and quality means how good the time is we spend together. Which would you rather have?" The girls replied, "Quality time and lots of it!"
So how should parents bring up their children "in the training or discipline and instruction of the Lord"?
Firstly parents are to literally train their children by discipline. The original word means training with an emphasis on the correction of the young. In Hebrews 12 it is used of both fathers and God the Father who discipline their children for their good. So there is a clear need for right discipline and punishment in the home as indeed there is at school. The Old Testament is clear about this need. Proverbs 13:24:
“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”However we must be careful - certainly in our society we suffer from an absence of right and consistent discipline but this verse does not justify excessively stern and cruel discipline. Rather it calls for balanced, consistent and controlled discipline. Someone has said that:
"The parent who exerts his or her power most drastically over children loses all power over them, except the power to twist, hurt and destroy."Parents must be clear about their motives when disciplining. It is always dangerous for them to discipline their children when they are annoyed, when their pride has been injured, or when they have lost their temper. As Martin Lloyd-Jones puts it:
Secondly the Christian upbringing of children includes instruction. This certainly runs counter to one fashion today which encourages parents and teachers to be non-directive, to leave children to find their own way. Now it has been known for some parents to go to the other extreme and be too domineering. So what is the biblical balance? What is meant by instruction?
Well here is the picture the Bible gives in Deuteronomy 6:5-7:
"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon 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."So instruction involves deliberate communication of the faith to our children not indoctrination. Impress them on your children, says v7. Parents are to bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord - praying and reading the Bible with them, praying with them from birth, explaining the faith, answering their questions, modelling our faith to them, bringing them to church, and taking them to the appropriate Sunday School or youth group. This should all be part of our daily and weekly Christian family life. The picture in Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 is of bringing them up in the faith. I asked my three children what they had found most helpful in being brought up in the training and instruction of the Lord. And apart from the children’s and youth work, other church activities and camps they all said the same and it was that picture from Deuteronomy – being able to talk about the Christian faith at home and the expectation from the home that they were going to go to church no matter what. Take them to see Prince Caspian if appropriate (there are lots of battle scenes) and discuss the Christian themes. Yes it can be fun! Then the prayer is that they will grow up to know, love and obey Jesus themselves. We greatly rejoice when they do trust him for themselves and carry on praying for those who as yet do not.
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