You can listen to the sermon audio (titled “Parenting” on 6/19/16) here.
Well, the irony that the only person on staff without children is the one teaching on parenting today is not lost on me. Don’t get me wrong, with how many children have been born in the last year, Hillary and I have had our fair share of baby-exposure. But we have that really convenient kind where we hold them for 20 minutes, and then as soon as they start crying, we hand them back to mom and dad. I’m not certain, but I have a feeling that parenting our own children might be more difficult than that.
Before we moved here, we had almost no friends with children. But as soon as we got here, everyone had babies! I am reminded of how unseasoned I am every time I talk with a friend who has kids. The entire time their kids can be crying, screaming, or just tugging on their arms for attention, and the parents can just carry on the conversation like nothing is happening. That baffles me. I can’t even pay attention; I get completely derailed from what I was saying, but it has no effect on them. It’s like the scene in the war movies where the battle-hardened general is greeting the new privates as they come onto the battlefield. The general is unfazed by the mortal shells falling around them, while the new recruit is having a panic attack.
I’m just green, that’s all. Battle-hardened parents, you have my admiration.
But I am encouraged by the fact that my authority to teach God’s Word does not rest on my experience but on the truthfulness of God’s Word. However, like last week, I am going to mention a couple of different books that I studied to prepare for today, and if you want to, you could find all of them in this manuscript online. But also, if you are wanting to know how to apply some of what I am talking about today into your life, than find an older couple who have been in the church for a long time and raised godly children and have them over for dinner. They will be able to help you and bless you mightily.
This is for Everyone
Before I launch into the text, I want to encourage the Body today that this message of equipping and training up the next generation in godliness is a call for all of us – not just for those who happen to be parents. As we have learned from Ephesians, God’s Church is a family. This means that there is no such thing as a person who is a part of this church who is child-less. We all are responsible for helping train the new and upcoming generation in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This is why when we do children-dedication services we do them in front of the whole church and give our verbal consent to strive to help these parents lead their children well. As we saw in Ephesians 4, the Church is God’s program to mature Christians. So, we are called and obligated to help one another, and one another’s children, grow in godliness.
If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a church to raise a Christian child. Christian Smith, a sociologist from the University of Notre Dame, wrote a very important book titled Soul Searching: The Religious Lives of American Teenagers in 2005, and in it he synthesized a massive, nationwide study (“The National Study of Youth and Religion”) of adolescents. In it, he notes that one of the most frequently seen common-denominators in a young person having a faith that persists through their 20’s was whether or not they developed inter-generational relationships within the church. The more isolated they were from the overall life of the church (i.e. Only attending youth group), the more likely they were to walk away from the faith.
Youth, this even applies to you. High Schoolers, you have profound influence over the Middle Schoolers that look up to you. Middle Schoolers, you have profound influence over the Elementary Schoolers that look up to you. Elementary Schoolers, you have profound influence over the Pre-Schoolers that look up to you. We are all in this mission together.
Children, Obey Your Parents
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land,” (Eph. 6:1-3). Why should a child obey their parents? Paul gives us two reasons.
First, we see that Paul draws attention to the fact that there is a promise given with the command. He quotes Ex. 20:12, the Fifth Commandment, which states, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” God has designed life to function a certain way, and if we cut with the grain of the universe rather than against it, usually our life will be better.
Secondly, we see that Paul clarifies this promise first by prefacing it with the words, “in the Lord.” Children are to obey parents in the Lord, so if there is ever a moment where obeying your parents directly contradicts the Lord, the child must respectfully and humbly disobey. So, if your parents tell you that you cannot become a Christian, you don’t say, “Well, God says I should honor my father and mother, guess I’ll stay away from Jesus.” No – our highest allegiance is to the Lord always. However, there is a distinct way that children can disagree with their parents in a tone and posture that is still striving to honor them.
You see, honoring your parents in the Lord is also important because when you do so, you honor the Lord. Paul elsewhere states, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed,” (Rom. 13:1-2). So, children, honor your father and mother, because God has given you the parents that you have, and when you dishonor them and disobey them, you ultimately are disobeying God.
Fathers, Bring Up Your Children
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” (Eph. 6:4). Note that Paul highlights fathers specifically here. This does not mean that mothers have no role in the spiritual formation of children (far from it), but Paul is simply drawing off the role of headship for husbands that he laid out just a few verses previously. Husbands and Fathers bear the primary burden of responsibility for the spiritual direction and leadership of the home. So, in partnership with his wife and under the husband’s initiation, the father and mother strive to train up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord in such a way that strives to not provoke anger in the child.
Now, we live in the 21st century. We have public schools, sports teams, clubs, and youth groups. Is this discussion about the father and mother training a child in the discipline and instruction of the Lord necessary today? Isn’t this why we have youth pastors and small group leaders in our student ministry?
Well, in one sense, yes that is why I have a job and why we do the ministry we do. But what I would like to convince you of for the rest of my time today is this: no one has greater influence and responsibility in the life of a child than the parents, and especially the fathers.
Stones of Memory
To illustrate this, look with me to the book of Joshua. I’ve known that I was going to be teaching on this topic for a couple of months now, and during that time I have been doing the Read Scripture reading plan which has taken us through a good chunk of the Old Testament by now, which is where I found this verse we are going to look at, but I found this all over the place. I could take you to dozens and dozens of other places in Scripture that show us this same pattern. But, let’s look at this one here,
“Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you? ’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever,” (Josh. 4:4-7).
Notice what is happening here: Joshua is having 12 men haul big rocks from the Jordan river bank and stack them up – why? So that when their children see the stones they will ask their dads, “What are these stones for?” The stones will serve as a teaching tool to help pass on the story of God’s faithfulness to His people, to the next generation. But notice who is doing the teaching? The dads are. The parents are. God didn’t have all the children huddle together once a week and have a priest remind them of the story the parting of the Jordan, or have a prophet create a weekly program that taught them the Ten Commandments through song and hand motions. The task isn’t left to the “professionals”. No, every child in Israel would have known that their number one religious and spiritual teacher growing up would have been mom and dad.
It is very easy for us to simply view the spiritual formation of our students as something that the youth group or children’s ministry is responsible for. But that simply isn’t true – that isn’t true Biblically (Scripture always teaches that parents are the leaders in that regard), and it isn’t true practically. If we were to line up how much time a parent and a youth leader spent with a child in a given week, it would be no contest. Christian Smith claims that, “No other conceivable causal influence … comes remotely close to matching the influence of parents on the religious faith and practices of youth….Despite the arguments today that sideline parents by placing great importance on the influence of peer groups and media, we find that parents are still the most powerful sociological force in transmitting spirituality and religion to their children.”
If You Don’t, Something Will
One of the sad reoccurring themes in the Old Testament is the failure of parents to disciple and train their children well in the Lord. Whether that is with Kings, like David, or Priests, like Aaron, or Prophets, like Samuel or Eli. All of those men passionately loved God – but they failed to pass that on to their children. It only takes one generation to lose the gospel. We see this in heartbreaking detail in the book of Judges, “And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years…And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals,” (Judges 2:8-11).
What happened? How did we go from one generation who were following and obeying the Lord, to the next generation not knowing the Lord and worshipping false gods? Didn’t Joshua command the fathers to take up the stones from the river Jordan and teach their children the faithfulness of God? Weren’t the Israelites commanded to diligently teach the commands of the Lord to their children in Deut. 6? The people of Israel obviously failed in their duties to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But notice that the void where God was meant to be did not stay empty. If we don’t raise our children to center their whole lives on Christ, then they will center it on something. For the Israelites in Judges they replaced God with Baal, for us it could be any number of things.
If we do not raise our children to love God and obey Him, they will love and obey something. You can bring your child to youth group, FCA, and Summer camps, but if you don’t teach and show them how to love and obey (worship) the Lord supremely, they will love and obey (worship) sports, grades, popularity, or the opposite sex.
So, why is it important for parents to be involved in the spiritual formation of their children? Three overview answers:
- Because Scripture commands it.
- Experience proves it.
- If you do not, someone or something else will.
The Ultimate Reason
But there is an ultimate reason. Brothers and sisters, we are not called to parent well just so our homes may be well-ordered, our kids don’t embarrass us in the grocery store, and someday they will get a job and be able to support us. That is SO not the point! There is nothing super-natural about that – every parent wants that. And while we certainly don’t want less than that, we as Christians who believe in eternity, long for SO MUCH MORE. We don’t just want children who will win friends and influence people, we want children who know the Lord! We want children who will live a life that will matter on the other side of the grave! We want children who will impact this world with the radical love of Jesus! We want children who will not only go to Heaven, but who will pour their lives out to bring as many people with them as possible.
The book of Judges is one of the bleakest, most depressing books in the Bible. The moral decay does nothing but increase as the book goes on, till the book ends in a horrifying display of sin. And all of it began with parents not taking up the mantle of training their children. We want to invest in our children well so that hundreds of years from now the reverberations of their life are making an impact for good, not for bad. If we see the tragic consequences of parents abdicating their roles at the end of the book of Judges in ugly, vivid display – imagine what it would have looked like had the mothers and fathers fought desperately to raise their children well. If wickedness can snowball and grow into an ugly monster, then certainly righteousness can do the same, in the opposite direction. What if, 200 years from now there was an explosion of revival that swept across the world and untold numbers of people came to Christ, because you made a decision that you were going to pour your all into raising up your children in the fear of the Lord. What if our church, through our quiet, steady faithfulness to train the next generation in godliness, not just entertain them, raises up a generation that is so attractively passionate for the Lord that our city can no longer ignore the reality of Jesus. If evil can multiply through generations, than so can godliness!
And parents, every day we are making hundreds of little decisions with our children that are moving in one direction or another. Maybe the greatest thing that we will ever do in this world is raise or influence a child who loves God with his whole heart and impacts the world in a way we never could.
George Whitefield, the fiery evangelist and revivalist who sparked the First Great Awakening in America in 18th century America, was famous for leading tens of thousands of people to Christ. But, he once shared a story from his childhood in one of his letters. Apparently, young George was quite the hellion, and one Sunday morning thought it would be funny if he ran around the church building while banging pots and pans together while the service was going. An old deacon walked outside and confronted little George, but instead of giving the expected scolding, kneeled down and warmly said, “Oh young George, I cannot wait to see what the Lord does with you when He gets ahold of that passion!” That moment forever impacted George.
So parents that means that there is always more to your moment than your moment. Every time you rock your baby to sleep and pray over her, every time you sit down for dinner together as a family, every time you show patience when you feel like exploding, eternity is being shaped! Only God knows how our lives are echoing and reverberating down the hallways of time, influencing or playing a role in some cataclysmic event that we will never know about. So let’s resolve to live every moment with an unbelievable amount of purpose in doing all that we can to pass the torch of Christ on to the next generation.
How Do We Do That?
What are some practical ways that parents can lead their children? I think Deut. 6:4-7 gives us some practical insight in how to do that. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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.”
This passage teaches us to lead our children…
- We must first love the Lord with our whole being. God’s Word’s are to “be on our heart”. We cannot lead our children to a depth with the Lord that we ourselves are not at.
- Ray Ortlund Jr. tells a story about his dad giving him a Bible when he turned 16 years old. Inside, his father wrote this note to him, “Bud, nothing could be greater than to have a son, a son who loves the Lord and walks with Him. Your mother and I have found this book to be our dearest treasure. We give it to you, and in doing so can give nothing greater. Be a student of the Bible and your life will be full of blessing. We love you, Dad.” And Ray quickly adds, “You know, there never was a time when I read that and thought, ‘That’s so fake…Your greatest treasure isn’t really the Bible,’ I never once thought that. I knew every word they wrote was true. They really believed God’s Word was the dearest treasure, and that in giving it to me, they could give nothing greater.”
- Parents, children can sniff out hypocrisy in a second. If you say that you really want them to pursue the Lord most, but in your heart what you really desire most for them is to get that scholarship or get on that travelling team, they will know. They won’t be fooled.
- One of the best ways we display to our children that we love the Lord seriously is to be honest about the times where we don’t. I have yet to walk the hard road of parenting, but I know that there will be no shortage of failures on my part. But perhaps the best way I can root my children in an authentic, serious understanding of the gospel is to repent of my sin to them and ask for their forgivness. I do not need to be a perfect parent to raise godly children, I just need to be a repentant parent. In fact, you could even say that the role of the “perfect parent” is already taken by our Heavenly Father – your role as a parent is not to attach your children’s faith to you, but to Him.
- The passage encourages us to talk with our children as we sit in our house, walk by, lie down, and rise up. Essentially, at all times. In other words, our homes and family life needs to be a place where discussions about the Lord happen consistently. This is also something that needs to happen from a very young age, because what you are doing with your children at a young age is always setting up their expectation for what is to come. Anne Ortlund, Ray’s mom, wrote a book called Children Are Wet Cement, and the title of the book itself is worth the money you would pay for it. Children are wet cement – they are always setting, so the patterns you establish in regards to family norms, devotions, prayer, worship, discipline, etc. when they are younger are very important for laying the groundwork necessary for the cement to be setting in the proper way (Once cement is about 16 years old, it can be very hard to change).
- This means that we need have both planned and spontaneous God-time in our home.
- Planned looks like: times of prayer before meals or before bed time, family devotions at dinner or breakfast or after either, and worshipping together with the church.
- What you miss these for communicates to your children, “this is more important than that,” especially if it is consistent.
- Spontaneous looks like: It never feeling awkward in our home to talk or ask a question about God, sin, or the gospel.
- Planned looks like: times of prayer before meals or before bed time, family devotions at dinner or breakfast or after either, and worshipping together with the church.
- If you don’t have planned, you won’t be able to have spontaneous.
- We aren’t just commanded to teach our children the commands, but to “diligently” teach them. Teach your children a Christian worldview, not just a list of rules. Try to steer them away from asking the question, “How far can I go and it not be sin?” to, “How can I use and enjoy this thing the way God intended it?”
- Christians who don’t have robust, intelligent Christian worldviews won’t be able to engage winsomely with our current world.
- Ultimately, only God can change your child’s heart. And that is a good thing. If it were ultimately up to you, you would be controlled by anxiety while they were under your house, filled with arrogant pride when they do well, and crushed with a heavy despair when they do poorly.
- We are responsible for being faithful, and God is ultimately sovereign. This will make us faithful when we feel like giving up. This will keep us humble when we feel like we are crushing it.